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.