This week is Elton John week on American Idol, and it’s the same week Elton John is hosting and playing musical guest on Saturday Night Live. Why so much Elton John all of a goddamned sudden? Did God hear “Rocket Man” on his morning commute and think, “Oh yeah, I like this guy”? Or does he just have some boring new album coming out? We’re offered no clues, but we do get to see all the contestants posing for an Entertainment Weekly photo shoot, and I’m not sure I can imagine a more boring way for this show to waste a couple of minutes. Also, we learn via Coke tie-in that Taio Cruz is British, so now I know exactly one thing about Taio Cruz.
Someone at the EW photo shoot says that Scotty McCreery has “a really natural elegance,” which, come on, no he doesn’t. McCreery sings “Country Comfort,” the sole Elton country song. It even has “country” in the title. Very imaginative, Scotty. He plays acoustic guitar, which at least means he doesn’t hold the microphone the stupid fucking way he always does. And he belts it out in that classically hammy Nashville way that already seems second-nature to him. Whether or not Scotty wins, he’s almost certainly the one contestant this year who’s likely to have a career in five years. (The pandering to gradmas out there will absolutely not hurt him.) I liked what he did with the song, even if he really only does the exact same thing every week.
Naima Adedapo sings, “I’m Still Standing” and uses the term “reggae swag” in her introductory video. Jimmy Iovine suggests that she add one of those insanely insincere pop-star “this is for everyone struggling” introductions, and she totally does! In fake patois! Actually, she sings the entire thing in fake patois, which might work a lot better if the Idol house band didn’t turn the song into fake-ass cruise-ship silliness. She does a nice enough job with the chorus, but she still finds a way to get more clownish every week, and she could really stand to rein it in a bit. Also notable: She has a serious case of crazy-eyes. The judges give nice what-the-fuck reactions, but it would’ve been nice if Simon was still there to really stare daggers at her. (I’m talking about the non-Steven Tyler judges, of course. Steven Tyler says, “Boomshakalakalaka.” Whatever they’re paying that guy, it’s not enough.)
Paul McDonald must’ve won some sort of backstage paper-rock-scissors tournament, since he gets to sing “Rocket Man.” He’s back in the horrendous rhinestone suit from the auditions, but it makes sense, since he gets cold Gram Parsons with it, doing a stripped-back and decidedly unhammy take on the song, never really giving himself a chance to belt out even the chorus. It’s an interesting move, taking maybe the biggest song of the night and making it small, but it works. He also promises that this is his last time in that suit, so thank god for that.
Pia Toscana, who would’ve pounded “Rocket Man” into jelly, sings “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” and Jimmy Iovine says that she has to belt it out somewhere between Axl Rose and Fergie, which is some of the most baffling advice I have ever heard anyone give, ever. There is no Fergie or Axl in Pia’s delivery, fortunately, and she belts the track out like a pro, sharing the stage with a gospel choir like it’s something that she does all the time. I’ve considered her to be a fundamentally boring singer since the season started, but it’s pretty awesome to see someone come out and hit all her marks with that sort of total self-assurance. She straight-up killed it, and it was a joy to watch. Steven and Randy basically got in a fight afterward over who liked her more, which was weird. In the mid-commercial break interview, she says she’s planning to do “River Deep, Mountain High” next week, so maybe next week is Tina Turner week? They shouldn’t let the contestants give that stuff away on TV.
Jimmy Iovine chews out Stefano Langone for getting the words to “Tiny Dancer” wrong, and it’s always fun to see that kind of thing happen backstage. And his whole whip-crack act must’ve worked, since Stefano does nice nasal R&B things with the song. Of all the contestants left on the show, he’s the one who looks most like a cardbard cutout, like someone who’s just circling the drain until elimination. (Yes, even more so than Tia Megia.) I don’t think he has a lot of time left on the show, but that song will at least sound nice if and when he sings it after being bounced on tomorrow’s results show. We learn immediately after, via Howie Mandel cameo, that Howie Mandel and Stefano’s dad look exactly alike, which makes me like Stefano less even though it’s not his fault.
Someone had to sing “Candle in the Wind,” I guess, and it’s Lauren Alaina. She essentially turns it into a Martina McBride power-ballad, which is the best thing she could do with it, but yeesh what a boring song. I was alive and cogent in 1997, so I immediately tune out the second I hear that song start. The judges, surprising nobody, love it. Lauren, I should point out, has taken to doing that stupid heart thing with her hands that Danny Gokey used to do. That thing needs to go.
James Durbin has on an Ed Hardyified D.A.R.E. shirt, which seems contradictory, and Jimmy Iovine, in the video package before the performance, seems to hate him. He sings “Saturday Night’s Alright (for Fighting),” which was already a Broadway parody of a classic-rock song, and does a Broadway parody of that. It’s forced and obvious and ridiculous, but I liked when the piano caught fire for no reason. Steven Tyler, in a rare moment of clear and honest self-assessment, warns Durbin not to be like Steven Tyler.
I incited a real comment-section shitstorm last week when I called out Thia Megia for being (1) a truly shitty American Idol contestant and (2) an idiot. That was fun. I’m still getting Twitter hate for it, and anyone who’s been reading me for a few years know that I actively court this stuff more than I probably should. But here’s the thing: She might be a nice kid or whatever, I have no idea, but she really is a godawful-boring personality on this show. She does the exact same smiley pageant ballad performance every week, and it was devastatingly boring the first time. Jimmy Iovine tells her, in the plainest possible terms, actually to think about the lyrics this time, and she still keeps that horrific zombie smile all through her performance. It was hammy and contrived, and it made me think she has stage-parent issues that even David Archuleta could only dream of. Her run on this show really, really needs to end.
Casey Abrams, fresh off the stomach-rupturing judges’ save last week, is back with his hair and beard slightly trimmed, something that gets a full dramatic-reveal treatment from the show’s producers. He does “Your Song” with no grunts or screeches or WHATYOUTALKINABOUTGIRL!s, and it’s controlled in a way he hasn’t been on this show yet. It’s pretty great, but Casey Abrams isn’t really Casey Abrams when he’s not bugging his eyes way out and being weird. I guess he had to scale everything back this week, but I hope he goes full rabid-dog again soon.
Jacob Lusk got to meet Mary J. Blige before he sings, which is fun even though Mary looks pissed to be on camera without extensive makeup. He sings “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word,” and Iovine warns him not to overdramatize it, which means Iovine doesn’t really get what’s so great about Jacob. But once again, he starts out dialed-back and then progresses to stomp-roar wailing, which is what he does every week. He also seems near tears throughout the song, and who even knows why. He was amazing. I mean, he was great. He’s so far and away the best singer on this show that it’s ridiculous. Nobody’s even close to his league. If you haven’t read this piece about Lusk’s performance last week, you totally should.
Haley Reinhart, in the closing spot for reasons I can’t even imagine, does a perfectly silly “Benny and the Jets,” sitting on the piano like this was The Fabulous Baker Boys or some shit and smiling like a Sears-catalog model throughout. She wasn’t quite as all-over-the-place vocally as she’s been some of the other weeks, but I still couldn’t watch her for more than 30 seconds without wincing. Randy called it the “performance of the night,” which just flummoxes the fuck out of me. Still, a shockingly strong show throughout. Elton John! Who knew? Probably a lot of people! But not me!