It’s movie song night on “American Idol,” but the opening is pretty darn ominous – a black screen with words “Every Vote Counts. No One Is Safe.”
Cut to Obama? No! It’s Pia Toscano – last weeks’ ousted Idolette and we have to re-live that shock and horror as if the show’s executive producer Nigel Lythgoe hadn’t called her boring afterwards and said she was never a frontrunner in this competition.
Judge Randy Jackson has brought his “Harry Potter” Hogwarts school uniform out of mothballs for the occasion. Judge Jennifer Lopez has snuck her little white purse dog into work by gluing it to the hem of her sparkly dress. Judge Steven Tyler has borrowed one of Seinfeld’s pirate shirts from the Smithsonian.
Show host Ryan Seacrest says he hates to embarrass JLo but – she’s been named most beautiful woman in the world by People Magazine! Can we be embarrassed for her? Can we be embarrassed for People magazine? Sure she’s pretty -- but she’s no Pia.
It’s Paul time! The taped bit shows McDonald’s coaching session with Will.i.am and Jimmy Iovine -- the odd couple of “American Idol.” Since Paul is going to sing “Old Time Rock and Roll,” as heard in the movie “Risky Business,” Will.o.vine argue in re whether Paul should come sliding out in his tighty whities, a la Tom Cruise. Or maybe do a beatbox interlude?
Paul ignores all their advice and comes out on stage in another of his embroidered mariachi band suits – this one black. He’s guitarless -- that’s the bad news. But, he has a much better prop: a hot blonde chick sax player who considerably perks up the second half of Paul’s feel-good-enough number.
When it’s over Tyler asks the question we all are wondering: “Forget about it. Who’s your sax player?” Paul doesn’t know. Major point reduction for Paul. Blind Justice -- aka Tyler, JLo and Randy – see nothing negative about him whatsoever.
Lauren Alaina will sing “The Climb” from Miley Cyrus’s “Hannah Montana: the Movie,” and we start the “mentor shoot,” as Lauren calls it, with Iovine telling her “you’re a much stronger singer than Miley Cyrus.” Lauren seems taken aback -- because she, like we, can almost hear the Twitter campaign against her starting among crazed Miley fangirls.
Jimmy tells Lauren about the facts of life in the music biz. There are “a whole slew of Pia fans…with this song you can take those fans and take those votes,” he explains.
“Snatch ‘em up!” adds Will.i.am.
“I know that’s a little cold – but you’ve got to think like that,” Iovine says as Lauren cringes.
“Put them in the bag!” echoes Will.i.am.
“You love Pia, you miss her. I saw you crying. Okay, ‘How do I get her votes?’” Iovine continues.
“Don’t steal them, invite them – make cupcakes,” Will.i.am disagrees.
“Okay – semantics,” Iovine grumbles.
These guys are the Felix and Oscar of “Idol”; next they’ll be arguing over whose turn it is to clean up the studio.
Anyway, Lauren’s performance is absolutely no threat to Miley. She’s pitchy, and lacks energy, though she picks up steam at the end. There’s nothing here to pull in the Pia electorate – a group we suspect Tyler nailed when he described them as guys drooling into their beers in bars.
Anway, the Justice is Blind trio have nothing but praise for Lauren, though we did we hear a note of apprehension in JLo when she says she thinks Lauren “can go further.”
Stefano’s got survivor’s guilt in a big way, having been the other half of the Bottom 2 last week when Pia got whacked. The producers show us the ghost of Pia one more time; it’s like “Hamlet” Night on “American Idol.”
Anyway, Jim.i.am give Stefano a major locker room pep talk: ”You got the chops to do it,” blah, blah, blah. Stefano is going to sing “End of the Road,” the Boyz II Men number used in the Eddie Murphy movie “Boomerang.” If there was a night for Stefano to just decide “Oh, what the [American Idol Logo]!” this was it -- but this performance wasn’t it. It was Stefano being consistent. Stefano is the Guy Pia -- always the same, but without her looks, and look where that got her. The Justice Is Blind gang rave on about how Stefano is in it to win it.
“Did you just call me ‘dude?” Iovine asks incredulously when Scotty McCreery does just that during rehearsal. Iovine’s not happy because he wanted Scotty to sing “Everybody’s Talking at Me” but instead Scotty goes with “I Cross My Heart,” the George Strait tune from the movie “Pure Country.”
Scotty’s performance is okay, but he’s George Strait in a half-gallon hat. He’s George Strait driving something imported. He’s George Strait drinking a bottle of Smart Water. The thing about the big country singers is that their voices are bigger than life, and Scotty’s is life-sized.
