When the 11 “American Idol” finalists were asked to pick Elton John songs to perform this week, Garner's Scotty McCreery quickly honed in on the only Sir Elton song with “country” in the title: the somewhat obscure “Country Comfort.”
The first singer of the night, Scotty brought his new guitar, which he christened “Scarlet,” to the stage for the song. It was one of his usual assured country performances. Scotty even managed to include a mid-song shout out to his grandmother -- "Love ya, Grandma!" She was in the audience this week.
Also as usual, the judges praised it. Steven Tyler said he loved “everything” about Scotty’s voice. Jennifer Lopez lauded Scotty’s “amazing instincts,” and Randy Jackson said Scotty continues to grow. Jimmy Iovine, the “Idol” music mentor, said some may call Scotty a one-trick pony, but “it’s one of the best tricks I’ve ever seen.”
In this week's intro to the songs, Scotty and the other finalists were shown taking part in a fashion photo shoot. Scotty declared the modeling fun, but added, "in my heart I'll always be a North Carolina boy."
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The best of the rest:
--Pia Toscano, she of the big power ballad every week, sang -- wait for it! -- a big power ballad, "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me." There was much discussion beforehand about how Randy encouraged Pia last week to shake things up with more up-tempo selections. But she went with a ballad anyway, and she was really good. Randy flip-flopped between questioning Pia's choice and telling her how she was so great she "slayed" it. Jennifer and Steven loved it unquestionably. If only Pia would actually move around a little bit from time to time.
--Casey Abrams, saved by the judges after getting the fewest viewer votes last week, went for an image makeover before singing "Your Song." He visited the barber to trim some of his trademark Yukon Cornelius/Fozzie Bear facial hair. Casey also seemed to shave away some of his most annoying quirks and tics. His quiet performance was quite effective, and the judges loved it. They alternately praised him while patting themselves on the back for saving him.
--Jacob Lusk, who wisely toned down his histrionics last week, sang "Sorry Seems To Be the Hardest Word" -- a song he said he first heard sung by Mary J. Blige. (A set-up for a surprise appearance by Mary J. in the studio where Jacob was practicing.) Iovine warned Jacob not to overdramatize the song. "That's where Jacob gets into trouble," he said. (I'm liking this Jimmy dude better all the time.) Despite the spooky, fog-machine atmospherics, Jacob didn't go over the top. He gave a strong performance that nicely showed off his voice. The judges liked it, though Randy told Jacob to find one spot in each song to really but some emotion in. (No, Randy! No! No! No!)
--the night's most predictable song choice award goes to James Durbin. Of course this season's resident rocker picked "Saturday Night's All Right For Fighting." He strutted and jumped across the stage, into the audience and even on top of a piano. (Which caught on fire!) And it all actually worked. Unlike, say, Pia, James is certainly full of energy. The judges felt like James was in his zone, and they loved it.
--Haley Reinhart sang "Bennie and the Jets" in a performance that was truly all over the place -- part growling sex kitten atop the piano, part arm-waving cheerleader, part shrieking alt-rocker. It was frenetic, but fun. Still, the judges raved a bit too much about it, with Randy calling it the night's best performance. (Not quite.)
--Lauren Alaina put a little twang into "Candle In the Wind" -- easily the most oversung of any Elton song. Not the best choice, but Lauren's perfomance was good. Not great, but good. The judges way overpraised this one, too, with Randy calling it "very, very hot" and Steven saying it was "just the right song." No, Steven. Just ... no.
--Stefano Langone, who found himself in the bottom two last week, tackled "Tiny Dancer," which Iovine worried could be a bad idea. But Stefano was, surprisingly, not bad at all. Randy noted that Stefano was especially good on the song's high notes.
--Adventerous Naima Adedapo went out on another limb this week, turning "I'm Still Standin'" into a reggae song. Her creativity was certainly inspired, but the performance itself was lackluster. Like something you may hear on the Lido Deck of the Love Boat. Jennifer said the idea was much better than the payoff. Randy liked it even less, calling it "corny."
--Paul McDonald applied his gravely voice to a boring, out-of-tune version of "Rocket Man." The judges don't love it. JLo wondered if Paul is holding back. Steven resorted to talking about Paul's flashy floral suit. (A nod to Sir Elton, of course.)
--Young Thia Megia was way out of her element with her version of "Daniel." Iovine told her to really concentrate and connect with the lyrics, but Thia came across as a bit robotic. Jennifer thought it was beautiful, but Randy said it was a "very safe" choice that had some pitch problems.
Two finalists will be sent home on Thursday night’s live results show, at 8 p.m. on Fox. Garner is planning two “Idol” viewing parties Thursday from 7 to 9 p.m. One will be at Garner Historic Auditorium and the other at Avery Street Recreation Center.
My guess on who will go home? Naima and Thia.