Music of the 21st century was the theme tonight on "American Idol." The headline: The judges got a little tough. That's progress.
In a running gag, the finalists joked about one another. They wore a Casey Abrams beard, and they made fun of Lauren Alaina's chatty style. At the end, Ryan Seacrest called it an exceptional night, and Randy Jackson said anyone could win.
Do you agree? I think several singers do stand above the others.
Scotty McCreery was the first finalist to perform, and he chose LeAnn Rimes' "Swingin'. " He brought a sultry easiness to the performance, batting his eyes, hitting the low notes and sashaying around the stage. But the judges weren't bowled over.
Steve Tyler said it was good, but you got the sense he wanted more. Jennifer Lopez said young Scotty needed to pull out the big guns and that the judges expected more. Randy Jackson said Scotty had played it safe and the performance was boring. Afterward, Fox showed the fellow "Idol" contestants consoling Scotty.
James Durbin chose Muse's "Uprising" and delivered another bravura performance. He sang in two voices, high and low, and was mesmerizing. Lopez predicted the "amazing" performance would be the most theatrical of the night. "You were unbelievable up there," Jackson said, predicting it would be the night's best performance. "That was crazy good," Tyler said. "I just love you're out of your mind — beautifully so."
Haley Reinhart had the disadvantage of following James, but she gave her best performance ever on Adele's "Rolling for the Deep." The key: She did less, letting viewers concentrate on her voice. She started by sitting, then she stood and she didn't move around the stage. She looked beautiful. Tyler and Jackson agreed it was a great performance. Lopez said she shined.
Jacob Lusk chose Luther Vandross' "Dance With My Father," a song that had personal meaning for Jacob, who had lost his father. He was more restrained than usual and delivered the song while seating. He stumbled at the start because of problems with the track, but the overall performance was fine. "Baby, you are so good," Tyler said. "Emotionally, it was a beautiful performance," Lopez said. "Vocally, it was good but it didn't make me jump up and down," Jackson said, urging him not to hold back.
In the audience, Mark Ballas of "Dancing With the Stars" announced that Casey Abrams was his favorite. Abrams played the guitar on Maroon 5's "Harder to Breathe." He was confident, dynamic, never better. He ended the song softly, singing to Lopez and kissing her. "Casey's not playing fair," Lopez joked. "The performance was great." Jackson liked the surprise of the performance and called it "amazing." The censor bleeped Tyler repeatedly, but Tyler got out these words: "You've changed so many people's minds."
Stefano "big flirt" Langone turned on the sensual style for Ne-Yo's "Closer" and moved around the stage like a confident entertainer. The vocals weren't consistent, but he tried. Jackson said that Stefano smoothed it out after a rough start. "Good job, really good," Tyler said. Lopez said Stefano had his swag going on.
Lauren Alaina was the last performer and delivered a nice "Born to Fly" that seemed to leave the judges underwhelmed. "You're so good naturally," Tyler said, suggesting other singers she might try. Lopez liked the color and character of Lauren's voice, but urged her to sing out. "Challenge yourself, Lauren," Jackson advised.
Earlier in the show, Paul McDonald and the five female finalists ejected so far this season returned to sing "So What? I'm a Rock Star." It was a very ragged performance.
The results will be announced on Thursday. Katy Perry and David Cook will perform.
Here's how I rate them:
1. James Durbin
2. Casey Abrams
3. Haley Reinhart
4. Stefano Langone
5. Lauren Alaina
6. Jacob Lusk
7. Scotty McCreery
But I don't think Scotty is going home. What do you think?