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'American Idol' Recap: Haley Reinhart Wows Judges on Elton John Night

Casey Abrams debuts a new look, James Durbin rocks, Jacob Lusk hypnotizes as the Top 11 dip into Sir Elton's library.

jacob lusk idol elton night
Michael Becker / FOX
Jacob Lusk

The past week has been all about Casey Abrams, who we last saw as he was being voted off of American Idol, only to be saved by the judges. Then, our unlikely hero ends up in the hospital, and emerges with a new look (more on that later) and a rumored romance with fellow growler Haley Reinhart. What a season, and it’s only March! 

Tonight’s show had it all -- shiny, bedazzled, flowered outfits, sky-high heels, Howie Mandel, and Taio Cruz in the house! (Also seated in the audience, according to Idol Worship's own Shirley Halperin: Nicolette Sheridan and Glee's Heather Morris, who, curiously, only stayed to watch Scotty McCreary.) To quote Jimmy Walker: “Dy-No-Miiiitttee!”   Scotty was up first, and if there’s one thing we’ve come to know about the 16-year-old North Carolina native, he’s not one to stray from his country roots, so naturally, he seeks out the one Elton John song in the catalog that has the word, “Country” in the title. The song, "Country Comfort," with its references to grandma, a barn, a farm, and that southern staple, a truck, fits Scotty like snug Levis. He takes it on armed with a guitar, his lower register, and a shout-out to his grandmother in the audience. In Scotty’s hands, the song barely resembles the Elton John original, which is not lost on the judges. Jennifer Lopez applauds his basic instincts for staying true to himself. Randy Jackson says he feels like he’s already at a Scotty concert, and that the song sounds like it can be on his record. Steven Tyler gives his first weird critique of the night, "Nothing I could say to you that an old-fashioned pair of high-heeled cowboy boots wouldn't fix.” Overall, a nice night for Scotty.   Naima Adedapo came next, and boy, did she look like she was having fun shopping for her Entertainment Weekly photo shoot. She also seemed excited about the opportunity to play with fashion for Elton John week, because of his sense of style. To quote Elton, “it’s show business,” and Naima is the one contestant that gets this more than anything -- she always looks so contemporary when she’s on stage. And Naima really wants to win, doesn’t she? She decided to slow down “I’m Still Standing” to a reggae beat, and works it out in the studio with Don Was. I’m not so sure I like how the lower register and faux Jamaican accent sounds on her -- it’s almost like a female version of the Un-Cola Man. But man, she is rocking those heels.  Still, Jennifer is not loving the reggae arrangement and Randy thinks it “came off kind of corny.” Steven loves everything, and says “good for you.”    We all remember when Jon Peter Lewis took on “Rocket Man” in Season 3, right?  Or is that just me? Anyway, Paul McDonald, who said he’s fumbled the song before with his band, decides to take it on again with an acoustic guitar strapped onto his $4,500 custom rhinestone suit. He wants us to get our lighters out so, again, he asks the viewers how we’re doing. We’re good, Paul, just flash us that smile! Well, as Jimmy Iovine says, if this doesn’t work out, he can always do toothpaste commercials. Still, Randy wants Paul to go all the way, Steven compliments him for not hitting all the notes -- huh? No need to worry about that Steven, Paul missed plenty with a helping of quiet comfort in the form of a whispered, final line, staring into the camera like Freddy Krueger. Rough.     Now for a contestant like Pia Toscano, Elton John week is a treasure trove! Still, she can’t resist the allure of the ballads and completely ignores the judge’s advice in choosing “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” Jimmy thinks she can do a Fergie-Axl Rose mash-up of the song (unlike Fergie and Slash at the Superbowl? But I digress).  