The judges are now down to admitting they’d rather gouge their eyes out than give pointers. “Everybody wants us to be tough with you guys,“ says J.Lo. “But the truth is you’re so damn good!” Anyway what pointers could she give him. Go gargle with whiskey? He’s 17 for goodness sake! Tell you what we’d like to see -- Will.o.vine giving Scotty “The King’s Speech” treatment! Make him cuss out loud, durn it!
Casey Abrams: Not in it to win it! Casey wants to do Nat King Cole’s ethereal and jazzy “Nature Boy,” but Jim.i.am tries to talk him into doing the safe Phil Collins pop song “In the Air Tonight.”
But Casey turns out to be braver than all the Idolettes, the Mentors and Judges put together and he’s going to go ahead with “Nature Boy.” Casey hits the stage with his bass and a guy at the piano. This is historic, ladies and gentlemen -- the first career suicide in “Idol” history, right here, right now. It’s a quirky song to start with, and Casey is making it stranger with his growl and then having to actually clear his throat. But the performance builds with this kind of fascinating energy that’s partly about the sheer nose-thumbing of it all. Casey actually breaks to do a little instrumental scat interlude with the pianist then brings it home.
Casey just sang himself off the show unless there’s some sort of hipster hack attack on the AT&T system and all those texts get diverted to China. Casey is in fact the kind of artist the judges are always yakking about. “It makes me proud to sit here and judge artists as well as pop stars,” Randy coos. “The world cannot live by pop stars alone.”
Haley is doing Debbie Harry’s “Call Me,” from the movie “American Gigolo,” and it’s a good choice because it’s a high energy, top of the voice, pop-star kind of turn which seems like a good career move for her. She hits the stage in a dazzling, short, body-hugging sequined dress and tall suede boots (hello, Pia fans!). Now that’s career growth.
But not for the judges, who seem to have shamed themselves into saying something critical. They’ve apparently decided she’s the wounded animal in the pack so it’s okay to go after her. Randy dusts off the old “karaoke” knock and says the number didn’t showcase her voice. He throws it to Tyler who starts off dutifully with “I agree,” but the more he looks at Haley, the more he loses his train of thought, and can’t stop himself from saying “that thing you’ve got on is gorgeous” and concludes with “here’s to looking up your old ad-dress!” to which she incongruously says thank you. JLo says she will “agree more with Randy” but “I’m so afraid to say anything about the girls because I don’t want any of the girls to go home.”
(There are only two chicks left in this competition because, as we’ve noted before, “Idol” voters have developed a definite anti-chick prejudice over the past few seasons.)
Iovine calls out Jacob Lusk for preaching to people last week when he told America if he wound up in the Bottom 3 it would be because they refused to look in their mirrors. “You gonna preach to 24 million people and you ain’t put out a record yet?!” Iovine barks. “Don’t preach to people!”
Then Jacob tells Felix and Oscar that this week he’s going to sing either “The Impossible Dream” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Will.o.vine, who are now pretty much finishing each other’s sentences, proceed to lay a bunch of jokes with the word “corn” on him. Their song choice for Jacob: “ Bridge Over Troubled Water,” which apparently played in the Will Smith movie “The Pursuit of Happyness.”
“I love this song,” Jacob says morosely on tape. But when he hits the stage it becomes clear that Jim.i.am have just saved Jacob’s “Idol” career. He’s wearing a suit -- no more gut-revealing T-shirts -- and during his last three notes you think he’s going to run out of breath, but he doesn’t. The judges can’t say enough good about his performance. And Jacob finishes up in his call-text moment with Seacrest, with some lines about how he was inspired by his family, his friends and “a greater power,” which should pretty much seal the deal for many in the audience and keep him well away from the Stools of Doom on Thursday night.
James “Legend In His Own Mind” Durbin is going to do the Sammy Hagar headbanging number from the movie “Heavy Metal” and, after successfully ignoring the advice of the mentors last week is bent on ignoring them again this week. “I know what’s best for myself as an artist” he smugly tells Iovine, leaving him sputtering.
Guitarist Zakk Wylde as a sideman gets as much camera time as James. Well, it’s metal all right, meaning the singing blends into the general din and we get why Iovine was warning him off metal in a singing competition. We’ve got to believe that “Idol’ is the least cred-inducing springboard possible for a metal career. If he’d swallowed a bat on stage, sure, but as wild as it got was James jumping up on the judges’ table