‘American Idol’ Recap: The Top 5 Do Songs from Now and Then

James Durbin American IdolS10E32: For me, last night’s Idol solidified what I’ve been saying all season: that Jacob Lusk is great, but his time has come and James Durbin is profoundly overrated. Unfortunately, it really seems that I might be alone in feeling that way – at least when it comes to James.

Thanks to some rather harsh criticisms from the judges (for once it didn’t seem like they were just sleep walking through the evening) when Haley Reinhart took a giant risk and performed an unreleased Lady Gaga song, I think I’ve figured out why I feel so alienated in my opinions. It’s something that’s always bothered me about American Idol: the majority of voters don’t like contestants or performances when they’re that different. Most people seem to want someone who’s a slightly altered version of the folks they already know and love. That’s why James, who hearkens back to the music of the 80s that so many Americans either still love or look back on with great nostalgia is probably going to win – but that doesn’t mean I have to like it and I’ll spend the next three weeks trying my best to prove to whoever will listen why there are a few much better choices.

Last night, the top five did two songs each – one from the last few years and one from a few decades ago. Here they are in order of who needs to win to those whose time should be up.

Haley Reinhart

“House of the Rising Sun” by The Animals

“You and I” by Lady Gaga

Randy said it, and I’m inclined to agree: Haley’s rendition of “House of the Rising Sun” was the best performance of the night. She truly did something unique with it and it’s actually the perfect type of song for her voice. I can’t say anything negative about it.

This is where I differ from the judges. They railed on Haley for taking the risk of using an unreleased Lady Gaga song. First of all, Jimmy Iovine specifically gave it to her and Gaga herself told the girl to give it a shot. You don’t turn those folks down when something like this comes along. Secondly, if you have to do a song that everyone knows in order to win on Idol, then there’s something wrong with the competition. I loved hearing Haley do a song that I’d never heard. It was a true preview of what sorts of things she’d be doing as a solo artist and that’s something we can’t truly say about any of the other contestants.

Scotty McCreery

“Gone” by Montgomery Gentry

“Always on My Mind” by Elvis Presley

Now, I don’t expect anything more from Scotty than what we already know he can do. We’re basically looking for the best version of himself and as Jimmy Iovine said, he really needs to stop trying to compete with the other contestants and just do his thing. And I think it worked. I’m not a country fan, but his first song was fun and energetic and I can see why folks love him.

I think this Elvis song has become sort of schlocky in recent years thanks to it showing up on commercials and TV shows constantly. Even though that was working against him, Scotty delivered a surprisingly genuine performance of the classic song despite its ubiquity and his young age.

Lauren Alaina

“Flat on the Floor” by Carrie Underwood

“Unchained Melody” by The Righteous Brothers

I’d like to put her higher up, but unfortunately Scotty and Haley are too damn good. Lauren really pulled ahead of her usual fare this week and it was really great to watch. She tapped back into her country-pop sweet spot with Carrie Underwood’s difficult and fast-paced song and it really showed what the girl can do.

I was a bit worried when she picked “the Ghost song,” as many of us know it, but it turns out that it means a great deal to her because it’s her parents’ song. While the 15 year-old may not yet know the feelings described by the tune, she sang beautifully and she drew us in with an uncanny emotional depth as well. Both of her performances were just fantastic.

James Durbin

“Closer to The Edge” by 30 Seconds to Mars

“Without You” by Harry Nilsson

I still don’t think James has a voice to write home about, in fact, last night was probably the worst we’ve heard him sing all season, but since folks seem to like that voice (for some reason) I think that he’s on-point with his song choices. I agree with the judges that the 30 Seconds to Mars song did a great job of situating his 80s voice in contemporary music and that it’s likely the type of music he’ll be recording. I won’t be buying it on iTunes, but I think it suits him well.

Now, this is where it gets tough. On one hand, even though I don’t like listening to the kid sing, I’m not heartless. I know he’s had a rough road getting here and I can imagine he misses his family immensely, so the visible emotion when he sang this song was certainly moving. However, from a musical perspective, it really wasn’t the best performance – and not because there were a few moments where his voice wavered because his emotions got the better of him. Those moments were the best parts of his performance, but like his rendition of “Blackbird” it showed that he’s really not great vocally when he sings ballads and slower songs. I’ve got nothing personal against the guy, I just think we’ve got other better singers and this is first and foremost a singing completion.

Jacob Lusk

“No Air” by Jordin Sparks and Chris Brown

“Love Hurts” by Nazareth

Poor Jacob. He really does have a great voice, but if last night proved anything it’s that even he doesn’t know where to place that voice within contemporary music. That’s why he’s been in the bottom three so many times. We’re not sure how he would fit into the music scene at hand and I think Randy is right, “No Air” is not it. I also agree that it was just strange for him to try to sing a duet by himself. I think he probably loves this song and had fun singing it, but it didn’t seem like what he could be successful doing and that distinction is a hard one to face.

His second song worked a little better, but it really showed his voice’s weaknesses and at this point, that powerful voice is really the only reason he’s still on the show. It wasn’t the worst performance and he did recover, but it really didn’t do him any favors.

Who’s going home? I think it should be James, but you know he’s probably going to win, so my money is on Jacob.