'American Idol': Paul McDonald Goes Crazy for Johnny Cash on Rock Night

'American Idol': Paul McDonald Goes Crazy for Johnny Cash on Rock Night

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.

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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.

Next: Jacob Takes on MJ, We 'Weep' For James Durbin, And More

6) Jacob Lusk
Song: Michael Jackson, "Man in the Mirror"

Steven said: "Every time you sing you bring another piece of yourself to the party, and I love that about you."

Jennifer said: "You make everybody know that if you believe in yourself and you stick to what feels right for you, you can do anything this world. That's what you do when you sing."

Randy said: "I'm so proud of you…There were moments all over that. that was hot!

We say: Kudos to Jacob Lusk for singing a song that he believes in, but "Man in the Mirror" just wasn't rock 'n' roll enough to match everyone else's energy on this night. What's more, it's the song that first won over Kris Allen fans, and Jacob didn't turn it into that kind of moment. Like Pia, Jacob is safe for now, but his sameness could start to wear on fans if he doesn't switch it up soon.

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7) Stefano Langone
Song: Percy Sledge, "When a Man Loves a Man"

Steven said: "I liked that..you got a great range to your voice, you know, it's beautiful. Keep playing with that."

Jennifer said: "I knew you had it in you! that was beautiful. That had another layer of emotion to it."

Randy said: "I don't know if i was jumping up and down…take your time before you jump in with the quick kind of R&B phrasing. Sometimes you don't need to counterpunch when you sing. you can just let it marinate it for a second, then counterpunch at the end."

We say: More unlikely wise words from Randy here: Stefano Langone hasn't grasped the subtle moves and crowd-command that a really riveting performance requires, and no tricky vocal run can hide it now. He didn't take will.i.am's (also unlikely) good advice and come out with a powerful, attention-grabbing intro, and I wonder if it's because he just doesn't believe he can pull it off. Stefano did his best, but I think he's gone just about as far as he can go on "Idol." Also: that falsetto! Yikes.

8) Casey Abrams
Song: Creedence Clearwater Revival, "Have You Ever Seen the Rain"

Steven said: "The whole world's watching you because you're not just a singer, man, you're a true musician."

Jennifer said: "That's exactly where you belong. Right there, with your bass. I'm paying top dollar to be in the front row."

Randy said: "Casey is making the upright bass cool, y'all! It's like, wow. Upright bass is not meant for just polkas, or jazz, or country or bluegrass. You've put it in popular music, dude. This is revolutionary. Casey is revolutionary!"

We say: In one stroke, Randy undid all the good will he earned tonight. Casey Abrams is no revolutionary. He is loungey, pitchy, and outstaying his welcome. Also: that falsetto! Yikes.


9) James Durbin
Song: George Harrison, "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"

Steven said: "It's really good to see that not only did your guitar gently weep, but you did as well. That's really a proud moment for you."

Jennifer said: "It's nice to see that other side of you…I loved it, I thought it was a great choice for you."

Randy said: "I loved seeing the emotional, the really true and emotional side of James Durbin. to see you be that sensitive and engaged and emotionally connect with that lyrics.

We say: I feel bad saying this, because James Durbin so clearly felt what he was singing, and so many of his fellow contestants don't…but tonight he just didn't cut it. By going the understated route, James revealed his vocal weaknesses and probably debunked the Adam Lambert comparisons that have done him more good than harm so far. Remember Adam's "Mad World?" Of course you do. Will you remember James' "Guitar Gently Weeps"? Highly doubtful.

Final prediction: I'm going to go out on a limb here and predict that James Durbin is going home. Paul can thank his lucky stars, and Stefano and Casey will make it through by the skin of their teeth because they didn't bomb -- and because voters so far haven't consistently disliked any one guy in particular. James, however, went completely out of his strong suit and will most likely pay for it.

What were your favorite and least favorite "Idol" performances of rock 'n' roll night? Share your picks in the comments.