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'American Idol' recap: Top 7 perform

Here's Janell on last night's Idol:

It’s time to look back on American Idol. Remember when these top 7 contestants auditioned? In my notes I wrote top 6, because I was optimistic and forgot Lauren. These flashbacks and a caption are replacing Ryan’s usual dramatic pause introduction. Are words on a screen more exciting? They lack a certain je ne sais cheese factor. Yeah, I just made that up and it probably doesn’t make any sense.

Ooh, J.Lo has busted out the booty shorts! At last! They’re very sequined, with a matching top, and she looks great. Randy Jackson is wearing some black and white cardigan. Steven Tyler’s opaque shirt of the night has giant orchid petals on it (were they really orchids? I don’t know). He’s also sporting a bright red lipstick kiss on his cheek, courtesy of his daughter Mia.

Tonight’s theme is Music of the 21st Century. I initially thought that meant the 1900s. You guys, that’s like the 5th mistake my brain has made tonight and there hasn’t even been any singing yet. I didn’t feed it enough sugar today. Sorry, brain. So the show is bringing back Ashthon, Karen, Naima, Thia, Pia, and Paul to sing Pink’s “So What.” First, “Pia, Thia, and Paul” is a great group name. Second, Naima is working her wiggly body. Third, Karen looks good in her tight pants. Fourth, Paul and Pia get to stand behind the judges and emote extra hard. Fifth, it sounded meh. Since I don’t recap the results shows, I always skip the group numbers because I find them challenging. (SKK: Awwww, the group numbers have actually been a LOT better this season. Well, except for this one. Who thought Paul would sound remotely decent singing Pink???) Anyway, nice to see you all! Hey look, in the audience, it’s that guy! That one with the hair and the nose!

The introduction packages will have the housemates describing each other. Scotty is up first, so thankfully everyone makes fun of how he holds the microphone and wiggles his eyebrows. Scotty jokes that he holds the mike like a flute. He’ll be singing “Swingin’” by LeAnn Rimes. It’s country, but more uptempo than usual, almost bluesy. Scotty struts around the stage, making eyes at the camera. He sings one verse extra low, for the ladies. He’s got charisma, I give him that, and he has fun. I elect him the new good-time guy, now that Paul’s gone. Steven Tyler loves his voice, and would like him to boot scoot some more. Jennifer Lopez loves the storytelling quality of his singing, but now it’s time to pull out the big guns and move past his comfort zone. Randy Jackson points out that, at this point in the competition, Scotty should bring it hard, but instead it was safe and boring.

You are not prepared for this. James Durbin is singing Muse’s “Uprising.” Oh, wait, first the intro - everyone makes fun of his scarves, high screams, and backbends. Okay. Marching Band of Doom! Six drummers with black feathers on their hats! James leads them from a side door up to the stage, he’s wearing a military-esque black marching band jacket. The drummers stand behind the judges. James sings it fairly note-for-note, until he sings one chorus up in a falsetto scream. That’s different. What’s the popular opinion on James these days? I’m less fond of heavy metal, flaming piano James, but I do enjoy rock star voice James. I like having him around. I call him the winner of the night. Jennifer Lopez thinks it will be theatrically the best performance of the night, thinks it’s the highest we’ve heard him sing. Randy says something about Matt Bellamy (Muse’s lead singer) hovering around a week or so ago and emailing a challenge to James to sing the chorus higher. Challenge met. Steven Tyler asks James to stay out of his closet, calling the outfit Mad Max meets Stormtroopers on Melrose. I’ll allow it. (“I’ll allow it” is maybe the catchphrase of Christian Slater’s character on “Breaking In,” the show that follows Idol. I like him, so now I will copy him.)

Ryan Seacrest brings James’ drummers back out to do the march-in again while he introduces Haley. Her friends make fun of her growl. She’s singing Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” a song that I hear on the radio every day right now. Is this the most current song ever sung on Idol? Haley sits on a stool behind the judges, along with a percussion guy and backup singers. She growls on the lower notes, then shouts a couple of lines to sound less like Adele. I like it, although her red polka dot dress doesn’t really fit the emotion of the song. Randy is looking for artistic direction tonight, and he says Haley chose a perfect song. Steven thought it was great. Jennifer comments that it takes guts to take on a current popular record, but there were moments where we forgot about the Adele version. Yeah, like I just said.

