‘American Idol’ Recap: Casey Abrams, Jazz Visionary?

The popcorn is popped! The 40 lb box of Junior Mints, opened! Turn off your cell phones, make a donation to the Will Rogers Institute and shush the giggly teenager behind you, because Wednesday night was “Songs of the Cinema” on “American Idol X: No Girls Allowed!”

With Pia Toscano off gallivanting with Ellen DeGeneres and record labels (so says the rumor mill!), the top eight faced even more scrutiny than usual. From viewers, that is. We all know the judges cheerleaders would give the contestants a standing ovation even if they just belched the alphabet. Unless that contestant’s name rhymes with Paley Fineheart. (More on that later.)

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But by the time the final note was shouted, the last “amazing” critique was uttered and the phone numbers were recapped, not one “Idol” stood out as being the next biggest thing in pop music. Nor jazz music, for that matter, regardless of the standing ovations from noted jazz critics Jennifer “Anaconda” Lopez, Randy “I Get Texts From R&B Relics” Jackson and Steven “Boca Blouse” Tyler. (More on that later, too.)

Before I go on a rant about how will.i.am should change his name to will.i.am.never.ever.leaving.this.show.can.you.blame.me.i.have.to.work.with.fergie, here’s a quick programming note! My live, interactive “Idol” chat show, “Idol Party Live” is premiering at its new time, NOON EDT, right here in this very blog! Really!

My special guests this week are season six fave Melinda Doolittle and “Idol” blogger MJ Santilli of the encyclopedic MJsBigBlog.com. We’ll be dishing all about Wednesday night’s episode as well as predicting Thursday night’s Bottom Three. Plus, Barbara Walters’ Cardboard Cutout will be doing a striptease. Fun times!

And now … to the performances! In keeping with the movie theme, all of my verdicts will be recent Oscar nominees.

Paul McDonald
Song: Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll” from “Risky Business”
Verdict: Exit Through the Gift Shop

Paul always brings the party to “Idol.” His performances are the musical equivalent of that dude in your group of friends who keeps a couple of joints hidden in his jacket lining “just in case.” But this week, I’m afraid Paul rolled one up with some bad buds. The unpleasant “booms” caused by Paul clapping the microphone were preferable to his “if I sing every possible note, eventually I’ll hit one on key” vocals. It’s like he spent all his time rehearsing that (admittedly cool) tambourine catch and decided if he wore an ascot, the judges wouldn’t notice that he sounded like a tone-deaf billy goat with emphysema. Can I vote for the lady saxophone player instead?

The judges loved him. Duh.

Lauren Alaina
Song: Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb” from “Hannah Montana: The Movie”
Verdict: The Kids Are (Just) All Right

Jimmy Iovine (with his sidekick will.i.am.enjoying.the.catering.so.imabee.staying.here.awhile) urged Lauren Alaina to “snatch” Pia Toscano’s votes. “You’re a much, much stronger singer than Miley Cyrus,” he said. The man has a point, although it loses some weight when you realize that the same could be said about Lou the Chihuahua from “The Soup.”

Strangely, Lauren started “The Climb” at the top of a staircase. Unless she ran up the walls parkour-style, there was nowhere for her to climb but down. By the time she finished Miley Cyrus’ version of “No Boundaries,” she was back to her old habits: looking at the audience for approval instead of fully losing herself in the performance. In Lauren’s defense, if my mom were in the crowd wearing a BumpIt, Wonderbra and more eyeliner than Tammy Faye Messner, I’d be distracted, too.

The judges loved her. Duh.

Stefano Langone
Song: Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road” from “Boomerang”
Verdict: The Fighter

Producers, Seacrest and even a newly impassioned Langone himself were all hell-bent on selling the narrative that Stefano was starting fresh. “Sure, I’ve almost been eliminated 16 times for singing sappy closed-eyes ballads, over-pronouncing words and using Liza jazz hands, but I finally get it! I know get what it’s like to be a good performer! It’s a new Stefano, America!”

And then he came out and performed a sappy ballad, eyes closed, and over-pronounced words, using Liza jazz hands. But — here’s the twist — instead of a sharp suit or jacket, Stefano wore a V-neck shirt. Cheers to new beginnings! In all fairness, it was Stefano’s best performance since he sang for his life in the semi-finals. And America learned a new dance courtesy of Papa Langone: the Pepaw Step-and-Spin Dance of Joy!

