'American Idol' recap: The top six take on Carole King
It's down to the top six on "American Idol," and on Wednesday night, Jacob Lusk, Lauren Alaina, Scotty McCreery, James Durbin, Casey Abrams and Haley Reinhart lent their voices to the (remember how amazing?) songs of Carole King.
Woven into the evening's vocal tapestry were also three duets: Casey and Haley shook things up and attractively growled their way through "I Feel the Earth Move." (Judging from their obvious chemistry –- they sure crack one another up, those crazy kids –- they may well be adorably dueting offstage as well. "Hey, weird beard," Steven teased, prompting a frozen look from Casey when he asked, "How much in love with Haley are you? Come on, man, it showed.")
Lauren trailed Scotty behind her as she ascended to new heights on "Up on the Roof." (She took the lead in manners, too, politely saying Scotty was "kind of cute" when asked by Ryan Seacrest about a possible offscreen romance, whereas Scotty said they were "like brothers and sisters" -- ouch!) And James and Jacob, who sang "I'm Into Something Good," at one point to Jennifer Lopez's legs, seemed to endure their pairing as best they could. (Steven gave their effort what may have been his worst review to date: "Where were you going with all that?" he wondered.)
Here's how the individual performances broke down:
Steven Tyler hailed Jacob for shaking his "tail feathers," saying Jacob's strut is "the magic." Jennifer was more measured, noting that the song was tricky and not perfectly performed but that, ultimately, Jacob "just killed it." Randy Jackson said Jacob was sharp in a few spots, but that he brought himself back and proved he could sing and deserved to be there. "So, hopefully, America will give you some votes and you'll stick around, baby," Randy said. Ryan observed that it looked like Jacob was "having fun," prompting Jacob to bray that he was in the top six, so "Let's have a party!" We'll see if he's still partying when this week's results roll around.
Lauren Alaina, "Where You Lead": As Lauren prepared to sing, Jimmy (who had brought in singer-songwriter-producer Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds to help him on the show), had a special surprise for her: a personal meeting/mentor session with Miley Cyrus. Miley gave Lauren a few tips on dealing with the haters. "You will always have mean comments," she said, advising Lauren not to let them get her down. "This week, I'm going to go out on that stage with confidence and sing for my family and sing for myself and just do the best that I can," Lauren pledged.
Lauren silenced the haters (or should have), pushing herself to tackle bigger, higher notes and pulling a cute teenage boy up onstage. After she finished, Jennifer enthused: "I'm so proud of you right now. I'm so proud." She said felt Lauren "pushing" past her boundaries, and was especially gratified to hear a little vocal crack. Randy said he spotted "a little extra swagger" from Lauren, as if she had "something to prove." It may not have been the best song for her, Randy said, but he loved that she came out "with a vengeance" and was going "hard" for the win. Steven warned that Lauren shouldn't let the "dark forces" get to her and said she shined, especially when her voice cracked a bit. "That shows the character in your voice," he said.
The judges' comments brought Lauren to tears, but Ryan had other things on his mind, summoning back the "young man" whom Lauren had brought to the stage to chide him. "I saw the way you were looking at her," he told young Brett, who is 19 to Lauren's 16. "We have rules!" Ryan then turned back to Lauren and said, "I like those tears of joy." Awww.
Scotty McCreery, "You've Got A Friend": Last week the judges were not impressed with Scotty's performance, so now, he said, "It's time to pull out the big guns." Scotty's big gun: the King-penned James Taylor hit "You've Got a Friend," which the mentors said was the most romantic song he's tackled to date. (Cue the teen girl sighs.) Jimmy wanted to see Scotty sing it with "subtlety and poignancy," adding, ominously, that if he didn't, "He could possibly get overshadowed tonight."
Scotty did manage to summon both subtlety and poignancy and kept the pointing and mugging (if not the sideways delivery) to a minimum. Randy praised Scotty for turning the other cheek and turning in a performance that showed his range, revealing a "buttery" tenor that Randy didn't know he had. Calling the beginning "flawless," Randy did say he had "one criticism" about the way Scotty released his higher notes. But then he chanted, "Scotty's in it to win it."
