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'American Idol' recap: The top 8 hit the movies

MB1_4870 Before the "American Idol" top eight tackled songs from movies on Wednesday night, the camera swept over an audience member holding a sign aloft that echoed the thoughts of many: It read "I miss Pia."

After last week's Pia-mania, "Idol" did its best to brush off the Toscano dust and move on with the eight contestants America had spared. Ryan Seacrest tried to change the conversation, noting that Jennifer Lopez had just been named the world's most beautiful woman by People magazine.

With the bravado of recent weeks swallowed up in the post-Pia pall, the evening brought a mixed bag of performances from singers who appeared chastened by the fickleness of America's tastes. Several of them seemed to have concluded that, if it had proved so difficult to predict what America wanted from them, they may as well be true to themselves.

Paul McDonald, "Old Time Rock and Roll": Paul decides to make like Tom Cruise in "Risky Business" and bust out his moves for Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock and Roll." Thank goodness he doesn't come sliding in in his tighty whiteys, as mentors Jimmy Iovine and Will.i.am suggested. He does, however, wear another one of his fancy floral suits -– a black one this time –- which Steven Tyler compliments, along with Paul's "wild crazy abandon." The other judges also heap on the praise: Jennifer says Paul was "like a diamond in the rough" that becomes a little more polished every week. And Randy Jackson gushes that he loved it. "America, you just witnessed the first number at the Paul McDonald concert," he says, adding that Paul is "just not a typical singer" and "definitely an artist … Good on you, good on you!" I dunno. I thought it was -- to borrow a favorite Randy phrase from seasons past -- "just OK."

Lauren Alaina, "The Climb": Lauren picks Miley Cyrus' "The Climb" and is promptly shocked to hear Jimmy assess that she is "a much, much, much stronger singer" than Cyrus. Jimmy also invites Lauren to steal Pia's fans now that she's gone. "You've got to get her votes," he lectures. But Will.i.am suggests inviting them instead: "Make 'em little cupcakes." Lauren does cool, controlled things with her voice on "The Climb," which makes me sad for Pia and worried for this year's two remaining female "Idol" contestants. Will I have to be sad when Lauren is voted off too? I wonder.

Jennifer says, "Hey, girl. I love the tear that you have in your voice," comparing it to a cry and noting that it "really transmits." She wants Lauren to go further, she says, adding that she doesn't need to steal Pia's votes: "You're getting plenty of your own." Randy says Lauren made the song "sound like it was written for you" and calls it "an amazing job" twice. Steven reiterates his longstanding love for Lauren and concludes, "Again, you move me beyond tears." Ryan gets in a strange dig at Lauren's mother: "Wow, look at the volume in mom's hair!"

Stefano Langone, "End of the Road": Before stepping out to perform, Stefano tells Ryan that to be a success as a singer, "You have to be a great performer, and that's really my goal going forward." Jimmy gives him a pep talk, telling Stefano he's "got the chops" to win the whole thing. Bolstered, Stefano says he's ready to start fresh and comes out there and … manages to keep his eyes open! (But he still looks perpetually on the verge of a sneeze.) He then flashes a cute smile at the end that will undoubtedly prompt countless female adolescents to vote, vote, vote. 

Randy says Stefano "just slayed" the song, calling it his "best vocal on this stage to date." He adds, "What I saw is that you now believe ... Stefano wants to win it!"  Steven compliments Stefano for milking it and contends, "This is so not the end of the road for you. It's just the beginning." Jennifer credits him for "singing to win." Ryan asks Stefano if he sees himself up there in the finale, and Stefano utters a few words about "one step at a time" and being there for the audience, before Ryan schools him in positive visualization, prompting, "We're here to win it!" Going right for Stefano's likely fan base, Ryan says, "Stefano, girls." Sadly, I now honestly also think Stefano has a shot at winning it. Sigh.

