Host Ryan Seacrest told viewers at the top of the show that they shouldn't feel too bad for James Durbin, who still got a hometown visit where he was treated like a star, even though he'd been eliminated last week.
This week, the top three would be singing three songs, with some guidance from Beyonce. One song would be their own selection; one would be the choice of singing mentor Jimmy Iovine; the final song would be selected by the judges. Unlike previous years, where specific judges chose songs for specific finalists, this year they shared their decisions.
For his first song, Scotty McCreery chose "Amaze" by Lonestar. Beyonce found his voice "so full and warm." She had some reservations about him going into his higher range, but he said he wanted to push himself. He performed lounging against a piano, wearing a jean jacket and plaid shirt, then getting up and moving around the stage. The ballad was a bit different for him, and it was a competent performance, though not too exciting, until the end, when he threw a few extra flourishes in.
Steven Tyler told him he just keeps getting better and better. He told him that he got angry and "kicked that song into the middle of next week." Jennifer Lopez liked that he's using his vibrato now and praised him for growing over the course of the season. Randy Jackson thought it was a great song choice. [Scotty's First Video; Scotty's First Performance]
For her personal sselection, Lauren Alaina had chosen "Wild One" by Faith Hill. Beyonce prefers her on something fun because it loosens her up. She gave the somewhat reticent Lauren advice to put on a persona when she goes onstage. Lauren wore a red and white halter top with handkerchief hem, black leggings, white cowboy boots, and huge flower earrings as she strutted around the song. It was a fun song, but it didn't do much to show off her vocals.
J. Lo told her it was very good. Randy liked seeing her having fun and told her she needs to have the confidence she had when she auditioned. Steven thought that "You're so ready for this. You're ready for America to just be all over you." [Lauren's First Video; Lauren's First Performance]
Haley Reinhart selected “What is and What Should Never Be” by Led Zeppelin. Beyonce observed that Haley has a presence and called her singing incredible. Haley started her song out at the top of the stairs, wearing a black dress with beads, and walking down when the song picked up. The song was a good fit for her voice, and she made it melodic, rather than belting it out. Her dad, a guitarist, jammed with her onstage. She got a standing ovation from Randy, Steven, and much of the audience.
Randy said, "This is what it's all about." He thought she slayed it and this was one of her best performances ever. Steven asked her, "Did you fall for me?" He called the performance superb. J. Lo tried to make her feel better because everyone falls on stage, but you keep going. She said it was a tough song, but she sang it "really, really great."
Haley had tripped near the end of her performance, due to her shoes but said, "You've got to do what you've got to do." [Haley's First Video; Haley's First Performance; Haley's First Critique]
The judges agreed that Haley won the first round.
Scotty was sitting in the audience with Priscilla Presley!
For Scotty's second song, Jimmy Iovine had chosen “Are You Going to Kiss Me or Not” by Thompson Square. Scotty wore a blue plaid shirt and played acoustic guitar for this song. It was a better performance than his first one of the evening. Once more, my 11-month-old danced to his favorite Idol.
Steven said "You were living that one." J. Lo talked about several moments in the song that she really liked. Randy thought that Scotty's in it to win it (again). [Scotty's Second Performance; Scotty's Second Critique]
For Lauren, Jimmy chose "If I Die Young" by Perry. She wore a black sparkly top with a pouffy white skirt and black heels. I'm not sure why Jimmy advised her to sing it with a light tone, since the lyrics are so dark. It was, however, probably her best performance to date.
J. Lo thought she has the most beautiful tone of the finalists. She thought she could have put more emotion into it. Randy noticed that she'd recovered from a vocal error. He thought it was another good song choice, although he noted a couple pitch problems at the end. Steven thought it was a beautiful song and she nailed it. [Lauren's Second Performance; Lauren's Second Critique]
For Haley, Jimmy chose "Rhiannon" by Fleetwood Mac, because he'd thought from the first that she should sing a Stevie Nicks song. He wanted her to build toward the end. She wore a gray filmy dress with a long belt and stiletto heels. Her version of the song was practically a capella, it was so stripped down at the beginning. Then it picked up pace, and a fan kicked in, blowing her dress and her hair, which along with the fog blowing across the stage, gave her that Stevie Nicks video vibe. Considering she was just staying still, it was full of drama, most of it from her vocals, but the fan also helped.
Randy thought it was funny that she seemed glad at the end that she was done. He thought her pitch was perfect and that it was "almost a somber moment" but she was "in the zone." Randy asked Steven why the guys don't get fans. Steven said that this was nice "to let your hair down and let the wind catch it." J. Lo thought she would take it a little further at the end but thought it was a nice contrast to what she did earlier and found it "ethereal." [Haley's Second Performance; Haley's Second Critique]
Who won round two? Steven thought it was Lauren. J. Lo and Randy thought Scotty won the round. Jimmy, who was in the audience, had more praise for Scotty but had good things to say about them all.
For Scotty's third song, the judges chose "She Believes in Me" by Kenny Rogers. He sang it seated on a stool, wearing a dark blazer with a white patterned T-shirt. This was a very old-fashioned sounding country ballad, complete with violins. At times, his voice dipped as he reached for the next note. But J. Lo watched him intensely, singing along, and I predict his fans were, too.
Steven thought it was the first big chorus he sang in a big way. "You put it over the top for me right now." J. Lo thought he did a good job. She was proud. Randy said it's about stretching himself. "You were so sweet and tender in the front." He also thought it was nicely done.
Ryan asked his father to say something to him, and he said that he's very, very proud of him. And in a cute moment, Ryan goaded his daddy into singing the first bars of the song that Scotty sang during his audition. [Scotty's Third Performance; Scotty's Third Critique]
For Lauren, the judges selected "I Hope You Dance" by Lee Ann Womack. She looked like a Disney princess in an aqua bedazzled evening gown, with her hair pulled back into an up-down look. She showed with this song that she does have potential, but she still has a tendency to pull back too soon on notes that would be better to sustain. Of course, if no one could convince her, at this stage in the competition, not to simply walk through it, nothing will ever change.
J. Lo said that Lauren gave her goosebumps from head to toe. She said that "you won that round for me already." Randy said that Lee Ann is a good friend of his and that she'd agree that "you slayed it." He thought she's in the zone and is in it "to win it." Steven thought "you walked out here like you owned the Grand Ole Opry." He felt she was at ease with herself and sang it perfectly. [Lauren's Third Performance; Lauren's Third Critique]
For Haley, the song the judges selected was "You Ought to Know" by Alanis Morisette. She loves Alanis and was down with the song. She started sitting on the steps, wearing a royal blue top and black leggings with heels. After a quiet opening, she belted out the chorus and then pulled back on the bridge. Strutting around the judges' table, she sang to all three of them, which was just a little ookie when you consider how much younger she is than Randy and Steven! Still, she finished strong, and the audience loved it.
Randy said that "America's got their work cut out for them." He liked her rocking out in a soulful way. Steven called it "amazing" and thought that it was "incredible." J. Lo thought it was a really good job on the choruses and "there's no one who can match you there." The weaker parts were while Haley was walking, she said. [Haley's Third Performance; Haley's Third Critique]
Kudos to Haley for three very solid performances. Each of the others had their moments, too. Predicting who's going home could be harder than ever. I really want to see Haley in the finals, and I'm hoping that being in the third slot will help her stay in. Will it be an all-girl finale, for the first time since season three? Or will Scotty face off against one of the girls? I think if viewers agree that Lauren hasn't lived up to her potential, she'll be leaving.
It's not whether you fall; it's how you get up.