‘American Idol’s Final Three Pull Out All The Stops

by | May 18, 2011 at 10:16 PM | American Idol

American Idol (FOX)

American Idol (FOX)

From 120,000 contestants, we are down to three finalists for “American Idol,” with this week’s two-hour, three-song challenge doing little to separate the remaining three, with front-running teenage country heartthrob Scotty McCreery hanging on to a slim lead over Lauren Alaina and hard-charging Haley Reinhart.

It was time to throw caution to the wind, as Haley brought up her dad to play a mean lead guitar on a Led Zeppelin number in which she almost tripped and fell while her father didn’t miss a note. Scotty’s dad Mike crooned a creditable line from his son’s idol Josh Turner’s “Your Man,” while Lauren’s  mom Kristy said she’d aged 20 years over the competition, which would make her look, oh, 35.

And there in lies the power of Simon Fuller and Nigel Lythgoe’s savvy reality TV show, which crushes the generation gap as a show that parents and their kids can watch—and as we saw tonight, even play—together.

This week’s competition consisted of three separate rounds, consisting of the contestants’ own song choices, with Beyonce as mentor; Jimmy Iovine’s picks, and finally, the judges’ selections.

See Last Week’s Mentor, Lady Gaga:

Round One: Contestants’ Choice

Scotty McCreery led off with Lone Star’s “Amazed,” a choice designed to spotlight his ability to hit the high notes as well as his patented husky bass, which he punctuated with a few furtive tears. Beyonce was clearly infatuated with favorite. “He’s so innocent…just a cutie pie. The song’s simple melody allows his voice to shine through. It’s just so full and warm.” The judges were in agreement. Tyler said, “You just keep getting better and better. I saw you get angry then you kicked that modulation into next week.” J. Lo admired the “vibrato in there. I bet there are a million girls out there wishing you were singing that to them.” Randy was also enthused. “You put a period at the end of that. When you looked into the camera, it was money.” Corny, but effective.

Next up was Lauren Alaina singing Faith Hill’s “Wild One,” a good choice for her with its ribald humor. “I enjoy her doing something fun because it loosens her up,” said Beyonce about the usually high-strung teenager, explaining how she creates her own larger-than-life diva character on-stage to make up for her shyness. It was a good, if unremarkable performance, but the judges were all positive. J. Lo liked how she attacked the lyrics and “created a moment.” Randy liked the song choice. “When you let yourself go, that’s when you are at your best.” Steven Tyler has been an Alaina supporter since they dueted on “Sweet Surrender” back at her audition. “I love the way you’re singing like you own the song. You’re ready for America to be all over you.” Strong, but unremarkable.

Haley Reinhart was the only one in the first round to go outside her comfort zone, with a nervy cover of Led Zep’s “What Is and What Should Never Be,” with her dad on guitar. Beyonce said the song “shows her guts, her strength and fearlessness… She’s a risk taker. She has conviction. She makes you believe in what she believes in and that’s the mark of a superstar. She has a presence.” And indeed she does. We wouldn’t put it past her that she actually slipped on purpose, just to show how resilient she is, a trait Haley has exhibited from the very start and continues, after surviving four separate stints in the Bottom Three. “This is what it’s all about,” crowed Randy, who actually said all three finalists were “in it to win it.” “I love the fact, in the moment when you needed to be great, you were. That song is not for the faint of heart.” Tyler joked, “Haley, did you fall for me? It’s not how many times you fall, but how many times you get back up. Superb.” J. Lo liked the recovery from her tripping, likening it to performing at Wango Tango the past weekend and having her mic go dead. Her dad came on afterward and talked about playing “just me and my little rock and roll baby,” which was a little weird, but touching at the same time. This performance could be a game-changer, especially if the southern good old vote splits between Scotty and Lauren.

All three judges tapped Haley’s performance as the best of the first round.

Round Two: Jimmy’s Picks

The next round consisted of Jimmy Iovine’s choices, which were actually pretty insightful, tapping the Alabama-Oklahoma husband-and-wife duo Thompson Square’s cheeky “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not?” for Scotty, and The Band’s Perry’s “If I Die Young” for Lauren, while opting for Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon” for Lauren to channel Stevie Nicks.

Iovine called the lyrics of the Thompson Square song “perfect for Scotty,” reminding him of some of the records he did with Tom Petty, like “Damn the Torpedoes.” When you go down to Nashville make your record, there should be some of that country-rock in there.”

