James Durbin with flaming piano
Host Ryan Seacrest reminded everyone that we will lose two people during eliminations this week.
This week's theme was Elton John songs, and the video packages showed highlights from an "Entertainment Weekly" fashion photo shoot for the Top 11.
Scotty McCreery, in the taped opener, said he'll always be a North Carolina boy. Naturally, he selected at "Country Comfort," Elton John's only country song. He was playing an acoustic guitar, wearing a black leather Members Only jacket with a dark T-shirt and jeans. While his voice still has a certain appealing tone, it sounded very much like what he'd done before. He talked at several points in the song, giving a callout to his grandma that might be calculated to appeal to his voters. [Scotty's package; Scotty's performance]
Steven Tyler said, "There's nothing I could say to you that an old-fashioned pair of high-heeled country boots wouldn't fix." He liked the callout to the grandma. Jennifer Lopez said that he has amazing instincts about performing. Randy Jackson said, "You have seasoned so fast on this show," he felt like he was at Scotty's concert.
For her performance, Naima Adedapo opted for a reggae version of "I'm Still Standing," complete with a Jamaican accent, wearing a white pants suit with red, yellow and green Rasta stripes. It was a fun, bouncy version of the song, and it was probably a good choice for her because she was actually singing, rather than focusing on her dancing. I'm not sure about the accent, though, simply because it seems to invented for this song. [Naima's package; Naima's performance]
J. Lo loved her reggae swag but wasn't sure this song was suited for it. She thought it was a better idea than it was a payoff. Randy agreed. He loves reggae, but he thought it came off corny. Steven said, "Boom shaka laka laka." He praised her for picking a song that fit her.
Ryan introduced the song-writing contest, where viewers can go to the Web site and share their ideas. The final song will debut at the finale.
Next up, Paul McDonald went with "Rocketman," accompanying himself on guitar and wearing his famous white suit emblazoned with red roses, paired with a red button-down shirt. For once, his vocal stylings matched the song perfectly. He took a breathy, relaxed approach, and it was the best he's done to date. At the end, he closed with a whisper. [Paul's package; Paul's performance]
Randy called it "quiet comfort" and noted some pitchy moments. Still, "when you get into that tender zone with that quiet, soft voice, it's infectious." J. Lo thought he might be holding back and "you just haven't gone there." He told him, "We believe" and asked Steven to agree. Steven asked if he'd been watering the suit, because he thought it had more flowers on it than last time. Paul claimed he's retiring the suit after this. Steven likes that he's a little rough at times and said there are five great artists who sing that way right now.
No surprise, Pia Toscano selected a ballad, "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me." She wore a silver sparkly minidress and walked out onto the stage through the back doors. This time, she powered through it with little of the subtlety that marked previous performances. [Pia's package; Pia's performance]
Steven said, "This just goes to prove that some people might have been wrong up here when they told you not to sing ballads." He thought it was "just about as good as it gets." J. Lo agreed that "the notes took us to an otherworldly place." She said she felt Pia "trying to break the barrier." Randy defended his comments from last week, saying that she's sung a ballad every time and slayed them every time, but he was trying to get her to switch up gears.
Ryan prompted the judges to explain the criticism about ballads, and J. Lo said they want to help to bring her to the next level. Randy reiterated his advice to try something new.
For his performance, Stefano Langone chose "Tiny Dancer," wearing a gray vest and matching pants and a white button-down shirt. His performance of the song was very karaoke, not bringing much extra to it. The way the song was cut up felt sort of odd, too. [Stefano's package; Stefano's performance]
J. Lo thought that he was "back to the Stefano we know and love." Randy noted that his eyes were open and he was connecting with the audience and moving around the stage. Steven thought there's "a real sweet thing to your voice." He thought he'd nailed it.
Back from the break, Ryan talked to Howie Mandel and Ernie Langone (Stefano's dad), who look a lot like each other. Time for Howie to promote his new special, "Mobbed," debuting after the results show.
Lauren Alaina selected "Candle in the Wind" and gave a more nuanced performance than she's given so far this season, wearing a simple little black dress with sequins. For once, she didn't seem to be trying too hard, and the result was a heartfelt, believable performance. [Lauren's package; Lauren's performance]
Randy thinks it's one of the greatest songs ever written and "one of the greatest Lauren Alaina performances on this page." Steven said he's loved her since "the first moment you laid eyes on me." He said if she keeps singing like that, "You'll be able to afford the rest of that dress," prompting her to cover up her legs with the train. J. Lo said, "That was it, baby. That was it."
