21 Under 21: Scotty McCreery (2011)
Scotty and the rest of the Top 4 pose with Lady Gaga after receiving advice from the pop star

"You never know what to expect from Lady Gaga." That was James Durbin -- tonight's opener and closer on "American Idol" top 4 performance night -- admitting that he was a little bit anxious before meeting the round two mentor, the Mother Monster herself. Gaga certainly didn't disappoint in the expectation-defying department. She rocked outrageous makeup and lucite heels, forcibly swiveled James' hips, Elvis Presley style, and encouraged the remaining "Idol" hopefuls to get in touch with their naughty/silly/campy streaks.

But since we're in the home stretch now -- only two weeks of "Idol" season 10 left, if you can believe it -- Lauren Alaina, James Durbin, Scotty McCreery and Haley Reinhart aren't easily diverted from their creative paths. They're "in it to win it," to quote Randy "Cliche" Jackson, and they're each pretty confident that only they know how to get themselves there. Some are too confident (Haley and James), while others are inching towards just the right amount (Lauren). Then there's the guy who figured it out a long time ago. If Scotty McCreery doesn't win "Idol," it'll be a straight-up miracle. But let's just pretend it's still a toss-up and see how the Final Four stacked up tonight, shall we?

1) Lauren Alaina
Song: Martina McBride, "Anyway"

Steven said: "Your voice is so pure and perfect and right on pitch, and you just deliver a song like a blue plate special. And I'm in love with the buckles on your shoes."

Jennifer said: "I really do feel like you're listening to what we're telling you. We may seem tough at times, but it's all about helping you get there to that last moment."

Randy said: "America, Lauren is back in it to win it! That was hot…amazing, and a great time to do it."

We say: This may very well be the closest that we Lauren Alaina fans will ever get to a "moment," and I'll take it. Lauren was pitch-perfect -- she seems to be so without even trying -- and much more confident than she was during last week's disappointing "Unchained Melody" cover. It was brutal to watch her come undone when she was on the brink of elimination, but with her mettle tested, she clearly sang for her life tonight and proved that she deserves to be in not just the Top 3, but the Top 2. Scotty and Lauren for the "Idol" finale, y'all -- look out Durbinators, it can happen!

2) Scotty McCreery
Song: Alan Jackson, "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)"

Steven said: "I saw you almost lose it in the middle because of your passion for what you were singing about. That's real important, I see it in your eyes right now. You keep that up."

Jennifer said: "I'm in love with you. I can't help it…I can tell that you know who you are. I can tell you know what touches other people. And that is just, it's the mark of really somebody who was meant to do this."

Randy said: "Dude, I think it's the perfect song choice for where we are now as a country. I applaud you for that, big time, heart to heart."

We say: An impeccable, shrewd song choice for Scotty McCreery, who at this point seems to be aging two years each week that this competition goes on. (Is he seriously singing about when he "was young" now?) Watching his performance tonight, a friend commented to me, "He's even got that thousand-yard stare down," and it's true. I wouldn't even necessarily say that Scotty is in it to "win it" anymore -- maybe he, like me, suspects he doesn't even need to worry about that short-term goal. He knows the future is bright for him no matter what. So why not keep building his fanbase for a sound career while he's still got millions of eyeballs on him?

3) Haley Reinhart
Song: "I Who Have Nothing"

Steven said: "This was a classic moment with classic Haley -- you just Reinharted yourself into the middle of next week."

Jennifer said: "Look what you're capable of! We will never take it easy on you, because you're that amazing."

Randy said: "We were hard on you before, but what you did is you came back…baby, you just had a moment right here which put you in it to win it! Yo! Haley! This is what's going down."

We say: Haley Reinhart was throwing so much sass at the judges after her first round debacle that I had to break out the New Edition reference on Twitter ("Girl you've got to cool it now…ooh, watch out! You're gonna lose control.") But for the second round, no doubt buoyed by her animosity towards Randy and the encouragement of Gaga, Haley pulled herself out of the wreckage with a vastly improved performance. While unfortunately she didn't take Gaga's advice to "get a little psycho" with the number, I liked this even better than last week's celebrated and overwrought performance of the Animals' "House of the Rising Sun." Say what you will about Haley's likability, but no one is more "in it to win it" in the classic sense of the term.

4) Lauren Alaina
Song: Elvis Presley, "Trouble"

Steven said: "That was well done…there's the character that came out again. And I just love you."

Jennifer said: "I saw a performance quality in you when you came out of…that screen in the back that I had not seen in you before…it was total attack, and it was really, really good."

Randy said: "Like we were saying to Scotty earlier, we saw a fun side of you…it's definitely kind of out of your typical, like, pop country kind of thing, and I actually really enjoyed it."

We say: Jennifer and I saw exactly the same thing in Lauren when she first walked onstage (and I can't lie, anything that makes me feel a kinship with J.Lo is pretty awesome). This is a sassier, better Lauren than the girl from last week, the week before that, and the week before THAT. It's too bad she wasn't in the bottom three sooner, because just think what may have been if she'd felt this kind of urgency sooner. Yes, it started to get a little sloppy in the end, and up-tempos just haven't seemed to work for anyone whose name isn't James Durbin this season. But thanks to her newfound swagger, Lauren emerged from tonight's episode with the highest cumulative score of her fellow hopefuls.

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

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