The judges loved him. Duh.

Scotty McCreery
Song: Harry Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin’” from “Midnight Cowboy” George Strait’s “I Cross My Heart” from “Pure Country”
Verdict: Country Strong

Scotty was going to sing a song from an X-rated movie about a male prostitute. But then he remembered his “Grandmas for Scotty” fanbase and decided to go with something a little more Strait.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t ever fix it,” Randy Jackson told Scotty. (If you listen closely, you can hear Pia Toscano screaming “Go uptempo my ass!” at her television.) J.Lo giggled, “Everybody wants us to be tough with you guys, but the truth is you are all so damn good!” Well, J.Lo, you could have started by pointing out that Scotty’s high notes were strained and flat, and that maybe he should focus on controlling his affected country accent, since it seemed to get in the way of his phrasing this week. You could also teach him how to hold a microphone already! And finally, you could tell him that you’re disappointed he backed out of “Everybody’s Talkin’ ” in favor of a safe pick. Even Carrie Underwood tried a rock song or two.

In the end, the judges loved him. Duh.

Casey Abrams
Song: Nat King Cole’s “Nature Boy” from “The Boy With Green Hair” Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” Nat King Cole’s “Nature Boy” from “The Boy With Green Hair”
Verdict: The Wolfman (*Yep, that movie actually won an Oscar this year)

Remember Jessica Seinfeld’s cookbook of recipes designed to sneak vegetables into your children’s diet? Well, I tried one of those carrot brownies once, and it tasted like sweaty dirt, no matter how many adults I had insisting otherwise. “This is good for you! How delicious!” I would have rather just eaten a well-cooked carrot. Wednesday night, I thought I was getting a brownie but instead I got … gnocchi alfredo.

There aren’t enough standing ovations in the world to convince me that Casey Abrams’ “Nature Boy” was an important contribution to the jazz genre. “Grammy kind of performance!” cried Randy Jackson, who should stop acting like jazz on “Idol” is a new thing. He did, after all, witness Melinda Doolittle’s masterful “My Funny Valentine” five years ago. (Talk about Grammy worthy.)

The components of CaseyJazz are as follows: Add a syllable to the end of every phrase. (“There was a boy-ugh. A very strange enchanting boy-ugh.”) Make faces like a porn star. If you need to sing a note and look at your bass simultaneously, turning your head away from the microphone is perfectly acceptable. So is scatting! If Jimmy Iovine (and his henchman will.i.am.telling.you.im.not.going) suggests another song, put your foot down.

Then, and this is an important factor, let the judges solo.

“Being on ‘American Idol,’ you don’t have to be a pop star,” said J.Lo, changing the rules as she goes along. Randy Jackson followed. “The world cannot live by pop stars alone. We need art to have that zen balance.” Overly-fluffing your students’ ego this week only encourages more self-indulgence next week, dawg. “It’s like Sting and beyond,” Steven Tyler said. (Although, Tyler was actually just plugging his new home furnishing retail chain, Sting and Beyond, specializing in yoga mats and lute strings.)

If Jacob Lusk got called out for daring America not to vote for him last week, it would only be fair to call out the judging panel this week for daring America not to vote for Casey Abrams, the most important jazz visionary since Miles Davis.

MY GIRL HALEY REINHART
Song: Blondie’s “Call Me” from “American Gigolo”
Verdict: True Grit

The universe has put me between a rock and a hard place (and no, unlike Steven Tyler, I do not mean “hard” in a sexual way) because My Girl Haley Reinhart’s “Call Me” was a bit of a prank call. Technically, it was her least-consistent vocal of the season. However, the “Idol” judges woke up from their three-week nap to give her honest criticism — the only harsh words of the night — even though most of the performances up to this point deserved a tongue-lashing, too. If not more.

The judges took issue with her song choice. “Karaoke,” Randy accused. “It just wasn’t a showcase of your voice for me.” I actually think it was a smart choice only in that the melody provided her a chance to show off her yodel here and there, and then let loose on a growly tornado of a finale. She’s finding a way to balance her tricks. (And no, unlike Steven Tyler, I do not mean “tricks” in a sexual way.)

