'American Idol' recap: The songs of Elton

Here's Janell on last night's Idol:

Welcome back to the Top 11 American Idol Remix Redo! Remember last week, when Casey Abrams was saved by the judges? Let's see it again in dramatic flashback. Mmm hmm, yep, the pale skin, the part where I thought he was going to fall over and die, all the weeping, okey dokey. Dramatic screen captions would like you to know that "Hope has been renewed." Much like in Episode IV of Star Wars, then. But don't renew all of your hope, because there are "no more second chances." You know, like there's only one chance to destroy a Death Star. Are you sufficiently worried? Then let's meet the judges.

Randy Jackson is wearing a plain black t-shirt, although in some close-ups it sparkles, and I don't know if that's because he sits so close to Jennifer that her sparkle cloud migrates over to him, or if his shirt has an extra layer of dazzle. Jennifer Lopez is wearing a cool one-sleeved purple-sequined minidress. Steven Tyler has a dapper jacket over a lowcut swirly shirt, and his tight pants of the week are white. Hold up, everyone, it looks like Ryan Seacrest got a haircut. Or he simply brushed it to the side differently, but just enough to tilt my axis of reality a few degrees starboard. Ryan's hair informs us that no one is safe.

Tonight's theme is the songs of Elton John. It seems this Mr. John has been known for eccentric fashion, so the Top 11 had a "fashion photo shoot." There is talk of makeovers, but I don't see any makeovers other than a change of clothes. Oh well, clothes make the [wo]man, right?

Scotty McCreery begins the night with a song called "Country Comfort," the only Elton John song with the word "country" in the title. The song also has the word "grandma," and his grandma is in the audience, so he gives her a shout out. Scotty is playing guitar, so we're spared his oddly delicate grip on the microphone. I've never heard this song, so I can say that it sounds like a country song. It includes the line, "Country comfort's in a truck that's going home." Now please compare and contrast with Gwyneth Paltrow's recent song from her movie "Country Strong." Do you prefer your country comfortable or strong? I can't judge because I don't prefer country in either flavor, but, good job Scotty. Steven Tyler: "Nothing I can say to you that an old-fashioned high-heeled pair of cowboy boots wouldn't fix." Yessir. Jennifer Lopez says he's got amazing instincts about what's right for him. Randy Jackson feels like we were at Scotty's Place Bar and Restaurant, because he was so seasoned and in the zone. For the record, Scotty's guitar's name is Scarlett.


Naima Adedapo

will be throwing some reggae at “I’m Still Standing.” Producer Jimmy Iovine feeds her an intro speech about all the people standing in the world, which, thanks, Jimmy, I’ll know that comes from her heart. Naima gives the speech in a Jamaican accent, because you can’t do reggae without one. She’s wearing white pinstripe pants with a vest with some red/yellow/green flourish stripes. I don’t know, you guys. I hear some pitchiness. It’s slower, which doesn’t make it more fun. It’s not an abomination by any means, but there seem to be some pauses in the song that she doesn’t fill with her presence. Anyway, Jennifer Lopez loves her reggae swag, although the song might not be suited for it. She’s not sure if it was a good payoff. Randy Jackson loves reggae, mon, but thinks it came off corny, and Naima is not a corny person. But she’s got mad flavor. J.Lo gets into a debate with Randy about whether he respects the song, then they throw it to Steven Tyler who says, “Boom chakka lakka baby.”


The people of American Idol would like you, yes you, to write lyrics for a song. Please don’t. Unless you can personally guarantee that the song will be awesome, and not just a generic anthem about reaching the

end of the place at the top of the journey. That reminds me of an excellent song called “Plateau”: “Nothin’ on top but a bucket and mop and an illustrated book about birds.” That’s straight talk. If you can write a song like that, then you should enter the contest.


Paul McDonald

will be singing “Rocket Man.” He says his band covered it years ago, one time, and it was a disaster. Here’s hoping it’s better now. He’s busted out the white suit covered in flowers for us. This is interesting, Paul’s voice is extra breathy, more of a whisper, less scratchy. It’s nice that his voice has different characteristics that I can write about. And the pauses in the song seem to be filled up with just him. I like it, it’s subtle. He ends in a whisper, actually. Randy Jackson says it’s quiet comfort (I prefer that over country comfort), and Paul’s tender zone is infectious. Jennifer speaks out of turn while they discuss if Paul is holding back at all. Steven Tyler incorrectly mentions the Top 12, and questions if Paul has watered the suit. Remember how I love Steven Tyler? Because I do. But it’s like he’s barely trying, now. Wait, now Steven says “When you hit every note, I’m not gonna like you anymore.” Well, he is paying attention at least. J.Lo encourages Paul to push himself into the upper register.

