From Sarah Kelber Janell:

Before I tell you what Steven Tyler is wearing tonight, I want to have a sit-down, homey, fireside chat with you all.


You see, this is the first show I've recapped that people on the internet have real opinions about (apparently you guys thought "True Beauty" was just a fluff show! When it was all about inner beauty, the total opposite of fluff! Go back and read the archives [I think somewhere I insult Spaniards] and you'll see).

Anyway, since people who aren't related to me watch "American Idol" and read the recaps, I've tried to keep my opinions, well, subdued. I don't want to come down too harshly on the contestants, because what do I know about music? Nothing! Really! But some of the comments from last week had differing opinions, and I agreed with a lot of the criticism you guys shared (thanks for sharing, by the way!). So I'm going to try to get real, tonight. You know, for me for you.

I'm writing this bit hours before the show is on, and at the end of the recap I'll come back and see if any of my hopes and dreams came true. Because I hope that James steps back from his arena rock star act. I think I like him, but it's true that he hasn't done anything new (unless you call setting a piano on fire "new," but really, who hasn't set a piano on fire? At least metaphorically?) and it's time to see another side of him.

Jacob, the fanciful darling that he is, could use some shaking up, too. A smart commenter pointed out that Pia gets dinged for singing a ballad every week, but Jacob doesn't, so, what's up with that? I hope Pia surprises me with "River Deep, Mountain High," because I'm afraid I'll be really bored by it. And lastly, Paul. He is divisive. Will he win anyone over tonight? Do I like him, or am I just blinded by his teeth? I don't know. Okay, let's get started.

It seems to be geriatric rock and roll night. There go my hopes for a different side of James. Steven Tyler's jacket is reptilian in design, over a shirt that evokes lightning. Tight pants of the week are black and flared, and his shoes sparkle. Jennifer Lopez is wearing a very tight white dress with some small rectangular shiny trinkets. Randy Jackson ditched the cardigan for rock and roll night, he's wearing a shiny leather (pleather?) jacket over a red t-shirt.

You know the usual video and backstory that we get to set out the theme? This week Steven Tyler is narrating, and he's in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to point out some fancy rock star outfits, including his own. Then, ack! Scary alert! A wax bust of him screaming is stuck on a podium. Like, the hand is not attached to the body, because there is no body. Why?

Also this week, we have celebrity helpers. Gwen Stefani was there, not to talk about her favorite songs, but to help style the ladies. She gets exactly 1.2 seconds of video coverage. And will.i.am was there to sit with Jimmy Iovine and stare at the contestants.

Jacob Lusk gets to start. He rehearses "Let's Get it On," then reconsiders when he doesn't really want to sing about doing, you know, it. He sings Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror" instead. He's wearing a white suit, standing at a microphone stand. He looks really good this week, why is that? Whoa, hold on there, he wiggles his hips during the fast part and moves his feet in a way that resembles dancing for a second. Is that the most movement we've seen from him? Anyway, he sings it well, no crazy dramatic runs or scatting. His backup singer was Siedah Garrett, who co-wrote the song. How about that? Steven Tyler gives her a shout-out, calling it the greatest song that's ever been written. Then he tells Jacob, "Every time you sing, you bring another little piece of yourself to the party." Jennifer Lopez says, "That's it." And Randy Jackson says, "Yo, listen, man." He adds that he's proud of Jacob for switching to a song that meant more to him.

Haley is singing Janis Joplin's "Piece of My Heart," because the judges keep comparing her to Janis. She's wearing black leather leggings, so I guess they're not out of style yet. Ooh, here's an angry growl! And another! The whole song is mostly growly, which she does very well, although I like her non-growly voice, too, and wouldn't have minded some of that thrown in. J.Lo: "You're showing everybody you're a contender, that they need to be careful with Haley!" Randy likes the bluesy soul thing. Steven couldn't find nothing wrong with that.

Casey is up next. He was going to do "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic," which would have been nice! But at rehearsal, Jimmy says that he's turning it into a Vegas rumba. So Casey changes to Creedence Cleerwater Revival's "Have You Ever Seen the Rain," which is also a good song. Check it out, he's playing the upright bass again (finally!). Except I can't hear it very well. He's also accompanied by a guy playing a ukulele, I think, or just a really teeny guitar. He starts out in the "not crazy" zone, very pleasant. He busts out into a higher range, throws in a few grunts, but on the whole I think it was pretty controlled, for him. He's definitely working on not scaring people. I liked it. Randy Jackson says yo. Also, Casey is making the upright bass cool, which is revolutionary. Steven would like Casey to put wheels on the bass and ride it around town. Jennifer says Casey is exactly where he belongs, and she's paying top dollar to be in the front row.

Lauren is singing "Natural Woman" by Aretha Franklin. She's wearing a black and white checkered romper (unless it's a corset and booty shorts) with a black jacket, black tights, and tall black boots. Her hair is slightly faux-hawked, I can see the Gwen Stefani influence and I like it, although it could be interpreted as the opposite of natural woman. Anyway, she is also singing in a controlled voice, but I also sense a little sex kitten coming from her. It felt very honest and strong, no shouting. Eek, Christian Slater is in the audience! Excuse me, I think I just turned 15 for a minute. Steven Tyler think's she's great, Jennifer Lopez thinks she's amazing, and Randy Jackson wasn't jumping up and down because he's seen it better in other seasons, but she did a good job.

