This is it. Wednesday night's (May 18) "American Idol" performance show was the last, and best, chance for this year's top three to make their final impression on voters before next week's finale. With two teenagers and a 20-year-old vying for the title, the pressure was on to deliver the best three performances of their lives.
Along for the ride to give some support was Beyoncé, who mentored the three as they prepared to sing their personal song choices. Scotty McCreery, 17, was first out the gate with Lonestar's "Amazed," a rumbling ballad that contained a trick at the end to show off former choir tenor Scotty's range.
Effortlessly leaning into the song's simple melody, McCreery once again sounded like a seasoned country vet, pouring emotion into the tune and rising into his rarely used higher range at the end to drive the song home.
Steven Tyler said Scotty nailed the melody and liked how it sounded like he got a bit angry in the middle, and Jennifer Lopez appreciated how Scotty took the judges' notes and naturally used his vibrato. Randy Jackson, well, he called it the perfect song choice.
It was a country twofer with 16-year-old Lauren Alaina picking "Wild One" by Faith Hill, and though she was starstruck by Beyoncé, the R&B icon put her at ease by suggesting she get into a stage persona when she's singing and not fret about the crowd. The advice seemed to stick, as Lauren came out with a flirty attitude and outfit — including big flower-petal earrings, a flowing silky red top and white cowboy boots — smiling and selling the song with grace.
"You come out here and you attack it like that," said Lopez, reminding the high-schooler to hit it hard every time. Randy liked to see Lauren having fun and taking Beyoncé's advice to be fearless. "I could tell that in your heart, you were loving it, and you had such a connection with it," he said. "Remember, that's what it should be about. Have a good time and have fun. When you let yourself go is when you are your best."
Beyoncé thought Haley Reinhart's choice of Led Zeppelin's "What Is and What Should Never Be" was an "interesting" pick that showed Haley's guts and conviction. Transforming the rager into a torch song at first, Haley, 20, was joined by her dad on guitar and seduced the audience with her bluesy allure, running a lap around the judges' table and hardly missing a beat when she wiped out on the steps on her way back up to the stage. In all, it was a rocking tour-de--force that showed off her range and professionalism.
"This is what it's all about!" Jackson barked, saying she slayed it with a song that's not for the weak at heart, putting up one of her best performances. "Haley, did you fall for me?" Tyler asked. "It's not how many times you fall, it's how many times you get back up. That was superb." Lopez, a veteran of onstage slips, said not to sweat it, referring to her own audio troubles the weekend before at Wango Tango. "You keep going. That's the sign of a professional."
After taking a poll, the judges called the first round for Reinhart.
The second round featured songs picked by season 10 mentor Jimmy Iovine. For Scotty, he chose "Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not" by Thompson Square, a tune he said reminded him of some of the classic Tom Petty songs he worked on back in the day. Strumming a guitar, Scotty sang the playful seduction tune with his signature eyebrow-raised expression, likely earning a lot of loud yeses from the ladies when he sang the chorus.
Tyler loved how it showed off his character, and Lopez said the performance was full of little moments that showed the audience the singer's personality. "It was really perfect, right in your range," said Jackson, comparing Scotty to low-key country legend Garth Brooks.
Iovine had been waiting all season to hear Alaina sing "If I Die Young" by the Band Perry, and even though the lyrics are somewhat sad, he encouraged her to make it uplifting. And that's exactly what she did, rising from a whispery flutter to a powerful crescendo, pausing dramatically mid-song to let the mandolin take a run.
"You have the most beautiful tone of our finalists," said Lopez, calling Lauren's voice a "magical thing" and pointing out the honest moment the teen had mid-song and noting that she got caught up in it, but predicting Lauren would learn to push through as she matured. The judges agreed that it was a great song choice and that Alaina recovered like a champ from missing a key change.
It was another classic rock tune for Haley, with Iovine choosing "Rihannon" by Fleetwood Mac, reminding Reinhart to build up to a big finish. Enshrouded in fog and wearing a gauzy grey dress blown by a fan, Reinhart started out slow and sultry and gave the song some sex appeal even with a somewhat cheesy arrangement. She did as Jimmy counseled, though, pushing up into her upper range and ending with a pleading howl and a doe-eyed gaze into the camera.
Jackson said it was a bit somber, but another solid effort, while Tyler appreciated the contrast with the first song. Lopez, always aware of good lighting, said the camerawork did Haley all kinds of favors, though she was a bit disappointed that there wasn't a bigger "Haley wail" ending to the ethereal performance.
Tyler called it for Alaina, while Jackson, Iovine and Lopez called it for McCreery.
The judges chose another oldie, Kenny Rogers' "She Believes in Me," for Scotty. Playing it straight and serious in a dark sport coat over a T-shirt and sitting on a stool by a grand piano, McCreery did a fine job on the feathery ballad, which showed his tender side but felt old-fashioned, especially when the Las Vegas showroom string section swelled to accompany him.
Tyler called it his biggest chorus of the competition, and Lopez revealed that that is exactly why the judges chose the tune.
Lauren's judges' pick was an "Idol" staple, Lee Ann Womack's "I Hope You Dance." It was right in Alaina's sweet spot, but between the powder-blue sparkly prom dress and the schmaltzy arrangement, the song didn't add much to the singer's persona.
She apparently gave Lopez goose bumps, though, and the diva called the round early for Lauren, with Jackson agreeing that it was the right song, the right look and a great performance.
Last up was Reinhart, who got Alanis Morissette's 1995 empowerment anthem "You Oughta Know." Slinking around the stage in skintight black jeans and a blue bustier, Reinhart struggled to hit some of the notes but was solidly in her lane when the arrangement cranked up and was able to do her power growl. It was uneven overall, though, and Reinhart tempted fate by taking another lap around the judges' table.
All the judges loved the strong choruses and the rock and soul vibe, even with the rough parts, and Tyler called it simply amazing and beautiful.
Tyler called it for Reinhart, with Lopez and Jackson pointing to Alaina as the third-round winner.
Thursday night's results show will feature a performance from Italian popera trio Il Volo singing "O Sole Mio" and "X Factor" co-host Nicole Scherzinger and 50 Cent working it "Right There."
Who do you think nailed it on Wednesday night? Who blew it? Let us know in comments below!
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