James Durbin, naturally, chose "Saturday Night's All Right for Fighting." He took a couple runs into the audience as he rocked out with his version. On the bridge, he got the audience clapping with him and then climbed up on the piano, which later was set on fire. Wow, really? I guess the producers want to be sure he doesn't go home! [James' package; James' performance]
Steven quipped, "You brought the heat, didn't you?" He said he's got a great rock voice, but don't "wear out your welcome," don't "stay up there too long." J. Lo said when he's up there, she forgets it's a competition and just listens to a "great song by a great artist." Randy loved that he enjoys himself. "Dude, that was a great, great, great performance."
Afterward, Ryan asked him what made him most nervous about his performance, and James said that, because he has a lot of hairspray in his air, he was worried about "a Pepsi moment," referring to Michael Jackson's legendary accident where his hair caught on fire shooting a Pepsi commercial. Of course, Ryan immediately stepped in to remind him, "This show is sponsored by Coke." No use explaining to Ryan, I suppose, that the Pepsi reference wasn't exactly positive.
For her selection, Thia Megia went with "Daniel," wearing a white, lacy minidress with a brown belt. At least this time, she seemed to get that it was a sad song, although she couldn't keep herself from smiling through much of it, even at the end where she sang, "I can see Daniel waving good-bye." If you closed your eyes while you listened, it was much better, although she swallowed her enunciation in some parts. [Thia's package; Thia's performance]
J. Lo thought it was beautiful and liked how she internalized the song. Randy liked that it was relaxed but noted some pitch issues. He also didn't like that it was still "very safe." Steven said that "when you find the right song, the voice appears." He thought she sang "a great Elton John song well."
In the taped package preceding his performance, Casey Abrams agreed to get a hair trim and a beard trim, as well. He wore a gray jacket with a gray and white striped shirt and a medal of some type on his lapel. He sang "Your Song," sitting on a stool, focusing on the vocals and the lyrics. This is the Casey that many viewers fell in love with in the early days of this season. He ended with a high note that came out of nowhere and was absolutely perfect. [Casey's package; Casey's performance]
Randy said that one of the greatest saves they've had on the show as saving Casey. He liked that he went for a tender moment. Steven said that the last two notes of the song were beautiful, as was the rest of the song. He likes that Casey sings differently every time. J. Lo said that "along the way, we've had to make some hard decisions... and I've lost sleep over that, but one decision I didn't lose any sleep over was saving you." She felt that he'd proved it tonight.
Ryan talked to him about the save last week. Casey said he just couldn't believe it.
Jacob Lusk sang "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word," wearing a charcoal suit jacket, black pants, with a black shirt and an undone red bow tie. He started the song very high, which felt strained, but he found his comfort zone in the middle of the song and powered through the ending. [Jacob's package; Jacob's performance]
Steven loved it: "You slayed me." J. Lo wanted to give out a shout out to Tricky Stewart for his arrangement, for tailoring it to him. She liked the last note: "You don't see that every day." Randy liked the arrangement and thought the first half was brilliant. He advised him to pick one spot where he could go all the way.
Haley Reinhart started "Benny and the Jets" lounging on the piano, wearing a gray and purple minidress with high heels. She tried to put a jazzy spin on the song, but it came off seeming a little ridiculous, almost a parody. When she got off the piano, she tried to get the audience to wave along. That portion of it was more enjoyable. No idea why she drew out the "s" of "Jets," though. Maybe she's harboring the escaped Bronx Zoo cobra. [Haley's package; Haley's performance]
J. Lo screamed, "Yes! That was it, Haley. That's what we've been talking about." She thought it was a great way to end the show. Randy felt it was another amazing song. "For me, best performance of the night." Steven told her, "You sing sexy." Well, that's what she's been going for, anyway.
Kudos to Lauren, James and Casey, with a nod to Paul and Jacob. After last week's results, when nobody had Casey in the bottom three, predicting the results seems a bit riskier. If votes are based on performances alone, Naima should be headed home, along with Haley, both of whom turned in somewhat ridiculous performances. They may be joined in the bottom three (or four?) by Thia and possibly even Scotty. Of course, the votes may be even more surprising this week, as voters were presumably doubly motivated to vote their favorites through.
Elton John can inspire some outrageous performances.