Well, we sure know now whom the makers of "American Idol" want to win. ...
Before tonight, I was looking at the contenders and thinking the most satisfying outcome would be a James/Lauren final, with James winning. Clearly "Idol" has other ideas.
The show was completely in the tank for Haley tonight. She got the pimp slot. Someone persuaded her to tone down her more irritating mannerisms. She gave a very good performance on "House of the Rising Sun" to close the show. And her first song -- personally provided by Jimmy Iovine, and apparently endorsed by Lady Gaga herself -- was an unreleased Gaga song. She didn't do that much with it. And the judges were thoroughly disoriented by hearing a song they didn't have a few zillion previous versions of to compare it to; and Jennifer implied that the audience couldn't handle it either. But in the real world, that was an astounding gift to Haley -- just the sort of thing that can push a contestant to the finals.
Indeed, for the night, Haley passed Lauren, Scotty and Jacob -- and, in the view of Randy Jackson as well as the producers, James -- even though Randy had earlier claimed that the competition was James's to lose. This is what happens when the judges insist on saying something nice about everyone. Indeed, the only real criticism tonight involved hearing a song they didn't know. James even managed to make a misfire in the middle of his second song seem endearing, since it appeared to stem from his being overcome by emotion. James has certainly made his mark as an emotionally genuine guy; I am thinking not only of tonight but the Hulk Hogan moment. But it should not be forgotten that he can also sing, and has consistently demonstrated the best combination of vocals and showmanship on the program this season.
But I should do some item by item notes about the two-songs-per night, with one "current" song (though "current" apparently spans years) and one oldie. Sheryl Crow was guest mentor, but her main contributions were singing along with the contestants and gushing. Anyway, in order of appearance:
James drew on 30 Seconds to Mars for his contemporary song, then Nilsson's "Without You" for his oldie. (As I said on Twitter, I would have preferred "You're Breaking My Heart" but apparently "Idol" is not ready for that yet.) First song was good, second one was touching, and he's still my fave on the show.
Jacob did "No Air" (as I said, interesting definition of current) and "Love Hurts." I've noted my disappointment of late with Jacob, and once again tonight, even with lots of backing help, he fell short, especially on "No Air." He starts too high in his range, and it diminishes the overall drama. "Love Hurts" worked better because he went low during the song, but even then felt compelled to emphasize his higher voice. Better than some Jacob nights, but I suspect he's going home tomorrow.
Lauren: "Flat on the Floor" and "Unchained Melody." Much the way the show used Jacob to recall Jordin Sparks, Lauren invoked Carried Underwood. This worked to her advantage with people who have long "Idol" memories, since Lauren is very personable while Carrie was deemed robotic by many critics during her roll to the "Idol" championship. On the other hand, her performance also showed she doesn't have the vocal force of Carrie. As for "Unchained," when you get past the way the song was sliced and diced for the "Idol" arrangement, Lauren's work was pretty but limited -- not an effective reworking of an overworked song.
Scotty. He tried to rock out some with Montgomery Gentry's "Gone" and it certainly indicated a stage presence that hasn't always been evident in Scotty. His second song, "Always on My Mind," started well, stumbled in the middle, and recovered. Both songs likely cemented his hold on his base -- important since it looked in recent weeks, and in his bottom-three appearance last week -- that Lauren may have co-opted the country crowd. But I still don't find him all that impressive.
Haley closed, and as much as I have hated her up to now, I couldn't entirely tonight. But I also know that a big reason is that the show is pushing her very, very hard. Even if she is delivering what they (and possibly the audience) want, the manipulation is painful.