The judges risk being critical, Pia returns, songs of the 21st century, and more -- after the jump.
Notes as I watch: Show kicks off with a performance by a bunch of the rejects, with Pia and Paul getting major screen time -- although Naima certainly was trying to get the camera on her. Didn't care though. And there's lots of cutesy-poo stuff, like the other contestants mimicking the way Scotty holds a mic. Bad filler, as usual.
Scotty leads off with John Anderson's "Swingin'." (And Jimmy is mentoring solo. Too much attention to Will of late?)
Which doesn't swing all that much. We've all come to know that Scotty is determined to stay in a narrow country range, and his voice doesn't have much range either. But tonight it was also apparent that he has -- or chooses not to have -- much power. This was a kick-it-up song and he didn't kick. And the judges were, well, unimpressed. Which may be a first this season. Not even Tyler sounded all that excited.
James next. Says he always get an amazing vision for how to stage his performances. More video of other contestants poking fun. Yawn. Song: "Uprising," Muse. Has a drum team leading him in. Mildly interesting, less wailing than usual, at first; then the unfortunately inevitable wail -- he doesn't need it, and it takes away from the other parts of the performance. Which wasn't all that exciting. Jennifer says that is going to be the best performance of the night theatrically and that "that was really amazing." Randy says Muse is one of his favorite bands and that James should go this way on a record, that "dude, you were unbelievable," and this is probably going to be the best performance of the night. Gee, no pressure on everyone else now. Tyler calls it "crazy good."
Haley. The other contestants' comments about her seem less friendly than they did about James and Scotty. Song: Adele, "Rolling in the Deep." Jimmy has to explain to her what the emotion is in the song. He tells her it is about anger. There is no indication in her performance that she at all understands that. This is Haley riffs-by-the-numbers, with accompanying gestures. Not liking it. And I like Adele. If Randy claims to get a text from Adele saying Haley slayed it, then it will be a lie. Randy says he is looking for what direction artists are going to go, and that Haley chose a perfect direction. No text from Adele, thank god. Some mild criticism of technique but overall praise. Tyler loved it -- and drops a "beautiful." Jennifer says Haley was in moments better than Adele? Did I really understand that?
Jacob. Doing Luther V on Luther's birthday. ("Dance With My Father.") Apparently known as a diva in the "Idol" house. Lost his dad when young, tears up during rehearsal with Jimmy. Audio problem at beginning? Fumbling with earpiece. Recovers. Very good, authoritative, one of his best performances in a while -- until the high note at the end. And, as good as he is trying to be, Luther's version is unbeatable. Tyler loves Jacob, even with the stumble. Jennifer says "emotionally it was a beautiful performance." Randy agrees but is more measured about the vocal -- good but not great, and wants Jacob not to hold back. But when Jacob does not hold back, he loses control of the song. Ryan lets Jacob explain he was hearing something odd -- drums? -- in his earpiece.
Ryan chats with Mark Ballas -- stops short of mentioning "DWTS" by name. Ballas says he likes Casey. No mention of the Pia connection, or of the Pia crossover to "Dancing" next week.
Contestants mock Casey, and Casey plays along. Will sing and play guitar on Maroon 5, "Harder to Breathe." We've heard him be melodic, but this isn't that; he's trying too hard to sound rocking. With too much face-making, which cuts into his credibility. The onstage band is carrying most of the weight. Not entertained. Little bit of stage business with Jennifer at the end, including a kiss on her cheek. She seems pleased. I'm still not. Jennifer says "Casey's not playing fair" but "Casey's got soft lips." And she loved the performance, with all its Casey-isms. Randy says it's always about "surprise surprise surprise" but he enjoyed it. Tyler says C is "already a cult hero" and offers some major audio-dropped comments.
Ryan wears a fake beard, leading to the possibility of beard jokes which Ryan pointedly avoids.''
Stefano. Ne-Yo, "Closer." Jimmy doesn't want him to plead onstage. Wow, this is bad. Way out of tune until he gets to the chorus. Better in the latter half but not exactly electric. Randy expected it to be bad karaoke but "you did a very good job" and liked the way he took his time singing the verses at the beginning. (Maybe the show should allow longer performances so more verses can be sung.) Tyler thought it was good. Jennifer thought he had his swag going on and "you owned the song."
Lauren to close. Jimmy is worried about her fear of failing. With Miley Cyrus's producers in the house, Lauren pulled back and was nervous. Song: "Born to Fly," Sara Evans. Hard country, and going right at Scotty's audience. But it does appear she is holding back again. Picks it up as she goes along, but there's still some restraint. This is not a really strong way to close the show. In the middle, it would be nice. Here it's not great, especially after all that calling for her to tear loose. Tyler says she's naturally good and wants her to sing Alison Krauss, Faith Hill, Shania Twain. Jennifer says she has a special voice -- and these are not the comments you want to get during a show-closer -- and urges her to "let it out." Randy says Jennifer "is right on." This is more like a support group than a critique; they're really avoiding saying much about the actual performance.
Recap. Ryan calls it an exceptional night. But I am thinking how little there has been from this group, tonight and in other nights, that has me wanting to hear it again, or to download it, or talk about it enthusiastically the next day. And there was a lot of that tone in the judges tonight; they were less able to feign excitement about the individual work. When Jennifer says anyone can win, that's another way of saying that no one is really standing out. It's mostly mush.