Scotty McCreery, "I Cross My Heart": After getting flak from Jimmy and Will.i.am for calling them "dude" and declining to sing what they want him to sing, Scotty tackles a George Strait song, saying he hopes he "can do the King of Country some justice." He doesn't, turning in a boring performance that included a very not-pretty held note and slurring the lyrics at one point, prompting me to wonder if maybe he forgot the words (as he did in Hollywood Week). Did the judges express disappointment in his performance? Mystifyingly, they did not.

"Scotty, I just love your voice," Steven enthuses, contending that he had again "picked the just right song … You're good." Jennifer raises hopes by starting, "You know, everybody wants us to be tough with you guys," and then dashes them: "But the truth is, you're all so damn good! … All I want to say is wow." She does allow that "it wasn't my favorite song choice for you." But that mild critique is swallowed up by an explosion of (unearned) compliments from Randy, who says he loved it when Scotty stuck to his country roots. "If it ain't broke, don't even think about fixing it," he says (very unlike the advice they all gave Pia to push herself out of her comfort zone). Randy isn't done piling on the love. "A star is born on this stage," he says, noting Scotty has "grown so much" and proclaiming himself to be a "huge, ginormous fan … hot, hot, hot." Double sigh.

Casey Abrams, "Nature Boy": Casey also chooses to ignore Jimmy Iovine's song-choice advice, passing over Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight" to take on a Nat King Cole song that he feels "defines me as an artist." Jimmy doesn't think it sounds like a winner, but Casey stands firm, saying, "I don't want to lose myself in this process." (Especially after he's finally found his face: Casey's beard has now been trimmed close enough to be considered merely a scruff.) Jimmy throws down the gauntlet, saying Casey took a risk by not taking his song-choice advice, "so he better be right." The notes I took during Casey's performance read as follows: "Casey is cooked. But I really like it. He's so good. That was great."

The judges, who give Casey a standing ovation, seem to follow the same trajectory. "Casey, I gotta say, at the beginning, I was nervous," Jennifer says, because she is thinking, "Oh, my God, he's not going to win any popularity contest with this song." But then she goes on to compare him to the mega-selling, Grammy-winning Norah Jones and asserting that there is a place for unconventional, jazzy talent like Casey's. Randy calls him a "true artist"
and a "genius" and says the show has never had anyone like him "ever," adding that Casey was able to educate as he performed. Steven credits Casey for doing what was in his heart. Casey appears to be moved by the outpouring of emotion (a little choked up under ... was that an ascot?), though if the viewers send him home (again), it could be because they don't like being told they need to be educated (as Randy said and Casey echoed) while they are being entertained.

Haley Reinhart, "Call Me": Before Haley goes out there to make a play for votes with Debbie Harry's "Call Me," she notes that it is "really crazy to think there's only two of us girls left" among the contestants this season. But she doesn't do very much to raise hopes that the vote this week won't leave us with one fewer. Randy calls the performance "karaoke" and says the song didn't showcase Haley's voice. Steven says he agrees and compliments Haley on her dress. And Jennifer says she was afraid to say anything bad about one of the show's two remaining female contestants. "Vote for the girls," she told viewers. But will they?

Jacob Lusk, "Bridge Over Troubled Water": Landing in the bottom three last week and seeing Pia go home appears to have scared Jacob straight. And if that didn't do it, Jimmy does, chastising him for preaching "to 24 million people" on the show last week before he's even put out a record. "You don't preach to people," he warns. "They don't want to be preached to." Then he rips into Jacob's first song choice as "corny" and has him sing "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Wisely, in this case, Jacob takes Jimmy's advice, giving a restrained (for him) performance that (thankfully) lacks a gospel choir. Steven says Jacob's singing "sizzles," adding, "It's astounding to me how angelic you sing -- your crescendos and innuendoes and ups and downs." Jennifer says Jacob "pulled" chills out of her against her will. Randy says that, when Jacob sang, he "believed" him and "listened to every word," calling it "perfect, perfect, perfect harmony … very controlled." I don't know. I'm not sure I'm ready to forgive Jacob for being so arrogant last week. You?

