Season 10 of American Idol is finally coming to an end, and thanks to the surprise elimination of James Durbin last week, it is doing so with a whimper rather than with a bang. Without Durbin’s theatrics, this may very well end up being the most boring finale in the show’s history. If this week’s show is any indication of what’s to come in the finale, this once-promising season hit its peak much too soon.
This week, the remaining contestants were given the opportunity to perform three songs each. The first song was the contestant’s choice, the second was Jimmy Iovine’s choice and the final song was the judges’ choice. The order in which these songs were performed will probably be more important in determining the finalists than the quality of each performance because the last song is what will be on the voters’ minds as they start dialing.
Regardless of which contestants advance to the finale, the end of this season couldn’t come soon enough. There is very little excitement or intrigue with the remaining contestants, and even the judges’ families must be getting tired of listening to the same recycled comments after each performance. Is there anyone on the planet (aside from the irritating Ryan Seacrest) who can stand to hear Randy Jackson proclaim which contestants are “in it to win it?”
As usual, this week’s show had its moments, but overall, it was one of the more boring late-season performances in the show’s history.
Here is this week’s breakdown (in reverse order):
 Scotty McCreery – Consistency is never an issue for McCreery. He is always solid, but never spectacular. Even though the judges tried to give him songs to force him to show his range, McCreery only goes so far before reverting back to his comfort zone.
For his song choice, McCreery chose Lonestar’s “Amazed.” This seems like an appropriate song given the fact that the voting nation seems to be amazed by McCreery. However, it was not amazing. It was typical of his weekly performances. And though he has gained confidence in his stage presence since the beginning of the season, somehow the “leaning tower of Scotty” returned in full force for this song.
Jimmy Iovine chose “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not?” by Thompson Square. It was about the same as all of his other performances, only this time he was leaning awkwardly with a guitar instead of doing it over the piano.
The judges chose “She Believes in Me” by Kenny Rogers. It was an obvious attempt to get McCreery to shoot for a big note. He did, but overall the song was too mature for him, and his performance lacked the character of the original, but it won’t matter.
McCreery is adored by the voters and the judges and should easily cruise into the finale. Of course, that seemed to be the case with James Durbin last week, so there’s always a chance that there is another surprise this week.
 Haley Reinhart – At the beginning of the season, no one could have predicted that Reinhart would have made it this far. She is defying the odds on a weekly basis by surviving while more highly-regarded contestants go home. Those with an open mind will realize that she has earned it, but those who focus on her early-season performances, will surely be shocked if she survives yet another week.
While her competition was choosing safe songs, Reinhart took a huge risk by tackling Led Zeppelin’s “What Is and What Should Never Be.” But the risk paid off. It was the best overall performance of the night, in spite of the slight interruption caused by an embarrassing trip on the steps. To her credit, Reinhart didn’t miss a beat. She regained her composure and continued to deliver one of the best performances of the season. Unfortunately for Reinhart, she peaked early in the evening.
Jimmy Iovine chose “Rhiannon” by Fleetwood Mac for Reinhart. It started off brilliantly as Reinhart captured the essence of Stevie Nicks while adding her own signature sound to the song. As the song progressed, her singing transitioned from special to light, airy and kind of moody. It was still one of the better songs of the night, but it wasn’t as impressive as her first song.
The judges inexplicably chose “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette for Reinhart’s final performance. She did a decent job with the choruses, but the verses were very weak. It seemed as though she didn’t have enough breath to squeeze in the multitude of lyrics in the song. She would have been better off if this was her first song of the night rather than her last. If the judges really wanted to showcase her talent, they would have been better off choosing “Black Velvet” by Alannah Myles.
 Lauren Alaina – Can Alaina become the next Carrie Underwood? She certainly has the talent to do so if she is provided with the right songs and packaged the right way. As one of the early favorites in the competition, it is not at all shocking that she has made it this far, and would not be a surprise to see her in the finale.
Unlike Reinhart, Alaina got better as the night went on. The song that she chose for herself is one that she claims to have been singing since she was a kid, but it wasn’t evident from her performance. Her rendition of “Wild One” by Faith Hill was decent, but nothing special. It sounded more like Dolly Parton than Faith Hill, and it wasn’t very impressive. Even though the judges liked watching her have fun, this performance didn’t measure up to most of her performances in recent weeks.
Jimmy Iovine chose “If I Die Young” by Perry, largely for the lyrics. It was a good fit for Alaina’s voice, but she did get caught up in the emotion of the song for a brief moment. Like Reinhart, she quickly regained her composure without missing a beat. While her singing was very good on this song, she was very statue-like on stage. This was Pia Toscano’s downfall, but Alaina’s likability will most likely inspire the voters to pick up the phone for her.
The judges’ choice for Alaina was perfect. Her performance of Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance” was a great way to end the show for Alaina. Aside from Reinhart’s inspired performance of “What Is and What Should Never Be,” this song was the best of the night.
Overall, Alaina has delivered performances worthy of landing her in the finale for most of the season. The order of the songs definitely helped her this week, as she got to save her best song for last.