Jacob’s next. His housemates think he’s a diva. He’s singing “Dance With My Father” by Luther Vandross. Jacob’s father passed away when Jacob was 12, so he feels it emotionally. I feel him feeling it, what else can I say? Steven says, “You are so good, you remind me why I love music.” Jennifer says that it’s hard to perform when a song means that much to you, it was emotionally beautiful. Randy agrees, but would like to throw in some helpful critique: he wasn’t jumping up and down. Randy requests the old Jacob to return and sing through the roof.

Ryan talks to that famous guy in the audience. Oh yeah, it’s Mark Ballas, from Dancing With the Stars. Mark’s favorite contestant is Casey, who is up next. (SKK: I think we all know that, according to the gossip rags at least, Mark's favorite contestant is Pia.) The housemates wear a fake beard to make fun of him. He’s singing Maroon 5’s “Harder to Breathe.” Remember Angry Casey from when he sang Nirvana? Angry Casey is back, yo. He’s trying his rock star on. His body language is fierce, and his legs seem a little rigid as he paces the stage. He reaches out to the audience, but just kind of slaps at their hands, which is funny. Um, the song is fine. He walks up to the judges and gets in J.Lo’s face as he sings the last line, then leans over and kisses her cheek across the table. Her face was turned away from the camera for this, unfortunately. The crowd goes wild, almost chants his name. Jennifer blusters, “See now Casey’s not playing fair. Casey’s got soft lips.” Randy loves that Casey is about surprise, and he enjoyed the song. Steven says that Casey did what he’s been trying to do for 4 months. Then, “You are already a cult hero. Millions of people are angry because you piss them off because you’re [bleeep],” only they keep the camera on him and I read the lips as “you’re so f-ing good.” J.Lo and Randy freak out about the swearing. Then Ryan comes out wearing the fake Casey beard. The performance kind of frightened me, but the aftermath of the whole Casey Tornado Attack! was fun to watch.

After the commercials, Steven’s mouth is taped shut. He then rips off the tape, holds up a magazine cover over his face that has a big picture of Ryan Seacrest on it, and then sticks his tongue through it where Ryan’s mouth would be. Doesn’t that move remind you of Corey “Mouth” Feldman in The Goonies? It should.

Stefano is up next. Apparently he is a confident ladies man who flirts with any estrogen-endowed being. I had no idea. He’s singing “Closer” by Ne-Yo, and in rehearsals Jimmy reminds Stefano that he shouldn’t be whining or begging, because that’s not sexy. Onstage, Stefano has a glint in his eyes. He’s wearing a black t-shirt with red suspenders hanging down from his waist, and that somehow reminds me of a sexy fireman, because all firemen are sexy, right? He does a few little dance moves confidently, touches hands with the ladies, hits a high wail. You guys, Stefano got his swagger on. His eyes are wide open as they flirt with the camera. Up until tonight I thought of Stefano as a cute little puppy that I wanted to put in my pocket, but he managed to flip that around and grow up. I like it! Stefano for the win! Randy was expecting karaoke, but he was wrong, he liked it. He also liked that Stefano took his time singing the verses. Steven enjoyed the dancing. Jennifer speaks for the girls in the audience and agrees with me that he had swagger going on. He owned the song.

Lauren is up next. Everyone makes fun of her accent. She’s singing “Born to Fly” by Sara Evans. In rehearsal, Jimmy talks about how Lauren pulls back when she’s nervous. He brings in some producers to watch her, and she pulls back, just like he said. He tells her to cut it out. Well, this is a perky country song, but there’s a cute violin boy rocking out so I enjoy that. I think it’s a safe song for her, like she is afraid to be anything other than cute and sweet. But she can sing. Steven says she’s good naturally, and he wants her to sing more Alison Krauss, Faith Hill, or Shania Twain. Jennifer says she has a special voice with a lot of character, but she needs to practice hitting some big notes. Randy says she can sing anything, but she needs to believe in herself and challenge herself. Hasn’t the thing been all along that the judges know she can sing better than she does? They’re waiting for her to bust out and own her voice.

Let’s recap the night now. Scotty was fine but safe. James was theatrical and good. Haley was pretty good. Jacob sang an emotional song, and if you don’t vote for him it means that you don’t like fathers. Casey was angry and crazy. Stefano was practically hot. Lauren was fine but safe. Hmm. James and Stefano are safe? Maybe Scotty is safe, too, because people love him? I think Haley was better than Lauren. Last time Casey got scary he was voted out, so he might be in trouble. I don’t know where to put Jacob.

The results show will give us David Cook! Yay! Have I mentioned how I love his “Don’t You Forget About Me?” Because I love it. Also Katy Perry will be there. Bring it, Katy.

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