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MAY
11
3 YEARS

'American Idol' Recap: Lauren Alaina Turns 'Evil,' Lady Gaga Gropes James Durbin, and Scotty McCreery Rocks the Leather

See what judges Jennifer Lopez, Steven Tyler and Randy Jackson have to say about the four remaining competitors.

lauren alaina top 4 performance
Michael Becker / FOX
Lauren Alaina

Wednesday night's Idol begged the answer to the immortal Randy Jackson question of "who is in it to win it?" More importantly, who wants to have that elaborate homecoming parade next week if they make the top 3? I still get goose bumps every time I see that footage of Elliot Yamin's mother riding in the car at a parade in his honor. Homecoming week is a big deal in the Idol Universe, and probably on every single one of the contestant's minds Wednesday night (you know Scotty McCreery is thinking about it, as he's more than willing to make out with the grass and not his microphone -- more on that later). Next week is truly the only week where you want to "go home," because you return as a hero before facing the inevitable reality that, in the words of the awesome movie, "Highlander," "there can be only one" American Idol.

Wednesday night's show pulled out all the stops -- Lady Gaga was in as a mentor in a continuing PR coup for the icon, who just ruled the cable universe this past weekend with her HBO Special (with Liza Minnelli and Sir Paul McCartney in the audience). Steven Tyler's new book, Does the Noise in My Head Bother You? got a huge plug from Ryan Seacrest on Wednesday night, as he informed the audience that Tyler is now a best-selling author. Finally, the contestants also got to perform songs by the legendary songwriting team of Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller. Stoller was in the audience and clearly thrilled to hear his songs done by the idols. Also in the house, dearly departed but not forgotten contestants Casey Abrams and Paul McDonald.

James Durbin kicked things off with a big acknowledgment of what we all said last week -- that he slipped up. He was more than willing to make amends with a big crowd pleaser, Journey's "Don't Stop Believing." Smart move, asking the audience, "Does anybody know this song?" Um, yeah, we do. And if we forgot it, The Sopranos and Glee brought it back, and it is here to stay forever. The choice also did a good job of seriously stroking the ego of Randy Jackson, who couldn't wait to declare Journey as one of the greatest rock bands ever besides Aerosmith (that remark elicited huge laughs from inside the theater -- I don't think Randy was expecting that reaction). James started in the sweet spot -- his high head voice. He was better than last week, albeit a tad karaoke, and brought back the pyrotechnics, setting the stage on fire. He even sang the Neal Schon guitar part. Jennifer Lopez said it was amazing -- great song, great job, great performance. Randy thought he played that song a "few times before." He dug it, telling James "you paid such homage to my friends" and comparing him to Steve Perry (vocals and outfits -- even the tails). Highest degree of difficulty -- "and you did it!"

What moves Haley Reinhart? Would you believe Michael Jackson and "The Earth Song"? She's sitting on the steps, and immediately I notice the hair is in an updo. Did that make her look older? And why such a boring Michael Jackson song, especially after James lit the stage on fire? The problem this week is not doing a Lady Gaga song we don't know, it's doing a Michael Jackson song we DO know and don't like. Casey Abrams was applauding wildly in the audience. Jennifer Lopez felt the song, but echoes my thoughts -- it's not a hit record and didn't match what James did. Randy didn't like it either because the song didn't fit her and she was screaming the note over and over again. Haley actually started to argue, until Steven came in and argued on her behalf that she "nailed it." I think Haley really needed a strong second song after that. Dangerous, dangerous choice.

Wow, Scotty McCreery went from being Richie Cunningham to the Fonz on Wednesday night, didn't he? LOVED the leather -- hot, hot, hawt! So what makes Scotty tick? Alan Jackson's post-9/11 song, "Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?" The subject matter of that song alone, in light of the recent killing of Osama bin Laden, should have gotten Scotty tons of votes from his base (God and guns -- checkmate!). Problem is he was whispering the song and losing some lyrics in the mix. Maybe he was not singing right into the mic. The judges loved it: Randy said Scotty is ready for superstardom, Steven used his stock critique of "beautiful," and Jennifer is in love with him. He is so going to be in the top 3, but I think it was kind of off. Loved the leather, though. Amanda, my 7-year-old, noted that Scotty never puts up his fingers telling people what number he is, and she loves that about him. It annoys her when people mouth the phone number to the camera.

Lauren Alaina dedicated Martina McBride's "Anyway" to everyone devastated by the recent destruction in the South. She is dressed like she is ready for the prom, but there is nothing juvenile about her performance. She hit huge, Carrie Underwood-ian notes and belted it right out of the park. I loved the glittery eye shadow. Lauren is definitely back in the game, breaking Steven's heart with her pure voice (he loved the dress, btw). Jennifer was proud of he, and said that they seem tough at times (when?) and told her she did exactly what she had to do to get into the finals. Randy was worried last week but declared that "Lauren is back in it to win it."