‘American Idol’ Recap: Pia Kills, As James Weeps

Wednesday night’s “American Idol” was supposed to be all about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But leave it to Jimmy Iovine’s sleepwalking producers and Nigel Lythgoe’s showbiz pizzazz to make it rock softer than an Air Supply acoustic album.

That’s not to say the top nine of “American Idol X: Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain” didn’t give it their all and then some. This may go down as the sweatiest “Idol” episode ever. Did Idolland’s air conditioning break, or is there a fire within these contestants causing them to look like James Brown on PCP?

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As an added challenge this week, producers handicapped the girls by forcing them to wear Gwen Stefani’s L.A.M.B. collection of leopard-print diapers and silk tube-top jumpsuits. I guess they really don’t want the Season 10 “Idol” to have a vagina. Paging Gloria Steinem!

Also on hand was rock and roll legend will.i.am, who might as well just move into the “Idol” studio at this point. Last week, he wanted to samba with Jamie Foxx. This week, he wanted to be Jimmy Iovine’s giggly henchman. Next week, I bet he’ll be the new Brian Dunkleman. Hope you haven’t gotten used to being a solo act, Ryan Seacrest.

In case America forgot what rock and roll was, Steven Tyler hosted a taped segment about the Hall of Fame’s preservation of fugly fashion through the years. (Your time will come, L.A.M.B!) Fun fact: Steven Tyler is as good at recording voice-overs as he is at giving criticism.

Before I go on a rant about how I’ve seen the same “Steven, Walk This Way and Gimme a Kiss” sign in the audience for three weeks and counting, let’s discuss the performances! (In honor of Christian Slater’s contractually obligated “Idol” appearance, all my verdicts will be Christian Slater movie titles.)

Tyler Perry Presents Jacob Lusk
Song: Michael Jackson’s “Man In The Mirror”
Verdict: Broken Arrow

At first, Tyler Perry Presents Jacob Lusk was going to sing the crap out of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.” It sounded like his Lusky Stank suited the song well, but he thought the lyrics made him sound like a Lusky Skank. So instead, he opted to rock Michael Jackson’s PG-rated “Man in the Mirror” while air-humping the woman who co-wrote the song. Much less scandalous! Now he should bring the same focus he has to his moral convictions to his pitch problems.

And now it’s time to play, What Was the Most Diva Moment of Jacob’s Performance?

a) He yanked the monitor out of his ear! (After all the advocacy Marc Anthony’s done on behalf of in-ear monitors, no less!)
b) “If I end up in the bottom three it won’t be because I sang the song bad. It won’t be because I sang the song wrong. It’ll be because everybody in America wasn’t ready to look at themselves in the mirror.” Snap.
c) All. White. Outfit.

If you answered d) all of the above, you win! Your prize is getting to hear Ryan Seacrest call an African-American man “brother” on live TV. Yep, that happened.

My Girl Haley Reinhart
Song: Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart”
Verdict: True Romance

The judges have been bombarding My Girl Haley Reinhart with Janis Joplin comparisons since week one. At long last, she succumbed to the pressure. Shrewd, because if there’s one thing we’ve learned in 10 seasons of “Idol,” it’s that if you do what the judges say, they’ll give you rave reviews, regardless of whether you deserve them.

In typical My Girl Haley Reinhart fashion, it took me a quick second to re-adjust my brain in order to receive the special vibes she was sending my way, but once I got on her adorably awkward and growly wavelength, it was frizzy haired, pleather legginged, passionate heaven. Even if you’re not (smart enough to be) on Team My Girl Haley Reinhart, you can’t deny that her rendition is miles better than the anemic karaoke versions Carrie Underwood and Nikki McKibbin both trotted out during their “Idol” runs. And give the girl some credit for revisiting the cosmetics that caused the Great Lipstick Massacre of 2011 and surviving sans Maybelline all over her puss. She’s learning!

Casey Abrams
Song: Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?”
Verdict: Hard Rain

Casey Abrams fans should send Jimmy Iovine a fruit basket for urging Beardo to ditch the lounge lizard Police cover he was rehearsing. The CCR tune allowed for Casey to give the fans what they’ve been begging for since Hollywood Week: a stripped down arrangement on the upright bass!

I think the freakishly tall dude from Barenaked Ladies would take issue with Randy Jackson’s claims that Casey’s melding of the upright bass with pop-rock is “revolutionary.” (Ditto the dude with the middle part from Ben Folds Five and that dude who got kicked out Clem Snide in 2001. Or even, double-duh, Sting.) But it’s a neat “Idol” twist that successfully covered up that Casey’s vocals went down like a forced imitation of John Fogerty’s effortless yowl. If he could sing as well as he slaps the strings, he’d be unstoppable.

Round of applause for the return of the rain graphics, though! If Nigel Lythgoe can convince Haley to sing “Purple Rain” before the end of the season, the return on investment of that new graphic will please the “Idol” accountants.

Lauren Alaina
Song: Aretha Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”
Verdict: Kuffs

The “Idol” freak in me wants to scream, “Kelly Clarkson nailed this! How dare you attempt it especially if you don’t have Kelly’s killer Mariah note to differentiate yourself from Aretha’s version,” but the 29-year-old in me is too busy screaming, “You are a baby! You should not be singing about orgasms!”

“Four months ago you came in here an immature little girl, and tonight you are a natural born woman,” said Steven Tyler. “Barf times a million,” said Jim Cantiello.

