Scotty McCreery shows some 'American Idol' swagger

After displaying his flair with country ballads often this season, Scotty McCreery showed off his rocking country attitude Wednesday night. Contestants had to sing one current song and one from the 1960s. Scotty picked Montgomery Gentry’s “Gone” for his contemporary number, and had a blast with it.

Scotty started out performing among the audience. He then made his way to the stage before leaping toward the judges’ table. Scotty said it was the most fun he has had onstage in a long time. It showed.

The judges loved it. “That is some ‘American Idol’ stuff right there,” Jennifer Lopez gushed. “Who knew that you could rock the stage like that?” Randy Jackson said. And Steven Tyler said the usually straight-laced Scotty danced “with the devil” – which Steven termed a good thing.

For his older song, Scotty picked the Elvis Presley version of "Always On My Mind." (The boy loves him some Elvis.) It was a well-done version of the song, and Scotty didn't have any false notes. Still, it was just a bit of a letdown after the lively, fun "Gone."

The judges praised it, and they liked that Scott showed such range between his two selections. Scotty also got some great reviews from this week's guest mentor, Sheryl Crow. "You've got a big career ahead of you," she told Scotty. Later, she said she can't wait for him to move to Nashville and start a career.

The best of the rest:

* For his classic number, James Durbin picked Harry Nilsson's "Without You." This was such an emotional pick for James, he could barely get through rehearsal without completely breaking down. He said the song reminds him of leaving his family to perform on "Idol." Once on the main stage, James cried a bit, too, but it didn't distract from what was otherwise bravura performance. Jennifer called James a "true, true artist. " After hearing this song, Randy even declared that this is James' "competition to lose" at this point. (Hmmm, some McCreerians may have something to say about that.)

* Haley Reinhart closed the show with The Animals' "House of the Rising Sun" as her 1960s choice. She sang a capella at the beginning of the song, then the backup music kicked in on the chorus. Unfortunately, Haley's tendency to growl rather than sing kicked in then, too. But overall, the performance was a nice one for Haley. Randy pronounced it the best song of the night. (Wait, didn't he just say James was the contestant to beat?) Haley was good, but James' "Without You" and Scotty's "Gone" were better.

* For her contemporary pick, Lauren Alaina sang a song from a previous "Idol" winner – Carrie Underwood's "Flat on the Floor." With all the good Carrie Underwood songs out there, this initially seemed like an odd one to pick. But Lauren made me a believer as she had a boot-stompin' country good time with it. The judges enjoyed it, too. "You ate that up! You want it!" Jennifer noted.

The so-so:

* Haley picked "You and I" by Lady Gaga for her contemporary song choice. There was much discussion from Crow and mentor Jimmy Iovine about how Gaga hasn't even released this song yet. Crow called it a "Super Bowl choice" for Haley. Haley started out sprawled across the stage, but she was soon up and belting the song out. It had her usually bluesy, growling touches, but they seemed to fit this song better than on some of her previous choices. But Jennifer and Randy didn't like that Haley picked an unreleased song. Randy said he doesn't think it is that great of a song anyway.

* For her 1960s song, Lauren selected "Unchained Melody," by the Righteous Brothers, because it's her parents' song. (Wait, didn't she tell us during auditions that Aerosmith's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" was her parents' song? Did Lauren lie to us just to curry favor with Steven?) For "Unchained Melody," Lauren appeared onstage in a long gown and, for a second, we feared a bad pageant girl performance. She was a lot better than that, though it sounded like she messed up the lyrics at one point. (Maybe it was just the shortened, odd arrangement.) Randy said Lauren sang like a bird. Jennifer declared there was, "Nothing to judge. It was a beautiful song, sang beautifully." (Um, Jennifer, if we may interrupt – aren't you getting paid to judge?")

The not-so-good:

* James' contemporary song – "Closer to the Edge" by 30 Seconds to Mars – was off by his usual standards. It started off rough, and he just seemed to be yelling in spots. Of course, the judges were predisposed to like it, because they like James. Randy gave him the usual "James is in it to win it!" bit, while Steven noted that James kicked the song's [rear]."

* Jacob Lusk also took on a song by a previous "Idol" for his modern number -- "No Air" by Season Six champ Jordin Sparks and Chris Brown. Mentor Jimmy noted that Jacob had his work cut out for him because he was going to be singing both parts of the duet. (Yikes! That sounds like a bad idea.) Jacob gave the song an odd Gospel-Diva-Sings-Pop Treatment, and it was just the sort of mess you'd expect. Though Jennifer liked it good enough, Randy thought it was corny and mostly sharp. "I don't see you as Chris Brown or Jordin Sparks," he told Jacob.

* Jacob's older song was Nazareth's "Love Hurts." He said he decided to sing it only after hearing how quietly and tenderly Crow performed it during the mentoring session. Once he took the stage, it was pretty clear that Jacob is no Sheryl Crow. If anything, his performance was even more over the top and melodramatic than "No Air." (Stamping his feet while belting out high notes? Really?) Jacob bobbled a bit in the middle of the song, but the judges all give him a pass on it. Steven called it "a beautiful thing."

The contestant with the lowest viewer votes will be eliminated on Thursday's 8 p.m. live show. (Needless to say, we're picking Jacob to go home.)

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