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'American Idol' recap: Songs of yesterday and today

Janell reports on last night's American Idol:

The show begins with the contestants already onstage and waving, and the judges already at the table. How can I describe their outfits completely when they're sitting down? Steven Tyler is wearing a red jacket over a shirt that probably says LOVE (or WOW), and Jennifer Lopez is wearing a white long-sleeved top that is almost styled matronly except for the fact that it's see-through, and only the folds of the fabric keep her safe for tv. Random side note: I just now figured out that the feathers in Steven's hair aren't some kind of earrings, but they're actually attached to his hair. I realized it because a bunch of my friends now have feathers in their hair and they told me that I need to do it, too (I run with a rough crowd, the peer pressure is overwhelming). Feathers plus my light-up Katy Perry dress will really make me a hit at my reunion.

Randy Jackson informs us that tonight is ever so important, because the People of America have been wondering who is In It To Win It and hopefully we'll find out tonight. Randy has obviously forgotten that he himself has told us who is In It To Win It for several weeks now, told us so frequently that I assume everyone is In It To Win It and I am only concerned with who will actually Win It.

The theme tonight, if you can call it that, is one "recent" song and one "from back in the day." That's about as themed as dinner at my house, featuring "food from the fridge" and "food from the cupboard." Sheryl Crow is sitting in with Jimmy Iovine for no particular reason.

James starts off. He'll be singing "Closer to the Edge" by 30 Seconds to Mars. Ooh, Jordan Catalano!!! I know, I know, Jared Leto pulled off the rock star gig, and I actually really like his band, so he's all authentic and real and stuff. But still, Jordan Catalano!!! James is wearing a sleeveless denim jacket with studs, the back says "Give Metal A Chance," which, hee! The camera cuts away every time he tries to show it off, though. It starts kind of weak, I'm sad to say, but
then he hits the chorus and runs through the crowd giving high-fives to everyone. And there are fireworks, but the understated kind. There's a J.Lo Chair Dance shot. It kind of sounded flat to me, but I guess it's just me. Steven says James kicked that song's donkey. Jennifer says that we're feeling it. Randy, who hasn't had to explain a song to the audience for a few weeks, tells everyone that Jared Leto is in a band called 30 Seconds to Mars. Then he says that James is In It To Win It.

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Next is Jacob. He gets stool chat with Ryan and claims that he brings something different every week. I hadn’t really noticed. He’ll be singing “No Air,” a duet by Chris Brown and Jordin Sparks, and he’ll be singing both parts. The actual writer and producer of the song sits in for a minute, which is “stoopid” according to Jacob. Jacob begins to sing on a fog-covered stage. For some reason, his voice reminds me of the band Vitamin Z. Go look up their video for “Burning Flame.” I watched it and realized that Jacob doesn’t sound like them at all, but I like them better. I could have deleted my reference to them, but that song and video are Totally 80’s Awesome and you should watch it, too. Back to Jacob. He’s wiggling his body again, pointing and acting fierce. It’s not his usual inspirational ballad, so I guess he is bringing something different. Jennifer says that he is a good performer, but his choices are always so different so she doesn’t know what kind of recording artist he’ll be. She likes this R&B direction. Randy differs, he doesn’t like the direction and thinks one person singing a duet is corny. He labels Jacob as Luther Vandross, a church singer. Then he and Jennifer argue while Steven takes a nap on the table. When Ryan comes out, he lets Jacob point out that Luther didn’t just sing ballads. Take that, Randy!

Lauren will be singing “Flat on the Floor” by Carrie Underwood. Ooh, there’s shaggy-haired violin boy again, I love him. Lauren is wearing black and fringe, because she’s got attitude. She has stage presence, but it sounds like the lower notes get lost, like her voice didn’t quite keep up with the song. Is my tv wrong tonight? Another J.Lo Chair Dance shot. Randy says that it’s the right direction for her, and Lauren is In It To Win It. Steven doesn’t say she’ll win it, he says she is It, so take that. Jennifer says that she ate it up, and Ryan points out that Jennifer’s face during the performance says it all.

Scotty will be singing “Gone” by Montgomery Gentry. Jimmy Iovine tells us that the song has grit, angst, and intensity. That’s a lot for Scotty. He’s got electric guitars onstage, that’s new, and he starts out in the audience. Scotty skip-jumps down the stairs, and makes enough accusatory gestures with one hand that he can’t always hold the microphone in his awkward 2-handed grip, which is progress. Plus he throws in some fierce eyes. I may have mentioned before that I don’t

like country, but dang, I liked Scotty on this song. He turned into a grown up husky cowboy, not the boring balladeer singing about rivers and home and stuff. I enjoyed this better than James’s song, maybe I like Scotty for the win? Steven Tyler describes it thusly: “Up until now you’ve been a Puritan, but I saw you dance with the devil tonight!” Jennifer says she lost it for a second she was so excited, and she heard some growling. Randy says Scotty was rocking the stage, and he is - wait for it - In It To Win It.

