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MAY
18
4 YEARS

'American Idol' Recap: Country Kids Kick Up Their Heels, Haley Reinhart Stumbles In Hers

Will next week's finale be a country hoedown showdown or will rock and roll prevail? Top 3 night leaves Idol Worshipers guessing.

scotty mccreery top 3 performance
Michael Becker / FOX

Does anyone remember when American Idol used to make a huge deal about the Idols’ hometown visits? Now it feels like an afterthought. Heck, even James Durbin got one! I guess we’ll see the mania on Thursday’s show, for now, it all took a backseat to a night where Beyonce was the mentor and Neil Sedaka was the only celebrity in the house to get a Ryan Seacrest shout-out. According to our own Shirley Halperin (did you guys buy the book yet: American Idol: Celebrating 10 Years?), other celebs in the audience included Priscilla Presley (who looks amazing), Elijah Wood, Lisa Loeb, Idol alums Didi Benami and Brandon Rogers and Olympian Dominique Dawes.

Each finalist got to sing three songs -- the first was their choice, the second Jimmy Iovine’s, and the final was picked the judges. It might be safe to say these three know their zone better than the mentors and judges combined.  However, are we heading towards a finale that bears a closer resemblance to Nashville Star than American Idol? Let’s examine last night’s performances.

Scotty McCreery’s choice is the very safe “Amazed” by Lonestar. Beyonce loved Scotty, exclaiming, “That’s My Boy!”  But she wasn’t sure about him going into his higher register. He is, once again, back in what seemed to be the same plaid shirt he wore last week, layered with a denim jacket. Scotty started out low, leaning against the piano, but made his way to the higher range. Although a nice ballad, it was a bit too boring for me.

Steven Tyler was waiting for Scotty to get angry, and was happy to see it. Jennifer Lopez (rocking the up-do last night) was happy to hear the vibrato, and said, “There are a million girls out there who wished you were singing that song to them.” Randy Jackson name dropped Boyz II Men and made sure we all knew he recorded that very same tine. He nitpicked the pitchy moments, but said Scotty had “money” and was making “smart choices.”

Lauren Alaina was up next. Beyonce had some unique advice to offer: to help Lauren with her with her nerves, B revealed that she imagines herself as a character, a “diva,” while psyching herself up for a performance. Lauren’s choice of Faith Hill’s “Wild One” (which she has been singing since she was 6 years old) would have been the perfect opportunity for Lauren to play a character. She had fun with it, and looked really cute with the flower in her hair, but was it wild enough for America?  My question is: does she lose breathe because of her nerves, or is it something she never learned?

Still, Lauren was more upbeat than sleepy Scotty, and red is a really terrific color for her. Jennifer said the performance was very good, and that Lauren has to “attack it every time” she goes on stage. Randy loved Beyonce’s advice, thought it was a nice song choice, and liked to seeing Lauren let herself go. Steven said she’s “so ready for this.”

Haley Reinhart went last for each of the three rounds, and with each passing performance, I can say unequivocally: I want to raid her wardrobe. From the green outfit she wore while with Beyonce to the grey "Rihannon" dress, it was all to die for.

As for the music, Beyonce said Haley’s choice of Led Zeppelin showed her conviction, “gut, strength and fearlessness.” She called Haley a risk-taker, and used the “superstar” word. You heard her people -- superstar. Personally, I can’t believe she did Led Zeppelin’s “What Is and What Should Never Be.” Why do people think this is an obscure Led Zeppelin song? Anyone that listens to rock radio has heard this a million times -- and Haley RIPPED it! My god that was awesome! Can Idol please get Robert Plant on the finale so she can do this with him? Pretty Please?

Of course, there was the fall, and truthfully: it was flawless. Like J Lo herself on the American Music Awards last year, Haley rebounded with the spring of a rubber band and proved herself a professional. In fact, it looked like she barely flinched at the fall. Way to go, girl!

Stumble aside, Haley owned the stage and the song -- the nuances in her rendition, the bluesy wail, even the growl worked. And can we talk about the clothes? Throw her dad on guitar into the mix and it’s a home run all around. For once, Randy gave her the props she deserved. “This girl is slaying it,” he said. “You’re fearless…This is Zeppelin, dude… Crazy… Haley is in it to win it!” Steven asked if she would fall for him. “That was superb,” he commented. Jennifer called her a professional, and said it was a good moment for her.

Round one: Haley!

For the second portion of the Top 3 showdown, we get to see extended clips of their auditions, starting with Scotty McCreery and that dang Josh Turner song! Who would have thought that Scotty would get this far from that one audition and the two subsequent times we heard “Your Man.”

Jimmy Iovine suggests Thompson Square’s “Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not?” Now in blue plaid with an acoustic guitar, Scotty sang a country tune I actually know, and he was totally straining on this one, utilizing the weird eyebrow thing he does every week. The thing is, unless people listen to country, they won’t know how to judge this performance. Although it should be noted that Jimmy is envisioning a more rocking Scotty -- thus, invoking Bruce Springsteen’s name.

As for the judges, Steven told Scotty, “Your character shone through,” while Jennifer added that laughing during the song is a sign you are in the zone. She then asked Scotty to shave his head for the finale. For his part, Randy thought Jimmy picked a great song for Scotty, and compared him to Garth Brooks. Why won’t Scotty do “I’ve Got Friends in Low Places,” then? Randy, once again: “Scotty is in it to win it!” Ugh.