Steven thought the song showed Scotty in his best light. Jennifer liked Scotty's high register and his storytelling, chiding, "When we hear you sing a song like that, that's why we can't let you get away with what you did last week." Ouch, but whatever, Ryan invited Scotty to do his come-hither look into the camera one more time. "It's like you're singing to one person," he said. Scotty looked deep into the camera and said, "Well, who is it? I don't know … I wish I knew." And a million little girls sighed -– and started dialing.
James Durbin, "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?": James is a Scotty fan, telling Ryan before taking the stage himself that Scotty, by stepping it up "week after week," pushes everyone around him to do the same. Meanwhile James, who has pledged to put on "just as big of a show" by singing a love song solo without either a marching band or a "flaming piano," has made a huge fan of Jimmy. "Carole King and James Durbin were made to come together," Jimmy said, noting that James is a "100% shot of rock 'n' roll" and adding, "this sound, this feel, is why I got into music." Jimmy said he hoped James would be as "intense" and "exciting" during his performance as he was during rehearsals. He was.
Starting a cappella and then accompanying himself on guitar, James' performance prompted Jennifer to shimmy. Steven told James he's "got it" and then shared that the song was the first he'd "ever made out with a girl to … I was in a bowling alley and no, Randy, I didn't strike out." He'll be here all week, folks.
Jennifer thought it was "totally magical" and predicted that James was "gonna be the star of the night." She also noted that James hadn't had an off week yet, saying that kind of consistency could win the whole deal. Randy –- again, oddly, trotting out his compliment du jour: "You turned the other cheek" -– called it one of the best performances in the last couple of months and added that James "might just win the whole thing."
Ryan made Randy go give James a hug, then weighed in himself, saying that the final weeks of the show were about "becoming a superstar, and that's what you're doing" (guitar feedback notwithstanding). I'll admit, as James was singing Wednesday night, I, too, thought, perhaps for the first time, "Winner?" We'll see …
Casey Abrams, "Hi De Ho": Casey apparently had a "lot of fun" rehearsing King's "Hi De Ho," made popular by Blood, Sweat and Tears, and jamming with legendary musician and producer Don Was and guest mentor Babyface. Jimmy warned that, because the song's melody isn't ambitions, Casey would have to make every note count. He also noted that Casey thrives by "living on the edge of creativity" and "always pushing his boundaries," but that "when you do that, you can fall on your butt or rise" to great heights.
Despite that, Casey turned in a middling performance. Scooting around in a suit, his sneaks and a hat he tossed into the audience part-way through. Randy loved it, crediting Casey with keeping the show sharp by turning in such different performances each week. Randy said he is "excited every time" Casey performs, because he knows "I'm gonna see something different and entertaining." Steven also admired Casey's showmanship, telling him he was so good "you make my scalp itch." Jennifer liked it, but felt Casey could "loosen up a little more physically." "Loosen up your legs a little bit," she advised. I love Casey, but this didn't feel all that different to me from what we've seen from him before. Maybe next week? Here's hoping.
Haley Reinhart, "Beautiful": Babyface gave Haley his approval, saying that, while tackling a trouble spot, she "caught on pretty quickly," which he felt was the sign of a true artist. Jimmy gave Haley a life lesson inspired by the word "get." But then Haley didn't "get" to make a clean start –- due to a technical problem. Ah, live TV.
When Haley did sing, she started off well enough, but then kicked into high gear by the end, culminating in a series of notes that really showed off her talent and vocal control. "Beautiful," indeed.
Steven said she made him see God. "You have one of the best voices in this competition," Jennifer pronounced. But then Randy threatened to kill the mood, saying, "I didn't love the beginning" and barely getting in that "the end was great" before Haley's time was up. Uh-oh. Did Randy just damn Haley –- a la Pia -– with faint praise?
So I'm thinking it's Jacob's time to head home this week, and it's anyone's guess (Haley? Casey?) who will round out the bottom three. Your predictions? Who will go home? Who would you like to see stick around? And who are you picking, at this point, to win it all?
Oh, and also, who was that little girl on Steven Tyler's lap?
-- Amy Reiter
Photo: Casey Abrams and Haley Reinhart perform Carole King's "I Feel the Earth Move." Could they be dueting offstage too? Credit: Michael Becker / Fox