Recap: 'American Idol' Top 4 - Leiber & Stoller and Inspiration Night
Wednesday (May 11) night's "American Idol" was supposed to be Songs of Leiber & Stoller, but the "Idol" producers looked at one of the greatest songwriting teams in the history of American popular music and decided they didn't have enough songs to fill a whole show. So Wednesday's "Idol" is now one-half Inspirational Songs, mentored by nobody, and one-half Leiber & Stoller, mentored by Lady Gaga.
Click through for the full recap.
Singer: James Durbin
Song: "Don't Stop Believing"
My Take: The last thing James Durbin needs is more of a personal emotional connection to a song. "Does anybody know this song?" James yells to the welcoming crowd. Sadly, they all know the song from "Glee," rather than as the song that killed Tony Soprano. Kids today, yo. The problem is that for voters, their generation already has a definitive karaoke version of this Journey joint and James Durbin isn't replacing the "Glee" version (even if he's wearing a Journey shirt to show his preference for the original). Randy, who invented Journey in his basement from copper piping and frayed twine, is bopping in his head along, which is probably because James has added almost none of himself to what is an exhaustingly literal cover. At least he didn't break into tears, right? Realistically, this isn't an easy song to sing and after a little early roughness, James hits all the notes assertively, which isn't surprising given his strong upper register.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Steven Tyler asks Randy if he recognizes the song. "You couldn't have picked a more popular song right now," Tyler says before swearing a bit. J-Lo's happy. Randy calls Journey one of the greatest rock bands ever and salutes James for giving Steve Perry his props. "That was the highest degree of difficult and... YOU DID IT," Randy yells. But... but... Does that mean he isn't in it to win it?
Singer: Haley Reinhart
Song: "The Earth Song"
My Take: I'm not sure I knew that this was called "The Earth Song." Thanks for inspiring me to learn something Haley. I'm not a fan of Haley's up-do, which makes her look like she's getting ready to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. It's a bland beginning, but when Haley gets deeper into the song and she's able to really tear into it, she gets a bit better. When the gospel choir comes out, Haley isn't intimidated by the new voices on stage, which she was whenever she had backing vocals earlier and you could see her almost cower. However, just as she'd do earlier in the season, she feels like she has to shout to get over them, which may be as much a problem with the arrangement as her own singing prowess. I don't love this as a song choice, though. But Casey Abrams in the crowd does! It's just frustrating for Haley to have shined so brightly with the less-is-more arrangement of "House of the Rising Sun" and then to stumble when stuck with this level of noise. She's going agro in the same way performers on "The Voice" did in their Battles last night. Some people liked that, but this isn't the time or the place.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: You know what J-Lo loved about that? She could feel Haley's feeling in the song. There's a "but." J-Lo thinks Haley needed to choose more of a hit to compete with James' pandering. Haley gives the stink-eye to the camera. Randy's keeping it really real. It confused Randy about who Haley was as an artist, saying that she didn't go high enough, that she didn't "go there," that she didn't "deliver it." Haley's confused and clearly sad. "My opinion is, I didn't like it," Randy says, starting a shouting match with the perplexed Haley. "What do you get from that? They're both wrong," Tyler says of his fellow judges. Haley has no clue what she's supposed to do now.
Singer: Scotty McCreery
Song: "Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning"
My Take: Yo Seacrest, please stop trying to make "Scotty the Body" happen. Oooh. Well pandered, Scotty. This song doesn't just inspire him, it inspires him as an American. And he assumes it will inspire all Americans. I always like Scotty more when he's playing his guitar. I don't know if he can play at all, but I know that he's a totally different performer when he has his favorite prop. This song checks all of the boxes for the meat-and-potatoes "American Idol," perhaps the smartest choice of this kind since Kristy Lee Cook's immortal "God Bless the USA." And what are the chances any of the judges are going to criticize him? I'm thinking "nil." Heck, I'm not going to criticize Scotty either, because what would be the point? Scotty has played directly to his base all season long and this will make the base happy. And it's not a bad performance or anything. It's just an over-calculated, vaguely cynical performance.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "I think it's the perfect song choice for where we are as a country," Randy says, protecting himself from deportation. Randy adds that Scotty is ready for superstardom. "That was beautiful. Ditto what Randy said," Tyler adds. Has anybody put together a clip reel of Steven Tyler calling performances "beautiful" yet? Because I'm thinking we've had at least 50 "beautiful" performances this season. "I'm in love witchoo," J-Lo says, raving about what Scotty McCreery stands for. Yes, kids. Scotty McCreery just because ideological before our very eyes and you're either with him or against him. And you do *not* want to be against Scotty.
Singer: Lauren Alaina
My Take: Lauren doesn't go nearly as cynical as Scotty, but she targets targets voters in the South impacted by the recent storms. Yo, "Idol," you dropped the ball on a Red Cross number two weeks ago. Any chance of proceeds from this song going to a good cause? Lauren's a bit shrill and sharp, but she's also opening up her voice in ways she's been afraid to do as recently as last week. It's not an interesting song, but it's delivered with sincerity and without Scotty's notable calculation. Plus, a second straight performance that causes me to reference Kristy Lee Cook? How weird. This was Kristy Lee Cook's Song of Inspiration as well, back in the day. Want to know the odd thing? Lauren's version isn't *any* better than Ms. Cook's take.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "You did it again. You broke my heart. That was the most beautiful thing..." Steve says, even praising the buckles on Lauren's shoes. "I'm so proud of you," J-Lo says, grateful that Lauren has been listening to them. "America, Lauren is back in it to win it," Randy raves. "That was everything. You know what was wrong with that performance? Absolutely nothing!" Randy continues. Lauren gets choked up talking about what the song means to her. Sigh. We're running Haley out on a rail, aren't we? Asked to score the first round, J-Lo says that "everybody did really well." Randy says that everybody who isn't Haley won Round 1.
