There hasn't been an “American Idol” season when the finals didn't have at least one contestant (if not, several) who turned out to be wholly unprepared – picking the wrong song, singing off-key or otherwise falling flat on their faces. Until now.
All the professional mentors helping pick and arrange the contestants' songs really have turned “Idol” into a different kind of show. It's much more of a team sport now and, for the most part, it's going to require far more risk-taking than in the past.
And with all that risk-taking, there's going to be some interesting votes. Last night, James Durbin stretched out Paul McCartney's “Maybe I'm Amazed” and nailed everything, creating a gripping performance. Jacob Lusk's emotions overtook him slightly on “I Believe I Can Fly,” while Casey Abrams' missed here and there on a passionate “With a Little Help My Friends,” opening the door for the poised, straightforward Scotty McCreery to pass them, as he channeled Garth Brooks for a moving take on “The River.” If he sticks to that formula, the 17-year-old may be unstoppable.
It was interesting to hear the judges complain about the “jazzy” part of Thia Megia's “Smile,” since it's that exact same part that could get the song on the radio today. Thia seemed a little shaken by the critique, but she did far better than she seemed to think.
Naima Adedapo's reggae take on “Umbrella” was exciting, as were her dance moves, and that should hopefully be taken into account. The same goes for Paul McDonald's straight-up crazy take on Ryan Adams' “Come Pick Me Up,” which was wildly uneven, but definitely a must-see.
Stefano Langone may have been the one to let down his team the most, as producer Polow Da Don gave him an uptempo remake of Stevie Wonder's “Lately” that could clearly be a current hit. Unfortunately, Stefano got a bit lost in the tempo – singing ahead and then behind the beat, though still managing to keep it together.
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That means all the more traditional performances – the “kinda sleepy” ones, as Randy Jackson would call them – are kind of left behind. Lauren Alaina, Haley Reinhart and Ashthon Jones were passable, if bland. And Karen Rodriguez, who in previous years would have been middle of the pack or higher with “I Could Fall in Love With You”'s minor pitch issues, may find herself out tonight, though her fanbase may save her for the week. Wild card Ashthon may not be so lucky.
James Durbin, “Maybe I'm Amazed”
Scotty McCreery, “The River”
Jacob Lusk, “I Believe I Can Fly”
Casey Abrams, “With a Little Help From My Friends”
Pia Toscano, “All By Myself”
Paul McDonald, “Come Pick Me Up”
Thia Megia, “Smile”
Naima Adedapo, “Umbrella”
Stefano Langone, “Lately”
Lauren Alaina, “Any Man of Mine”
Haley Reinhart, “Blue”
Ashthon Jones, “When You Tell Me That You Love Me”
Karen Rodriguez, “I Could Fall in Love With You”
BOTTOM THREE: Haley, Ashthon, Karen
SHOULD BE ELIMINATED: Karen
WILL BE ELIMINATED: Ashthon
ACTUALLY ELIMINATED: Ashthon