Sitting through American Idol‘s Top 8 results-show telecast was kind of like going to a modern-day multiplex where your every whim can be satisfied. There was the animated tearjerker about the bright-eyed woodland creature who’d been in captivity too long and yearned to escape to wide open spaces. There was the horror flick about the (sexy) zombie who refused to die. There was the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo-esque thriller about a kick-ass heroine overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles. And there was even a sweet teen romance — or was it supposed to be a brother-and-sister comedy? — with a somewhat muddled marketing campaign.
But the good news is that regardless of your Season 10 allegiances, Thursday night’s show had a relatively happy ending. Which isn’t a knock against ousted contestant Paul McDonald. It’s just that Bradley Cooper lookalike with the appealingly sandpapery voice and the megawatt smile seemed totally at peace with his eighth-place finish. “It’s okay, man. It’s okay,” he grinned as his fellow contestants bade him goodbye. “It’s been good times.” And then, the Alabama native took a special request from the World’s Most Beautiful Woman, and gave a loose, angst-free exit performance of “Maggie May” (a far more appealing swan song than his wretched Wednesday-night cover of “Old Time Rock and Roll”) before getting released back into his natural habitat — rocking out with his band the Grand Magnolias and (hopefully) recording absolutely stunning duets with fellow Season 10 contestant Kendra Chantelle.
Joining Paul in the bottom three this week were Stefano Langone (who should probably start bracing himself for another “you almost got sacked again, amateur!” pep talk from Jimmy Iovine) and Haley Reinhart (because even when there are no women left in the competition, Nigel Lythgoe will probably recruit a couple of females from the audience every results night to sit on the Silver Stools of Doom and bid tearful goodbyes at the end of the telecast).
The bottom three configuration, of course, means that only Lauren Alaina, Scotty McCreery, and James Durbin have avoided a bottom-three placement this season.
But getting back to the subject of Thursday night’s telecast, let’s do a rundown of the night’s performances, with letter grades for everyone:
Lauren Alaina and Scotty McCreery: Lady Antebellum’s “American Honey”
If I didn’t know better, I’d wonder if Idol was trying to subliminally suggest a Season 10 final two consisting of these fresh-scrubbed country teens by having them perform together for the second time in three weeks. But Uncle Nigel would never try to manipulate his audience in such a clumsy, obvious fashion, would he? In all seriousness, though, this was a very pretty moment for Lauren and Scotty, if not a show-stopping one. The harmonies were spot on, even if Lauren didn’t look 100 percent comfortable with her partner’s lean-and-flirt vibe. Oh, and whoever styled Lauren tonight gets 1,000 Save the Chicas points! Lauren must memorize the following mantra: Age-appropriate pastels > Metallic animal prints. Always.
Haley Reinhart and Casey Abrams: “Moanin'”
I’ve got a confession to make: From the moment Haley took the stage tonight till the moment she hit her last note, I didn’t manage to take a single note aside from the word “pincurls.” That’s pretty much because I was freaking the frak out over how sensational Haley sounded putting a sultry, scatting spin on this jazzy ditty. Haley’s growl is a real force of nature, but it’s even more wondrous — and easier to appreciate — when it’s matched by those velvety softer tones that she should really utilize more often. I defy anyone to tell me this doesn’t qualify as one of the Top 5 vocals of Season 10. Unfortunately, Casey’s grasp of the melody kind of fell to pieces on his solo bits, but he harmonized nicely with The Lady Reinhart for the remainder of the ditty, and he scats like a champ, so I can’t be too mad at him. Grade: A-
Kelly Clarkson and Jason Aldean: “Don’t You Wanna Stay”
Oh man, the Original Flavor Idol is still so sublime, is she not? I loved every second of this duet, but if I could make one suggestion to Kelly’s duet partner: Check the fit of your hat, so as not to go all “masquerade ball” on the home viewing audience, okay? Grade: A
Rihanna: “California King Bed”
Probably the strongest live performance I’ve ever seen from Rihanna, but still not all that pleasant to listen to. Naima Adedapo, there is hope for you, girlfriend! Grade: C+
Jacob Lusk, Stefano Langone, James Durbin, and Paul McDonald: “The Sounds of Silence”/”Mrs. Robinson”
I’m not the only one who kinda wished that it had just been James and Paul and their guitars tackling a single Simon and Garfunkel jam, rather than adding Jacob and Stefano and turning it into a quartet, right? While I did enjoy seeing Jacob physically quake with the desire to bust out of the staid arrangement and get his Gospel on, the whole shindig was akin to tossing takeout meals from your local Indian, Chinese, Italian, and Thai restaurants, tossing them into the food processor, and creating a single unfathomable flavor profile. Does. Not. Want. Grade: C+
And now, on to our awards ceremony for the evening!
Time-Wasting Segment That Could/Should Have Given a Massive Publicity Boost to Michael Johns or Bo Bice or Carly Smithson or Kris Allen or [Insert Another Talented Idol Alum Here]
That interminable bit about Rob Reiner advising the Top 8. You could see half of ’em sitting there, bewildered, as Reiner added lyrics to the Chariots of Fire theme none of them had ever heard, thinking “What in the name of bad Vaudeville shtick is going on here? And when can I stop pretending to laugh and get back to practicing my number?”
Person Who Needs to Drop Jack Black as His Primary Musical/Life Influence
“Why the Face?” Punch Line of the Night
“Thanks for listening to an old, fat Jew.”
Retort Brought to You By the Words “Oh!” and “Snap!”
Kelly Clarkson, responding to Ryan Seacrest’s claim that he was emceeing a “very short results show” and needed to “get right to it,” with a perfectly timed “Just like a man.”
The “Let’s Hope They’re Writing Something Awesome Together” Audience Sighting Award
Pia Toscano and Didi Benami
She Whips Her Hair Back and Forth Award
J.Lo’s absolute beast of a braid! (And, of course, I’m using “beast” as a positive)
Ryan’s Subtle Critique of Randy’s Mind-Numbing Critiques
Our host, cheekily reviewing Scotty McCreery’s feedback on “I Cross My Heart”: “Randy said, ‘Yo, yo, yo! A star is born.'”
Moment That Warmed Even My Ice-Cold Recapping Heart
“Go Uncle James”
The “Who the #^@% Keeps Swearing?” Prize
Anyone else notice that the sound dropped immediately following Ryan’s announcement that Paul was headed home?
And now I turn it over to you: How are you feeling about Paul’s ouster? What kind of post-Idol career do you expect him to have? Were you surprised Jacob avoided the bottom three? How did you feel about the night’s musical performances? Sound off below, and for all my Idol news and commentary, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!