WHO GOES HOME?
Haley Reinhart delivered arguably the best and worst performances of the evening. Unfortunately for Reinhart, her best performance was very early in the show, and her worst came at the very end. This season has been nothing if not unpredictable, so there is always a chance that she upsets one of the remaining favorites and squeaks into the finale, but it doesn’t seem likely.
Country music is alive and well in America, and it seems that this year’s finale is destined to be a battle of the young country music performers.
It hardly matters which two contestants make it to the finale. Without James Durbin’s electrifying performances, this finale is destined to fail to live up to expectations.
The final four contestants each performed two songs this week. The first theme: “Songs That Inspire” smartly offered a wide array of choices. The theme for the second song, however, did not. No disrespect to Lieber & Stoller intended, but having the final four contestants choose from their catalog was an uninspired decision by the American Idol producers.
Was there truly any purpose to offer such a narrow song selection when the supposed best singers are still left standing? When you take into account that this season’s votes have shown that the American Idol audience is dominated by young girls, and most of them won’t know any songs by Lieber & Stoller (who both turned 78 years old recently), the choice was even more puzzling.
The producers of American Idol seem too smug to make smart decisions about the direction of the show, which may ultimately lead to them losing their stranglehold on ratings dominance. But then again, these are the same people who think that Ryan Seacrest is worth $15 million per year, so no one will ever accuse them of having impeccable judgment.
This week’s show had its memorable moments, but there were also some very questionable ones as well.
Here is this week’s breakdown (in reverse order):
 Scotty McCreery – In light of the killing of Osama Bin Laden, McCreery’s choice for the “Songs That Inspire” was very timely and appropriate. McCreery’s performance of “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning” by Alan Jackson was typical of his usual offerings, but because the lyrics are so poignant and timely, it ended up being one of his best moments on the show.
Unfortunately, his second song, while applauded by the judges and his fans, was not very good. His goofy version of “Youngblood” by The Coasters showed his lighthearted side, and left the judges impressed with his ability to deliver a humorous performance, but if not for the fact that he is one of the favorites, it most likely would have been more heavily critiqued.
Based on his body of work and his performances this week, McCreery should be concerned about being sent packing, but it seems that he is destined to appear in the finale. He is a good performer, but he has yet to deliver a vocal performance that blows you away. To quote Steven Tyler’s lyrics, McCreery’s weekly performances are “the same old story, the same old song and dance,” but it doesn’t seem to matter to the voters or the judges.
 Lauren Alaina – She seemed inspired while performing “Anyway” by Martina McBride, but Alaina took a big step backwards with her second song (“Trouble” by Elvis Presley). During both songs there are moments where you can see the amazing potential that Alaina has to be at least as popular as Carrie Underwood. But there are also moments where you can see why she was in the bottom two last week.
“Anyway” was a good song choice for Alaina, and she made the most of it by showing off her sweet tone and her pure power. If this were the only song that she performed tonight, she would undoubtedly make it into the Top Three next week. However, her performance of “Trouble” may be the very reason that she is in “trouble” this week.
After appearing in the bottom two last week, Alaina cannot feel safe when this week’s voting results are announced. Her concern is certainly warranted.
 Haley Reinhart – Last week, Reinhart received some harsh criticism for choosing a Lady Gaga song that wasn’t known by the masses. Even though the judges didn’t like the song, the truth of the matter is that she did a good job with it. However, her decision to choose “The Earth Song” by Michael Jackson as an inspirational song was ill-conceived. Out of all of the songs that she could have chosen in the category, this was not the one that will inspire voters to pick up the phone to support her.
However, Reinhart stepped up once again when it was time to perform her second song of the night. Her rendition of “I Who Have Nothing” by Tom Jones (or Jordin Sparks) was very good, perhaps the best of the evening overall. But it did not compare to the incredible version that Sparks delivered when she performed it on Idol. It may very well have been the song that helped launch Sparks to victory.
Reinhart certainly earned her place in the Top Three with her performances this week, but she still may be the one on the outside looking in based on her popularity.
 James Durbin – The one thing that Durbin has going for him is that he consistently picks songs that will resonate with the audience. Tonight’s first song was definitely one that inspires but it has lost some of its magic quality due to its overuse. “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey is a song that defines a generation, but it has become too closely associated with the TV show “Glee.”
Durbin is a very good singer, but he is not Steve Perry good. He did some nice things with “Don’t Stop Believin’,” but it sounded more like something out of the Broadway show “Rock of Ages” than a Journey performance, but it doesn’t matter. Durbin’s stage presence is so good, that the crowd can’t help but love him.
His second song choice seemed truly bizarre, but he actually pulled it off nicely. It’s safe to say that this is probably the first time that “Love Potion Number 9” by The Searchers was performed like an 80’s metal song. And though it seemed a bit odd, in the end, it turned out to be one of the better moments on the show tonight.
Unless there is a very shocking vote, it looks like Durbin should cruise into the finale.
WHO GOES HOME?
