American Idol: The Final Eight Get Reel

Wednesday was Movie Night on American Idol, which meant, apparently, that any song that had ever been featured on a movie soundtrack was eligible, whether it originated there or not (I’m sure it’s news to Paul Simon that “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is most associated with The Pursuit of Happyness). It was also the night that a middle aged record executive was emasculated on national television. Let’s get to the highlights:

This mentor thing isn’t working out: Nothing was funnier Wednesday than seeing the way three of the kids were given specific advice on song choice by Jimmy Iovine, only to go “Well, thank you sir, but I’m going to do this other song instead.” It wasn’t all bad news for Jimmy, as Jacob Lusk (probably wisely) accepted his suggestion, but how strange is it that the show seems to revel in embarrassing the new guy. This is leaving aside that will.i.am was in there with Jimmy and the contestants this week, so he’s apparently become a new cast member without an official announcement being made. It’s Deborah Norville all over again! By first week of May, except the Black Eyed Pea to be in there solo, and Harvey Keitel as “The Wolf” brought in to erase all traces of Jimmy’s prior existence.

Metal Roolz! Jimmy’s objection to James Durbin’s song choice, Sammy Hagar’s “Heavy Metal” from the way-forgettable 30-year-old movie of the same name, was its lack of a pop hook. Maybe, but James proved that while he’s hit-or-miss on more melodic material, pure hard rock is right up his alley. He went toe-to-toe with guest guitarist Zakk Wylde and wasn’t blown offstage (though it’s risky in a singing competition to pause for a long guitar solo the way he did). There’s little doubt he won the night, and as one of just three left who have never been on the bottom, he’s now the favorite to join Scotty in the finals (oh yeah, Scotty’s making the finals, people).

Haley droolz: Haley Reinhart’s “Call Me” wasn’t an alltime disaster, but it was the weakest anyone has sung in the last couple of weeks, to the point where the judges actually had a mostly negative assessment (Jennifer Lopez adding, understandably enough, that she doesn’t really want to see another girl leave). Haley’s biggest weakness on songs like this is that she gets screechy when she goes up in volume, and the judges finally called her on it. Besides which, “Call Me” sung by an attractive woman in thigh-high boots might just be a bridge too far for America.

Possible shocking Bottom 3 alert! Lauren Alaina did a fair job on “The Climb” (Jimmy called her “better than Miley,” as if that’s any kind of praise), but she went early in the show; and what’s more, she seems to have lost all her youthful energy. Her outfit and makeup job made her look easily twice her age, and she’s fallen into something of a ballad rut. She really needs to go back to working the stage and having fun, and for some reason, no one in this armada of judges and mentors is seeing fit to tell her that.

Comeback kid: About every third week, Stefano Langone comes out with something that makes me think, “You know, this kid could make hit records.” I would usually argue against doing something like Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road” on the grounds that group songs usually don’t work well on Idol sung solo, but he not only sounded legitimately passionate, he seemed to connect with the audience for possibly the first time ever. He gets the night’s silver medal, although there’s still a risk that this is going to become one of those classic ironic Idol sing-off numbers.

A risk that sort of worked: Jimmy tried to warn Casey Abrams away from “Nature Boy” on the grounds that Nat King Cole’s classic is a little too delicate for the big room. I would have added that younger viewers who aren’t familiar with the song might find it really weird. But Casey's fans like his eccentricity, and he and his upright bass did the song justice. It wasn’t perfect, though: At one point, Casey audibly cleared his throat, which everyone sort of forgot to mention afterwards. And there’s a fine line between making a song your own with unique phrasing and bending the melody for its own sake – he’s still learning where that line is.

Just put this old record on the shelf: Paul McDonald went dancing again this week, and that’s never a good sign. It’s impossible to sound anything but goofball doing “Old Time Rock and Roll,” and Paul looked and sounded like a drunken karaoke mess, not that you’d know it from the unanimous praise he got.

What about those other two guys? Scotty McCreery went country (he really did!), but maybe should have avoided George Strait’s “I Cross My Heart.” Scotty is a promising kid, but he is a kid, and Strait is the man’s man of Nashville. And it would be nice if the judges encouraged him to stretch a little.

Jacob’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” wasn’t anywhere near as overwrought as I feared it would be, but I also don’t know that he ever totally got the song. And maybe it’s just midseason ennui setting in, but he’s getting more unpleasant to look at every week. Simply put, he needs to stop doing that with his face.

Best of the night (in absentia): Pia! Yes, I’m still mad.

Bottom three prediction: Paul, Stefano, Haley.

Going home: Haley.