Host Ryan Seacrest introduced the Top 7, and said they would be doing "Songs from the 21st Century," another very broad category.
To remind viewers about the other semifinalists, Ashthon, Karen, Naima, Thia, Pia and Paul performed "So What?" The women started off the song, all in black, and then Paul came out in his black suit emblazoned with roses, sounding pretty rough. Looks like he's not getting much of a chance to rest his voice. Naima did an amazing jump near the end, and the group had plenty of energy. [Group Performance]
Ryan asked the judges, "Do you miss this group?" Steven Tyler said, "You just made America think twice about their decision."
This week, they were asked to describe their fellow contestants, which were shown before their performances.
For Scotty McCreery, the others razzed him about holding his mic sideways, like a flute. For his song, he chose "Swingin" by Lee Ann Rimes, and mentor Jimmy Iovine advised him to add character to his performance, joking about having the Pussycat Dolls swing in swings. The song began with his backup musicians on stage, and then Scotty sauntered down the steps, in a light brown leather jacket, white T-shirt and gray jeans. The song gave him a lot of opportunity to have fun with it and show some personality, and in the second verse, he showed off his lower register.
Steven said that was Scotty's equivalent of a Rolling Stones song, and he liked it but would have liked more stage movement. Jennifer Lopez liked his story-telling but thought he should have pushed past his comfort zone, since he had a decade of music to choose from. "We were expecting more from Scotty," she said. Randy Jackson agreed, saying that the song "was so safe" that it was "kind of boring." [Scotty's Video; Scotty's Performance]
After the break, in behind-the-scenes footage, the other contestants greeted Scotty and told him they liked the song. Lauren Alaina told him there's "15 million little girls pointing their finger at Randy right now."
James Durbin, in a sit-down with Ryan, said that for every song, he has a vision for what the performance will be like. His fellow contestants imitated his stage mannerisms and made fun of his scarf tail. He picked "Uprising" by Muse to prove he's contemporary, telling Jimmy he saw it as "post-apocalyptic protest." Jimmy agreed the song has substance. The performance began with a drum line leading the way into the auditorium from a side door and then playing behind the judges before joining him onstage, where James wore an over-the-top black leather overcoat with red epaulettes. His song was a good fit for the song, and when he whipped out a riding crop and brandished it, he was every bit the steam-punk rocker. This could have garnered him some new fans.
J. Lo saluted the drum line as they played themselves off the stage. She said, "That is going to be, theatrically, the best performance of the night." Randy encouraged him to follow this reaction when he makes his record after the series ends. He said, "I think this is probably going to be the best performance on the night." Randy mentioned that Matt Bellamy of the group had challenged him to take the chorus up an octave and that James had met the challenge. Commenting on his outfit, Steven called him, "Mad Max meets Stormtroopers on Melrose," adding "It's amazing how much it costs to look this cheap." He thought James was going in a T. Rex direction, and he liked it. [James's Video; James's Performance]
Back from the commercial break, Ryan introduced the drum line as the James Drummers and had them play behind him for a brief while.
About Haley Reinhart, the other contestants picked on her growling and the fact that she raises her arm a lot when she sings. She chose Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" for her performance, and Jimmy coached her on accessing the emotion of the song, anger and rejection. She wore a red dress with white polka dots and sang sitting on a stool with her legs crossed until the chorus. A drummer and some backup singers joined her onstage. The song was a great fit for her, one of her best performances to date.
Randy said he's looking not just for who's going to win but what sort of album the contestants will make. He said she's chosen a perfect direction for her. Though she went sharp a couple times, he liked it. Steven thought it was a little slow in the start and she brought it up in the middle. J. Lo thought it took a lot of guts to take on a record that is so well known and that there were moments when she really shined by "bringing Haley to it." [Haley's Video; Haley's Performance]
Jacob Lusk was called a "diva" by the other contestants, which he objected to. They also made fun of his use of "yes" in his songs. He chose a Luther Vandross song, "Dance fpr My Father," that speaks to his life, so much so that he teared up during rehearsal with Jimmy. Jacob dedicated the song to all fathers. He started out on a stool, backed by violins, wearing a pewter suit. Jacob got a little choked up in the opening, then recovered. There was no doubt he was feeling this song, and he was very controlled throughout much of the performance before sailing to a high note and throwing in some runs at the end.