J.Lo’s judging was perhaps the most offensive. “I’m so afraid to criticize you, because you’re a girl and I’m a girl, and yay, girl power, however …” With her little caveat, The Most Beautiful Woman on the Planet accidentally made Haley’s critique sound even nastier. Subtext: “I want to be on your team because you’re a girl, however, you sang that so horrendously bad that I just have to criticize it.”

TYLER PERRY PRESENTS JACOB LUSK
Song: Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” from “The Pursuit of Happyness”
Verdict: 127 Hours (As in, it felt that long)

Tyler Perry Presents Jacob Lusk went into his meeting with Jimmy Iovine (and his backup mentor will.i.am.so.trying.to.get.my.own.spinoff.show) with two show tunes picked out, “The Impossible Dream” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” When told, “LOLNO” and “LOLHELLNO,” Lusk caved and begrudgingly adopted Jimmy’s suggestion, “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” He announced his song choice to America like a kid who tried every excuse in the book to get out of swimming lessons at summer camp and was finally told, “In the pool.” Jacob seemed as “over” this “Idol” episode as I was, frankly.

Once he hit the stage, though, “reserved Motown week” Jacob was back. No air-humping! No lectures! Limited anaconda jaw! At this point, though, you’re either with the Lusky Stank or you’re against it. His voice is like Taco Bell. Nobody bites into a cheesy gordita crunch and goes, “meh.” You either want to order 500 or you vomit in your mouth.

Why end the food analogy now? If Jacob’s “Bridge” is Taco Bell, Clay Aiken’s “Bridge” is Chipotle, and Aretha Franklin’s is any restaurant owned by Rick Bayless.

Regardless, the judges loved him. Duh.

JAMES DURBIN
Song: Sammy Hagar’s “Heavy Metal” from “Heavy Metal”
Verdict: Inside Job

Ladies in gentleman, welcome to the Battle of the Jimmys!

In this corner, weighing 180 pounds, wearing an unfortunately revealing black-and-white tank top, we have James “The Durbinator” Durbin!

In the other corner, weighing 102 pounds, backed by his coach will.i.am.going.for.seacrests.job.next, it’s Jimmy “You Think I’m an Accident?” Iovine!

Let’s get ready to rummmmble!

And they’re off. Durbin wants to sing “Heavy Metal.” Iovine counters, “Where’s the hook?” Pow! Durbin feels passionately about who he is as an artist reality-TV contestant. Iovine jabs, “I can hear a hit record from someone humming it, jerkface.” Boom! Durbin pleads “Give metal a chance!” America jumps in the ring and says, “We did give it a chance. In 1987.”

Ohhhh, what’s this? Producers have thrown Durbin an unexpected lifeline in the form of heavy metal heavyweight Zakk Wylde! Don’t count Durbin out just yet! Durbin sings like a wailing banshee and proves to Jimmy that “Heavy Metal” does, in fact, have a hook. That’s gotta hurt! But, oh no, Zakk Wylde is now beating the crap out of James Durbin. I’ve never seen upstaging like this! He is literally taking over this “Idol” performance. He’s rocking a solo way longer than he should. Can Durbin recover from this? Forget Durbin, can any of the other top eight compete with rock and roll royalty?

Logic, reason and fairness have just fallen to the mat. They’re down for the count! Durbin got back up from the floor to finish his song. And bam! Durbin proved Iovine wrong! We have a winner! Ding, ding, ding!

Oh, and the judges loved him. Duh.

What did you think of Wednesday’s “Movie” night? Was it a blockbuster or a colossal bomb?

Did you get the strange feeling that Steven Tyler was jealous of Jennifer Lopez’s “World’s Most Beautiful Woman” People magazine cover? (“I wear lady shirts and I look like a lesbian. I should be in the running for that prize, dammit! Mishabangbang! Bizzzzow!”) For a show that’s always trying to woo teen girls, was it smart for Casey to say he wanted to impress Beliebers’ #1 Mortal Enemy, Esperanza Spalding? And at this point, should we just let random people in the studio audience judge the show each week?

Leave a comment below! And for more “Idol” insanity, follow me on Twitter @jambajim!