'American Idol' Top 4: Haley Reinhart, James Durbin slay it

haley-james-idol-top-4-recap.jpgThe "American Idol" judges come out and I am struck by how much Tyler looks like somebody's wacky maiden aunt named Helen. Conversely, when the Idols come out - Haley and Lauren look amazing. Amazing.

Lady Gaga is on hand to mentor the Idols, which is cool. The two themes are Inspirational for the first song and then the Leiber and Stoller songbook for song two, which is the part Gaga mentored.

Before we get to the rankings of the Idols from best to worst, just let me say that it was pretty [not nice word] of Randy and J.Lo to say that everybody did well in round one except Haley. Seriously? You can't just act like you can't pick who was best? You have to say, "All of you were good but Haley"? You didn't beat her up enough after her song was over? D*** move. And it did not smack of the patented Simon Cowell double-secret-probation-mojo wherein he criticizes someone to mobilize their fanbase. It just smacked of being mean.

Here are the performances, from best to worst:

1. (tie) Haley Reinhart, "I (Who Have Nothing)," best known by Shirley Bassey

Wonderful choice, despite the fact that Jordin Sparks killed it previously on "Idol." There is just so much emotion in the song. It's also especially apropos after her shellacking at the hands of two judges last round. Oooh, when she gets to the "windowPANE" and the ooh-ooh-ooh that follows, I got actual goosebumps. Gorgeous. So raw. And the ending, with the mean/desperate look on her face? Awesome. She gets a standing O from the judges. As well she should. J.Lo says this is why they are hard on her - look what she can do when she pushes herself. One of the best of the year, J.Lo says.

1. (tie) James Durbin, "Love Potion No. 9," The Clovers

Lady Gaga tries to loosen James up by putting her hands on him. Yeeeah. Anyway, I'm skeptical about this song choice until he starts performing. It's wonderful. It actually makes a very dated song sound current. He makes a few melody line changes that totally work, the guitar is going bonkers, he makes it sound manly. It's crazy. This is why I didn't go so nuts over his "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow." I think he could've gone further with the arrangement he started out with. Anyway, this rocked. Totally awesome. The judges love it.

2. James Durbin, "Don't Stop Believin'" Journey

He could not have picked a better song just in terms of pandering (not that I don't love me some Journey, because I really do). This song's resurgence in the last 5-6 years has been crazypants, plus I bet there is a lot of "Glee" crossover audience/voters with "Idol." Vocally, it's a tough choice because Steve Perry can straight-up wail - but Durbin does alright, actually. He's got the big high notes nailed, especially on the "ohhh-OHHH- OHHHHHH" part (you know what I mean). Fun way to kick it off. The judges are big fans, Randy cites degree of difficulty, which - yeah.

Hey, remember how Randy was in Journey? *eyeroll*

3. Lauren Alaina, "Anyway," Martina McBride


Oooh, I'm not sure Lauren has the chops to take on Martina. That woman has a humongous voice and as we saw last week on "Unchained Melody," Lauren doesn't have those big high notes. The song starts off very pretty and the key is right on for Lauren to hit the big notes, there's an especially good swoop right before the bridge. I take it back - that was very good, perfect key for her. Tyler is in love with her (and manages not to be creepy about it). J.Lo says she's proud of her, but also kinda manages to take a shot at Haley's dejection earlier at her criticism. Randy says the Lauren we all know and love is back.

Lauren gets all dorkily friendly with Ryan Seacrest after her performance. He's a good sport.

4. Scotty McCreery, "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)," Alan Jackson

OK, I'm sorry. I hate this song. But also - brilliant song choice for Scotty. Vocally, it's decent. It's not perfect. There are a few bum notes. He does try to do a few things differently towards the end, which is nice, and his emotion while he sings it is palpable. Better song than Haley's call. Randy says it's a good song for where we are as a country. Oh, barf. C'mon, Randy. He also says Scotty is ready for super-stardom, which ... not yet. But he could be. Steven likes his passion. J.Lo is in love with him. It's a shame he didn't do "Where Were You When We Built That Ladder To Heaven" instead, hee. But yeah, is there any question he's going all the way to the finals? No.

5. Haley Reinhart, "Earth Song," Michael Jackson

I'm torn as to whether this song is moving and poignant or schmaltzy and heavy-handed. I'm leaning towards the latter. Vocally, Haley is very restrained, which is a lovely way to hear her voice. Turns out she can sing without growling. And the song busts out with a big choir backing her and she still gets to show off her vocal gymnastics. I liked it, I didn't love it. Not jumping out of my chair and it didn't really seem to fit Haley. J.Lo constructively says that it was maybe not the strongest choice for her, which I agree with. I normally don't like how much J.Lo beats up on her, but I think that's a valid critique. Randy echoes my sentiment that it didn't fit her. But he also says this was Michael Jackson's "pinnacle," which ... no.

Haley starts to argue with J.Lo and Randy, which is normally something I don't like to see Idols do, but the two of them beat up on her more than any other contestant, so it's probably just her frustration coming out. Luckily, Steven jumps to her defense and says they're both wrong. She still looks pretty dejected. Awww, chin up, Haley boo.

6. Lauren Alaina, "Trouble," Elvis

Uh, what is Lauren's weird deal about the lyric "evil"? Sometimes I wonder about Lauren. Anyway, vocally Lauren finally lets loose and sounds pretty good, despite being dressed like she should be performing in a Branson casino. Despite being an OK vocal, it still wasn't as good as her first performance. She's not believable at being "trouble." At all. And the ending isn't big enough. Tyler doesn't believe it either, but he lies and says he did. J.Lo says she saw a previously unseen performance quality. Hmm.

7. Scotty McCreery, "Young Blood," orig. sung by The Coasters

I didn't get to see Scotty's Gaga mentoring clip because of bad weather and my satellite cutting out, but it sounds like it was funny? I imagine Scotty hates/is terrified by everything about Lady Gaga, so I'm sure it was funny, if not intentionally. Kinda like when Randy Travis met Adam Lambert.

Anyway, I didn't love this performance. It wasn't horrible, but it seemed very karaoke and didn't actually have much singing in it other than one nice low spot. The judges were full of praise, but no. Simon Cowell would've ripped this apart. It was cheesy, it didn't have a great vocal. Seacrest teases Scotty about flirting with Lady Gaga and Scotty Boomhauers, "Yaknowidontknowmangagamanidunno."


So who is going home? Honestly, I don't know. James and Scotty are obviously safe, and after last week, I would've said Haley would join them in the Top 3. But Lauren had a strong night. Haley stumbled, but came back hard core. It'll be interesting.
Photo/Video credit: FOX
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