If it were up to me, this would be the time for Scotty McCreery to leave. He will most likely be a successful country singer, but if people really take the time to evaluate him in this competition, it is painfully obvious that he has yet to blow anyone away with his vocals. In the real world, he may have the most success out of any of the contestants, but that doesn’t mean that he should beat them in a singing competition.
Scotty McCreery’s career will be defined by what he does once American Idol is over. He doesn’t deserve to beat out any of the others purely based on his vocals, but his popularity may push him over the edge.
At first blush, it would seem that Lauren Alaina is more popular than Haley Reinhart, but she did end up in the bottom two last week. Even though Alaina may have been the best singer with her first song, her second song was average at best.
On the other hand, Haley Reinhart saved her best for last, and that may help sway votes in her favor.
It would only be truly shocking if James Durbin was eliminated this week, but it’s doubtful that he’s at any risk of that happening.
Even though it would not be my pick, I predict that Lauren Alaina will go home this week because her strongest performance was at the beginning of the show, and Haley Reinhart’s was at the end.
With only five contestants remaining, each one was given the opportunity to perform two songs. The theme for this week was “Now and Then” (a current song and a song from the 60’s). With such a young cast, you would think that the current songs would be much better than the songs from the past, but that was not the case this week for any of the contestants.
Before the show started, Ryan Seacrest turned to Randy Jackson for their usual useless banter. Seacrest asked Jackson what the contestants needed to do now that they’re in the top five, and Jackson gave his stock answer about wanting to see “who’s in it to win it” (as if some of them were there trying to lose at this point).
As the weeks go by, this judging panel which seemed to breathe new life into the show early on is becoming a drag. Their comments, for the most part, do nothing to add to the show. This is a stark contrast to The Voice, where all of the judges are entertaining and more informative.
Thankfully, this season is coming to an end in the next couple of weeks. At which point, I guess we will all get to see who was “in it to win it.”
Here is this week’s breakdown (in reverse order):
 Jacob Lusk – In a baffling move, Lusk chose to sing both parts of a duet for his current song (“No Air” by Jordin Sparks and Chris Brown). Clearly, he has no problem tapping into his feminine side, but trying to sing the male and the female parts was awkward and he didn’t do a very good job with either part. As usual, Lusk was overly dramatic with this performance, which was one of his worst of the season. The only good part of the song was the back-up singers.
Lusk reluctantly took Jimmy Iovine’s advice and took a chance by doing a song that most wouldn’t expect from him (“Love Hurts” by Nazareth). He did a much better job with this song than his first song of the night. He was on key, less dramatic and stayed true to the song while making it his own.
 Scotty McCreery – To his credit, McCreery stepped out of his comfort zone and moved beyond his usual safe, deep voice country sound. His performance of “Gone” by Montgomery Gentry was lively and energetic, and he has clearly gotten much more comfortable being on stage.
McCreery stepped back into his comfort zone with his second song as he performed “Always on My Mind” by Elvis Presley. While it was a safe choice, he did a nice job with the song and did as much as he could to make it his own.
Overall, McCreery did a good job (as he usually does), but still has yet to deliver a performance that will be remembered by the time he takes the stage again the following week.
 James Durbin – For many weeks, Durbin has simply dominated this competition. Because of that, he seems to have built up such goodwill that he is almost immune from being critiqued by the judges. Based on his body of work, Durbin is still the one to beat, but this was far from his best week. His first song “Closer to the Edge” by 30 Seconds to Mars was decent, but certainly nothing close to what we’ve come to expect from him. As usual, his stage presence was spot-on, and you got the feeling that you were watching a James Durbin concert. However, this song was not a great choice for him (despite what the judges and Iovine said about this being his niche).
His second song of the night was much better, even though it wasn’t on par with his usual vocal performance. Singing “Without You” by Harry Nilsson was a good choice, but because of the lyrics and the vibe of the song, it was very emotional. Durbin deserves a lot of credit for getting through the song (albeit with tears filling in his eyes). Even though it wasn’t his best performance vocally, it will be one that will be remembered for a long time because of the emotional value.
 Lauren Alaina – Before the top 24 were ever chosen, Alaina seemed to be one of the favorites to win it all. She lost her way for a while, but she has come back so strongly that you have to think that she might be the only one who can defeat Durbin in the finale. Her first song, “Flat on the Floor” by Carrie Underwood proved that she has the makings of a star. She is much better than Underwood was at this point in her career. And at only 16 years of age, the sky seems to be the limit for Alaina. She has clearly found her niche, and if she has the right songwriters, she should be selling millions of albums whether she wins this competition or not.
For her second song, Alaina chose to perform her parents’ song “Unchained Melody” by The Righteous Brothers. Because this song has been done so many times on Idol already, it is challenging to make it resonate with the audience. Fortunately for Alaina, she was up to the challenge. Her version of the song was sweet and powerful and she showed off the beautiful tone to her voice. If she keeps delivering performances like this, she has a good chance of winning it all.
