Randy posed the same question to our Top Five he's been asking all season: "Who's in it to win it?" "Songs from then and now" was the theme (Idol is definitely running out of theme ideas), and any first-half failures had a chance to redeem themselves in the second. Meanwhile, guest mentor Sheryl Crow lent some credibility just by being there, without straying from the judges' line. She loves all the contestants, she said. "But the cold, hard truth is that someone is going home."
James kicked things off with "Closer to the Edge," by 30 Seconds to Mars. However screamy and off-key this kid may come off onscreen, people in the know seem to love him. "I got to sing with James. I feel like I can officially retire," Sheryl said in rehearsal. By this, she did not mean that singing with James Durbin puts a person off music forever. After James screamed gainfully through the crowd, Randy proclaimed him "in it to win it."
Next up was Jacob, who gyrated hard during "No Air," by Jordin Sparks and Chris Brown. There wasn't much to like about Jacob's attempt to sing to himself, and by this season's standards, he was savagely brutalized by the judges. "I don't think anyone on this stage should be singing duet songs in both parts," Randy said. "It came off a little cheesy." After stating that Jacob has maybe the best voice ever in the history of Idol, Steven followed with "We're just waiting for you to find your way."
Lauren straddled the first half with Carrie Underwood's "Flat on the Floor." This was by far the most confident Lauren's been yet. Instead of loping awkwardly around the stage, she took Sheryl's advice to stand in one place and draw in the audience. Steven called the performance "simply as good as it gets," and Jennifer bopped along with a tough in-the-club look on her face. In it to win it!
Fourth was "Scotty the Body" (all Ryan). He sang Montgomery Gentry's "Gone" with a new kind of immediacy than his normally stiff delivery. "Up till now you've been like a Puritan, but I swear to God I saw you dance like the devil tonight," Steven said. At best, Scotty could pass for a guy in a devil Halloween costume. But he clearly was having a good time, calling it "the most fun [he's] had on that stage in a long time." Randy reassured him he's in it to win it.
Haley closed the first half with an unreleased Gaga song the Good Lady sings in concert,"Yoü and I." (Don't judge the umlaut, it's judging you.) In what must have been an exciting phone call for Haley, she asked permission from Gaga herself to do it. Surprisingly, the Idol camerapeople were not involved. How is it possible we saw crazy Ashley's pre-Vegas-wedding shopping trip but not the Gaga call? The judges did not approve of Haley's decision to take a risk with an unknown song, and "in it to win it" was on no one's lips.
The lyrics made James think of his young wife and child, and he could neither hold back the tears nor keep quiet about his great sacrifice for them. The judges called it an "emotionally perfect" performance, with a "weird kind of James Durbin pitchiness." Not sure about that "perfect" part, but Hear! Hear! on the Durbin brand of pitchiness. It's starting to sound intentional and therefore sort of neat.
Jacob reformed himself with a stellar version of the Everly Brothers' "Love Hurts." He got low and intense at all the right phrases, and did not gyrate at all. Sir Anthony Hopkins surfaced mysteriously in the audience just at the performance's close. Let it be said that the Gallant Sir Knight's appearance on Idol is a sign of whimsical things to come, for the world. The judges approved of Jacob tackling rock & roll ("In it to win it"), and while Ryan shouted out the numbers to dial, Jacob smiled in a way that indicated someone backstage told him he needs to smile more. It was sort of scary, and hopefully that person will tell Jacob to tone it down for next time.
For her oldie, Lauren chose "Unchained Melody," by the Righteous Brothers, which she said was her parents' song. Didn't she once say "Don't Want to Miss a Thing," by Aerosmith, was her parents' song? Makes us all wonder how young her parents must be. In any event, Lauren clearly does well with whatever stands in as her parents' song in the moment, because this was a knockout along the lines of her Aerosmith trump during audition time. The judges were so moved they simply refused to judge.
Scotty returned to his Puritan roots for Brenda Lee's (and Elvis', and Willie's, etc.) "Always on My Mind" – all eyebrows, smoldering gaze and hyper-country voice. In her aside, Sheryl confessed to loving this Scotty. "I live in Nashville, and I can't wait for him to move there and have a big singing career that I can sort of worm my way around." Probably Scotty will actually worm his way around Sheryl's already big singing career. Also, if Sheryl loves Scotty so much, where was her "Scotty Is a Hottie" sign?
Haley took the stage last with the biggest mistake to correct – taking a risk. For her repentance, she sang "The House of the Rising Sun," by the Animals, which Sheryl promised would be an interpretation unlike any we've heard before. If you hadn't heard any but the Animals' interpretation, that's definitely true. First of all, Haley is a girl. Second, an angry girl. In Haley's version, the House of the Rising Sun is a place so full of abuse and puppy killing and who knows what else, the only thing to do is curse it. She growled and shouted certain words strategically, all of which highlighted how tempered Haley's become with her growls and shouting. It was like re-meeting a teenager and noticing all at once how much she's grown. The judges called it the "performance of the night." We call it her performance of the season. This one, ladies and gentleman, is in it to maybe actually win it.
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