‘American Idol’ Report Card: Jacob Lusk Dominates Motown Night

While the gospel belter wows the judges, Casey Abrams' take on another Marvin Gaye classic fails to impress.

Last week, we awarded a handful of gold stars to “American Idol” judge Steven Tyler for commentary filled with wacky maxims and wackier metaphors (seven days on, we still don’t know what he meant by “ethnic what-it-is-ness”). This week, we’re forced to dole out a demerit to Jennifer Lopez, because four weeks into the voting portion of the show, the new judge still hasn’t learned that — in class as in reality competitions — you need to wait your turn to talk. Over and over on Wednesday night, J. Lo interrupted her fellow judges, talking over Randy Jackson and butting in as Tyler, once again, dipped the English language in LSD.

Listen, Jennifer — it’s a long season and we dig your passion, but we’re hoping for more from you as the “Idol” season pushes forward. That’s exactly how we’d been feeling, in fact, about a bunch of promising contestants who’d disappointed us in recent weeks.

Thankfully, a bunch of them — Jacob Lusk in particular — roared back on Wednesday’s show. Here’s how everyone ended up on this week’s “American Idol” report card.

Excellent

Jacob Lusk: In our “Idol” preview on Wednesday, we counseled Jacob to make restraint his key creative directive. Jimmy Iovine echoed that same advice, and the 23-year-old singer took it — and proceeded to deliver his finest performance of the season. While his rendition of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “You’re All I Need to Get By” was not quite up to the level of Kelly Clarkson’s so many years ago, it was still far and away the evening’s best. The kid has got serious vocal range and each word drips with emotion. Add in that sequence of hugs from his grandma and a dozen lucky ladies, and it’s no wonder Jacob dominated Motown night.

Good

Scotty McCreery: At times during his cover of Stevie Wonder’s “For Once in My Life,” Scotty tried to loosen up, tried to push his vocals outside his country comfort zone. But the truth is, the times he strayed from his twangy baritone were the times it became clear that he doesn’t have the most powerful voice. Scotty really is at his best when he sticks with exactly what he knows. Let’s stop fighting it. He is who he is, and is pretty darn good at it.

Pia Toscano: By now we have to admit that a slightly uptempo Whitney Houston tune is as fast-paced a performance as Pia will ever be comfortable giving. Wednesday’s rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “All in Love Is Fair” was big and beautiful and, yes, another ballad — and the judges admonished her for it. Next week she just might pick up the pace; we’ll have to see if she’s at ease doing it.

Paul McDonald: Paul’s wisest move was to strap on that guitar, keeping him anchored in place rather than thrashing about like a sailboat in a tsunami. For the first time in weeks, we were finally able to concentrate on those unique vocals of his, which sound like he smoked a carton of Marlboro Reds, then guzzled a bucketful of locally grown honey. In short, Paul is back!

Satisfactory

Lauren Alaina: She started off excellently, with a sparse intro on the Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.” The rest of the performance did not live up to that beginning, if only because the tempo and the backup singers didn’t give her a chance to shine. Oh, and when this 16-year-old tries to play the seductress, it’s just uncomfortable. Swagger’s one thing; a teenager pretending to be a “Coyote Ugly”
waitress is another.

Stefano Langone: After wowing viewers last week, Stefano badly stumbled with Lionel Richie’s “Hello.” That’s not because he’s missing an emotional connection to his songs any more than anyone on the show save for Jacob (though the judges certainly have embraced that talking point). The problem was that Stefano’s vocals simply weren’t up to the challenge. That doesn’t happen often. We hope it doesn’t happen again.

Haley Reinhart: The judges did their best to heap on the praise after Haley regained her bluesy form during a cover of the Miracles’ “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me.” It was the best she’s sounded in weeks. Alas, too little, too late. With the modest goal of simply avoiding the bottom three, she assured herself not only a trip to that sad group but quite possibly a one-way ticket back to Wheeling, Illinois.

Naima Adedapo: We love her unpredictability, and yet it might be her undoing. You never know what you’re going to get with Naima, which is another way of saying she hasn’t made any headway in the old “Idol” law about making clear what kind of artist you are. Her vocals during Martha and the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Street” were on-point, and we dig the risks she continues to take. But being such an erratic performer makes it difficult to attract a fanbase that will vote for Naima week after week. Once again, she’s in trouble.

James Durbin: James lands in satisfactory territory because after a strong start, the performance utterly collapsed in a barrage of pitchy notes and enough-already squeals. He remains a fan favorite. What we haven’t seen from him thus far is consistency from week to week.

Unsatisfactory

Casey Abrams: It wasn’t that Casey’s performance, when compared to those of the rest of his “Idol” compatriots, was that unsatisfactory. It was that, when contrasted against his earlier songs, his take on Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” was borderline unacceptable. We’re starting to worry that, like Andrew Garcia before him, Abrams is a one-trick pony — all growls and too little greatness. Producer Kuk Harrell did give him some excellent advice about not overdoing those soulful groans, but reining them in only served to highlight his by-now-predictable artistry and that maniacal stare. Creepy!

Thia Megia: Thia, Thia, Thia — what are we going to do with you? Well, we have a feeling what voters are going to do or, we should say, not do with you. Kudos for at least going uptempo during a cover of Martha and the Vandellas’ “Heat Wave,” after so many sonorous ballads. Yet while the tempo was a risk, her vocals stayed in a very safe territory. In the harshest backhanded compliment of the season, Iovine said he was “pleasantly shocked” at Thia’s performance.
No one should be surprised, though, if Thia ends up in the bottom three on Thursday.

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