She's gone but not forgotten. The ghost of Pia Toscano was everywhere on Wednesday's (April 13) "American Idol," from an opening montage reminding viewers that "every vote counts," to a poster in the audience that read "I miss Pia" to the mentors' many invocations of the eliminated finalist's name.
But Pia, alas, is gone and the show, as they say in Hollywood, must go on — in this case to Tinseltown itself. The theme was songs of the cinema, and like last week, we got a show with no bombs and a few blockbusters.
Paul McDonald kicked things off with Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock and Roll" from "Risky Business." Unlike Tom Cruise in that classic '80s flick, however, Paul didn't perform the song in his underwear, a tactic that would likely have assured the guy a spot in the finals. Nonetheless, he kicked the show off in style, a high-energy performance in which he ditched his guitar and sashayed around the stage but didn't succumb to the silly dance moves we've seen from him in the past.
The judges loved his rose-embroidered suit, loved his sax player, but more than anything else, they loved his energy. "I love your crazy, wild abandon," said Steven Tyler, while Randy argued America had just witnessed the opening number at a forthcoming McDonald concert.
Next up was Lauren Alaina, whom mentor Jimmy Iovine dubbed not only a better singer than Miley Cyrus but one capable of burying the Disney starlet's own rendition of "The Climb." What's more, Jimmy delivered a message to all of the viewers at home: Lauren's the contestant who deserves to gobble up Pia's voting bloc. Her ballad would certainly appeal to fans of the departed singer, though Lauren's tune was hardly as pitch-perfect as previous Pia songs. What Lauren delivered was a performance that was, in terms of emotion and comfort level on the stage, far superior to anything Pia had delivered.
"I love the tear you have in your voice. It's a cry. It's something that really transmits," Jennifer Lopez said. "You sang it so beautifully, so beautifully. You don't need to steal anybody's votes. You're getting your own."
It remains to be seen just how many votes of his own Stefano Langone will be getting. But during his cover of Boyz II Men's "End of the Road," he made a serious bid to attract enough support to stay safe for another week. He started off weakly, his vocals seemingly not up to the task of nailing the song's high notes. Yet as the music built, Stefano stepped up, letting loose vocally and showing more artistry than we've perhaps ever seen from him.
Predicting what Boyz II Men would soon tell him, Jackson said, "Your man Stefano just slayed the song." The other judges agreed. "This is so not the end of the road for you," Tyler said. "This is the beginning."
The same could be said of Scotty McCreery, who can do no wrong in the judges' eyes nor, it appears, in those of the public. The 17-year-old suggested he was going back to his country roots with George Strait's "I Cross My Heart," as if he'd ever strayed far from them. Call it returning to his strengths or continuing to exploit them — whatever the case, Scotty once again busted out a mature performance that could become a hit on country radio tomorrow. He even took a few more vocal risks than usual, including a sustained note at the finale that was easily three times longer than any other he'd belted out all season.
"Everybody wants us to be tough with you guys, but the truth is y'all are so damn good," Lopez said. "All I really want to say is wow. That was really good." Jackson seconded that assessment, and raised her one. "Look at this guy right here," he said. "A star is born on this stage."
Casey Abrams, rocking an ascot and a severely trimmed beard, followed Scotty onto the stage. He was unsure if he should sing Phil Collins or Nat King Cole, but ultimately went with a slow and jazzy take on Cole's "Nature Boy" that allowed him to whisper and growl and scat and, of course, slap some on the bass.
The judges certainly thought Casey made the right choice. They praised his artistry and the educational value of his music, comparing him to Norah Jones, Michael Bublé and Sting. "There's a place for this and there's a place for you. I thought it was genius," Jackson said, adding that "the world cannot live by pop stars alone. We need art to have that balance."
Haley Reinhart entered the evening riding a serious hot streak, and she delivered an arrow-straight rock performance with Blondie's "Call Me." Gone were the musical spaces in which she could show off those soulful growls. Here again, however, was a confident stage presence rivaled only by that of McDonald.
It wasn't enough to impress the judges, however. Jackson uttered the dreaded "karaoke" criticism, suggesting the song "wasn't a showcase" for Haley's vocals. Lopez backed up that sentiment, though she hesitated to ding her too much, lest the show lose another female. But ding her, eventually she did. "It wasn't the best. After two killer performances, baby, you got to just keep taking it higher and higher," Lopez admitted. "Let's keep it at that level."
Jacob Lusk, meanwhile, wisely decided to drop the level of hubris he displayed last week by, as Iovine put it, preaching to America about his own greatness. He dropped, as well, an instinct to deliver a corny performance and instead gave us a restrained take on Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Jacob started off shaky and unsure but finished in a big way.
Or as Randy put it: "Perfect, perfect, perfect harmony." "What happens to me when you sing is I believe you," he explained. "I listen to every word. A great singer takes every word and it comes out so special." Lopez concurred. "Those last three notes and how you fit in with the choir is incredible," she said. "So god bless you and god bless your voice."
James Durbin then stepped up to finish the show. "Give metal a chance," he pleaded, after Iovine pretty much begged the kid to choose anything but Sammy Hagar's "Heavy Metal." What we learned during the performance is that Zakk Wylde (Ozzy Osbourne's guitarist) can wail on his instrument. What we didn't get a chance to review is Durbin's singing voice this week. To an even greater extent than Haley's song, "Heavy Metal" didn't give James much of an opportunity to show off vocal gifts beyond that familiar scream.
Not that the judges seemed to mind. "Outstanding, Durbin. You just had to get that out, didn't you?" Tyler told him. "I'm glad you went with your feelings." Jackson was equally pleased. "My god, you guys were just at a James Durbin concert," he said. "This is unbelievable, man. I'm glad you stuck to your guns. We always say to all of you kids, 'Do you.' Tonight you did you. Hopefully America will bring metal back."
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