The role call of seventh-place finishers on American Idol ranges from the back-to-back eyes-wide-open nightmares of Sanjaya Malakar and Kristy Lee Cook in Seasons 6 and 7 to the remarkable success story of Season 3 Wild Card Jennifer Hudson, who overcame the Pepto-Bismol Dress From Hell to scale Oscar- and Grammy-winning heights. In between those two extremes, though, the not-so-lucky No. 7 spot has been occupied by singers who showed early promise, then flamed out (Anwar Robinson, Kimberly Caldwell) and those whose “package artist” good looks carried them further than their vocal abilities might’ve otherwise suggested (Ryan Starr, Tim Urban, Ace Young). (Nope, I’m not mentioning Season 8’s Anoop Desai and Lil Rounds, who technically tied for sixth.)
Where exactly the newest member of Idol‘s seventh-place club fits into the mix remains to be seen — and that’s due in no small part to the fact that the two defining moments of Stefano Langone’s Season 10 run are true studies in opposites: On the positive side, Stefano’s gut-busting Wild Card rendition of Smokie Norful’s “I Need You Now” still ranks among the top two or three vocals by a male contestant this season (gun to head, I might actually put it at No. 1). But conversely, the average entertainment junkie probably knows Stefano as that stunned-looking dude who was standing next to the glamorous Pia Toscano when she was unexpectedly given the old heave-ho on Top 9 results night. I’m not sure how many hundreds of thousands of times that scene has been aired and re-aired on syndicated entertainment shows, basic cable channels, and also “the news,” but it inadvertently made him the Zola Budd to Pia’s Mary Decker, the Blame to Pia’s Zenyatta, the Crash to Pia’s Brokeback Mountain. You get the picture.
If, however, Stefano wants to be defined on his own terms — and I imagine that’s got to be the case — he certainly took the correct first step with a thoroughly winning attitude and a decidedly heartfelt sing-out during Thursday night’s results-show telecast. From the moment Ryan sent him to the Silver Stools of Doom, Stefano maintained a big smile and a zippy energy, bobbing and ducking like an enthusiastic boxer waiting to get in the ring. And once Stefano found out his rendition of Ne-Yo’s “Closer” had netted him the lowest number of viewer votes for “Songs from the 21st Century” week, all he wanted to do was skip the ceremonial gnashing of teeth and belt out his closing number. “I’m ready for the mic,” he declared, while a befuddled Ryan Seacrest held him at bay long enough for the weekly farewell package to get rolling.
Fortunately, there was enough time for a highlight reel that showed Stefano in a tank top — anyone casting a musical rendition of Streetcar Named Desire? — and a vocally muscular encore presentation of Stevie Wonder’s “Lately.” I’m not sure Stefano is quite ready to take the music world by storm at this very second, but neither was J.Hud at the end of her Season 3 run. The good news is, the kid has plenty of raw talent. With hard work and a little luck, who knows what’s possible?
Joining Stefano in the bottom three this week were Jacob Lusk (but only because of an earpiece malfunction, I’m sure he’d tell you) and Haley Reinhart (because, if you didn’t notice, she’s a female). That 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 musical performances, with letter grades for everyone:
Lauren Alaina, Haley Reinhart, Stefano Langone, and Jacob Lusk: “Hey, Soul Sister”
I’ve been loving Season 10’s emphasis on results-night ditties by duets and trios — instead of the show’s typical joyless group routines — but “Hey, Soul Sister” contained neither the organic brilliance we saw last week in Haley and Casey’s “Moanin'” or the real-world relevance of, say, Lauren and Scotty’s “American Honey.” There was nothing particularly wrong with any individual vocal, but there was also the sense that Train’s ubiquitous hit wouldn’t have cracked a list of any of these kids’ top 500 songs from the 21st century. It’s not a good sign that I spent most of the performance contemplating Haley’s day-to-night secretary ensemble of salmon blouse, green pencil skirt, and yellow heels. Just add a chunky gold necklace and you’re ready for happy hour! “Oh grrrl, it’s two-for-one mudslides at TGIF’s till 9 p.m.! Let’s get outta here!” Grade: C+
Scotty McCreery, James Durbin, and Casey Abrams: “Viva la Vida”
Whoever railroaded these boys into Supremes-style hands-to-the-front choreography should be forced to watch a month’s worth of marathons of every awful sitcom Fox has ever tried to launch in the post-Idol timeslot. Scotty sounded halfway decent on a non-country song, though. Grade: C
Katy Perry (with Kanye West and some very pale, dancing Sleestaks): “ET”
Generic voice? Check. Questionable dance skills? Check. Gaga wannabe outfit? Check. Awful lyrics (i.e. “Wanna be a victim, ready for abduction!”)? Check. Congratulations, Katy Perry, you’re No. 1 on the Billboard charts! Grade: “Marketing.”