Just, no.

James Durbin
Song: The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”
Verdict: Untamed Heart

After last week’s hyperactive “Around the Studio in 80 Seconds” performance, Durbin was ready to prove that he can be effective by simply sitting on a stool. Engulfed by stage smoke. And dark lighting that an aging soap actress would kill for. And a string section. See, America? He can do subtle! Just as long as there’s a lot of other crap whirling around him.

George Harrison’s epic “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” worked surprisingly well in under two minutes, save for the final glory scream that felt like it was copied and pasted from a longer edit. It was obvious the song held a special place in Durbin’s heart even before he turned the show into “American Crydol” and bragged that he’d been working on his own take for the past five years. (I honestly have no idea what he’s talking about, but I imagine his “version” is called “While My Guitar’s a Whore I Wail for No Reason.“)

Scotty McCreery
Song: Elvis Presley’s “That’s All Right, Mama”
Verdict: 3000 Miles to Graceland

Step aside, Pia “I’ll Sing an Uptempo Next Week Just Kidding” Toscano. There’s a new “Idol” liar in town, and this one likes to sing with a smirk and hold the microphone like a flautist. I see you, Scotty McCreery. And I don’t trust you as far as Nigel Lythgoe can throw a gaggle of pre-teen girls on stage. (Don’t think I didn’t see you wrangling the ladies during Scotty’s performance, Lythgoe. Everyone in class say it with me: “I got your number, hussy.“)

Why is Scotty a liar, you ask? Well, he told America that “Country Scotty” was going away for the week so he could show off his “rock-and-roll edge.” Had Scotty been honest, he would have told America that he was going to do an Elvis Presley impression. A damn fine one in head-to-toe-denim with bonus gang symbols and scatting, mind you, but let’s be clear. Scatty McPresley is not rock-and-roll edge. It’s Vegas cheese.

Let’s all join hands and re-live J. Lo asking Scotty if he watches “rap or hip-hop.” Now close your eyes and imagine Scotty watching “rap or hip-hop.” Didn’t your day just improve?

Pia Toscano
Song: Tina Turner’s “River Deep — Mountain High”
Verdict: Murder in the First

On our way to a commercial break, Seacrest said Pia would be taking a “walk on the wild side” when we returned. But Pia promised “River Deep — Mountain High” last week. Did Ryan just suggest that she’ll cover Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” instead? Is Pia about to sing about “colored girls”? Has Pia “Liar Liar Hideous Pantsuit on Fire” Toscano struck again?! Hold me, Haley Reinhart! I’m trembling like Garrett Haley!

It turns out Pia’s “wild side” meant “doing exactly what we’ve known she was going to do since last Wednesday.” Spoiler alert: Pia Toscano can sing the crap out of a fast song, too. “Study Gene Kelly,” said J. Lo and Randy, just scratching at the surface of the distant diva bubble that’s ultimately going to prevent Pia from making it to the “Idol” finale. It’s her destiny to belt a Coke-sponsored Taio Cruz single about overcoming obstacles, dammit!

“Murderer! Murderer!” Steven Tyler accused, after Pia killed the song. He could have also been referring to Gwen Stefani, who murdered any and all good taste, class and sex appeal of Pia Toscano. Hollaback, Gwen, and take your frightening, ill-fitting onesies with you!

Stefano Langone
Song: Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman”
Verdict: Love Stinks

During rehearsals, Stefano’s T-shirt had a giant red “X” on it. It was obviously trying to send him messages. “Pssst, Stefano. This song has never worked on ‘Idol.’ The arrangement will make you sound like a lame lounge act. It happened to Big Mike last year. It happened to Christina Christian before him. Run, run away!”

Stefano did not listen.

Therefore, this was me during Stefano’s 900th ballad of the season. Although I will admit my ears perked up when I thought I heard him timidly croon, “When a man blows a woman.” Come again, Stefano?!

Paul McDonald
Song: Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues”
Verdict: The Contender

Jimmy Iovine and will.i.am urged Paul McDonald to be as crazy as possible on the “Idol” stage. (Who knew they were Vote for the Worst double agents?) Paul’s “Folsom Prison Blues” lacked the danger of Johnny Cash’s classic, but maybe that’s because we all know Paul would be eaten alive in prison. Literally. That boy would get passed around more than a “party enhancer” on Wiz Khalifa’s tour bus.

Still, I won’t deny tapping my foot and clapping along to the re-energized Paul McDonald show. Nobody fully embodied the rock-and-roll spirit more than Paul, who even let the “Idol” musicians rock solos, as he skedaddled towards them like a hungry Danny Boyle zombie. Will it be enough to keep him out of the bottom three? Or are “Idol” viewers tired of Season 10′s “perfect imperfect boy,” as Steven Tyler dubbed him? (This is, after all, a singing competition.)

Who was your favorite this week? Was Jacob’s “America needs to look in the mirror” quote calling out how “Idol” voters are systematically eliminating all the minorities? Or was he just being an egotistical jerk? Did Haley’s failed timing with the band at the end of her performance make you fall in love with her more? (The correct answer is yes.) Were you horrified by Lythgoe’s little-girl round-up for Scotty McCreery? (At least David Archudorable’s little girl hug sandwich happened during a Coca-Cola Moment with Seacrest.)

Sound off in the comments below! And for more “Idol” insanity, follow me on Twitter @jambajim!