American Idol Recap: James Durbin Gently Weeps and the Top 9 Perform
Guitars! Crazy hair! Pyrotechnics! Steven Tyler! It’s rock and roll, baby! Tonight, the contestants chose songs from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of songs that shaped rock and roll, which includes tracks by artists ranging from the Beach Boys to Black Sabbath. Will.i.am (who is totally relevant to the subject matter — not!) was on hand to help coach the Top 9, Gwen Stefani gave the ladies a (dubious) style boost from her L.A.M.B. line, and Steven Tyler narrated a trip through the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Judge fashion check! Randy in a black vinyl jacket, Jennifer in a fitted cream and gold dress, Steven in some kind of floaty, hippie Steven Tyler get-up.
The always rockin’ (just kidding!) Jacob Lusk kicked off the night with Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,” which he switched to after realizing that Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” just didn’t fit his morals. Jacob helpfully informed us that if he ends up in the bottom three tomorrow, it won’t be because of his performance, but because “America wasn’t ready to look at themselves in the mirror.” Um, sure, dude. Anyway, Jacob’s performance this week was actually a lot of fun — not a crying face to be seen! Oh, and he sounded good, too. “You make everybody know that if you believe in yourself and you stick to what feels right for you, you can do anything. Perfect on every emotional level,” Jennifer said. “Every time you sing, you bring another piece of yourself to the party,” Steven said.
Pretty, Pretty Princess Pia Toscano finally went uptempo tonight on “River Deep - Mountain High” by Ike and Tina Turner, and while it made for a refreshing change, it just wasn’t as exciting as we’d hoped it would be. While Pia has the look and the pipes to go far, there’s still something missing — we believe the term is Stepford Idol. The judges loved her, but seemed to agree there was something lacking, with both Jennifer and Randy encouraging her to work on her movement. One judge loved it without reservation, though. “Murderer! Murderer! You killed it,” Steven said.
Country cutie Lauren Alaina was up next with a bold move — covering Aretha Franklin’s “Natural Woman.” The performance was solid and showed off her terrific voice, but Lauren brought nothing new to the song, and Idol fans who remember Kelly Clarkson’s star-making version of “Natural Woman” from Season 1 probably just shrugged. (Also: Gwen Stefani is not allowed to dress the girls anymore, we’ve decided — Haley’s outfit was questionable, and Lauren’s was worse.) “Lauren, you know I love you... tonight you are a natural-born woman,” Steven said. “You probably picked one of the most difficult songs... while I wasn’t jumping up and down, I think you did a good job on it, so big props to you on that,” Randy said.
After struggling for the last couple of weeks, Stefano Langone turned in a really lovely vocal tonight on Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman.” His performance style is still part boy band, part high-schooler serenading his girlfriend, but at least he sounded fabulous. And not that it really matters, but we dug his sparkly silver tie. “Baby! Baby baby baby! I knew you had it in you,” Jennifer said. “I liked it — I don’t know if I was jumping up and down,” Randy said. “You’ve got a great range, and it’s beautiful — I like that about your voice,” Steven said.
Next up, The Durbz slowed it way down with “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by George Harrison. The last time James took on a Beatle (McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed”), he turned in a pretty flawless vocal. This time, he sounded a little shakier... possibly because he was emotional, thinking of his family, as he told Ryan after the performance. He finished off the song with some trademark Durbin high notes, which felt a little superfluous, but the in-studio audience sure liked it. The judges all complimented James on his vulnerability. “Really nice to see that not only did your guitar gently weep, but you did as well,” Steven said. “I love seeing the real true emotional side of James Durbin... you have to take chances in order to be an artist... you did a good job, dog,” Randy said.
Haley Reinhart continued her awesome streak this week, taking on Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” and kicking its ass all around the stage. Haley managed to avoid doing a Janis impression, which was key to making the performance a success. If some of her movements were slightly awkward, her growly, sexy vocals made up for it, and her giant hair was kind of rockin’, too. The judges loved it, to boot. “Haley, I couldn’t find nothin’ wrong with that... Janis gave the voice to rock and roll back in ‘68, and you did it again tonight,” Steven said. “That’s the Haley that we loved when we first saw you! Haley, welcome back!” Randy added.
Casey Abrams was apparently very nervous to be in the presence of will.i.am, and decided to cover Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” after abandoning his initial choice of The Police’s “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic.” Casey broke out the upright bass for this performance — yay! The song choice worked really well for him; it was a very chilled-out, pleasant performance, and Growly Bear’s vocals were a nice blend of gritty and sweet. “I think you oughta put some wheels on that [bass] and ride that thing around town — you’re such a true musician, man,” Steven said.“ That’s exactly where you belong — right there, with your bass, I’m playing top dollar to be in the front row,” Jennifer agreed.
Fresh off last week’s appearance in the bottom three, Paul McDonald closed the show with an absolutely dynamite cover of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.” Okay, so Paul smiled through the song as usual, which didn’t really suit the lyrical content (he was so happy to have shot a man in Reno just to watch him die), but his vocals were the strongest and his energy the best they’ve been since the finals began. Way to bounce back, Smiley Spice! “I got three words for you — I LOVED IT!” Randy said. “You’re such a crazy character, man; my perfect imperfect boy. I loved it, man, you rocked the house,” Steven said.
Tomorrow night, someone rocks off into the sunset. There were no legitimately bad performances tonight, so it’s hard to say who’s in danger — if we had to guess, Jacob could be in trouble due to a fairly unremarkable performance coupled with going first. Who do you think is destined for the Stools of Shame?
Next up, Idol’s reigning Prince of Country took on the King of Rock and Roll, as Scotty McCreery covered Elvis Presley’s “That’s All Right, Mama.” While the performance verged on Velveeta at times, Scotty was clearly having the time of his life, and his enthusiasm was infectious. And — as usual — he sounded smooth like butter. The judges complimented him for taking a chance and proving his versatility (although the performance was still very Scotty, we thought). “I thought you were all hat and no cattle, but you brought Elvis into the house,” Steven said. “You know what, man? Scotty is in it to win it, y’all! This was amazing!” Randy enthused.