Pia goes for it with a shimmery dress, super-high heels, and a gospel choir. She then proceeds to decimate everyone else in the competition by hitting all those impossible notes. All that’s missing is George Michael there to introduce Sir Elton. Steven says a good song makes him cry inside, and that the judges may have been wrong instructing her against ballads. Jennifer says “I feel you trying to break the barrier” and says she’s on the right track. Randy says he heard Whitney and Mariah in the performance. Still, ramp it up, Pia! I want to dance with somebody who loves me! Just saying…   Stefano Langone knows he is “Almost Famous,” looking so GQ for his photo shoot. He is also aware of how much trouble he could be in, having landed in the bottom 3 last week, so Stefano takes on the operatic “Tiny Dancer,” which works because of his Broadway-style delivery. But he continues to struggle with keeping his eyes open, and tries to overcome the connection problem by walking up to the front of the stage and, er, connecting with Jennifer’s hand. Jennifer said she feels like he moved the crowd, and Randy loved that he was moving around the stage, but will it be enough?   Lauren Alaina shows America her soft side with a song that was written about Marilyn Monroe but forever associated with Princess Diana, “Candle in the Wind.” Her country vocals worked amazingly on this song, almost to the point where you’re life thinking,  ‘Are we watching the second coming of Carrie Underwood?’ This is her week -- I saw nothing wrong with the performance. Randy declares the song one of the greatest ever written, and adds that this is the greatest Alaina performance ever. Steven says she’s perfect, and if she keeps singing like that, she can afford the rest of her dress. Mark my words: Lauren is a major contender, as she gains more and more ground every week.    That Tourette’s Syndrome was bound to get James Durbin in trouble eventually, but who knew it would come in the form of a Pepsi mention? The joke on Michael Jackson’s infamous commercial in which his hair went up in flames landed with a bit of a thud, still the Diet Coke ad that immediately followed on my broadcast made me laugh out loud. Now, I had a feeling James was going to do “Saturday Night’s All Right For Fighting” because it’s a natural rocker for him. And he is, after all, rocking a Mohawk, not to mention his David Lee Roth-like mid-air split and the piano which bursts into flames! It all works up to his trademark wail. Steven says it was “beautiful,” Jennifer forgets she’s at a competition, and Randy loves that James enjoys himself. It’s another winning week!   Onto the other James, or Jimmy (Iovine), who advises Thia Megea against a High School Musical-type performance. She chooses “Daniel,” which she dedicates to her brother and the song sounds lovely (I highly recommend the Wilson Phillips cover, if you haven’t heard) -- it showcases her voice, which is strong and accomplished. The problem is it’s yet another ballad sung by a girl tonight. Will it split the votes? Thia was in the bottom 3 last week and Idol history has a tendency to repeat itself.    But hopefully it won’t with Casey Abrams, who got some serious grooming for show night. And after all of that primping? He looks pretty much the same. Still, you have to give Casey props for handling all of last week’s drama. He chooses “Your Song,” and finally delivers a song that really does him justice. While he goes off-pitch ever so slightly towards the end, and the growl is still there, overall, it’s a sweet, soulful offering, and good for him! Randy says the performance is nice and tender, Steven assured that the best decision the show made was to keep Casey around and applauds the versatility in his voice. Jennifer agrees, saying the decision to save Casey didn’t cost her a minute of sleep.   Next up is Jacob Lusk, who, as usual, hypnotizes us all with his dramatic vocals. On Elton John’s “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word,” Jacob is warned by Jimmy and producer Tricky Stewart against being overly dramatic (he also gets to meet Mary J. Blige, whom he associates the song), but it’s in Jacob’s nature and he performs the song with teary eyes. Jacob is begging us to love him, and Randy does, but seems to think he still needs to find his “Jacob” spot. Whatever that means.   Last on Elton John night is Haley Reinhart, who sings the song which lying on the piano a la Michelle Pfeiffer in The Fabulous Baker Boys. She proceeds to growl “Bennie and the Jets,” as channeled thru Blu Cantrell, and my seven-year-old doesn’t get why she’s doing the song with so much “attitude.” Jennifer, on the other hand, loves it -- the voice, the moves, the confidence – while Randy declares it the best performance of the night, and Steven says she sings sexy. It was an interesting and entertaining finale, no doubt.    So who’s in trouble tonight? I’m not sure Stefano or Thia did enough to stay out of the bottom 3, and Naima may have a stool with her name on it. Paul, too, may be smiling himself off the stage. After all, two people are out this week. What do you think?