 Haley Reinhart – When the competition first began, I have to admit that I didn’t see much in Reinhart, but the judges did. Now that she has come into her own, it seems that the judges have started to abandon her at times with unfair criticism. Her first song of the night was suggested by Jimmy Iovine. It is a Lady Gaga song called “You and I” that is unreleased, and has only been performed live to date. Reinhart has not only grown as a singer throughout the competition, her stage presence and choice of wardrobe has also improved greatly. She now looks the part, and her confidence seems to be growing by the week.
Despite what the judges said, this was a good song choice for her. Panning her for choosing a song that is not well known by the public was laughable. How many times has almost every contestant been guilty of that through the years? The fact of the matter is that choosing a song that everyone knows is helpful, but only if it is performed well. A good, unknown song that is performed well can be just as impressive, and sometimes more so. This was the case this week. Even though I never heard the song before, I thought that Reinhart did a great job with it, as it was a natural fit for her voice. Randy Jackson saying that he didn’t love the song is irrelevant because she didn’t write it. Even though it wasn’t a favorite of the judges, the song showcased Reinhart’s raspy, edgy voice.
Her second song of the night was also chosen by Iovine. I have to admit that I didn’t know what to expect when Reinhart started performing “House of the Rising Sun” by The Animals. She started off singing it acapella, and then transitioned into singing it with the accompaniment of the band and back-up singers. The suggestion to start of acapella by Sheryl Crow was an inspired one because it really made Reinhart stand out from the crowd. When she finished her very unique and cool version of the song, she deservedly received a standing ovation, and was told by the judges that it was the best performance of the night. This time, the judges got it right.
Reinhart is still a long shot to make it into the finale, or even the top 3 for that matter, but she has certainly earned her right to compete next week with the fan favorites.
WHO GOES HOME?
Unless the voting audience totally ignores how good Haley Reinhart was this week, it would be a shock to see anyone aside from Jacob Lusk going home this week. He has been a mainstay in the bottom three, has received the harshest criticism by the judges and quite frankly, he is just not as good as the others.
After several weeks of general themes, American Idol went back to their old ways and pigeon-holed each contestant into the narrow theme of Carole King songs. While King is a prolific songwriter, a night dedicated to her songs by young people was a huge miscalculation by the Idol producers. A season once filled with hope and promise is now limping towards the finish line. The momentum created by adding Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez is gone. In fact, Tyler’s comments are starting to become a bit strange, and he seems bored while delivering them.
To make matters worse, this lackluster show comes on the heels of the debut of “The Voice” (a fresh new approach to a singing competition). Thankfully, this season of American Idol is coming to an end in May. With Simon Cowell’s “X-Factor” on the way, Idol may once again need to try and reinvent itself next season if it wants to remain on top.
Here is this week’s breakdown (in reverse order):
 Scotty McCreery – The song that McCreery chose this week (“You’ve Got a Friend”) is one of Carole King’s best because of its ability to evoke emotions. While McCreery finally stepped out of his deep-voice comfort zone this week, his sleepy rendition of this classic song lacked emotion. The judges and America love him, so he will probably be safe, but his total lack of a “wow factor” may catch up with him and keep him out of the finale.
 Jacob Lusk – Some contestants strive to get noticed for their singing. Others for their stage show. This week, it seemed that Lusk was trying to use a crazy wardrobe to capture the attention of the Idol viewing audience. His performance of “Oh No Not My Baby” was better than his performances in previous weeks, but his singing was overshadowed by his extremely feminine dance moves. The judges liked him, but he’s been in the bottom three with regularity lately, so America might not share the enthusiasm of the judges.
 Casey Abrams – No one can argue that Abrams is a talented musician. And even though he can be very strange, there is something cool about him as well. His one-handed piano playing at the beginning of his performance of “Hi-De-Ho” was very impressive. His signature growl was acceptable in the song, but it is starting to feel like a crutch at times. He did a good job with this song, but more in a Broadway musical kind of way. The judges are so infatuated with him that they tend to forget to judge his singing at times. This was not his best performance of the season, but it also wasn’t his worst.
 Lauren Alaina – Once again, Alaina’s lack of confidence in her abilities was on display when they showed her session with Jimmy Iovine and Babyface. They pointed out that she never seems to disappoint, and urged her to push the envelope a bit. It seems that the mentors’ message was received this week. Alaina’s confidence on stage seemed to be higher than usual. She hit some big notes and showed good presence as she worked the crowd during her performance of “Where You Lead.” This was another solid showing for Alaina.
 Haley Reinhart – It took many weeks, but it seems like Reinhart is finally in a comfortable enough place to allow her natural talent to shine through. Her confidence and sex appeal seem to grow by the week. She showed some good power and range in her performance of “Beautiful” this week. Mixing in slow parts with up-tempo parts, Reinhart delivered her most dynamic performance to date. She is a regular in the bottom three, and Randy Jackson’s comments about the beginning of her song may very well land her there again, but she deserves to stay another week based on this week’s performance.