Steven said Jacob reminds him of why he loves music, and "your Daddy was up there listening with you." J. Lo noted it's hard to perform when a song means so much to you and that "emotionally, it was a beautiful performance." Randy agreed, but he offered some critique. "Vocally, it was good, but it didn't make me jump up and down." He wants Jacob not to hold back any more. "It's like somebody's taking a racehorse and putting the restraints on." [Jacob's Video; Jacob's Performance]
Mark Ballas from "Dancing with the Stars" was interviewed by Ryan and said that Casey is his favorite. I guess he means favorite current contestant, because he's currently dating Pia Toscara.
The other contestants passed around a fake beard and called Casey Abrams "weird," including Casey himself. They all took turns playing his melodica. Casey went with a Maroon 5 song, "Harder to Breathe," playing guitar with it, wearing a black leather jacket, black T-shirt, and jeans. Jimmy thought it was a good choice, because "he sings it like crazy." It sounded like he was ahead of the accompaniment at the opening of the song, but maybe that's because I don't know the song that well. At the chorus, he got into the swing of things, jamming out with two guitarists. He took charge of the stage, touching the hands of some of the audience members who were reaching for him. He threw in some scatting on the bridge, and ended the song staring right at J. Lo, giving her a kiss on the cheek before the last two words. Well, that was original.
J. Lo remarked that Casey has "soft lips." Steven joked that Casey "did what I've been trying to do for four months." J. Lo said, "I loved it," then clarified, "the performance!" Randy told him to continue to take chances, saying he's a "jazz, indie, rock guy." Steven called Casey a "cult hero" and said that there were people in America who were angry because he's so "F-ing" good. [Casey's Video; Casey's Performance; Casey's Critique]
Ryan was wearing a fake beard when Casey joined him onstage and reminded him he'd just kissed "the most beautiful woman in the world." Ryan pulled the beard off, saying it hurt and joking, "This is what it feels like to be a man?"
Coming back from the break, Steven had tape over his mouth. He then pulled out a magazine cover featuring Ryan, sticking his own tongue out the mouth.
His fellow contestants called Stefano Langone a ladies' man who is very confident. Jacob said that he would flirt with a piece of paper if it had estrogen in it. Jimmy stopped Stefano dead during his rehearsal of Ne-Yo's "Closer" and told him to move. Stefano wore a black T-shirt and jeans, and he seemed to be trying to connect with the audience (or at least, with the camera). He did move a bit during this performance, but he also had some pitch problems.
Randy expected it to be bad karaoke but said "you smoothed it out." And "you worked the dance steps out, too." Steven had been hoping Stefano would dance, and he liked it. J. Lo told him, "You had your swag going on." He said it felt like a concert and that "you owned the song." [Stefano's Video; Stefano's Performance]
For Lauren Alaina, her fellow contestants imitated her accent and said she'll talk your ears off. She was in full-on country mode, performing "Born to Fly" by Sara Evans,, wearing a faded denim skirt and matching jacket, swinging her hips as she tried to get sassy. Meh.
Steven said she had a great swagger and he wants her to sing some more Alison Crouse or Shania Twain. J. Lo found a lot of "color" and "character" in her voice. She urged her next time to go for some big notes. (If there is a next time.) Randy agreed. He reminded people about when they first saw her, "You can sing anything." He liked the performance but told her to challenge herself. [Lauren's Video; Lauren's Performance]
Kudos to James and Haley, with a nod to Casey for an unforgettable performance.
On a night of strong performances, who's going to find themselves in the danger zone? I expect that judges' favorite Lauren Alaina will finally find herself there (because of her super safe performance), joined by Stefano and perhaps Scotty (who sang first and did much the same as he had previous weeks). Viewers will probably forgive Jacob his momentary vocal lapse in the beginning because of his emotions. It's also possible that Casey will wind up in the bottom three again, which happened the last time he took on a modern rock song.
Who will go home? By all rights, it should be Stefano, who despite turning on the dance moves, was still (sorry, Randy) bad karaoke. Can his adoring fans save him? And if they do, who will go home? Will it be Lauren, one of the last remaining girls? Or will Jacob finally get the boot? Tune in tomorrow night to find out.
It's time to stop holding back and playing it safe.