Singer: Haley Reinhart
Song: "I Who Have Nothing"
My Take: Haley figures she has a connection with mentor Lady Gaga, who calls her "perfect" and says that Haley's only challenge will be adding more drama. Haley's got a string ensemble behind her and a dress that's cut impressively high on one side. This is the Haley who we saw in her second performance last week, rather than the Haley who "Idol" abandoned with that awful first arrangement and the "Let's get rid of her" second song position. Last week, "Idol" propped Haley up. Tonight? Less so. But this performance is on the same level as "House of the Rising Sun." And it's a performance with a level of technical difficult that Scotty McCreery couldn't imagine and which Lauren Alaina couldn't pull off. James, who I haven't been loving for the past couple weeks, could probably deliver something like this. But it's going to be sad if the coddling of Lauren on that so-so inspirational song sends Haley home. Or maybe not "sad." But it's gonna make me annoyed, because when this girl is good, she's better than the other people are. [This isn't like last week when the judges were wrong about Haley's first performance and had to backtrack. Haley wasn't very good on tonight's first performance.] And yes, I'll take Haley's "I Who Have Nothing" over Jordin's more closely Shirley Bassey-esque cover, which was Jordin's defining performance in her winning season.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: The judges respect that, as we say, Haley is back. "This is why we can't take it easy on you. Look what you're capable of," J-Lo cheers, calling her baby a couple times, then calling it "one of the best performances of the year." Randy has something to tell us. "Baby, you just had a moment right here. Which puts you in it to win it!" Randy says. "You just Reinharted yourself into the middle of next week," Tyler says, calling it "a classic Haley moment."
Singer: Scotty McCreery
Song: "Young Blood"
My Take: Lady Gaga promises we're going to get to hear Scotty's funny side. She instructs him to think of the microphone as his girlfriend and to stick his tongue down its throat. "I just want to open him up a little bit," Gaga says. Scotty, regressing a bit in his microphone posture -- apparently he likes to hold his girlfriends sideways -- does, indeed, decide this is a "Let's have fun performance." He runs around the stage greeting young ladies and Casey Abrams alike. It's not even slightly interesting vocally. Every once in a while, he does a couple cutesy low notes. Otherwise? Yawn.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: You know what Randy loves? Scotty was having fun and Randy thinks he just saw both sides of a Scotty concert. I'm so sick of that "criticism." Randy's been using the "It's like being at your concern" as a crutch all season. "You make Gaga's yaya go lala," Tyler says pointlessly, adding that he loved the humor. "It was really great," J-Lo contributes. In a bit of pointless banter, Ryan tries kidding that Scotty had been flirting with Lady Gaga. Scotty squirms. It's bizarre that Haley gets taken to task earlier for not equally James' performance immediately before. But Scotty comes out and does this after what Haley did and the judges don't dare blink in their support.
Singer: Lauren Alaina
My Take: Lauren's uncomfortable with the idea that her song as a line about being "evil." Lauren doesn't want America thinking she's evil. "At the end of the day, being evil's not such a big deal, is it?" Lady Gaga asks, trying to coax Lauren's evil out of her. This bad-girl version of Lauren seems to be modeled after Sandy's transformation in "Grease." And I've never been sure if Olivia Newton-John is supposed to be convincing in that scene and I'm certainly not convinced Lauren is vaguely plausible smiling her way through "I'm evil." This is a Muppet Babies version of "Trouble," a little kid putting on the mannerisms of being a big kid, but never for a second letting down that "I'm just goofing around" veneer. And the big notes at the end are dreadful, smacking right up against those aforementioned limitations. She's yelling and yelling out of tune.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "I'm not sure I believe it or not believe it," Steve says, before adding that he loves Lauren. "It was mature. It was total attack. And it was really, really good," J-Lo claims. J-Lo hints at Lauren being all over the place at the end, but backs down and even goes so far as to say that Lauren was sexy, which is maybe the least true statement made on the judging panel this season. [Note: Even it it were true, I would politely decline any opportunity to call a 16-year-old girl sexy on national TV. But that's just me.] "I actually really enjoyed it," Randy says.
Singer: James Durbin
Song: "Love Potion No. 9"
My Take: Lady Gaga is definitely the most hands-on mentor we've had all season, grinding on James to encourage him to move his hips a little. She's a freak, but I really like what she's trying to get out of these kids. It's a strongly rock-inflected take on the song and James definitely has the confidence back that he lacked last week and that he toned down on Journey earlier. There's no sign of the desired hip-shaking, but he's moving with authority and he totally has the audience in the palm of his hand, slaying on a twice-delayed final note. I'm very glad to have James the Showman back. This was the night's second best performance for me.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "You know what that showed me, James? That you can sing anything," J-Lo giggles. "You are now what I love about sports... You're peaking at the right time," Randy barks. Tyler calls it "a beautiful thing."
TONIGHT'S BEST: Haley's "I Who Have Nothing" was the night's best performance, while James' "Love Portion No. 9" was second best. There was a lot of so-so-ness from there.
TONIGHT'S WORST: Haley's "The Earth Song" wasn't good, but I think Lauren's "Trouble" was worse. And Scotty's "Young Blood" wasn't that much better.
IN DANGER: One of the girls is going home. It deserves to be Lauren, it'll more likely be Haley.
Who did you like? Who did you dislike?