James Durbin, "Heavy Metal": James falls squarely in Casey and Scotty's "I'll do what I want, and not what Jimmy tells me to" camp, amping things up with Sammy Hagar's "Heavy Metal." Jimmy warns him it's not a "careful" choice. James doesn't care. He wants America to "give metal a chance," joking that he's "making armbands and flyers: 'Give metal a chance, please.'" Unexpectedly, I found myself liking it, admiring James' audacity and conviction. Jennifer said it "felt really, really real. I really loved that." Randy says he hopes America will "bring metal back," chanting, "Durbin rocks! Durbin rocks! Durbin rocks!" Steven compliments Durbin not only on his "outstanding" performance, but also on giving Jimmy "lip." But the weirdest thing is Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Zakk Wylde, with whom James had performed, wandering around onstage after the song. Ryan says he feels he should give Zakk his own voting line. Me, I thought someone should give him a gentle nudge off the stage.

So, hmmm, the bottom three: I'm picking Paul, Haley and Stefano, just for old times' sake, but really, it's anyone's guess. Will voters punish Casey for wishing to "educate" them? Scotty for being boring? Jacob for past preachiness? James for pushing metal on them? Lauren for being a girl? What do you think? Who do you think should go home? And who do you think will?

-- Amy Reiter

Photo: Lauren Alaina performs in front of the judges. Credit: Michael Becker / Fox

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Comments () | Archives (17)

I blame the judges for Pia's elimination. I think that the audience needs guidance. When the judges continue to say that everyone is outstanding and they don't differentiate between who is good and who is great, the audience votes for who they like not who can make it in the industry. My top three; Lauren, Scotty and James.

I think jacob was amazing, and very powerful in his Bridge Over Troubled Water. Also, Casey was great in his jazz performance, but may have been even better with Jimmy's choice for him. Lauren was awesome and her voice is beautiful and she will stay for sure. I agree, that Stefano, Paul, and Hayley will be on bottom three list

the judges are just way too nice this season! i love steven's personality and jennifer's constructive criticism, but beyond the top 10, it's time to ask one question before judging, could this person win with that performance? even randy started off honest, and is now getting a little soft with the truth. paul didn't sing his song at all, he talked most of it. while lauren has pipes, her passion and performance are minimal (even miley cyrus PERFORMS). that was pia's problem. scotty put me to sleep! and haley went back to her old ways of not choosing the right song. everyone else was great. c'mon judges! push these kids to do better, cause they all have potential to win!
*jae tracie* (your american idol reject on youtube)

Casey should go home - he's just mediocre - I don't understand why the judges are always rooting for him - he's soooo ordinary.

James Durbin - another awful performance. Over-hyped, over-rated.

Amy, give it a rest about PIA. It's over it's done. She gets to go on the tour and make a half mil or whatever it is. Then she can fade into obscurity unless she climbs into bed with Disney like Jordin Sparks.

Right now, Bo Bice, Constantine, Adam, Allison and any of the others whose real blood runs rock red are smiling and sending James the good vibes. No apologies, no pandering to A.I's pop sensibilities, he just rocked it full on. Great cred boost from Zakk Wylde. Last years attempt with Orinathi, whose only real claim is standing on Jennifer Batten's shoulders was lame-o.

Casey, dude, I wanted to like you but you come from a generation where everything is ripe for a joke and you picked the wrong song with which to go in three different directions. I get that you were trying to honor the song but it failed. To see how a song like this has to be "sold" on AI see Fantasia and Summertime or Adam and Mad World.

Steve Tyler praised Jacob for his "crescendos and innuendos." Uh, Steve? I think you mean "diminuendos." Seriously? This guy is a judge of musical talent?

I agree and believe we will lose Haley for a ocuple reasons, one being her inability to mask her happiness of Pia's departure last week, and poor song choice. Apparently Jimmy and the judges are not on the same page in terms of being "true to yourself". The contestants need to know they are probably not going to be able to make those choices until their 3rd cd if the first two go platinum.

Although I don't believe Jacob will win, he is still the first one I want to immediately rewind to listen again. Scotty will likely win but I have already lost interest in him.

