We open with Steven T. talking about the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and his induction thereunto. He takes us through some of the artifacts in the HOF, including the handwritten lyrics to "Purple Haze," a jumpsuit worn by Elton John, and the most terrifying thing I've ever seen: a wax bust of Steven himself in full cry. It looks like this:
Oh, we're also told that Gwen Stefani is here this week, styling the girls. (All 3 of them...seriously? There are only 3 left? Oof.) Guys, you're apparently out of luck. Nudie Suits for all! And will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas is helping to mentor our feckless singers.
First up tonight is Jacob, who doesn't exactly think "rock 'n' roll night" is in his wheelhouse. William (I am not doing those stupid periods all night, sorry) says something about a submarine to Jacob, but I can't understand most of it. I think it's about Jacob's range? Jacob has chosen "Man in the Mirror," and in a talking head says "If I end up in the bottom, it won't be because I sang the song wrong...it'll be because everybody in America wasn't ready to look at themselves in the mirror." Are you fricking kidding me? Jacob, I look in the mirror every day and twice on Sundays...and I've wanted you gone for weeks. You're an overindulgent, one-note, smug shouter, and I assure you that not liking you is not a personal failure on my part.
He's dressed in tennis whites for some reason, and he rips out his earpiece on like note three, as though it's interfering with him. He has a single backup singer to his right, but I can see 3 more to the left. He's sort of duetting with the single singer, but they're actually singing in the same octave, and it's not as powerful as it could be. Plus there's an awkward hip-thrust section that makes me uncomfortable. Overall, he's actually reining it in fairly appropriately--he's learning his dynamics. The crowd goes wild, and Steven calls Saida (sp?) back out to give her credit for not only singing, but for co-writing the song! OK, that was cool. J.Lo loves him and says that he was perfect on every emotional level. Randy loves him too, shocker. Commends him for switching from the recommended Marvin Gaye Jimmy wanted him to sing to the Michael song. (I guess that was a discussion--something about morality?--that I fast forwarded through. Just as well--it would only make me hate Jacob more.)
Haley's next, and the first opportunity for us to see Gwen S.'s styling. Also, she will be doing Janis Joplin's "Piece of my Heart" because the judges have basically been telling her to do so for weeks. Fair enough. In rehearsal, William is trying to explain to Haley that she needs to play to the camera if she wants to win over the home viewers. This is good advice. Do it again, William, and I'll give you back your periods.
Haley looks OK, not terrific--skinny leather pants and a black and gray handkerchief hem tunic, plus crazy wavy hair and bright red lips. She opens with the "come on, come on" screamy part, which gets our attention, and then goes into a verse. Her gravelly quality is on full display here, and she seems like she's finally having fun, though about halfway through it starts feeling playacting. J.Lo declares her a "contender" (although then says something about being around "for a minute" which confuses me). Randy is delighted that she finally tapped into her bluesy core and riffed on the song a bit. Steven says "I couldn't find nothing wrong with that," and then gives us a brief paean to Janis. Haley is smiling hugely and genuinely seems more comfortable onstage than she's ever been. I did not hate her tonight. This is a significant improvement!
Casey was going to do the Police, whom I love, but Jimmy and William can't find the right arrangement for him (there's an amusing kerfuffle where Jimmy calls William "mama" and he takes exception), so he changes to Creedence and sings "Have You Ever Seen the Rain." Casey opens, playing his upright bass while "rain" flickers down the video screens behind him. There's also a random dude sitting on Casey's podium playing a mandolin (as one does). This version is sounding pretty Jimmy Buffett to me, to be honest. I'm not loving the first half, but when the song opens up on the second verse, Casey plays with it a little and it starts to feel natural. And kind of Counting Crows-ish. (That is totally a word. Trust me, I'm an editor.) Randy loves it, Steven calls him "a true musician" and raves about the bass--he's really on a roll!--and J.Lo says that if he shows up with his bass, she's "paying top dollar to be in the front row."
No commercial break--we go right into Lauren Alaina's section. She still sounds a little sick in her talking head, but she looks fine when she steps onstage to perform "Natural Woman." OK, "fine" is a relative term. Gwen has put her in these poufy short-shorts over black tights and boots, which is not a great look for the hippy among us. She's got a black blazer with 3/4 length sleeves and her hair in a kind of pompadour thing. Basically, karaoke night after a day at the office. Not great, Gwennie! She sounds nice, low key, and she gives us a little growl & shimmy on the chorus..but it doesn't feel as organic as Haley's version. She really feels pulled back in this performance, cautious--I bet she's still sick. Busts out a glory note at the end, though! But Kelly Clarkson (all hail the One True Idol!) has nothing to worry about just yet. Steven says he loves her, but then ups our skeeve quotient by saying "4 months ago you came in here a little girl, and now you're a natural born woman." J.Lo says she's amazing and commends her for taking on Aretha. Randy also praises her, but isn't "jumping up and down" because he implies he's heard other Idol candidates (Kelly Clarkson) do it better (Kelly Clarkson). Ew. Christian Slater is cheering in the audience, and he looks like a sweaty child molester.