 James Durbin – Another week of average performances…another week of Durbin showing that there is no one who even comes close to him in this competition. This week there were no pyrotechnics. There was no surprise appearance by a legendary rock guitarist. In fact, there was barely any stage show, and yet Durbin still outshined his peers by a very large margin with his stripped-down version of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” This song had a Bon Jovi-like quality to it. Like Bon Jovi, Durbin has the ability to take a very familiar song and make it into his own. Somehow he managed to tastefully bring his heavy metal influence to the song. There isn’t much that needs to be said about James. He is by far the most consistent performer this season, and is one of the best in the history of the show. He deserves to be named the next American Idol already. The rest of the competition will do nothing to change that fact.
THE BOTTOM THREE
At this point, half of the contestants will be in the bottom three, and it will most likely have more to do with their body of work than their weekly performance. For that reason, the bottom three will be…
WHO GOES HOME?
Even though Lusk had his best performance in several weeks, it seems like his fate has already been sealed by his regular presence in the bottom three. It’s possible that Reinhart could be the one to go, but if she is, it won’t be because of her performance this week.
Despite the fact that the judges continue to marvel at how talented the Top 7 American Idol contestants are, the overall performances this week were far from jaw-dropping. The theme this week was songs from the 21st century, so there was certainly an ample selection of songs to choose from. And with the contestants being as young as they are, it should have been easy for them to find songs to showcase their talents. Clearly, it was not. But they may not be solely responsible for their sub-par performances.
At the beginning of the season, it seemed like the changes to the judging panel would breathe new life into American Idol. Unfortunately, what has happened is that none of them give enough constructive criticism to push the contestants to improve from week to week. As the season has progressed, the absence of Simon Cowell has become more and more noticeable.
With Simon in the mix, every contestant lived in fear of receiving his wrath in front of a national television audience, and it brought out the best in them. There may have not been as much natural talent in some of the previous years, but by this point in the competition, there were always a handful of contestants who left their mark with memorable performances.
By pushing the best singers to improve each week, the gap between the top and the bottom was much more evident than it is now. Because almost every contestant leaves the stage each week with the three judges acting more like fans than critics, none of them are inspired to reach greater heights. Without the push from the judges, the contestants are left to their own devices to figure out to improve from week to week. If not for Jimmy Iovine, there would be almost no real guidance being offered.
Though the judges once again said that this is anyone’s competition to win, the reality is that there is only one contestant who delivers memorable performances on a weekly basis.
Here is this week’s breakdown (in reverse order):
 Scotty McCreery – The good news for McCreery is that he is getting more comfortable on stage each week. The bad news is that his performances have become so formulaic that they only appeal to country music fans. His version of “Swingin” by Leann Rimes was not only a ridiculous choice given the amount of potential artists to choose from, but it was also very safe and very boring. Even his most diehard fans had to realize that his performance was nothing special after seeing James Durbin take the stage right after McCreery. His fan base will most likely keep him out of the bottom three, but based on this week’s performance, he deserves to be there.
 Stefano Langone – Like McCreery, Langone is starting to show better stage presence, but he took a step backwards vocally this week. His rendition of “Closer” by Ne Yo was no better than average. If Cowell were still a judge, he most likely would have called this performance “forgettable.” America does not seem to be in love with Langone as evidenced by his weekly presence in the bottom three. He had to deliver a game-changing performance to avoid the bottom three this week. He did not, despite the positive feedback from the judges.
 Jacob Lusk – If ever there was going to be a week where you would expect Lusk to break down in tears, this should have been it. As someone who has suffered the loss of a father, I know just how emotional it is to hear “Dance With My Father” by Luther Vandross. To have to sing it in front of millions of people had to have been very difficult. And though Lusk’s father passed away a number of years ago, the void never goes away, and the pain can still be intense at times. Lusk did an admirable job of getting through the song without breaking down. The song was made even more challenging due to the fact that he couldn’t hear the proper mix in his earpiece, forcing him to remove it almost immediately. He has a Luther Vandross quality to his voice, so the song choice made sense. Unfortunately, it was merely an average performance of an incredible song.
 Haley Reinhart – While McCreery had the misfortune of being followed by James Durbin, Reinhart had the even bigger misfortune of having to follow Durbin. For someone who watched Pia get voted off for not giving enough of a performance on stage, Reinhart took a big risk by basically standing in one spot during her entire performance. This was especially surprising given the fact that she has also been a mainstay in the bottom three. She did a good job with Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” It was a song that fit her well, and it gave her a chance to mix in some of her signature Joplinesque sound…but will it be enough to keep her out of the bottom three?
 Casey Abrams – Although he received a standing ovation from the judges last week for his performance of “Nature Boy” by Nat King Cole, it was not a smart song choice. This week, Abrams went much more mainstream by choosing “Harder to Breathe” by Maroon 5. It is one of the best songs of the decade, largely because of its energy and sex appeal. Abrams’ version didn’t have much of either. But he was entertaining, and the song was solid, if not spectacular. As he got deep into Jennifer Lopez’s personal space before laying a kiss on her cheek to close out the song, it’s hard to imagine that she wasn’t at least a little bit freaked out, even if she was flattered by the attention. His performance was good, not great. But it should be more than enough to keep him out of the bottom three this week.
