The oddest thing about "American Idol" on Wednesday night wasn't that Rock and Roll Hall of Fame night was largely rock-and-roll free. No, what was truly weird was that producers seemed to be trying out a new reality-show concept on the program — some newfangled version of "Perfect Strangers" starring Jimmy Iovine and will.i.am as a bickering, kind-of-annoying, yet ultimately endearing twosome.
Is it too much to ask that pre-performance packages focus on contestants rather than look-at-me producers/personalities? To the folks behind the "Idol" scenes, we offer a firm tsk-tsk-tsk. To the singers themselves, we send out our hearty congratulations. No one bombed. No one put us to sleep. Five weeks into the finals, we're proud of these kids. Here's how they stack up on our latest "American Idol" report card.
Scotty McCreery: He Who Shall Soon Sell Millions of Records promised to transform himself into a rocker for an Elvis Presley cover, but Scotty couldn't ditch his country vibe if he hopped in a Ferrari and floored it. During his honky-tonk take on "That's All Right, Mama," the 17-year-old was loosey-goosey and loving being up on the stage. Oh, and he sounded great, too — like a true country pro. Scotty's starting to believe he might win this thing. He's not wrong.
Haley Reinhart: We don't often see stuff like this, a contestant struggling at the bottom tier of the competition, only to rediscover her greatness after weeks of confusion and criticism. That's exactly what's happened with [article id="1661038"]Haley,[/article] who followed up a killer take on [article id="1661012"]Elton John's "Bennie and the Jets"[/article] with an impressive cover of Janis Joplin's "Piece of My Heart." What a muscular voice she has! Our only complaint is that we wish the arrangement had been more sparse, allowing her vocals to soar.
Pia Toscano: We hated the cheesy synth chords in the background of that cover of Tina Turner's "River Deep, Mountain High." We didn't think she looked all that comfortable scrambling around the stage. None of that, however, matters at all. Why? Because Pia has one of the finest voices we've heard on "Idol" in years. End of story.
Paul McDonald: Who would have guessed that Paul, and not Scotty, would be the one singing Johnny Cash? Paul's take on "Folsom City Blues" was good, clean, swinging fun. Playing the guitar rather than flippity-flopping all over the stage continues to pay dividends for him. We're just not sure any of it will be enough to keep him out of the bottom three. And that's a shame.
Jacob Lusk: There was goofy dancing. There was oh-no-don't-do-that hip thrusting. There were pitch problems as far as the eye could see. OK, fine. But the most galling aspect of Jacob's night was his smug observation that if he landed in the bottom three, it'd have nothing to do with his singing but rather would be an indictment of America herself. Listen, Jacob, we'll give you the same advice we gave James Durbin a few weeks ago: Be humble and be great, because on Wednesday, you were neither.
Casey Abrams: The bushy beard was back, as were the zany stares when you can almost hear Casey thinking, "If I just keep squinting, I'll totally look all sexy and stuff, right?" Wrong! We like Casey because he's got a hefty serving of soul hiding inside an unlikely package. And, yes, we liked his faithful Creedence Clearwater Revival homage. He's got undeniable musical talent. But Casey continues to fall into default growl mode too often, and we're no longer buying what he's selling: That ain't originality we're hearing, it's a defense mechanism.
Lauren Alaina: We're reluctant to drop Lauren into this category. She performed far better than Jacob or Casey. Yet her take on "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" didn't hold a candle to tunes from Haley or Pia. We were happy to hear her deliver a ballad, as we've continued to argue it's during slower songs that she's able to shine. But let's be clear: This was nothing compared to the cover that Kelly Clarkson busted out years ago — a fact that makes the judges' comparisons last month of Lauren to the season one winner all the more laughable.
James Durbin: James, too, slips into "satisfactory" territory, if only because at this point in the season, the competition is stiff and the top tier set the bar so high on Wednesday. We give him a big thumbs-up for embracing some soft Beatles rock, even if we maintain [article id="1661488"]"Hey Jude"[/article] would have been a savvier choice. And we'd even go so far as to say his screams actually worked this time, bringing a rousing conclusion to a somewhat sleepy tune. So what was James problem? He only seemed to hit, oh, a third of the notes in "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."
Stefano Langone: In the "Idol" audience, Christian Slater was clasping his hands, praying that Stefano would hit the money note on "When a Man Loves a Woman." He didn't, and he's in serious danger of going home. The falsetto wasn't there, nor was the sense that he's not singing alone in his car but in front of millions of viewers at home. Stefano's had a good and, one might argue, unlikely run. But heading out in the top nine seems about right.
So how did you rate this week's "Idol" performances? Share your opinions in the comments.
Get your "Idol" fix on MTV News' "American Idol" page, where you'll find all the latest news, interviews and opinions.