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3 YEARS

'American Idol' Recap: James Durbin Chases Fans' Lead; Lauren Alaina Goes for Money Note

Plus, the six finalists duet on Carole King night.

james durbin top 6 performance
Michael Becker / FOX
James Durbin

Carole King and her former husband, Gerry Goffin, used to live in West Orange, N.J., on Pleasant Valley Way. In this house, she wrote the song, "Pleasant Valley Sunday," recorded by the Monkees. The doorbell actually chimed, "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" I know this, because my friend, children's entertainer Mr. Ray, grew up in this house. As a born and bred Jersey girl, I, for one, am very proud of King's Garden State roots.

Appropriately, a little Carole King history kicked off the show, with Ryan Seacrest instructing the audience that the singer-songwriters has been making music for 50 years. It should have been noted that her seminal album, Tapestry, just marked its 40th anniversary this year. And for some reason, the Monkees were left off the list of artists who had major hits penned by King. What's up with that? No love for Davy Jones and Co.? 

This week, Kenneth "Babyface" Evans is the guest mentor alongside Jimmy Iovine, and he received the royal treatment in his video package explaining his many hits and collaborations (with a wise omission of an embarrassing guest role on 90210, when he performed with Brian Austin Green).

As he does once a year, usually around late-April (remember last year's debacle when he for some reason slammed Brian Dunkleman?), Ryan went off his medication with odd goofiness, and seemed a little off his game introducing Carole King's daughter, Sherry, as Carole herself, sort of acknowledging Penny Marshall without saying her name ("I know you -- isn't there a Lakers game tonight?") and getting a little too close for comfort with Scotty McCCreery. By the way, he missed identifying Lorraine Bracco (paging Dr. Melfi), Brad Garrett and the omnipresent Marc Anthony. But will you still love him, tomorrow? 

Jacob Lusk started off the night and I'm instantly wondering: whose idea was it to dress up Jacob like a cross between Pee Wee Herman and Uncle Floyd? He decided to do an upbeat number, the Maxine Brown hit "Oh, No, Not My Baby," and Instead of our usual earnest Jacob, we got Jacob, the scatting, dancing fool shaking a tail feather. Steven Tyler told him he was beautiful and he can strut. Jennifer Lopez acknowledged it wasn't perfect in certain spaces, but said he killed it. Randy Jackson, sporting a scholastic varsity sweater, seemed to know Jacob was in trouble. He is so going home.

Up next: Lauren Alaina, who looked sick to her stomach with nerves in the beginning of the show. Poor thing. In her video package, we learned that Lauren is still fearing the big "money" notes. Babyface even tried to push her to go further, asking "Have you ever gone for it and not hit it?" Then, she got a surprise when Miley Cyrus came into the recording studio, advising her to ignore negative comments (um, like Jimmy basically saying that Miley can't sing, which drew the ire of her fans everywhere on the Internet? Yeah, like those). So Lauren decided to give it her all with a countrified version of the Gilmore Girls theme. She went for the high note -- and hit it despite a crack. It's all very cute. She even took a boy from the audience, Brett, to the stage for a serenade. Still, very safe, kind of boring, but Jennifer is super proud that Lauren's voice cracked like Peter Brady.

For the first duet of the night, Haley Reinhart and Casey Abrams sang "I Feel The Earth Move." They were American Idol's version of a growling Sonny and Cher, but I like these two as a duo, and Haley once again looked awesome. I want that dress. I also want the body so I can wear it. Still, Steven found a way to make things awkward by asking Casey, "Hey weird beard, how much in love with Haley are you?"

Another Ryan Seacrest brain stumper: why is he bringing back the Scotty the Body moniker? There is only one Scotty the Body -- and that is Scott Savol. He earned that title for his girth alone. Season 10's Scotty came off his toughest week ever where he was actually criticized. Plus, it's Carole King week; country songs are scarce. So rather than attempting to dance and be goofy, he returned to sitting on the steps with the romantic ballad made famous by James Taylor, "You've Got a Friend."

