What a bizarre "American Idol" evening it was! Kisses were bestowed, curses were hurled, tongues were wagged, and — wait, what? — the singers actually took on contemporary tunes rather than ones penned decades before they were born.
It's nice to know that, 10 seasons in, the show can still surprise us. And the contestants too! Haley Reinhart bounced back. James Durbin didn't make us want to flip over to another channel and endure the comparatively less-grating stylings of Guy Fieri on "Minute to Win It." And suddenly the Scotty McCreery love fest came to a close for reasons we still can't comprehend.
Yes, it was a new dawn and a new day during 21st-century night on "Idol." Who will be granted new life? Who won't be feeling very good on Thursday's elimination show? Our "Idol" report card knows all.
Haley Reinhart: The season's resident growler was back in fine form on Wednesday, following a clunker of a performance last week that we hope didn't permanently dent crooner-on-the-rise Haley's fanbase. She landed in the bottom three last week. If that happens again on Thursday, we'll be mega-pissed. Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" was simply a perfect fit for Haley, which really is saying something, considering song choice has been an ongoing problem for the contestant. The tune had a finger-snapping pulse to it, yet also left Haley room to explore. And explore she did (though she didn't hit every note along the way), seeking out every emotional corner of the tune, mixing that growly power with angelic vocal flights.
Scotty McCreery: Scotty deserves an apology from the judges. Old Faithful stepped up and belted out essentially the same competent country ditty he's been doing for months, and suddenly Randy and Co. have a problem with it? The decision to critique him now, after a no-better-and-no-worse-than-before take on "Swingin'," seemed utterly arbitrary. The judges suddenly want Scotty to grow after telling him for so long he has no need to? Strange. (And conspiracy theorists might spot an attempt to construct an artificial reality-show narrative with a payoff next week: Scotty's back, y'all!) In any case, the truth is that his artistry has never been about growth. He's a fully-formed country singer. You either accept him for that, or you become bored to tears of the kid. You can't have it both ways.
James Durbin: Our colleague Jim Cantiello compared Durbin's take on Muse to a violation of fundamental human rights, but here's why we're giving it a thumbs-up. We loathe James' contrived heavy metal impulses: The least rock-and-rock thing a singer can ever do is point out how damn rock-and-roll he is; his performance alongside Zakk Wylde last week served only to highlight James' schoolboy metalhead persona. This time around, the singer toned down the clamor and left his vocals with room to breathe. Were those vocals always on point? Did that squeal of his work out very well? No and no. Yet credit is due: James is learning what works on stage and, potentially, in a recording studio.
Jacob Lusk: Wait! Just hold up a second! Jimmy Iovine thinks that America knows Jacob can sing but isn't sure if he can feel? The 23-year-old, in fact, has exactly the opposite problem: Everyone knows he can feel — he can hardly step on stage without seeming to burst into tears; it's Jacob's singing that has been consistently unreliable. On Wednesday, shoddy inner-ear monitor or not, Jacob again struggled. We have to give him points for restraint, however; it's never pretty to see the guy reach for vocal abandon and end up looking like he's on a 747 plunging into the ocean. Oh, and one more thing, Jacob: Ignore everything Randy said! Don't hold back? Go wild? Randy, dog, are you loco?
Lauren Alaina: Lauren is confusing us. There was a time when we felt she was one of the most comfortable stage performers on "Idol." She lap-danced for Steven Tyler, for chrissake! But the pressures of reality-showdom seem to have gotten to her. Her confidence is shot. She desperately needed the backup singers to support her meek vocals. The country was back (hooray!), but the Lauren we dig is still missing in action.
Casey Abrams: Question! How can Casey be such a lovable goofball off-stage and then deliver such creeptastic stares on it? Follow up! Is Casey the most frenetic showman in "Idol" memory (or does that ignominious honor go to Naima Adedapo, who looked like she was trying out for Manchester United during that reunion performance)? Hmmm. Whatever the answers are, there can be no doubting that Casey's Maroon 5 cover was a mess. A trip to the bottom three is a definite possibility this week, though that J. Lo smooch could work in his favor (if not hers).
Stefano Langone: If there's a difference between being sexy and being whiney, Stefano doesn't understand it. As usual, his performance suffered from pitch and phrasing problems; there were times when he seemed to abandon singing altogether and just started shouting. It looked like he was trying so damn hard. Great performers are supposed to make singing seem effortless and graceful. Neither of those things were happening for Stefano during "Closer." We'll just pretend he wasn't actually attempting some Ne-Yo-esque dance moves at the end. But it would take powers of make-believe we don't possess to imagine Stefano won't land in the bottom-three.
Don't miss "Idol Party Live" every Thursday at noon on MTV.com for analysis, celebrity guests and even some karaoke — get in the conversation by tweeting with the hashtag #idolparty! In the meantime, get your "Idol" fix on MTV News' "American Idol" page, where you'll find all the latest news, interviews and opinions.