 Lauren Alaina – If Alaina had more confidence in her natural abilities and stopped living in fear of not measuring up to the others, she might pose a real threat to win the competition. She has shown that with the proper songs, she can be a force in the country crossover category, much like Carrie Underwood, Faith Hill and Shania Twain. Her cute and bubbly personality shines through almost every week. And though she doesn’t believe in herself the way that she should, Alaina is one of the best singers left in the competition. “Born to Fly” by Sara Evans suited her very well, and she gave an above-average performance.
 James Durbin – Unless the American Idol voters are asleep at the wheel, there shouldn’t be anything stopping Durbin from becoming the first rock Idol. No matter what the theme, no matter what song he chooses, he always finds a way to entertain and make things interesting. It was disappointing to see him so early in the show because the show goes downhill fast once he leaves the stage. After his performance of “Uprising” by Muse, the judges were already telling him that it would be the best of the night. His use of the marching band drummers was further proof that he knows what it takes to deliver that something extra to make it a memorable performance for the audience. He even found a way to make a ridiculous Adam Ant-inspired outfit (circa 1981) look cool. With this performance, Durbin proved that he can successfully bridge the gap between his classic heavy metal roots and modern-day hard rock. Idol producers should be praying that he makes it to the finale!
THE BOTTOM THREE
Because the number of contestants is dwindling, those who often find themselves in the bottom three will likely have to give Durbin-like performances to ensure their safety. None of them did this week, so the bottom three will be…
WHO GOES HOME
The judges praised Langone and Reinhart this week, but warned Lusk that he would have to do more if he is back next week. Was that foreshadowing? Subliminal messaging to the voters? No one knows for sure, but it seems like Lusk was the only one who received a true critique this week. If the voters base their decision on the judges, then Lusk will likely be the one going home, but it would not come as a shock at all if it were either of the other two in the bottom three.
After last week’s shocking and extremely disappointing elimination of Pia Toscano, it has become clear that it is almost impossible to predict what will happen going forward. Never in the history of American Idol has such an outstanding talent been sent packing so early on in the competition. Though the judges have been heaping praise on nearly every contestant from week to week, many performances deserved more constructive criticism.
If Simon Cowell was still a judge, the show would not be the weekly “lovefest” that it has become. He said as much in an interview this week. Perhaps Pia still would have been eliminated if Cowell were still there, but his harsh criticisms of others may have kept her around longer. There’s no way to tell for sure.
The one saving grace to Pia’s early departure is that there will be long-overdue changes made to the elimination process in the future.
With or without Pia, as the saying goes…“The show must go on.”
This week’s theme was songs from movies.
Here is this week’s breakdown (in reverse order):
 Paul McDonald – With his wild outfits and unique stage movements, McDonald is never accused of being boring. And yet, each week, I find myself thinking that his two minutes last forever. There is not much more that can be said about McDonald. He appeals to the judges, and that has probably why he is still in the competition. That, and the fact that he is male, which seems to be a big factor this season. His performance of “Old Time Rock and Roll” by Bob Seger was typical. The best part was the female saxophone player. Enough said.
 Casey Abrams – The judges and the studio audience gave Abrams a standing ovation after his performance of “Nature Boy” by Nat King Cole. I didn’t get it at all. Jimmy Iovine recommended that Abrams steer clear of this song for a reason. It doesn’t translate well in a competition. In a smoky, dimly lit room, this performance would have been fine, but on a big stage, it just seemed like Abrams was trying too hard to be different, which is a bit ironic given that his makeover has now transformed him from cool to nerdy. If this was a contest based on musicianship, Abrams would win for sure, but it’s not. It’s a singing competition. The judges loved his performance, but will the voting audience?
 Jacob Lusk – As one of the judges’ favorites, it seems that Lusk can do no wrong. But Jimmy Iovine thinks otherwise. It was great to see Iovine dress Lusk down for his arrogant pre-song ultimatum that he gave to America last week. “You’re gonna preach to 25 million people and you haven’t even put a record out yet? Don’t preach to people!” said Iovine. Lusk looked visibly shaken, and a little bit scared, which is probably why he agreed to take Iovine’s advice on his song choice. It didn’t matter anyway. Lusk’s performance of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” was basically the same as all of his other performances. He sings better at the top end of his range than the bottom. For some reason, his deep voice always seems to sound like Kermit the Frog doing “Rainbow Connection.”
 Scotty McCreery – Another week, another similar country song by McCreery. If you love country music, there is no reason not to love McCreery. For non-country music fans, McCreery’s performances are fine, but nothing special. It is a bit comical that Pia was constantly criticized for her stage presence when McCreery’s stage presence is nothing more than leaning to one side as he sings. I once thought that he would be sent packing early because of his limited range, but I know think that he may actually make it all the way to the finale. His performance of George Strait’s “I Cross My Heart” was exactly what you would expect it to be. Every week is just more of the same from McCreery. If you like him, then you look forward to his performance, if you don’t, then he will never do anything to make you change your mind.
