— Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but the “American Idol” judges loved every single one of the performances on Wednesday night.
On a night when the singers picked selections from artists honored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it was easy to listen to the judges' comments and imagine that each of the nine remaining finalists were destined to join the exalted ranks of the all-time greats sooner rather than later.
The most negative feedback of the night came when Randy Jackson told Stefano Langone, “I wasn’t jumping up and down over it,” and he was immediately contradicted by Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez.
The trio said at the close of the performance that they had no idea who American should vote for, since everyone was equally awesome. So without any direction from them, it’s up to the discerning viewer to anticipate who’s in trouble.
One sweating singer will be Paul McDonald. McDonald, who for the first time all season was not explicitly praised for this unique voice (though Tyler did laud him for being imperfect) was in the bottom three a week ago, the lone member of that trio to survive a double elimination. He sang Johnny Cash's “Folsom Prison Blues,” a tune about someone who shot a man in Reno just to watch him die, as though it was a manic hoedown played at a jailhouse jamboree.
Though Cash may have been rolling over in his grave at that arrangement, McDonald did close the show with a high-energy performance, which will help him. And if he survives, it’s a tribute to mentor Jimmy Iovine, who advised him to go all out and sound crazy. Mission accomplished.
If not him, then Langone may be in danger. He did, after all, get that tepid endorsement from Randy, and his version of the classic “When a Man Loves a Woman” by Percy Sledge started off very slowly before he finally hit his stride late. It was not memorable, and likely did not win him new fans.
Casey Abrams and Jacob Lusk could also be in trouble. Both gave performances — Abrams with "Have You Ever Seen the Rain" by Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Lusk with Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror" — that their existing fan bases will love, but they also sang early in the show and didn’t stand out. And if any of the three women is in danger, it’s probably Haley Reinhart. She made a great choice in singing Janis Joplin's "Piece of My Heart," but she went early in the show and may have been too forgettable.
Reinhart also was the only one of the trio of women who Christian Slater’s daughter did not say she was a fan of. And if you’ve lost the Slater vote, what chance do you really have?
Only four singers would be truly shocking eliminations.
Pia Toscano finally went up-tempo and did an excellent “River Deep, Mountain High” by Tina Turner. She both looked and sounded like a star, and on a night when everyone did well, she was exceptional. And she proved Randy right — going up-tempo was the right call for her here.
Close behind was James Durbin, who took what the judges described as a risk but was in fact just a strong strategic play in choosing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by George Harrison. It was slower than the rest of the numbers, but still effective. It was also a move he had to make, since without understated efforts, he’s more of a gimmick than a contender, and it also stood out as a ballad on a night where everyone else went more up-tempo
The two teenagers are also on solid ground. Scotty McCreery’s “That’s All Right, Mama” by Elvis wasn’t his best. Tyler told him that he had thought the teen was “all hat, no cattle” prior to this. Considering the Aerosmith frontman has had nothing but praise for McCreery, or indeed any other contestant, that was a strange comment to make. But at any rate, there are no indications that the country crooner is close to being in danger.
The same us true of Lauren Alaina, who is very fortunate that there was no Simon Cowell to point out the irony of the youngest female in the competition singing a grown-up song like Aretha Franklin's “(You Make Me Feel like a) Natural Woman.”
No Doubt about her style
Gwen Stefani made her return to the “Idol” set, her first time in a major role since serving as a disastrous guest mentor in season six in which she said little of value and looked bored out of her mind.
This time, she offered style tips for the women, which is something we’ll probably see addressed more on Thursday’s results show. It seems like she did a lot better this time around than she did four years ago — the girls all looked great. Toscano’s getup in particular was very rock diva-esque.
Will.i.am was also back, joining Iovine in the mentoring chair. The Black Eyed Pea is a semi-permanent fixture in season 10, whether it’s performing onstage or advising the singers. And he was pretty funny this week while also providing useful feedback. The show should try and find a place for him … perhaps using him and Harry Connick Jr. to comment from the cheap seats after every performance.
At least that way, we might get some something besides lavish praise on the show.