The show was terrific until they got to LA...everyone thought Nigel had done a terriffic job....now the shows are just BORING due to the lack of efficiency by the judges. They hear what we hear, but you can tell their is some edict about negative criticism.....don't want any truth or honesty which Simon often brought. If Simon was on the panel ( and the influence his comments carried) do you truly believe Paul, Casey, and Haley would still be there....he doesn't give a "hoot" about someone playing the stand up bass...he always viewed Idol as a singing competition.

Pia would have blown them all out of the ballpark...As for calling her boring..maybe they would have called those two LEGENDS Sinatra and Streisand boring too..(if any of those teeny boppers even know who they are) even when one of of these potential idols takes home the prize they'll never become legends, or even last beyond their first album...
As for calling any of those guys CUTE...???? my pet hamster is better looking...

SEND Jacob & Casey home.

I think Hayley and Paul are going to be the next to go, I hope. Pia should have never been voted off but she will have a great career ahead of her

SEND SCOTTY HOME!!! This Alfred E Neuman look-a-like doesn't sing any better than a hundred other country bumpkins on the radio. Casey's growling is getting on my nerves and Stefano is just plain boring... those are the bottom three. Aside from Pia (and that ship has sailed) the only one with any true raw talent is James. But thanks to America being a bunch of hicks, Scotty will likely win.

The one thing that I miss about the old Idol is that the judges were harsh when it was warranted. Randy has toned down a whole lot. What I do not get is when they do give a bad or mild review, it is to the wrong person. Scotty has not sung a song that has not been flat for the entire competition. Paul just speaks his songs and hopes that his silly and weird dance moves will distract us from his voice. Is it just me, but when Paul and Scotty sing, do you find yourself thinking that the backup singers are outsinging them? I love country music, but Scotty cannot hold a candle to many of my country music idols.

I'm having trouble picking a bottom three. Scotty did poorly. Paul didn't do it for me. I can't remember what Stafano did. Haley had some problems but it didn't seem as bad to me as the judges said. Casey started off poorly and ended very well. Jacob has too much drama going on. It's easier to pick a top two. I'll say Paul, Scotty and Jacob land in the bottom.

First off, I will admit to "almost" declaring that I won't watch this week. I said something to the effect...If it continues to be a sausage-fest it would be hard for me to watch. Like a car wreck, sometimes ya gotta slow down and see.

That being said. I am annoyed that the girls seem to be the only ones getting the negative or, in this season's case, the least positive, remarks. Can you not insert what Randy said about being true to your comfort zone to Pia? She was constantly pushed to change, even though week in week out she appeared to at least be above average. You cannot say that about Scotty's performances, yet he is never told to change a thing...even the weird way he holds his mic.

Lauren was given the bullseye for all the Miley fans, thnx Jimmy...great pointing a big arrow to all the tweening texters who is next on the chopping block. I think even Lauren knew what a STUPID thing to say....Ya sure she is WAYYY Better than Miley...o by the way steal Pia's votes....what a buffoon. And he had the balls to tell Jacob to be humble (Even though it DID need to be said). Seriously, I can see how some of the Idols didn't follow his advice after a couple weeks of his nonsensicles.

Then there is Haley. I read in another article with a couple of voice coaches for the Idols that Call Me was not her first choice, and they, then she, wished they went with her first choice, though didn't reveal what it was in case she did it in the future. Either way it wasn't the worse of the night, yet she got the only criticsm....what is the deal they want an all men idol?

Lastly, James Rocked and saved a Ho Hum night...and for this weeks Pia love...do a search on Youtube for her vids of Paparazzi and Rehab....should have definitely done those in show...although she may have them turned to ballads too.

Oh I forgot, one more thing. I actually watch the Jacob, Stefano and Paul performances now without fast forwarding them....Mostly because I have to Fast Forward through the "Judging". It's as though, instead of Judging, these guys are now Idol Thesaurus' (Thesaurusi?) ...meaning they are used to just figure out synonyms for or new ways to say "you're great" or "I like you". It's unwatchable. Jacob, Stefano and Paul are again my picks to go. Probably Stefano, hopefully Jacob...crossfingers, third time's a charm.


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