Performance That Never Should Have Happened
Stefano, Paul, Casey & James, "Band on the Run"
Note to producers: just because Stefano, Paul, Casey and James all happened to play instruments doesn't mean that they should have ever -- ever -- slapped together a band and covered Paul McCartney. This was more than a strange juxtaposition of voices that don't mesh well -- it was a downright atrocity, from Stefano Langone jamming on the keys (really?!) right down to Casey James' channeling Paul Rudd's bass-slappin' cheeseball dance "moves."
Most Contagious Tears
After getting to know James Durbin from his audition to his fourth place finish, awarding the rocker this distinction seems none too surprising. No contestant let his emotions flow more freely: consider his emotional performance of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" ("That song was for my family," he explained after), his rendition of "Without You," and finally his emotions following his elimination, which clearly affected his farewell performance. When all was said and done, James' tear ducts were just about as impressive as his pipes.
Most Overrated Performance
Casey Abrams, "Nature Boy"
Was Casey Abrams' bass-playing on Nat King Cole's "Nature Boy" refreshingly unconventional for "Idol"? Sure. Was it worthy of comparison to legendary jazzman Charles Mingus? Uh, no. Charles Mingus' compositions and papers are in the Library of Congress -- we don't know about you, but we suspect Casey Abrams' music won't be there anytime soon. In one fell swoop, Randy undermined any improvement he made as a judge this season (were he still sitting on the panel, we're pretty sure Simon Cowell would have spit out a mouthful of Coca-Cola on live TV) and set up expectations that Casey couldn't possibly meet.
Most Underrated Peformance
Lauren Alaina, "Unchained Melody"
Lauren Alaina didn't receive an overwhelming amount of support from the judges after performing "Unchained Melody" in the Top 5 performance episode, and ended up in the bottom two the following night. Looking back, the singer's take on the classic track was one of her most understated yet overall strongest performances of her run to the finals: she removed herself from her country wheelhouse and offered an effortless tenderness. Lauren's "Melody" was not a near-disastrous misstep, but in fact, a gorgeous change of pace.