"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?
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.
5) James Durbin Song: "Love Potion No. 9"
Steven said: "What you can't do with your voice, you did tonight."
Jennifer said: "You know what that showed me James. that you can sing anything. 'Cause I wasn't sure about that song for you, I'm gonna be honest…but you just told me that I was absolutely wrong."
Randy said: "You're peaking at the right time, dude. You're having a moment every single week and I love it."
We say: If you have time to watch this back, just listen to the note that James sings before the guitar mini-interlude (0:59). This thing is all kinds of off, and it continues to shock me how much more leeway James is given than his fellow competitors, like Haley Reinhart. It's even more shocking to realize that James has been granted the "Idol" pimp spot not once, not twice, but three times -- and FOUR times, if you count his duet with Jacob Lusk (I won't, because I have mentally blocked it out).
6) Scotty McCreery Song: The Coasters, "Young Blood"
Steven said: "Dude, you made Gaga's yaya go la-la. How could you do that?"
Jennifer said: "It seems like you really hit your stride right now, and now it's about the sprint kind of to the finish line."
Randy said: "You were actually having fun with Gaga. You're like a seasoned professional on this show now, dude."
We say: Scotty said of meeting Gaga, "I don't think I was prepared for how interesting it was." I'm going to venture a guess that he meant "interesting" in a bad way, and I could easily say the same about this performance. I didn't quite what to say about it Twitter, and I still don't. I actually really like the song "Young Blood" -- but what in the world is it doing on an "American Idol" playlist? The main problem, though, was Scotty's eyes… so transfixing, and so creepy. So, so creepy. Scotty should probably stop doing the funny thing until he really figures it out… in front of a mirror, just like Jacob Lusk would want.
7) James Durbin Song: Journey, "Don't Stop Believin'"
Steven said: "You did it right, man. You couldn't have picked a more popular song right now…nice going."
Jennifer said: "It's so great to kind of listen to you and then to hear you go into your upper register…it's amazing, everybody can't do that."
Randy said: "I don't know what else is gonna go on tonight, but that was the highest degree of difficulty, and you did it!"
We say: James gamely acknowledged that he slipped up last week and told Ryan Seacrest that he was hoping to get back in the swing of things tonight. While nothing pleases a crowd like Journey, his voice once again faltered, veering even more off-key than usual. Granted, Steve Perry's shoes are some of the toughest to fill in music -- but James probably should have realized it wasn't working before he took it live. Of course, the judges -- and the studio audience, which is equally at fault for the Durbinator-lovefest at this point -- gave him a pass as usual. Randy never really takes "degree of difficulty" into account when a female "Idol" hopeful covers Mariah or Whitney, now does he? Yeah, didn't think so.
8) Haley Reinhart Song: Michael Jackson, "The Earth Song"
Steven said: "That song showed me that you can. It wasn't a hit song but you sang it, you nailed it."
Jennifer said: "That song has a beautiful message, no doubt, but I want you to be thinking about (what everybody else is doing) when choosing. That's part of competing."
Randy said: "Just keeping it really real…it confused me with who you are as an artist. It felt like to me you were screaming; you were at the top of your range."
We say: "Earth Song" is now Haley's version of Lauren's "Unchained Melody" -- both women chose those songs for personal reasons, not strategic ones, and ultimately ended up suffering for that bias. As is her wont, Haley laid the drama on thick from the start, turning one of MJ's grimmest songs (sorry, but it's true) even grimmer. After really seeming to hone her identity last week with "House of the Rising Sun," this was a real step backwards for Haley -- and her reaction when the judges critiqued her made it infinitely worse.
Final verdict: It's a tight race right now, and there's no room for error -- that is, unless your names is James Durbin. In that case, feel free to mess up all you want! As for Haley, her 'tude will cost her a ticket back to her hometown. That's my prediction and I'm sticking to it.
What do you think? Will Haley be sent packing tomorrow? If not, who's your pick? Is James Durbin getting too many passes? Was Scotty's "Young Blood" number totally weird, or was it just me? Let me know in the comments!