When we return, Ryan tells us that James is taking things down a notch for us--he'll be singing "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." I must grudgingly admit that he sounds good in rehearsal...though William warns him that he needs to build the audience's energy back up by the end of the song or he'll seem like a dud no matter how well he sings. James begins sitting on a stool, backed up by an electric guitarist...oh! And a bunch of violinists. OK then. James needs no lessons on playing to the camera--he just flashed me a peace sign in an incredibly cheesy manner. But the whole thing is soft and controlled...until the final note which somewhat arbitrarily has a 10-minute long glory scream. Feh. Honestly, I didn't really like this so much, but the changeup is probably working in a David Cook fashion. J.Lo liked seeing his pain and vulnerability and thought it was a great choice; Randy also loved James's willingness to reveal emotion. Steven schools us on George Harrison and then says, "It's good to see that not only did the guitar gently weep--you did as well." Ugh. James says that he's worked on that song for 5 years and "written his own version." Um, dial it back, there, shorty--you arranged a version of the song that George Harrison wrote.
Scotty is doing Elvis! Lord help us. He's chosen "That's All Right Mama," which I don't know, but at least based on the title, has the right sentiment for Scotty's image. William is being confusing again, and Scotty's staring at him like he's humoring a crazy person, but graciously takes a stab at interpreting in a talking head: William wants edge. So no Country Scotty tonight.
Ooof...something feels very off with the sound mixing on this one. Scotty doesn't appear to be singing in the same key as his backup band. But it evens out as we go, and ends OK--eek! Scotty just tried to give bedroom eyes to the camera. That feels so wrong. I think he's going to eat my liver and throw my body in a van. The song ends and he's mobbed by a pack of young girls, which feels equally fake. I don't think that's cool, show--don't let some contestants get those dumb gimmicks and not have something for everyone. Randy disagrees with me, anyway, and thought he rocked it. Steven says, "I thought you were all hat and no cattle, but you brought Elvis back!" J.Lo loves him, and loved his flirting with the crowd--and she asks, "Do you watch rap or hip hop...because I feel a little bit of flavor in there!" [Ed. query: flava? or flavor?] Scotty's in no danger, once again.
Hallelujah! Pia is doing something up tempo! "River Deep, Mountain High." William warns Pia that her performance needs to be at 11, because she doesn't want to have another pageant-dud performance with the ghost of Tina Turner hanging over her. As we begin, Pia struts out in something that I swear Gwen herself has worn (strapless capri-length jumpsuit in white w/black spots, along with awesome huge collar necklace), and she wastes no time in belting the heck out of the song. Like a singing Dalmatian! She sounds good! And I think I saw her move her feet once! It's still not exactly powerhouse Tina, as she gingerly picks her way down to the judges' table to sing to all of them individually, but at least she moved. J.Lo praises her voice and says she's spectacular, but tells her she needs to study great performers to learn her stagecraft. Fair enough, J.Lo--you are correct. Randy points out that all the great balladeers (Mariah, Whitney, etc.) also had tons of uptempo hits. Steven...I lost his comments somehow; I'm going to guess he thought she was "beautiful."
Todd Rundgren is in the audience tonight...which feels odd. But he gets a nice shout out. And then on to Stefano, who'll be singing "When a Man Loves a Woman." Well, Stefano, when you become a man, you can tell us about it. Will.i.am is getting his periods back because he just ran through a very funny example of "getting in front of the song," demonstrating how Percy Sledge would hold his pauses and make the audience wait for the rest of the phrase with bated breath. "When a--wait a minute, gotta tie my shoe" "When a--[checks text] this dude is trippin'" "When a... ... ... ...MAN loves a woman...". Heh. Well played, Will.i.am.
OK, as this is supposed to be about Stefano, I guess we have to listen to him now. He, like Scotty before him, begins seated on the patented Stairs of Drama. He's in all black, including his tie and vest, and he has the squints more or less under control. Oops, as the volume goes up, the squints increase. We hit the climax and he successfully hits a crazy loud note...but I don't love his phrasing. J.Lo disagrees, though, shrieking "Baby! Baby baby baby! That was beautiful!" She loved the emotion. Randy is more guarded, and says that the first part felt a little jerky to him (aha! I was right!), which sends J.Lo into a spiral of denial. Randy winds up and Steven sneers, "Are we through?" He disagrees, found it pleasantly old-timey, and loved his range.
Ooh, Paul the Teeth is singing Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues." Style-wise, this is a good choice for him, but do people really want to hear the Man in Black sung in Squeakyvision? Oops...the song starts, and Paul is whaling on his guitar, but it still sounds like Rod Stewart doing Johnny Cash. I just don't know if we need to hear this 2 octaves higher than we're used to. Tons of energy, to which the audience responds in spades. Squeals and cheers throughout. Randy begins by saying "I got three words for you: I LOVED IT!" Steven calls him "a crazy character, a perfect imperfect boy." Um, is that a quote, or was Steven just feeling poetic? J.Lo keeps it short & sweet, saying "A perfect way to end the show." Eh, if you like that sort of thing. As Ryan does his wrap-up spiel, Paul is clapping his hands and leading the audience in an extended dance/twitch break. The Paul Tarantella is alive and well.
So who's in the bottom? I'm not sure how many we'll have (2 or 3?) to choose from, but I'm going to guess Jacob, Stefano and...maybe Lauren? Either way, we had just a little too little show, because Ryan is filling like his life depended on it. All the while, the hoedown is going on behind him, with all the Idol kids now up there. Hey, at least they're having fun! Hope you all did too :).