Jacob Lusk had originally chosen Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get it On," but he didn't feel comfortable with the choice and selected Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror" instead, despite the fact that mentor Jimmy Iovine and guest mentor Will.i.am loved his rendition of "Let's Get It On." Jacob wore all white, including a white vest, as he performed the song with background singers on stage. The chorus was a little high for him, and it began to seem almost like a parody of a gospel song. [Jacob's video; Jacob's performance]
Steven Tyler called back the background singer at stage left and revealed that she'd co-written the song. About Jacob's performance, he found it beautiful. Jennifer Lopez told him that if you stick to what's right for you, "you can do anything in this world." She found it "perfect on every emotional level." Randy Jackson liked that he changed his song to go for the deeper message. He thought the performance was "hot."
Then, of course, host Ryan Seacrest had to change the tone, saying he didn't know what was more powerful, Jacob's voice or his hip thrusts!
Because the judges had been comparing her to Janis Joplin, Haley Reinhart chose "Piece of My Heart." With her hair down loose and curly, wearing a black and white shirt with cowl neck and handkerchief hem and leggings, Haley gave it her all, seeming more comfortable than she has previously. On this song, unlike some of her previous outings, her bluesy growling seemed to fit. [Haley's video; Haley's performance]
J. Lo said, "This is starting to feel like a real fight," and that Haley "is a contender." Randy said when the judges mentioned Janis, they were referring to "the bluesy kind of soul thing," and that's what Haley did in the song. Steven couldn't find "nothing wrong with that." He's a Janis fan, but he thought Haley "nailed it."
For his performance, Casey Abrams chose "Have You Ever Seen the Rain," performing with his upright bass in a nice, relaxed version, wearing a gray button-down shirt with a white collar and a black vest. As my husband described it, he was showing remarkable restraint and actually looking cheerful, not angry. One of his best performances of the season. [Casey's video; Casey's performance]
Randy thought he made CCR and John Fogerty proud. He thought Casey has made the upright bass cool. Steven said Casey is not just a singer but a true musician. "Every time you sing, you bring something different, and that's what the show is about, the full package, not just the voice." J. Lo said that she'd pay top dollar to be in the front row at one of his shows.
Ryan asked Casey if he's putting more pressure on himself because the judges saved him. Casey said he feels he has to give 150 percent in order to make them proud.
Lauren Alaina chose Aretha Franklin's "Natural Woman." She came out through the back wall, wearing a very 1980s get-up of puffy short-shorts, black tights, a blue gingham top and a black jacket with shoulder pads, as well as pouffy hair and bright red lips. Despite the distraction of her bizarre wardrobe choice, however, her singing was really strong in the first half. She went off key a few times on some runs in the bridge, but she came back and finished strong. [Lauren's video; Lauren's performance]
Steven said that she has "growded up" and he loved it. J. Lo said that Lauren is amazing. Randy thought she'd picked one of the most difficult songs. While he wasn't jumping up and down, he thought she did a good job.
Christian Slater, whose show was debuting after the live show, was in the audience. He brought his young daughter, who looks just like him. The little cutie was rooting for Pia and Lauren.
Taking a bit of a chance, James Durbin selected a slower number, The Beatles song "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." He sat on a stool, wearing a charcoal suit with a black and white shirt, as a guitarist sat nearby. The choice was an astute one, since it made him stand out in the field. His vocals were right on: he got the emotional intensity of the original, but he sang it his own way, including throwing in one of his patented high notes at the end. He got so emotional he had to wipe some tears from his eyes afterward. [James' video; James' performance]
J. Lo liked that he was vulnerable and was able to show some pain. Randy loved to see his emotional side: "to see you be that sensitive and engage and connect with that lyric." He agreed you have to take chances if you're going to be an artist. Steven agreed, saying "That's really a proud moment for you."
Ryan asked him what he was thinking about, and James said that he was thinking about his family, and that the song symbolizes his struggles.
Scotty McCreery, who was a huge Elvis fan as a kid, sang a song by his idol, "That's All Right, Mama." He started out sitting on the steps surrounded by background singers, wearing a denim shirt and dark jeans. His confidence came out, and he sounded a lot like the King of Rock 'N' Roll, without going so far as to do an Elvis impersonation. He absolutely owned the stage. At the end, in a clearly orchestrated moment, several of the audience members rushed up and hugged him, while he and Ryan acted surprised. [Scotty's video; Scotty's performane]
Randy announced, "Scotty is in it to win it, y'all." He said this performance showed he's not a one-trick pony. Steven used to think he was "all hat and no cattle," but this performance was making the girls scream. J. Lo thought it was fun. She asked him if he watches any rap, because she's feeling some "flavor" in there. Scotty attributed it to his Puerto Rican blood.
Pia Toscana, who'd been criticized for singing too many ballads, went with the Tina Turner number "River Deep, Mountain High," wearing a white pant suit with black blotches, her hair pulled back severely and bright red lipstick. Is this the Gwen Stefani influence? The first time she hit the chorus, she was off, but she didn't let it sway her and recovered immediately. It seemed a little difficult for her to prance around in her high heels, but it was refreshing to see her move at all. [Pia's video; Pia's performance]
Steven said there are a million guys in a million bars drinking over her tonight. J. Lo liked it but said she wants to keep pushing her. She recommended that Pia study the great performers to go to the next level. Randy thought that what she showed tonight was that she can deliver on an up tempo song. He agreed with Jennifer that she just needs to work on the movement.
Stefano Langone selected the Percy Sledge song "When a Man Loves a Woman." He started out sitting down in a falsetto that was almost painful, wearing a black button-down and a silver glittery tie. The first part of the song was rough. As he got into the meat of the song, though, he sang in a more natural range, and he ended with a nice, sustained note. [Stefano's video; Stefano's performance]
J. Lo said she felt for the first time that the song had another layer of emotion to it. She felt he was singing it to somebody, about somebody. Randy liked it but wasn't jumping up or down because the first part felt a little jerky to him (stop reading my mind!). Steven disagreed. He liked the "old-timey" beginning and felt that Stefano has great range to his voice.
Going last put Paul McDonald in the coveted "pimp spot," the chance to make the strongest lasting impression. He was singing the Johnny Cash song, "Folsom Prison Blues." In a black suit with a white ruffled shit, Paul was a natural. He started off with high-energy bluesy rock, jamming on guitar with two other guys in the breakdown, and he finished the song with a bluesy jam. His rapid-fire lyrics were the height of old-school rock 'n' roll. [Paul's video; Paul's performance]
Randy had three words: "I loved it." Steven called him a "perfect imperfect boy." J. Lo thought it was the perfect way to end the show.
The Top 9 danced under the credits as the band played them out with some good old rock 'n' roll.
Kudos to Casey, James, Scotty (can you believe it?), and Paul, with a nod to Haley and Lauren. Stefano and Pia will probably find themselves in the bottom three. Joining them? I have no idea. Probably Haley, because she's been in the bottom three before, though if it's based on performance, it could be Lauren, whose delivery was a little uneven. But it's almost definitely Stefano who's going home, who was the most out of the water this week, while others, like Scotty, broke out of their comfort zones more successfully.
Everyone's got a little Elvis in them, even country boys.