James Durbin is slowing it down, ladies and gentlemen! Woo hoo! He's singing "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," by George Harrison. He sits on a stool, his hair is partially flat and artfully tousled. I only see one earring. Ah, nice high voice! That's what I like. I like a rocker who can sang, you know? I flat out think he has a good voice when he's not screaming, but he has a decent scream, too. The song has a dark edge to it. He does a scream at the end, but not an uber scream. And he's weeping. Jennifer loves the new dimension. Randy loves the emotional side of James. He points out that to succeed, you can't just be a pop star doing what people tell you to do (insert your punch line pop star of choice here), you have to be an artist and take chances. Steven says it was really a proud moment. Did he win anyone over? I'll admit he was losing me with the big jumping around numbers, I couldn't remember if he had this in him, so I'm glad he did it.

Here's cowboy Scotty, and he finally gets to do an Elvis song. This means we get to see the picture of him as a tiny Elvis impersonator again. He's singing "That's All Right, Mama," not one of the big standards, but it is an upbeat Elvis song. He starts out sitting on the stairs, then gets up and walks straight down to the judges. People, Scotty is working the stage. His body language is still a little hunched over, but he tries some Elvis hips and some crazy eyes. The song is higher than his usual deep voice, but he does great and he's having a lot of fun. Afterwards, about 8 girls rush the stage to hug him. I think they were told to, since they're not weeping and clutching his clothes, and they leave in an orderly fashion. Randy: "Scotty is in it to win it! It's a new Scotty! Dude! Dude!" I know, right? Dude! Steven says he brought Elvis into the house. Jennifer says he was having fun and he was funny. She asks if he watches any rap or hip hop because she felt a little flavor, and he says it's his Puerto Rican blood.

Here's Pia, singing Tina Turner's "River Deep, Mountain High." will.i.am tells her to have personality. She's got similar hair to Lauren, and I guess Gwen Stefani had all the girls wear red lipstick. I can picture her backstage, "Every girl can and should wear red lipstick." I never have, I think Gwen needs to come style me. Oh look, Pia is moving! To the judges, and around. She's not jumping around, or even running back and forth, but she moved. And she gets a little burst of fireworks at the end. Steven calls her a murderer because she killed it, and he says "a million guys out there in a million bars are having a million drinks over you tonight." Jennifer says she proved she can do up-tempo, so now she needs to push farther and research performers to get a better performance. Thank you, Jennifer! Randy agrees, it was great, but she needs to work on movement. Also, "Yo, Pia is in it to win it!"


Stefano is singing Percy Sledge's "When A Man Loves A Woman." He's starting in falsetto, then he brings in a good, solid, long note, then switches the key and ends soft. Pretty good. Jennifer is shrieking, "Baby, baby, baby, I new you had it in you!" Randy, however, wasn't jumping up and down. J.Lo leans in and says he's a crazy person. Steven liked the old tymey feel, and says Stefano has a great range, and he nailed it. Hmm, Stefano's paragraph is really short.


Paul is finishing up with "Folsom Prison Blues," by Johnny Cash. In rehearsals, Jimmy and will.i.am advise him to bring the crazy. Paul can do that. He's playing guitar, and he's doing his Paul thing. It's upbeat, energetic, he's having a good time. His voice is his voice. Does this song show a great range, or have him holding crazy notes? No. But here's where I'm taking my stand: Paul is a good performer. I would enjoy seeing him in concert. Would I go to see Pia in concert? No, she's just not my thing. Maybe I went to too many ska concerts in college (didja know I saw No Doubt in a little club before they hit it big? I was a few sweaty people away from Gwen Stefani, I wish she would have loaned me her red lipstick then) but I like a show that makes me dance. With that criteria, Paul is my thing. Randy has 3 words: "I loved it!" Steven calls Paul a crazy character, a perfect imperfect boy, and he rocked the house. J.Lo loved it, too. Ryan Seacrest hops on the Paul train now. He has the band keep up the Johnny Cash blues riff, and he and Paul dance while Ryan gives out the phone number and voting instructions. Dear Ryan: thank you so very, very much.
After the clips from all the performances, we see all the contestants on stage dancing with each other as the music continues. Suddenly it's like the end of So You Think You Can Dance. Ryan dances with Paul and Lauren a bit, then tries to get the judges to offer commentary. Steven's all, I don't know, man, it's a party, leave us alone! And that was one of the better endings of American Idol I've seen, ladies and gentlemen.

What do you think? Going back up to my hopes and dreams paragraph, I think James and Paul satisfied me. Jacob broke out of his mold, too. And Pia, well, tried. I'm afraid she's just not my thing, but she could definitely be everyone else's thing, so I don't hold it against her. Scotty had a great night, too. It's down to Stefano, Lauren, Casey and Haley. I don't think any of them were bad, I enjoyed them all. So never mind, I'm not even going to predict. It's too hard, America!
As for the results show, Ryan promises nothing except "surprises." Bust out the noisemakers, then, because I love a surprise party.