The song started quietly, and I was surprised he didn't really try to turn it into a country song (but make no mistake, that twang is there). He began to bring it together in the middle and finished strong. Pretty solid job. Scotty takes criticism seriously, and works hard to turn it around. This impressed the judges. Randy told him he "turned the other cheek" and enjoyed the buttery tenor. He did tell him not to fall off the high notes. Steven thinks he's never sung better, and Jennifer is happy to see him attempting higher notes and once again, enjoyed his storytelling. In an awkward moment, Ryan told him that it looked like he was singing to one person and prompted him to give America "the look." I thought only Constantine Maroulis, seated in the audience last night, had a patented "look." Odd exchange.

I love James Durbin's honesty. He actually told America that Scotty's performance was 100% better than dress rehearsal. I also love that James takes requests from the American Idol online community, as he revealed he would do "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" per the suggestion of fans. He also promised no marching bands and no flaming pianos. He said he believed he can give us just as powerful a performance with just himself. Jimmy was equally excited, and you can tell just who he's starting to pull for as a winner.

Smartly, James took the Bo Bice route, starting the song a capella. Wow, just WOW!!! James hit some sweet notes without breaking a sweat or a vocal cord. It's totally David Cook-ian, and I loved it. So did Steven, who told him that he was sold from the beginning. It was also the first song he made out to, can't top that. Jennifer thought it was magical, and it was the first time all night she moved, adding that James has been the most consistent performer this season. Randy told James he is a great singer and gave the best performance of the last few months, with a prediction that James could win the whole thing. Ryan has the two men hug it out and declared James a superstar while James overshadowed Ryan's rap with guitar feedback. Now that's rock 'n' roll!

It was then time for American Idol's country version of Sonny and Cher as Scotty and Lauren duet on "Up On the Roof." Ryan went right back to being creepy, suggesting a romance between the two, and Scotty said they were more like "brother and sister." The whole thing was awkward. Mercifully, we got to the performance. Suddenly we were at the Country Music Awards. Lauren hit some more of those feared high notes. She's really growing. Scotty was flat on the harmonies, but Steven told him he sounded good.

Casey Abrams is this season's polarizing contestant. People either love him or can't stand him, and there are the Pia Toscano fans that loathe him because, well, he took what could have been her save. Many thought Casey would do "Jazzman," but instead he took King's "Hi-De-Ho (That Old Sweet Rock and Roll)," as recorded by Blood Sweat and Tears, while looking like a member of the Blues Brothers. Although worthy of performing behind chicken wire protecting him from flying beer bottles, once again, he growled the whole song, stalked the stage, looked like he was ready to do some voodoo magic with a live chicken, and the judges loved him for it. Casey made Steven's scalp itch. Jennifer said she would like to see him loosen up his legs. I don't know, those legs looked scary in the plaid shorts he sported in his video package. Randy said he liked how every time Casey takes the stage, it's entertaining, new and different, and is taking him back to his "state" of New Orleans. Um, Randy, a quick geography lesson is in order. The state is Louisiana. You're welcome. Points for performance, but he was half-speaking the song. Come on, judges. I can't be the only one that notices that.

Haley Reinhart picked an apt song for her final performance, if only for its title, "Beautiful." She sounded good in her video package, despite the headband from hell, but when we got to the stage, her in-ear monitors weren't working, and Ryan informed us all of technical difficulties. However, Haley dove right into the song, and it was a cool arrangement. The growl was non-existent, and you can tell, she's really starting to grow. I just wish she had picked one of King's many hits. When you are in the proverbial pimp slot, you need to grab the audience. And this is Idol -- the demo doesn't know from obscure songs off of Tapestry. She looked beautiful though, and Steven was impressed. Steven saw God, Jennifer said she had the best voice in the competition, and Randy got more into it at the end. It was actually the first time this season Jennifer showed some anger with a Randy critique.

Jacob and James were paired as American Idol's Herman's Hermits for "I'm Into Something Good" (for the record, Peter Noone was a mentor on the show), and for the first time this season, Steven looked confused and revealed he's not sure whether it was an award-winning performance. Once again, Ryan went batty and gave us a number to vote for Jennifer's legs.

So who is going home? Bottom three could be Jacob, Casey, and Haley. I call Jacob, but it could be Haley and that would be a shame.