Historically, this is the week where the front-runners solidify their lead going into the semi-finals. Think David Archuleta’s “Heaven.” Think Andrew Garcia’s “Straight Up.” Think Matt Giraud’s “Georgia on My Mind.” It’s also when early faves flame out spectacularly. See: Josiah Leming.
Seacrest promised “some of the most outstanding performances in our 10-year history,” and for once, his overhype was nearly justified. I can’t remember the last time I watched an “Idol” episode so full of singers leaving every last bit of showbiz pizazz on the stage.
Blond lip-gloss addict Haley Reinhart kicked off the show with a “God Bless the Child” that was equal parts Screaming Jay Hawkins and Betty Boop. She may have survived the group round “through the skin of [her] teeth,” as per J. Lo, but the 20-year-old showed a level of intense commitment usually reserved for drag queens and Daniel Day Lewis. I like her.
But nobody laid out “God Bless the Child” quite like Jacob Lusk. The spa concierge from Compton (that neighborhood’s come a long way, hasn’t it?!) performed as though the Holy Spirit had entered his body and caused him to skip octaves, scat and weepily run into the arms of family members after the judges gave him a standing ovation. “I’m not a crier. I don’t cry,” he sobbed. Mm-hmm. That’s like Randy Jackson claiming to be an important part of “Idol.”
A trio of singers gave it their all with “Georgia on My Mind.” Clint Jun Gamboa, who producers reminded us is a d-bag for dissing perfect angel Jacee Badeaux on group night, did his best Jennifer Holliday impression. Sophia Shorai (a.k.a. Bangs McBarefoot) gave the song a shouty spin. But it was Seth Rogen look-alike Casey Abrams that stole the show by being the Neil Armstrong of upright bass players on “Idol.” (How Stray Cats of him!) His vocals weren’t perfect, but he brought something fresh and different to a song we’ve heard done to death on “Idol.” I’m finally starting to come around to this guy.
I’m also warming up to 15-year-old Thia Megia’s mature vocal stylings. Her “What a Wonderful World” marked the first time I didn’t want to change the channel when she sang. Confetti! But then again, I may have just been distracted by her intriguing sweater choice.
Malibu surfer/actor dude Carson Higgins is also winning me over. But I might be falling in love with his goofy charms more than his voice. He was fearless in his full-band attack of “My Prerogative,” even rocking the Alex Wagner-Trugman patented mic stand kick at one point. (His “My Prerogative” brother, Chris Medina, took a risk by making Bobby Brown’s hit a failed acoustic exercise.)
We got short snippets of promising performers in a “Look! They play instruments!” montage, including ivory ticklers Julie Zorrilla and Robbie Rosen, Ezra Koenig lookalike Caleb Hawley, and especially Colton Dixon, who showed off his Chris Daughtry-esque vocal styings on a Daughtry song. Clever!
Lauren Alaina continued her streak of inappropriately flirting with Steven Tyler, covering Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” for the second time. Lauren’s precociousness may drive me up a wall, but her killer voice brings me back to Earth. Meanwhile, Stefano Langone and Jovany Barreto continued their streak of being interchangeable. (I dare you to distinguish between Stefano’s “You Can Feel It All Over” and Jovany’s “You Sang to Me.”)
Cowboy John Wayne Schulz skirted the obvious by picking Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.” It was a tender ode to his mom, and it got J. Lo to sing along, but his rendition was also a little boring. (Anyone else spy piano player and vocal coach Michael Orland thumbing through paperwork behind Schulz?)
The other cowboy, Scotty McCreery, fumbled his way through “I Hope You Dance,” or as I will forever call it thanks to his lyric flub, “Nuts of Wonder.” (In a likable moment of honesty, Scotty admitted he deserved to go home.) TaTynisa Wilson also struggled with the song, proving that the more generic the lyrics are, the harder they are to memorize. (“Wait, am I supposed to frolic in the ocean or climb a mountain? Or both?”)
Once the remaining 100 contestants were split into four separate rooms to learn their fates, nearly all of the featured contestants made it through. Even lyric mangler Scotty McCreery! Even goofball Carson Higgins! Even Ashley Sullivan, the ball of frayed nerves in the shape of a human who reads “Chicken Soup for the ’American Idol’ Soul” and who restarted Michael Buble’s “Everything” twice before melting down onstage!
Who exactly did we lose then? Chelsee Oaks couldn’t recover from her “best friend” Jacqueline Dunford’s medical leave. (How a girl she only knew for three days was a “best friend” is beyond me.) There was little suspense in Frances Coontz’s elimination too. She performed “Hey Soul Sister” in the key of WTF. We also said goodbye to a distraught Corey Levoy and the last Gutierrez brother. The other 40-plus cut people were nameless, faceless filler.
Next week, the remaining singers will face off in Las Vegas for a Beatles “Love” challenge. Judging from the promos, the producers want to see if the “Idol” hopefuls can hold their own on a stage overrun by French-Canadian clowns and smoke.
What did you think of Thursday night’s episode? Do you have any new favorites? Will contestants ever learn that it’s not wise to blame your incompetence on the band? And do you think Jennifer Lopez’s hot pants cushioned the blow for the eliminated contestants? Leave a comment below! And for more “Idol” insanity, follow me on Twitter @jambajim.