Haley is next on stool chat. She’s singing an unreleased Lady Gaga song called “You and I” that apparently is only sung at concerts. Jimmy brought it to Haley and made Lady Gaga call her on the phone and say it’s okay. So Haley’s lounging on the stairs. It’s a slower song with bluesy wailing, I like the singalong aspect of the chorus. Jennifer is hesitant to say anything, although she liked the end. Basically, an unreleased song isn’t a good showcase because people need to connect to a song they love. Randy also tells Haley that she should be Joss Stone, not Lady Gaga. Steven says she made it work, and she’s one perfect song away from being the American Idol.

Now it’s time for the old songs. James is back, singing “Without You” by Harry Nilsson. He cried when he first heard the song, and got emotional in a parking lot about his wife and child. During the performance, his faux-hawk is patted down, he’s wearing sleeves and no shoes. It’s a slow wail of a song, he gets a huge long note and has tears in his eyes, so the camera gets extra close. In a way it was over the top, just like he is, but he also meant it, and it worked for him. J.Lo nods her approval. Randy says it’s the mark of a great performer when the audience feels the emotion. He says the competition is James’s to lose. Steven says it was a beautiful thing, pitchy in a “strange kind of James Durbin kind of way.” Jennifer says he’s not just a guy who can wail and scream, he also has the heart and soul to back it up like a true artist, and she knows he’s serious about winning. James says that he kept it together as long as he needed to, and also every week he leaves everything on the stage.

Jacob will be singing “Love Hurts,” a song recorded by many people but according to Wikipedia it’s most famous by the band Nazareth. Sheryl Crow demonstrates how to sing it softly. Jacob starts singing with a harp, then he gets a choir for the chorus, and it’s pretty awesome. He even stomps his foot. Steven says everybody got lost in the passionate performance. J.Lo says it was amazing, even with a voice crack in the middle. Randy says Jacob redeemed himself with what might have been the highest note ever sung on the stage.

Lauren is now singing “Unchained Melody” by the Righteous Brothers. That song choice sounds like such a rookie mistake, doesn’t it? She says it’s her parents’ song. She keeps it in her range, doesn’t really go falsetto high, but it sounds really really pretty and believable. I’m impressed. Jennifer says there’s nothing to judge. Randy likes this tender vibe Lauren’s got going on. Steven says it was perfect.

Scotty is singing “Always on My Mind” by Elvis (and also by Willie Nelson and also by the Pet Shop Boys). Sheryl Crow wants him to move to Nashville so she can horn in on his career. Scotty sits on a stool and sings low, slow, and soft. It reminds me of my 8th grade dances. Let me sidetrack again for a minute. Everyone from my 8th grade class is traumatized because we had mandatory dances during the school day where they would barricade us in the gymnasium and rope off a dance floor and leave us there to die of humiliation. Friends would dare each other to dance, and all slow dances were awkward bear hugs (I can’t believe I lived to tell about it). The always-played slow songs of my day were “Lady in Red” by Chris de Burgh (who?) and “Forever Young” by Alphaville (and how angry was I when Rod Stewart stole that song title?). If Scotty time-traveled back to 1986, his song would have been played at those dances and burned into my memory along with a lot of adolescent angst. It’s got that kind of understated but emotional impact. I hope it’s some kind of hit for him. Okay, sidetrack over. Jennifer says Scotty is well-rounded and can sing anything. Nothing awkward about him. Randy calls him “our youngest veteran,” and points out “when you speak quietly and do the simplest things, they get the loudest reactions. I love it, dude.” Steven says America loves him. Then we meet Scotty’s Puerto Rican grandmother in

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the audience, who says, “He’s my Scotty.” Aw.

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Haley is closing the show with “House of the Rising Sun” by The Animals. Didn’t Siobhan Magnus sing this last year? Haley’s always taking risks. She starts out a cappella on a stool, with  a big growl and swagger. It’s pretty cool, she gets a standing ovation from the judges. Randy awards her the best performance of the night, and says she’s grown by leaps and bounds. Steven calls her sweet and sour and raspy, “I can really relate to that, that sells a song.” Jennifer says the song has never been sung like that before.

I can’t quite figure out who will win, you guys. James is powerful, and he’s got a kid, and he’s emotional. Scotty is all-American with a cute grandma and very professional and pretty darn good. I think it’s between those two. Haley doesn’t seem to have a back story (or I’ve forgotten it), so I don’t know if she’s got the fan base to win it. But she takes risks all the time, I can see her as a runner-up with an excellent career. I’m slightly less excited by Lauren, she has a great voice but I think she needs some maturity. Jacob is kind of a wild card, he can really nail it, but I don’t know if I’d want to listen to him all day. Is it time for the finale yet?

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