By the time the top 12 men on "American Idol" make it to the big stage, it's usually pretty easy to tell who is in it to win it and who will be going home after one week in the IdolDome.
And Tuesday night (March 1) was no exception, with some of this season's standouts proving again that they have their eye on the prize. While Casey Abrams and Jacob Lusk soared, James Durbin brought the rock thunder and Scotty McCreery did his country thing, dawg.
And, for the first time in "Idol" history, fans could also vote online for their favorite singer.
Karaoke host Clint Jun Gamboa got things started with a conservative pick, Stevie Wonder's "Superstition," putting his soulful touch on the song thanks to some falsetto gospel wailing and hip-hop-esque dancing. Steven Tyler dubbed it "beautiful" and "brilliant," and Jennifer Lopez said even with some jitters at the start, Gamboa nailed it. "There's no karaoke singer in the world that's got that vocal talent," Randy Jackson added.
Beefcake shipyard worker Jovany Barreto settled in to what will likely be his soft pocket, a pillowy, eyelash-batting swing through Edwin McCain's "I'll Be," which he turned into a Celine Dion-worthy seduction play with smooth, clean vocals. Once again, Tyler and Lopez fawned, though Randy just didn't get it, saying it was karaoke and didn't have any unique spark.
Another Down South singer, Jordan Dorsey, went a different route, stripping off his suit jacket while over-enunciating the lyrics to Usher's "OMG" in a performance that was at once jittery and self-assured. Lopez said he picked the wrong song and should have gone with a more mellow Nat King Cole-like tune, and Randy once again said it didn't bring anything new, in addition to being pitchy and a bit off.
It was a stroll through Rob Thomas' uplifting "Streetcorner Serenade" for Tim Halperin, who hit the notes but failed to show much personality on the bland rock-lite tune. In his first negative comments of the night, Tyler lamented that the song didn't do Halperin much justice and that he failed to show his strength.
It's been a wild, emotional ride for bully target Brett Loewenstern, but he brought his whole quirky bag of tricks to the Doors' "Light My Fire." What began as a sedate jazzy come-on turned into a showcase for his show-tune-worthy upper range and budding showmanship. "Brett, man, you did it again," Tyler enthused, while J.Lo lauded B.Lo's profuse hair-tossing, saying it was more tress-work than hers and Beyoncé's combined. "The thing that was cool about that is that you're definitely fun and definitely bold and you're gonna do whatever you want to do," Randy said.
James Durbin has carved a niche as this year's Adam Lambert, without the glitter and with a rougher edge, and he knows his sweet spot. He bit into Judas Priest's classic "You've Got Another Thing Coming," working the stage, using just enough of his screeching falsetto and showing some rock-frontman style, while inexplicably rocking what looked like a horse's tail. "That was f---ing crazy good!" Tyler yelped, praising him for being the first to take on the leather rockers on "Idol." Lopez said she loves his organic performance style and encouraged him to keep it up.
Long Island, New York, sweetie pie Robbie Rosen also stuck to his strength, emoting Sarah McLachlan's "Angel" while standing still center stage and making doe eyes at the ladies. The vocals were crisp and on point, but Rosen may have underplayed it on his first trip to the big stage. Lopez said the notes weren't all perfect, but Rosen told a story with his vocals and put some unique emotion into the performance. Jackson wasn't feeling it, slamming Rosen for being all over the place, a bit pitchy and singing too much in his head voice.
North Carolina 16-year-old basso profundo Scotty McCreery isn't one to shake it up either. He side-mouth sang John Michael Montgomery's "Letters From Home," hitting all the low notes with his best aw-shucks, eyebrow-raising look and confidence. "You're born to sing country music," Jennifer said. The song perfectly represented his style and substance according to Tyler, while Randy commended his commitment to singing old-school country.
Car-crash victim Stefano Langone also played it safe with a soft-rock run through Bruno Mars' "Just the Way You Are" that was a bit nasally but had plenty of personality. "You had us all up here rocking like we were at a concert!" Jackson barked, saying Langone was already radio-ready.
Bearded country boy Paul McDonald put all his raspy goodness on display for Rod Stewart's "Maggie May," working the stage like a seasoned veteran while doing his rag-doll dance and sliding in some vocal quirks and plenty of smiling eye contact with the crowd. "You got a real character about your voice, and I love that, the way you act up there and just shake it off," Tyler said. Randy was excited that "Idol" could embrace such a quirky singer, but Jennifer said it was his 1,000-watt smile that really hooked her.
After knocking out what Randy called the single greatest performance in show history, Jacob Lusk had quite a bit to live up to. But the gospel-loving divo didn't disappoint with a velvet-sheet take on Luther Vandross' "A House Is Not a Home," originally recorded by Dionne Warwick, that was strong but not the kind of showy vocal master class he's put on in the past. It helped that Vandross is J.Lo's favorite singer, so she loved it, and Randy said Luther would be very proud. Tyler was faint in his praise, saying he was merely "honored" to be in Lusk's presence.
Musical polymath Casey Abrams got the night's pimp spot, ending the show with Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You." His mannered take on the soul classic leaned on a herky-jerky jazz arrangement and featured a somewhat-scary spastic jumble of screaming that won over the room. "You're sexy, Casey," Lopez smoldered. "You came out with a hunger and a fire and you just ... ate it up," she said. "You are in-your-mind good and out-of-your-mind unreal," Steven said. Randy applauded his uniqueness and begged for "more, more, more."
By Thursday, the men and women will be down to just five apiece, at which point the judges will add their wildcard picks and America will have its top 13.
Don't miss "Idol Party Live" at 10 p.m. Thursday on MTV.com, following the "American Idol" results show, for analysis, celebrity guests and even some karaoke. In the meantime, get your "Idol" fix on MTV News' "American Idol" page, where you'll find all the latest news, interviews and opinions.