Well, it had to happen. After weeks of winning nothing but praise from the “American Idol” judges, Scotty McCreery got some criticism tonight -- mainly because they thought he needed to stray further from his country comfort zone.
Could that -- along with performing in the dreaded first spot of the night -- land Scotty, left, in the bottom three on Thursday night? Hard to say. The loud boos that Randy Jackson received when he criticized Scotty seems to suggest that the Garner High School student still has many, many fans.
Before each contestant sang this week, producers played clips of the other finalists offering gentle ribbing. For Scotty, his fellow contestants poked fun at the way he holds his microphone and sings out the side of his mouth. Haley Reinhart questioned whether he was a flute player in a past life.
Tonight’s theme was “Songs from the 21st Century,” and Scotty chose LeAnn Rimes’ version of “Swingin’ ” (A bit of a cheat, since the original -- and much better -- version by John Anderson was way before the 21st century.) Scotty clearly had a good time, and he managed to keep most -- but not all -- of his facial expressions from looking too cheesy.
Though Steven Tyler (predictably) said he loved Scotty’s voice, Jennifer Lopez said she was expecting something more from him. She really wants Scotty to push himself.
Randy went further with his comments, saying Scotty’s performance was “so safe ... it was actually kind of boring.” With all the songs Scotty had to choose from, Randy can't believe he settled for "Swingin' " Agreed, Randy. Agreed.
The best of the rest:
--James Durbin’s rocking version of Muse’s “Uprising” (complete with marching drummers) received raves. Jennifer liked the theatricality of the performance, and Steven called it "crazy good." (He also liked James' "Mad Max meets stormtroopers on Melrose" outfit.) In the taped bit, Scotty and the other contestants made fun of James' silly scarf tail, left, and how he bends over backward to hit high notes.
--the always different Casey Abrams, who fellow finalists call "weird" and "unusual," took on "Harder to Breathe" by Maroon 5. Mentor Jimmy Iovine wasn't sure whether Casey's jazzy take would work. (We all remember Casey's odd version of Nirvana.) "He's as stubborn as one of my sons," Iovine said. But Casey's performance (complete with mid-song peck on Jennifer's cheek) was better than expected. The judges loved it -- maybe a bit too much. "Amazing job, dude. Keep taking chances," Randy said. It's unclear exactly what Steven thought. All his comments were bleeped. (Yo Steven, did you know this show is on network television?)
--Haley Reinhart picked the most current song of the night -- Adele's "Rollin' In the Deep." She did her usual growly, bluesy thing -- and it worked very well. Though Randy called it a little sharp, he said, "I think you chose a perfect direction for you." Jennifer said it was even better than Adele in parts. (Um, no.) Still, it was good. The most interesting part of her taped segment was the others making fun of her growling.
--Lauren Alaina, like Scotty, stayed true to her country self, singing Sara Evans' "Born to Fly." It was a fine, though thoroughly unmemorable performance. The judges couldn't work up much enthusiasm for it. Steven wants Lauren, right to sing Alison Krauss, Faith Hill or Shania Twain. (Uh-oh, her last Shania didn't work out that well, if you'll remember.) The best part of Lauren's performance was the taped bit, with the others making fun of her deep Southern accent and her constant talking. "She'll talk your ears off, whether you want to hear it or not," Scotty noted with a grin.
--Stefano Langone was teased by the other contestants as a ladies man. (Jacob Lusk noted that Stefano "will flirt with a piece of paper.") Jimmy the mentor encouraged Stefano to really bring some of that confidence to his version of Ne-Yo's "Closer." Stefano gave it his best shot, dancing all around the stage and trying to prove he was too sexy for the song. Jennifer claimed it had swagger. Still, like Lauren's song, it just wasn't very exciting.
--Jacob Lusk, referred to as a "diva" by the others, brought lots of emotion to his performance of Luther Vandross' "Dance With My Father." Not only did Jacob talk about how his own father died when he was 12, he also mentioned that today would have been the birthday of the late Vandross. Right from the start, Jacob got off track with the song (he later blamed a bad audio in his ear). He recovered for a nice and, for him, fairly restrained performance. The judges all noted the stumble but praised how touching it was. "Emotionally it was a great performance, just vocally ... it didn't make me jump up and down," Randy said. "If you're here next week ... just go for it." Ouch.
And in the Totally Unnecessary Padding to Fill 90 Minutes Department, producers brought back the six finalists already voted off -- Ashthon Jones, Karen Rodriguez, Thia Megia, Naima Adedapo, Pia Toscano and Paul McDonald -- to open the show with Pink's "So What (I'm Still a Rock Star)" The judges raved that the six were so good, America was likely changing its mind about sending them packing. Eh, not really.
My bets for bottom three Thursday night? Stefano, Jacob and Haley.
Want to watch the results show with other Scotty fans? Head to Garner Historic Auditorium at 742 W. Garner Road. The party starts at 7 p.m.