The tone for this oh-so-strange, rock-themed "American Idol" performance night was set from minute one by Steven Tyler, who kissed his own wax bust in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and alluded, we assume, to smoking purple haze. (After he told the god-awful "Band on the Run" quartet last week that they could open for Aerosmith on tour, it's pretty clear Steven will say anything at this point).
But it was the top 9 who brought the night to a new level of weird, as power-rocker James Durbin chose to go subtle with a George Harrison tune, balladress Pia Toscano tried to channel her, er, wild side with Tina Turner, Paul McDonald went loony with a Johnny Cash cover, and Jacob Lusk… well, he just avoided rocking all together. Here's how they all fared, from best to worst!
1) Paul McDonald
Song: Johnny Cash, "Folsom Prison Blues"
Steven said: "My perfect imperfect boy. I loved it, man. You rocked the house."
Jennifer said: "Right in your lane -- right there! Good job!"
Randy said: "I got three words: I loved it!"
We say: Just when we you thought there was no saving Paul McDonald…woah, boy! Spurred by Jimmy Iovine's order to sing "like you're out of your f***king mind," Paul turned on the crazy for a Johnny Cash classic that he clearly felt right at home singing. Suddenly, Paul shrill tone, herky-jerky dance moves and frazzled hair all came together for a totally charming performance that surely saved him from elimination this week.
2) Scotty McCreery
Song: Elvis Presley, "That's All Right, Mama"
Steven said: "I thought you were all hat and no cattle, but you brought Elvis into the house."
Jennifer said: "I feel a little bit of flavor in there…like you were watching some rap videos. I'm just saying!"
Randy said: "Scotty is in it to win it, y'all. Anybody that thought you were a one trick pony…dude, you can perform. Who's gonna beat him?"
We say: Randy asked the question that's been on our mind all season: who's going to beat Scotty McCreery? No one, if he keeps it up with his good-old-boy charm and brilliant song choices. For a so-called one trick pony, Scotty's quite possibly shown more growth as a performer than anyone this season -- he could definitely teach Pia and Lauren a thing or two about how to prowl onstage! And singing a song by his childhood hero Elvis Presley made the future heartthrob comparisons impossible to ignore. Look for Scotty's recorded version of this song to rack up big download numbers on iTunes.
3) Lauren Alaina
Song: Aretha Franklin, "Natural Woman"
Steven said: "Tonight you are a natural born woman…I love your voice. I think you're great."
Jennifer said: To see you sing an Aretha Franklin song…she's amazing! yes
Randy said: "There were some people on this stage before you in past seasons that really laid it out…but you took a very difficult song and you did a good job, so big props to you on that.
We say: Right again, Randy. (Really!) Kelly Clarkson is still the Queen of singing "Natural Woman" on "American Idol," and of course no one can do it like Aretha. Lauren did her best -- and her best is very good -- but she still seems to lack the inner confidence that will help her deliver a standout performance worthy of a closing pimp spot on "Idol." We know she can do it…but does she?
4) Haley Reinhart
Song: Janis Joplin, "Piece of My Heart"
Steven said: "I couldn't find nothing wrong with that."
Jennifer said: "What you're showing everybody is that you're a contender. They need to be careful with Haley!"
Randy said: "You hit the cool run at the end, I was like yo, look at Haley go! Welcome back, back, back."
We say: For the last couple of weeks, it feels like Haley wants to win "Idol" more than anyone. Her move from underdog to one-to-watch during Elton John Week was impressive, and she with this Janis Joplin number she further proved that she's found her comfort zone, which could finally mean that a few of her male peers are about to get set home. What's holding Haley back now is her lack of real connection to the lyrics. She may be this season's "Janis Joplin"-comparison-earner, but I don't believe she really gets what it means to have a piece of her heart taken, if that makes sense. I need a little more feeling from Haley before I jump on this train!
5) Pia Toscano
Song: Tina Turner, "River Deep, Mountain High"
Steven said: "Murderer! Murderer! You killed it!"
Jennifer said: "Vocally, you proved to us that you can sing an uptempo…you are really, really, really special up there. Keep studying, keep researching, get greater."
Randy said: "All you need to do now is working on the movement."
We say: "Pia's gotta get pissed off tonight," Jimmy Iovine told the cameras, meaning, she needed to turn up the heat in a big way for her Tina Turner cover and first real uptempo performance of the season. Unfortunately, Pia didn't deliver on the energy front -- by the time she reached the last chorus I was completely over this performance -- and what's worse, her notes were shouty and hit-and-miss. As the most technically equipped singer of the season, she's still safe, of course, but Pia still has a lot of work to do to win over her doubters (who are out there). She should start by watching this.