David Cook: “The Last Goodbye”
The new single from Season 7’s delectable champ is like a refreshing fizzy drink compared to the toilet water of Perry’s smash hit — but whether or not that’ll mean anything at pop radio remains to be seen. Back on the Idol stage, David looked and sounded right at home, and aside from Stefano’s sing-out, Cookie gave us the sole moment worthy of a DVR rewind. Grade: A-
Stefano Langone: “Lately”
I still find it jarring to hear a skittery disco beat paired with Stevie Wonder’s tender melody, but Stefano sang with a looseness and confidence that’s been missing from his performances for many moons. If you’ve got to go, this is the way to make your exit. Grade: A-
And now, on to our awards ceremony for the evening!
Unsubtle Early Reminder That an Idol Finalist Would Get Beheaded Within the Hour
The opening chyron indicating that “SE7EN” contestants remained
Another Example of Randy Being Intolerable
That sentence that began with “Me, Steven, and Jennifer…”
Contestant Who Clearly Enraged an Idol Stylist During the “Ford Music Video” Shoot
Casey Abrams, clad in ill-fitting regalia from the Cabela’s catalog while trying to lasso a cloud
Food Reference That Sounded Potentially Awful/Awesome
The “Butterscotch Scotty” Cupcake
The “Who Says We Don’t Need the National Endowment for the Arts” Award
Painting of Casey’s Face + Pomerian on an upright bass leaning against a brick wall
The “Is Someone on the Idol Production Team Watching Idoloonies?” Prize
Awarded to whoever killed Randy’s mic when he tried to respond to Ryan saying the Casey-Pomeranian piece was “a nice shot of Casey and Randy”
Revolting Comment That Ought to Inspire J.Lo’s First Idol-Related Restraining Order
“I was just gonna breathe in her face, but then she gave me an opening.” –Casey Abrams on going in for the kiss during Wednesday night’s “Harder to Breathe”
Please Stop Encouraging Casey From Doing Anything Other Than Making Good Music Prize
Ryan Seacrest announcing “America wants more of the soft lips!” to indicate Mr. Abrams’ safety
Age-Appropriate Flirtation of the Night
David Cook’s mom flashing her son the “rocker hand” sign while getting a hug from Steven Tyler
Possible Inappropriate Ogling of the Night
Was it just me, or was J.Lo ch-ch-checking out ‘Fano’s booty during his exit performance?
The Kris Allen-Adam Lambert Prize for Absolutely Adorable Bromance
giving Stefano a massage openly weeping at Stefano’s ouster
The “Children Under 18 Should Not Be Allowed Near Ryan Seacrest’s Spray Tanning Technician” Award
An Oompa Loompa-colored Lauren Alaina
The Awkward Setup to a Bottom Three Announcement Prize
Ryan: Did Stefano do enough to stay out of the Bottom Three?
Stefano: I hope so.
Ryan: You are in the bottom three!
The Subtle Commentary on America’s S**** Voting Pattents Prize
“Wow, Scotty, you are safe.” –Ryan Seacrest, sending Haley Reinhart to the Bottom Three (again)
And now I turn it over to you: How are you feeling about Stefano’s ouster? What kind of post-Idol career do you expect him to have? Were you surprised by anyone who 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!