Indeed, McCreery’s performance of the song was his best yet, mugging for the cameras, raising his eyebrows, completely enjoying himself as he leaned into—for him—big chorus. “I never heard you do that before,” said Tyler. J. Lo raved, “There are so many moments in there I loved. You came away laughing,” before asking if he’d shave his head like the short haircut he had in his audition tape. Randy compared him to Garth Brooks. This performance kept him in the lead.

Lauren Alaina was getting her panty-hose fixed before she went on to sing The Band Perry’s deceptively upbeat song. “It’s right in your sweet spot,” said Iovine. “It hass an optimism about it despite the title.” Her performance was right on the mark. “You have the most beautiful tone of anyone left,” said Lopez. “It’s all about adjusting,” said Randy, noting how Alaina deftly recovered after missing her key change. “It’s a beautiful song and you have a beautiful voice,” gushed Steven. “You nailed it again.” Despite a few stumbles, she continues to endear herself to America.

Iovine saw Haley’s inner Stevie Nicks in suggesting “Rhiannon.” “The minute I met you, I thought you should sing one of her songs,” said Jimmy. “Build towards the end so people can hear every color you have.” With the wind machine, her cascading curls and come-hither attitude, Haley certainly channeled Stevie. “You crack me up,” marveled Randy who saw her look skyward with gratitude for remembering the words. “Ptch was perfect. You’re in the zone.” Tyler remained a fan. “You sang that song so beautifully, it reminds me why I fell in love with Stevie Nicks in the first place.” J. Lo wanted her to take it “a little further at the end, wishing for the Haley wail, but it was still beautiful.”

After round two, Tyler thought Alaina was tops, with both Jennifer Lopez and Randy going for Scotty. Said Iovine, “We saw Scotty transform himself into a rock-country star, if Bruce Springsteen and Garth Brooks had a baby.” Neil Sedaka, sitting next to Jimmy, seemed non-plussed by the comparison.

Round Three: The Judges Weigh In

McCreery’s take on Kenny Rogers’ “She Believes in Me” showed how the preternaturally mature North Carolina kid will not only be a country star, but should cross to pop as well, though it didn’t do much for me. Steven remarked that it was the first chorus he ever heard him sing. “You put it over the top.” J. Lo also wanted to see if he could hit that big chorus. “I guessed you showed us.” Randy thought it was all about stretching from his comfrt zone. “It was sweet and tender in front and you hit the end.” Merely keeping pace.

Alaina proved a perfect match for Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance.” In her turquoise chiffon dress, she looked ready to grace the Grand Ole Opry stage, which is exactly what Tyler said. J. Lo claimed, “You gave me goosies from head to toe,” and gave her the round. Randy said, “You slayed it. It’s a great lyric for a great singer.” Steven marveled about how at ease she appeared on-stage. “I’m so happy and America’s so happy.” “I’ve never wanted anything more in my life,” admitted Lauren to Ryan. Still America’s sweetheart.

Haley Reinhart continued her come-from-behind push with a song that seemed perfect for her, Alanis Morissette’s howling “You Oughta Know,” and she did it justice. “America has its work cut out for it,” said Randy, and he’s not kidding. “Perfect, incredible, beautiful,” raved Tyler. “There’s no one who can match your power and how high your growl can go,” said an admiring J. Lo. Reinhart struts her stuff, continues to lurk in the background.

POWER RANKINGS

FAVORITE

1. Scotty McCreery: Still out front, but the lead isn’t insurmountable. Even if he splits country vote with Lauren, or has the two girls divvy up the female vote between them, he’s in the final.

DARK HORSES

2. Haley Reinhart: You just can’t put her down. Thrives on pressure and is still just a punch—or perfect performance—away from a TKO. Don’t count her out.

3. Lauren Alaina: The pre-show favorite has a dedicated fan base. Can she continue to rise to the occasion?

TOP 5 PERFORMANCES

1. Haley Reinhart, “What Is And What Should Never Be”: The evening’s best, with all the drama intact.

2. Scotty McCreery, “Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not?”: Sang as if he’s already the star he will soon become.

3. Lauren Alaina, “If I Die Young”: Perfect song for her sensibility.

4. Haley Reinhart, “Rhiannon”: If you squinted your eyes, it was almost as if Stevie was right there in front of you.

5. Scotty McCreery, “Amazed”: Proves he can hit the high notes as well as the low ones.

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