Pia Toscano

will be singing “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” Remember last week when Randy and Jennifer told her not to sing a ballad, and Pia was all, okay, next week, promise. But this is one of her favorites! How can she not sing it?! She sings it great, of course. And, oh look, here’s the choir to back her up. Steven Tyler says she makes him cry inside. Jennifer Lopez says the notes take us to an otherworldly place. Randy Jackson says every week is a ballad, but she slays the ballad every time. Yep. Backstage, Pia tells us that if she’s around next week she’ll be singing “River Deep, Mountain High.” Am I the only one who just didn’t care? That is not a song to get excited about, right? I’m trying to think of a song that I would

like to hear less, and my brain must not be working because every song I’m like, no, that would be more interesting. I want Casey to choose a song to sing next week, and then hand it off to Pia. That I would care


Stefano Langone

will be singing “Tiny Dancer.” He’s standing at the microphone stand, and his eyes are open! Practically the whole time! It’s kind of good. At the end, he slowly approaches the judges’ table

and holds his hand out to Jennifer. Randy tries to intercept and J.Lo smacks Randy’s hand out of the way. She tells Stefano that she could feel him taking their notes about connecting with the audience. Randy


points out that the eyes were opened, and Stefano moved around the stage more. Steven thinks that sometimes Stefano is a little bit Broadway, but tonight he nailed it.

Lauren Alaina


is singing “Candle in the Wind.” She claims she’s going soft. She sounds really pretty (but the train on her mini-dress is less pretty). She throws in some falsetto notes, some twang, plus some clean, clear notes. I think it’s hot stuff, actually. Randy Jackson says it’s one of the greatest Lauren performances on the stage, very sensitive, professional, and very hot. Steven Tyler says “That was perfect, beautiful, keep singing like that and you’ll be able to afford the rest of that dress.” J.Lo says “That was it, baby.” Yeah, it kind of was.


James Durbin

is singing “Saturday Night’s All Right for Fighting.” He’s going for arena rock, he starts out in the upper level, comes down the stairs, and does a split jump off the bottom steps. Then he’s moving in the audience and back, and hey! No scarf tail! The scarf is around his neck, where it should be! (Scarf Watch! 2011! Brought to you tonight by cake!) I give him a pass automatically, even though he throws the mike stand. Then he climbs on the piano, back down again, and then the piano catches fire. That’s a new one for the Idol stage, isn’t it? Aside from the choreography, he sings it all rock star, with a good long scream at the end. I like him enough, he’s fun to have around, now I want him to sing a song that gives him more vocal range. Steven Tyler says he has a really good rock voice, but “just don’t wear out your welcome, you’ll end up like me.” I don’t know if he’s referring to the voice or the job or what. Jennifer Lopez says she

forgets it’s a competition, she feels like she’s at a show. Randy likes that James enjoys himself. That is definitely true.

Thia Megia

will be singing “Daniel.” Jimmy Iovine warns her that if the crowd doesn’t believe it, she’ll go home. The song has a nice arrangement, and she sings it nicely, at the end I almost think she will cry. Jennifer says it was beautiful, and Randy likes the relaxed side of her, but felt it was a safe choice. Steven says her voice appeared. Yeah, she was fine enough, but she doesn’t have the showstopper persona that Pia has, she’s just a sweet, quiet little thing.

Casey Abrams

, regarding the photo shoot, says that he wants to start a trend where “big dudes with beards” can model. The trend was just waiting for you to happen, Casey. He’ll be singing “Your Song.” Producer Rodney Jerkins thinks Casey should shave the beard, because it’s taking over the face and scaring the people. Casey actually gets a nice haircut and a beard trim. He sings while sitting on a stool,

with no theatrics and no scary growling. Wait - just a little yelling near the end, plus a nice falsetto note. The judges all pat themselves on the back for saving him. Randy says the performance was brilliant, nice and tender. Steven was a fan of the final two notes. J.Lo says it was very Casey.

Jacob Lusk

is singing “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word,” and that seems to be one of the most awkward song titles. Jimmy Iovine warns him against over dramatizing, right before we see him in a spotlight surrounded by fog. But Jacob actually is restrained and intense, and he holds the final note steady without any runs. Steven and Jennifer loved it. Randy did, too, but wanted Jacob to pull out the race horse

and gas up the tank at the end.

Haley Reinhart

has been saved for the end. She’s singing “Bennie and the Jets,” and she starts out sitting on the red piano. This song has a lot of range, she can include her growls and yodels and everything in between, plus some funky bluesy struts. I will say this: Haley is not shy onstage. Jennifer screams, “That was it, Haley!” Randy says that, for him, it was the best performance of the night. Steven says it goes to show what a well-placed chorus will do, then he leans into the mike and enunciates very carefully, “You. Sing. Sexy.”

That’s it! During the final rundown, I try to pick a favorite and can’t. I really liked Paul, and Lauren. James, Casey and Haley are all energetic and fun, and Jacob was pretty cool, too. Scotty wasn’t bad, and I want to put Stefano in my pocket and carry him around. Pia doesn’t excite me but she’ll probably stick around because the people need to hear her sing that song. I guess I’m worried about Naima, because her energetic vision didn’t quite connect tonight, and Thia, because she’s not a towering personality.

Tonight's results show will bring us Fantasia and Jamie Foxx with Will.i.am. No Elton John? Ryan says “You never know what will happen,” so I’d like to imagine that Sir Elton will parachute in sometime, but I think we’ll just be shocked at the results.

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