“American Idol” entered its 10th with a bunch of question marks for returning executive producer Nigel Lythgoe. The show had been losing ratings steam the last few years, but even more importantly, water cooler relevance.
He was also tasked with replacing Cowell, for many the star of the show, not to mention Kara DioGuardi and Ellen DeGeneres, on the judges panel.
Taking a huge gamble, in retrospect, Lythgoe’s choice of Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez, was a no-brainer, adding certified superstars to guide and mentor the would-be stars competing to become your next “American Idol.”
Watch Haley’s Elimination:
And while their encouragement of the contestants was criticized by those who missed the acerbic candor of Cowell, both Tyler and Lopez brought a certain expertise and credibility to their roles, based on their own success in pop music. Both would prove to be strong additions to the program. Perhaps even more important was Lythgoe’s decision to lower the eligibility age to 15, which allowed Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina to get to the finals in the first place.
This year’s contestants, too, represented a strong crop, most of them already coming with strong genre identities—from country teen finalists McCreery and Alaina to such popular finalists as rock-blues belter Haley Reinhart, classic metal front man James Durbin, hybrid jazzbo Casey Abrams, gospel shouter Jacob Lusk, smooth R&B crooner Stefano Langone, folk-rocker Paul McDonald and even Broadway belter Pia Toscano, whose early elimination was the season’s first big shocker.
Here are our Top 15 moments, in chronological order.
1. Providing the show’s first Susan Boyle moment, moon-faced 15-year-old Cajun Jaycee Badeaux wins J. Lo’s heart with a stirring version of Otis Redding’s “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay.”
2. Scotty McCreery’s basso profundo performance of songs by Josh Turner and Travis Tritt in Milwaukee evokes Tyler’s first great quotable, if censored, line: “Hellfire, save matches, fuck a duck and see what hatches.”
3. After Starbucks barista Chris Medina sings The Script’s “Breakeven,” for his girlfriend Juliana, in a coma from a car accident prior to their planned wedding, he bring her out, where Tyler plants a kiss on her forehead. “I just heard your fiancé sing, and he sings so good…’cause he sings to you all the time.”
4. Young Lauren Alaina wraps up her Nashville audition by bringing in her whole family, then duets with Tyler on “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.”
5. Seth Rogen lookalike Casey Abrams, who entertains the hopefuls on line with his melodica, leans into Ray Charles’ “I Don’t Need No Doctor” with an authority that makes him a left-field candidate.
6. Jacob Lusk follows up his scintillating “God Bless the Child” with Luther Vandross’ “A House is Not a Home” during Final 24 “Boys’ Night” leads J. Lo to say, “He’s gone…but we have you.”
7. Pia Toscano nails The Pretenders’ “I’ll Stand By You,” which J. Lo called, “out of this world.”
8. Rocker James Durbin shows his versatility with a show-stopping performance of McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed” for the Final 13 before the first live elimination show.
9. Casey doesn’t strike out, as the judges use their one and only save for Abrams, stopping him midsong to tell him the news.
10. In the season’s first big shocker, Pia Toscano is eliminated at #10, setting off a firestorm of online protests.
11. Haley Reinhart gets back into the race with a soaring take on Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” on the night before seven becomes six.
12. Tears stream down J. Lo’s face as one of her favorites, Stefano Langone, is eliminated.
13. Casey Abrams is eliminated, but goes off in triumph with “I Put a Spell on You,” one of his signature tunes during the competition.
14. James Durbin is voted off, but goes out with a spectacular “Maybe I’m Amazed.”
15. With Haley Reinhart out, Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina take the final two spots for this week’s finale.