Hey, remember when enough people would get voted off American Idol and the show would go down to a much saner 60-minute running time? That was nice. Now, with only five people left, we still get a 90-minute show, with all the contestants singing twice. Maybe Fox is just determined to make Breaking In happen. Whatever the case, everyone sang a newer song and an older one, and Sheryl Crow showed up to sit next to Jimmy Iovine and help say stuff. This made me wonder: Does Sheryl Crow have a greatest hits album? After Googling, yup! She does! And I am going to illegally download the shit out of it! “Everyday Is a Winding Road”? That song is the shit.
James Durbin started things off by singing some 30 Seconds to Mars song I’m too old to recognize. (Fact: If you are older than 27, your reaction to 30 Seconds to Mars is: “Ew, man, Jordan Catalano, what the fuck did you do to yourself?”) During the pre-song video, we saw a few seconds of him singing it with Sheryl Crow, and they sounded fully awesome together. It would’ve been nice if she stepped onstage with all the kids to sing, but no, Durbin was by himself, and holy shit was he lost. He’d picked a burned-out little husk of a song, but Durbin disappeared into it, sounding a few notes too low for the entire song with the exception of the one forced, obligatory high note, and I’m not even sure he hit that. Also, he was wearing this punk vest with studs and patches all over it, and I’m going to make a Bill Maher New Rule and say you can’t wear one of those things unless you sewed (or at least safety-pinned) all that shit on yourself. Some of us learned how to sew that way, and we can tell when you’re cold fraudulent with it. The judges fell all over themselves to praise him, since that’s what the judges on this show do now.
Later in the show, he sang Harry Nilsson’s “Without You,” an actual song with a build and a melody and shit. He did pretty good with it! During the video package, there was this whole thing where he couldn’t practice the song because he had to go cry in a corner about his family, and that was all a little overblown, but at least it showed that he’s thinking about the song he’s singing. Jimmy Iovine and all the judges made a big thing about how he should be singing stuff that sounds like 30 Second to Mars, and it’s like: How about he sings some actual good songs instead?
Jacob Lusk sang the Jordin Sparks/Chris Brown duet “No Air,” a song so good that I couldn’t even bring myself to hate it when Chris Brown beasted out. But this was a weird version of the song, tinkly and relatively rhythmless. For whatever reason, his backing singers, as a unit, sounded like complete ass, clashing against each other like nuts. Lusk tried to cut loose on it the way he likes to do, but somehow it never took flight. I’d love to bust out some big conspiracy theory about how the show is trying to sabotage him, but he just seems to be fucking it up lately, crawling into his own head or something.
That’s what I was thinking early on, anyway, but then he came back and blazed the living fuck out of “Love Hurts,” starting it out over a harp and nothing else and then building to this big raging finale where he was roaring gospel-style all over it. This was one of his best moments of the entire season, and I wish I could just hear him do bigass power-ballads every week. Anthony Hopkins, looking creepy as fuck out in the crowd, seemed to enjoy it.
During the opening video packages, Lauren Alaina continued to look like a bag of nerves, but she always pulls her shit together onstage. She sang a spunky Carrie Underwood song and sounded pretty good. She did not, however, sound as good as Underwood; it’s death whenever any of these kids try to take on an iconic contestant. I had a hard time focusing on her, since the Brokencyde-haired fiddle player was back on the show again, and looking even more ridiculous. This guy! Here’s what he was wearing: A beadazzled t-shirt that said “ROCK THIS HOUSE,” a chain wallet, white jeans with like a strap around the thigh, black cowboy boots, and probably some other ridiculous shit that I didn’t notice. This guy would’ve made an absolutely glorious Vice Don’t, and I wish I knew more about him. Right now, I’d buy his autobiography no questions asked.
She returned later to sing “Unchained Melody,” which she says is her parents’ song. But I thought her parents’ song was that Aerosmith Armageddon one? I should not know this much about what Lauren Alaina’s parents’ song is. She sang a perfectly stately, polished version, and it was nice even though we’ve heard it a million times before. And I have to applaud the Idol house band for not cluttering this one up with shitty session-musician guitar solos and whatnot. They’ve actually been pretty good about that this year. Steven Tyler: “There’s nothing to judge. You’re just beautiful.” This is not something you should be saying when you’re being paid bazillions of dollars to judge performances.
Scotty McCreery sang Montgomery Gentry’s “Gone,” a fucking awesome song and probably one of my top 10 country joints from the past decade or so. His version was pretty much what he always does except better, and he showed some serious verve and confidence belting it out. If he’s going to stay that completely within his own genre, I have no complaints as long as he’s picking songs as good as that one. The judges all lost it over him, of course, and none of them pointed out that his voice actually cracked at one point during the song. I actually thought that was nice, though. Like: yes, he is an actual teenager.
Later, he refuted that actual-teenager thing with a ridiculously mature and elegant version of “Always on My Mind,” keeping his late-season peak going strong. This guy’s been a frontrunner all season, and he’s finally hitting the point where I’d be entirely cool with him winning. This could be Idol heresy, but his “Always on My Mind” was on par with the version of that song Anoop Desai sang a couple of years ago. If someone else sings that song on a future Idol season, though, could they finally trot out the Pet Shop Boys version?
In some spectacular work of cross-marketing, Haley Reinhart ended up singing an unreleased Lady Gaga song. The song, as it turned out, was a bluesy piano-bar kind of thing, and I can’t imagine how it’ll sound when it shows up on a Gaga record. It came off like a way-80s power ballad, like Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home” or something. I liked it, but it almost shouldn’t count as a contemporary song. The judges shit all over the song, so I don’t know if that worked out the way Iovine was planning.
She stepped shit up real heavy on the final song of the night, though, singing “House of the Rising Sun” and wringing all sorts of drama from every night. Haley is a serial oversinger, wailing and snarling when just singing a simple note will do. It’s bothered me all season, but for whatever reason, it worked beautifully this time. She really earned that final spot of the night. Nice work not smiling all through the song, too.