When Garner's Scotty McCreery heard this was going to be "Motown Week" on "American Idol," he acknowledged that his first thought was, "Lord knows, what am I going to do with this?" What he did was a version of Stevie Wonder's "For Once In My Life" with a strong dose of twang in it. All in all, it worked better than you might expect.
Scotty strayed a good bit from his trademark low notes, and this was a much more up-tempo performance than he has given so far. (Leading to a few pointing gestures that were almost cheesy. Scotty said in the intro to his performance that "the last thing I want to do is come across as a lounge singer.")
Judge Steven Tyler called it "beautiful" and compared Scotty to Glen Campbell. (We guess that was a compliment.) Jennifer Lopez said it was a great version of the song that Scotty -- Warning: "Idol" cliche alert! -- "made his own." Randy Jackson said it probably wasn't Scotty's best song but that he came across as "a young lady killer."
In a taped bit, Scotty also had a killer basketball shot from the balcony of the "Idol" mansion to a hoop below.
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The best of the rest:
--Jacob Lusk, who has never met a note he didn't want to oversing, performed Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell's "You're All I Need To Get By." "Idol" mentor Jimmy Iovine told Jacob not to overuse the theatrics, but to save them for "when it's justified." For the most part, Jacob did tone down the histrionics (until his squeal at the end). It was his best performance by far, though keeping his voice in check seemed to spotlight his diva-esque hand motions and other preening. You could almost see him doing a Diana Ross drag show if this whole "Idol" thing doesn't work out. As usual, the judges are absolutely effusive in their praise. (We probably could have done without judge Steven running on stage to congratulate Jacob or host Ryan Seacrest inviting all the women on the front row to come up and hug Jacob.)
--Like Scotty, Lauren Alaina has such a strong country style that singing Motown was an iffy proposition. Luckily, her version of the Supremes' "You Keep Me Hangin' On" put such fears to rest. She started out slow, then revved up on the medley, bringing lots of attitude and even a little twang. Randy noted that Lauren "got her swagger on." (The zebra-print dress certainly helped.) All in all, it was Lauren's best performance in weeks.
--Paul McDonald sang Smokey Robinson's "The Tracks of My Tears" in his usual gravelly voice. Paul is distinctive -- and not always in a good way. But the folk rock version really worked for him. And he gets bonus points for not doing his goofy dance across the stage this week. Maybe he should carry a guitar every week. The judges are complimentary.
--After a rocky performance (and bottom three appearance) last week, Naima Adedapo opted for an African-influenced take on Martha and the Vandellas' "Dancing In the Streets." She sounded good, even adding an extra shout out to her Milwaukee home in the middle. And she ended with a flashy bit of African dancing. The judges loved with, with Steven saying Naima is "the whole package" and JLo adding that the performance gave her goosebumps.
--Pia Toscano, who has perhaps the strongest overall voice in the competition, also sang Stevie Wonder: "All In Love Is Fair." No surprise that she was very good. Also no surprise -- that she was standing still and singing a big ole power ballad. The judges noted that Pia really needs to shake things up a bit.
--Casey Abrams, fresh from his screechy version of Nirvana last week, tackled Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through the Grapevine." With his slicked-back "Werewolf of Detroit" hairstyle, Casey added his usual growl and goofy faces to the performance. It was OK, though sometimes Casey comes across as Will Ferrell or Jack Black playing a singer rather than as an actual artist himself. The judges like that he is an original. Which he certainly is.
--After the past two weeks in the bottom three, Haley Reinhart clearly had something to prove this week. She took on "You've Really Got a Hold on Me" by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and she gave it her all. Haley looked great, and she stomped and growled in her bluesy way all over the stage. Hey, if she's going to be in the bottom three this week, at least she's going down swinging. Randy said the Haley the judges fell in love early in the auditions "came roaring back" this week. Steven also loved it and noted that Haley "doesn't look a day over fabulous." (Yo, Steven, she's still too young for you! And your daughter Liv is in the audience tonight!)
--After three weeks of snoozy ballads, 16-year-old Thia Megia went up tempo this week with "Heatwave" by Martha and the Vandellas. It was nice that she didn't bore us this week, but her voice seemed to come and go throughout the song. The whole effect was a bit like the a high school freshman trying out for the lead part in the glee club. The judges appreciated that she did something different, but they want her to "dig deeper." (In other words, "sing better.")
--Self-proclaimed rocker James Durbin sang Stevie Wonder's "Just Enough For the City" in the final spot of the night, and the crowd was expecting big things. But the overall performance was a bit of a letdown. There were good parts, and Jennifer and Steven liked it. But Randy wisely noted that it took James a long time to get in the groove.
--Stefano Langone, who was the best singer last week, made a misstep in picking Lionel RIchie's "Hello." He seemed bored with the song himself, so how were we supposed to react? The judges were all in agreement (correctly) that Stefano didn't seem to connect to the song at all.
Thursday night, one of the 11 will be sent home. (I predict Haley, Thia and Stefano in the bottom three.)
The Town of Garner plans a big "Idol" viewing party from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday at Garner Historic Auditorium at 742 W. Garner Road. It will include food samples from Lowes Foods, Chick-fil-A, Little Caesar's and Taco Bell, plus "guitar crafts" from Discount School Supplies.
The results show airs at 8 p.m. Thursday on Fox.