Each of the five remaining “American Idol” finalists sang twice on Wednesday night, and both Jacob Lusk and Haley Reinhart had particular reason to be grateful for that built-in second chance.
Both made curious choices in their initial effort. Lusk picked the Jordin Sparks-Chris Brown “No Air” duet and elected to sing both parts. It sounded very strange, and even Steven Tyler didn’t offer his usual 100 percent praise, saying he’s still waiting for Lusk to find his niche. It’s one of the rare times the judges seemed to be stepping back and wondering what kind of single Lusk might release if he won — but a “No Air” remake would definitely not be it.
Then again, that choice may have been easier to defend than the one made by Reinhart. Just a week ago, mentor Jimmy Iovine suggested that she didn’t know who she was as an artist yet, causing her to put the show’s censors to work with her response.
This week, Iovine suggested she start off singing an unreleased Lady Gaga track. Rather than question the wisdom of picking a song that few have ever heard on a night she needed to dominate just to stay alive, she said, “Awesome!” It didn’t really resonate with either the judges or the crowd, and based on Reinhart’s reaction, it will be a long time before she goes down that road again.
But she did much better with her second effort. Reinhart closed the show with The Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun” and earned a well-deserved standing ovation from the judges and the audience. It was the single best performance of the night, and while Reinhart will be in trouble every week until she actually gets voted off the show, it might have been enough to save her this time.
If nothing else, it was definitely enough to impress season one winner Kelly Clarkson, who tweeted, “Um Haley on Idol just killed it! Wow!! You can sing girl! One of my favorite performances ever on Idol! I predict Haley or Lauren to win.”
Lusk was less memorable. His falsetto-dominated “Love Hurts” was better than his opener, but it wasn’t the kind of number that will inspire the voters. That leaves him in grave danger of going home after Thursday’s results show.
Top three hold serve
Randy Jackson told Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina that they were both “in it to win it,” and then told James Durbin it was “his competition to lose.” Were this not the judge’s 10th season on the panel, it would be legitimate to question whether the Big Dawg understood the concept that only one of them can actually take home the title. If he ever tells you that you’re his favorite “Idol” fan ever, don’t be surprised if he tells the person behind you in line the same thing two minutes later.
McCreery continued to impress with his stage presence. For someone who’s just 17 and wasn’t the most confident person in Hollywood, he’s moving around the stage like a pro. In particular, he looked and sounded great in his opening song, Montgomery Gentry’s version of “Gone.” He didn’t hurt himself with “Always on My Mind” either.
Alaina became the second “Idol” finalist this week to pick a song from a former “Idol” champ, but her covering Carrie Underwood makes a lot more sense than Lusk’s decision to do the same for Jordin Sparks. “Flat on the Floor” was a high-energy song that came after the previous two performers had a hard time getting the crowd going, and the surge in enthusiasm was evident. And in “Unchained Melody,” she showed for a brief moment the power in her voice that the judges have wanted to hear from her all season. She dialed it back down quickly, but we know it’s there now — she just has to let it see the light of day more often.
Of the three, Durbin had the most difficult time. He had trouble getting the audience into his take on 30 Second to Mars’ “Closer to the Edge,” and his “Without You” was mostly notable because he teared up at the finish. The judges’ feedback was very kind on the latter song, though the vocals were uneven. Wonder what kind of response he would have gotten had he stayed stoic.
This week’s guest star
Not wanting to let the seat next to him get cold in the absence of will.i.am and Babyface, Iovine brought in Sheryl Crow to be a guest mentor this week.
Crow didn’t say a lot that was controversial, and her best advice of the night was encouraging Reinhart to start her “House of the Rising Sun” a capella. She did have an interesting quote early in the show, however, when she said, “I got to sing with James. I feel like I can officially retire now.”
If she was genuine — and there’s a 90 percent chance she was — that’s just the usual shameless pandering that causes more eye rolling than a Ryan Seacrest joke. But if she was being sarcastic, that’s the best line from any “Idol” guest ever.
Craig Berman is a TODAY.com's "American Idol" correspondent. Follow him on Twitter as he live tweets each episode.