After a moment of humiliation for Lauren involving Ryan, ripped panty hose and shimmery lotion, we go back in time to Lauren’s audition, where the judges told her that she’s “got it.” What I can’t get over is Jennifer’s tragic tan. We were reminded that at one point, Lauren did have nerves. She had the guts to duet with Steven during her audition. What the heck happened? Jimmy selected The Band Perry’s “If I Die Young,” explaining that it is in her sweet spot. Great, Jimmy. Pick a country song we don’t know. What he should have done was pick a crossover hit for Lauren. I would have loved to see her out of the country box.

Lauren looked pretty. Jennifer complemented her tone, and that she had an “honest moment” in the middle of the song. Randy thought it was a good song choice, although there were some pitch problems and she lost her way at the end. Steven used his “beautiful” critique once more (can’t we have a week without that?).  Lauren herself acknowledged that she missed a key change, while her mom said she’s aged 20 years over the last four months. Not from where I’m sitting. What’s her secret?

Back to Haley and another rocking outfit. Her audition get-up, however? Not so much. We learn that Haley didn’t make it through in the Chicago auditions for season 9. It appears Randy had a problem with her even way back then. And let’s discuss her audition of The Beatles’ “Oh Darling:” um, awesome?

Jimmy chose Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon” (did you see Stevie Nicks on DWTS the other night? Can we say Goddess? Her new album is her best in years, by the way). Haley gets the smoke machine tonight and starts it slow and dramatic, and when the tempo picks up, she gets the blast of wind. Is it me, or is she the most camera-friendly Idol we have ever seen since Carrie Underwood? The nice thing about this version is she could have over-sang this song or tried a Nicks impression, but she didn’t go there at all. Awesome, just awesome. Haley was happy she remembered the words. Randy observed that it was a somber moment, but said she was in “the zone.” He liked the wind effect, too. Steven used “beautiful” yet again and so did Jennifer! But remarking that she expected a Haley wail, Jennifer called it a pretty, “ethereal” moment.

Round two for me goes to Haley. The judges are split between Scotty and Lauren. Jimmy for some reason saw Springsteen with Scotty, poise with Lauren, and noted that what Haley did “wasn’t easy.” I didn’t even recognize Neil Sedaka.

I’ll skip past Beyonce’s new post-apocalyptic video because it gave me a headache. Ditto for Ryan’s attempt at singing like Steven Tyler. Stick to your day jobs, Seacrest.

On to round 3, the first glimpse at the finalists’ hometown visits. Scotty McCreery is handed his judges’ choice song at the grocery store where he one worked. Their pick: Kenny Rogers’ “She Believes in Me.” Seriously. The song is older than Kenny. Scotty started off low, losing the words because he’s not kissing the microphone like it’s his girlfriend. But he’s sitting, and people love him sitting. By the end, he’s was losing the pitch, and kind of whispers the last line. Steven said “you put it over the top for me right there.” Jennifer: “We all wanted to see if you could hit that big chorus. I guess you showed us.” Randy noted, “It’s about stretching yourself at this point,” but said Scotty was sweet and tender and hit the chorus. Nashville, here he comes! And we got to hear an encore of “Better lock them doors” from Scotty’s dad, who looked irked with the requent. No matter, Scotty thought it was cool, and that his Dad is “in it to win it.”

Lauren gets word of her judges’ pick outside of the AT&T store in Rossville, Georgia. The song: Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance.” Looking like Blair from The Facts of Life and dressed like Cinderella at the Grand ‘Ole Opry, Lauren sounded great on this song, and even added some runs at the end. Amanda, my 7-year-old, has this commentary about Lauren, who is her favorite Idol: “Lauren: I love your dresses, and your singing. Keep it up!” She then instructed me to vote for her, and watched as I dialed.

Well, Jennifer agrees with Amanda, explaining that she had “goosies from head to toe” and declaring, “you won that round for me, already.” Randy name-dropped yet again, mentioning that Lee Ann is a good friend and that it’s “a great song for a great singer.” Yeah, she’s in it to win it. Steven said, “You are just so at ease with yourself and you sang that song so perfectly.” Are we really going to have a Nashville Idol showdown next week?

For her song reveal, Haley gets a text by herself in a limo (another great top -- I need a chat with Idol stylist Soyon An stat!). The judges’ choice? Alanis Morrisette’s “You Oughta Know.” How disappointing that Haley had to change the sting of Alanis’ words to, “Will she go out with you in a theater.” To quote the Ed Sullivan Show minder who asked Jim Morrison to change the chorus to “Light My Fire:” “Baby, we can’t get much better.”

Still, it started really shaky, and I think the judges threw her under the bus with this one. She got better with the chorus on this song, but the wordiness nearly killed her. Randy said she had some “amazing choruses.” Um, ok. Steven said that she nailed it and Jennifer repeated how great she was in the choruses. An audience member declared her the winner, but the Haley army has to work really hard tonight if they want her to stay (you feeling me, Vote for the Worst people? Haley needs you!)…

Steven called Haley for Round 3, Jennifer and Randy went with Lauren.

My take after all is said and sung? Scotty is a lock (totally green on Dialidol.com last night), so one of the ladies will be going up against him next week. But who will it be? If it’s Lauren, expect a “Hoedown Throwdown Showdown” (with apologies to Miley Cyrus). I have to find my cowgirl hat and boots for the trip out West next week!

What do you guys think? Who is going home?