Last Night on American Idol: James Durbin Set the Place on Fire

Last night on American Idol, the contestants had one of the richest songbooks to select from as they got to pick songs from the stylings of Captain Fantastic himself, Sir Elton John. Some of them made bold choices, some safe choices. One or two even made a surprising choice. But, with such a vast array of songs to pick from, and nearly all of them amazingly great, they almost had to be good. And most of them were.

However, due to Casey Abrams needing to be saved by the coveted “Judges’ Save” last week after a shocking elimination by the most finicky and obviously confused voters (I blame the judges and their total inability to properly critique. How can people know how to vote if the judges aren’t giving proper direction????), not one, but two contestants will be voted off in tonight’s elimination episode.

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Scottie McReery came out with guitar in hand for a serious version of Elton’s County Comfort (no shock here – he even told Ryan during the post song interview that he saw the word “Country” and said, “Let’s go” ). And we found out he loves his Grandma. How in the hell did Scottie manage to find the only Elton John country song? He had to have Googled it, the trickster. The last note dropped about 2 octaves. But he somehow stayed true to himself, and there’s nothing you can say bad about that. But, he is starting to become a one-trick pony and he is becoming very predictable. We got our weekly Steven Tyler Insane Quote of the Week early this week, when he said to Scottie: “There’s nothing I can say to you that an old-fashioned pair of high-heeled cowboy boots wouldn’t fix.” Yeah, I have no idea what this means either. If you know, please drop me a comment or something. 7

Naima Adedepo went with I’m Still Standing, and like Scottie, she put her standard stamp on it. But in her case, it was Reggae. And this was some serious, Peter Tosh-like Reggae. The first verse was pretty good. It was an interesting choice of arrangement. The words to the song lend themselves to the Reggae style. Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson both said that the song wasn’t good for Reggae, but I really think that the words, I’m still standing / after all this time, are, in fact, right in style with a standard Reggae song about rising up from oppression. I will say, however, that the chorus was pretty weak. 9

Paul McDonald sang Elton’s super hit Rocket Man (whisper version). You just can’t help but think of Jack Johnson, Jason Mraz, and even Jason Castro with the tone this guy has. I wasn’t crazy about this version of this song. It was pretty weak, in fact. I’d even say, timid. There was just no power behind it. His range was limited with no highs and no lows. He stayed almost completely in the middle ranges this week. He needs to do better if he wants to stick around. His unique vocals aren’t good enough to keep him around. 10

Pia Toscano sang Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me, which while it is another ballad, is a perfect song for her uber powerful voice. Last week Randy admonished her for singing ballad, ballad, ballad, but with Elton John week, can you really see her singing anything else? I think she gets a pass on this one. She hit the falsettos perfectly, and slid right back down again with the ease of a seasoned professional. Her glory note in the chorus was what you wish these people could do all the time. Power, range, confidence. She has it all. As Steven Tyler said, it was a complete and full sentence (which the preceding line was not, but you’ll get over it). And most importantly, she gave J Lo goosebumps. Which we now know is proof positive that it was good. 2

Stefano Langone tried to make up from last week’s debacle of Lionel Richie’s Hello with one of Elton’s most popular songs, Tiny Dancer from the awesome Madman Across the Water album. Right from the first sentence, Blue Jean Baby, you knew that this song was going to be wayyy better than last week. And he got better throughout the song. By the time he hit the chorus, he was in full stride and full control of the song. He showed range and emotion, two things that were seriously lacking last week. And we found out that Howie Mandel looks almost exactly like Stefano’s father, Ernie. They could be twins. It is very eerie. 6

Lauren Alaina sang the world famous Candle in the Wind, which Ryan Seacrest informed us is the best selling single of all time. Actually, I think Candle in the Wind 97, which Sir Elton re-wrote for the untimely passing of Princess Diana, was the number one selling single of all time, but why quibble. Anyway, Lauren sang the song with a bit of a country twist to it, and it didn’t do the song any favors. It took away some of the power of the words and some of the strength of the meaning behind it. She hit her high register with no problem and stayed in the upper register through most of the song. It’s not a bad place for her, and she sounded good. Not her best performance, but it was ok. I think I’m just biased against countrifying such a great song. I can live with that. 5

James Durbin went with Elton’s rocker Saturday Night’s Alright for Fightin’ and it was a great song choice for his “in your face – take no prisoners” style. He was all over the stage, grooving with the guitarist, clapping his hands and getting the audience involved. He even jumped up on the piano at one point. This guy looked like he’d been doing this his whole life. And he never lost his place, or his breath. He was on fire, like the piano that was set ablaze. Yeah, they used pyro. He continues to set a new bar week after week. He is the quintessential rocker, and he is good. One of the best parts may have been after the song, when Seacrest asked him if he was worried about the fire and he replied that with all the product in his hair, he was worried about having a “Pepsi Moment”, referring, of course to when Michael Jackson set his hair on fire during the making of a Pepsi commercial. The only problem is that Idol is strongly endorsed by Coke. Ryan Seacrest had to scramble like crazy to cover that one, saying Coke about 10 times in the next 30 seconds. You just can’t make this stuff up. Pure gold. I may have given this a #1 ranking based on this post-performance exchange alone. But in all honesty, Durbin was the performance of the night. 1

Thia Megia sang Daniel because it reminded her of when she said goodbye to her brother, and like she did with Colors of the Wind, she put us to sleep. She has a beautiful voice, no doubt. She’s just B-O-R-I-N-G. She can’t help it. I almost feel bad because I really don’t think it’s her fault. And she continues to pick good, but safe, boring songs, which doesn’t help. I can see Thia waving goodbye. 11

Casey Abrams really switched things up in more ways than one. He slowed things down from his usual manic tempo singing Your Song, which could be one of the greatest love songs ever written, and he sang it beautifully, I might add. He also trimmed his Fozzy Bear beard and looks like a mensch now. He really showed a whole different side of himself. There’s never been any doubt about his soul, he shows that every time he walks out on stage. But this may have been the first time he sang with his heart. And there is a difference. This really could have been his best performance so far. No doubt he is proving his worth after being saved last week. 3

Jacob Lusk sang Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word. Producer Jimmy Iovine, who has mentored all of the contestants all season, commented that he could get in trouble if he over-dramatizes the song. Does he know this guy?? That’s what Jacob does with every song. That being said, this lacked some of the emotion that he usually brings to the songs. The way he held on to the last note was really something. He showed a great deal of control through the whole song, and stayed in his comfort area through most of it. What was with the faces he was making? Was he in pain? He looked agonized. They are getting weirder and weirder every week. He is getting harder to watch. I was in pain trying not to laugh. 8

Haley Reinhart got the infamous pimp spot last night and used it to show off her vocals on B-B-B-Benny and the Jets. And unlike Katherine Heigl in 27 Dresses, Haley got all the words right. And, she was better than in weeks past. She wasn’t going for over the top. She wasn’t going for sex appeal. She was just singing. Sure, her voice was growling and rolling. But in the right places. Probably her best performance to date. 4

GOING HOME: Thia Megia, Paul McDonald