 Stefano Langone – This was an interesting week for Langone because he thought that he was going home for sure when he ended up in the bottom two with Pia. When he surprisingly dodged elimination, he knew that he had to make changes if he was going to stick around. In his pre-song interview, he said that connecting with the audience is just as important as singing the song. He clearly learned his lesson after witnessing Pia’s elimination. To his credit, he made drastic changes this week. His performance of “End of the Road” by Boys II Men was probably his best of the season. He moved around the stage and kept his eyes open while still delivering a powerful vocal performance. It may not save him from the bottom three, but he doesn’t belong there this week.
 Haley Reinhart – Early on in the competition, I could not understand how Reinhart was surviving from week to week. To the judges’ credit, they saw something in her that didn’t show up on TV. But then things finally clicked for Reinhart, and she has definitely been the most improved since the show started. Her performance of “Call Me” by Blondie was one of her best of the season. She looked and sounded sexy, and used just enough of her raspy voice to make the song her own. Once totally awkward on stage, Reinhart has become a confident performer. The judges didn’t love her performance, which makes me question them. They told her that it wasn’t a good song to showcase her vocals, and Randy Jackson used the word “karaoke” to describe it. Regardless of what the judges said, this performance was entertaining and showed another side of Reinhart.
 Lauren Alaina – This has nothing to do with Alaina, but her pre-song meeting with Jimmy Iovine and Will I Am was a bit surprising and unintentionally funny. Iovine told Alaina that she has the opportunity to “snatch up” Pia’s voters. This wasn’t necessarily untrue, but it was surprising to hear Iovine say it. The funny part came when Will I Am kept saying “snatch em up” and reaching out to grab the air. It was reminiscent of a scene in Beverly Hills Cop with Eddie Murphy speaking in a very effeminate manner to sneak past a gatekeeper. Will Alaina “snatch up” Pia’s voters? That remains to be seen. But she did do a very good job with her performance of “The Climb” by Miley Cyrus. Iovine said that she would do it better than Cyrus, and he was right. Alaina has proven that she has the makings of a country pop star in the vein of Carrie Underwood. With the right songs, she can achieve the same kind of success as Underwood.
 James Durbin – The order of the contestants is supposedly random, but there is no way that having Durbin close out this week’s show was anything but careful planning. He has always been the best performer from the beginning, and he keeps getting better by the week. With Pia out of the competition, there is no one who comes close to him vocally either. If ever there was a time for a rocker to win American Idol, it is now! But even if he loses, it won’t matter a bit. This kid is going to be a rock star! His performance of “Heavy Metal” by Sammy Hagar this week was brilliant. To paraphrase a movie title in honor of this week’s theme…James Durbin is in “A League of His Own.” He is the headlining act every week, and should always go last. It’s hard to imagine what it would have been like for another contestant to try and follow up Durbin’s performance last night, especially since it featured Zakk Wylde on guitar. Durbin embraces metal with pride and refuses to back down from doing what he wants to do even when the mentors instruct him otherwise. If Durbin is not in the finale, then this voting system will have ruined Season 10 of American Idol.
THE BOTTOM THREE
WHO GOES HOME?
Last week’s vote has proven that predicting who goes home is an exercise in futility. Given the fact that the girls seem to be getting picked off one-by-one, and the fact that the judges didn’t give Reinhart high marks for her performance, she will probably be the one eliminated. Hopefully, the voting audience will deliver another surprise this week and finally get rid of one of the boys.
Last week’s double elimination show started out with the typical fake drama that has become a staple of reality television. By telling the audience that the results were shocking, we were led to believe that someone like Casey was going home because there were no saves left. It was a mild surprise to see Thia go home after her improved performance, but certainly not shocking. And though Naima has had her moments on the show, it was hard to find anyone who thought that she was staying after her performance of “I’m Still Standing” with a faux Jamaican accent.
As the number of contestants starts to dwindle, barring any terrible performances, the voting is very likely to be determined by each contestant’s fan base.
This week, the contestants were once again given a wide variety of song choices with the only limitation being that the songs had to come from artists who are enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Here is this week’s breakdown (in reverse order):
 Paul McDonald – Out of all the remaining contestants, McDonald’s voice is by far the weakest one. It’s hard to say what would have been a good choice for him other than a Rod Stewart song, but the decision to perform Johnny Cash’s “Fulsom Prison Blues” was a huge miscalculation. Jimmy Iovine even stated in the introduction that there is no one cooler than Johnny Cash. Love him or hate him, I doubt very much that anyone thinks of Paul McDonald as “cool.” About the best description that he can hope for is “quirky” or “eccentric.” His stage presence has always been bizarre, and this week was no exception. As he delivered the line “blow my blues away” his face was painted with his signature gigantic smile that was reminiscent of a clown’s mouth at a fast food drive-thru restaurant. Not exactly ideal when singing about the blues.
 Scotty McCreery – When the Top 13 were first announced, I predicted that McCreery would be one of the people who would exit quickly because of his limitations. While I still think that he is a one-trick pony, I believe that the trick is a good one for those who enjoy country music. His voice is just as good as most country stars, and he could make an album today and succeed without any further help from American Idol. For some reason, McCreery chose this week to try and show some versatility, but it didn’t come off very well. I found myself looking forward to the parts that featured his signature deep voice. His version of “That’s Alright Mama” was just that….alright. Nothing special and nothing terrible. He did show some stage presence, but other than that, this was not one of his better performances.
 Jacob Lusk – During the introduction, Lusk proclaimed “If I end up in the bottom three, it won’t be because I sang the song bad, it won’t be because I sang the song wrong…it’ll be because everybody in America wasn’t ready to look at themselves in the mirror.” I’m sure that this meant something to Lusk, but it just came off as arrogant on the show. His version of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” was exactly what you would expect it to be. Although Lusk has a wider vocal range than most, he has become a bit formulaic, and seems to be on the verge of becoming a one-trick pony just like Scotty McCreery. He can sing, and he can work the crowd from the stage. But there is nothing all that original about him, except for the fact that he seems to be more emotional than the rest of the contestants combined.
 Stefano Langone – Every week the judges encourage Langone to open up his eyes and connect with the audience. To his credit, he is trying to take their advice. However, making a drastic change is not easy to achieve in such a short time span, and watching the transformation can be a bit painful at times. You can tell that he is trying to take the judges advice, but at times he ends up squinting as he fights the urge to do what he has always done. His rendition of Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman” had its moments, but overall it was nothing special. When he sings in his natural voice and hits the power notes, his voice is as good as most of the contestants. But his falsetto in this song was weak, and it took away from the other parts. There is nothing terribly unique about Langone. He is just a very good singer who looks and sounds like a lot of other very good singers.
 Lauren Alaina – Even though American Idol is predominantly a singing competition, there has to be some consideration given to style. At this point in the competition, the show should be helping the contestants with their wardrobe. If they already are, then the person who is working with Lauren should be let go. Her voice is great, and she seems to be gaining in confidence from week to week. However, her look tends to take away from her performance at times. Her version of “Natural Woman” by Aretha Franklin was a good fit for her voice and she sang it very well. However, the arrangement was kind of slow and sleepy, and didn’t really allow Alaina to shine as brightly as she could have if it were a little livelier. Either way, she is one of the best this season, and her performance tonight should be more than enough to push her through to next week.
 James Durbin – It was going to be very difficult to top last week’s over-the-top stage show that Durbin delivered as he performed “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting,” so he didn’t even try to do so. He surprised everyone by going in the complete opposite direction by sitting down and performing George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” With the theme of the night being Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, most people expected another concert-like performance. Instead we got to experience the softer, more emotional side of Durbin. The song wasn’t ideal for showcasing his incredible vocal range, but it did show that he is the most versatile and dynamic performer in this year’s competition.
 Haley Reinhart – Throughout the competition, Reinhart has always been solid, but rarely spectacular. Her stage presence early on was equal parts awkward and strange. But once she guaranteed her slot on this summer’s American Idol tour, things seemed to click for her. All along the judges have been mentioning Reinhart in the same breath as Janis Joplin. In all honesty, I didn’t see it until tonight. Her version of Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” was by far her best since she has been on the show. Not only was it ideally suited for her voice, but she also connected so well with the song that it changed her whole demeanor on stage. For the first time this season, I finally saw what the judges have seen all along. She deserves to stick around for a while after tonight’s performance.
 Casey Abrams – He may not always be the best, but Abrams is always one of the most interesting contestants that has even graced the American Idol stage. His brush with elimination clearly served as a wake-up call. The original song that he chose for this week was Sting’s version of “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic,” but he wisely decided to go in a much more appropriate direction with Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” instead. Accompanied by his upright bass and a guitar player, Abrams delivered the kind of performance that had him turning heads early on in the competition. He showed a more “conventional” side with this performance, but also tastefully included some of his signature growls that make him stand out from the other contestants. Once again, the judges’ decision to use their one save on Abrams was validated with his rendition of a CCR classic.
 Pia Toscano – The judges and the fans all want to see Toscano’s subdued stage presence turned up a notch so that they are in line with her amazing vocals. It didn’t quite get there tonight, but at least it wasn’t just another flawless ballad. As promised last week, she stepped out of the ballad zone and into an up-tempo number that showed her versatility. Her performance of Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High” was one of her best of the season. Even though the song lent itself so well to showing that she can dance, Toscano still played it fairly close to the vest. But she did move around a bit, and she proved that her talent goes well beyond amazing ballad performances. As good as some of the female vocal performances are from time to time, none are even close to Toscano when she nails it. Her singing is at a level that puts her at the top of all current and previous female vocalists on American Idol.
THE BOTTOM THREE
WHO GOES HOME?
Paul McDonald – He has outlasted all of the people who didn’t have a strong enough following to stay in the competition. He was in the bottom three last week, and this should be the week that he finally gets eliminated.