Pop Culture

'Idols' ignore advice and do their own thing

Jimmy Iovine had some advice for the remaining eight “American Idol” finalists on Wednesday. At this point in the competition, the mentor said, “Every performer has to do a song that makes them think, ‘This could make me win.’ ”

However, the singers did not exactly treat the advice with the reverence that the Interscope executive was likely expecting. Instead, this was a week of self indulgence for most of the performers. When faced with the song selection for movie night, they tended to go for the tunes that made them the most comfortable or spoke to their sense of themselves as artists rather than making strategic choices.

Did it work? According to the judges, of course it did. Though Jennifer Lopez acknowledged that “everybody wants us to be tough,” she said that was too difficult because everyone was just too darned good. With one exception, this was another week where the grading scale was curved down enough to get anyone into Harvard.

But two singers took particularly big risks by flat out ignoring the mentor’s suggestions, as well as the current radio airplay stats. Casey Abrams and James Durbin were so confident in their genres of choice that they’re betting big on voters choosing an “American Idol” who’s a proponent of genres rarely heard on Top 40 stations.

Abrams stuck to Nat King Cole’s “Nature Boy,” blatantly disregarding Iovine’s preference for Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.” Abrams rationale, not unreasonably, was that he wanted something that made him comfortable as an artist, and it was an elite vocal that would fit well in any jazz club in the country. Did it play well with the “Idol” audience? We’ll find out during the results show.

Durbin, meanwhile, urged America to “give metal a chance.” He had the aid of the legendary metal performer Zakk Wylde onstage with him and all the bells and whistles the crew could offer for his cover of Sammy Hagar’s “Heavy Metal” from the movie of the same name. Is heavy metal really poised for a comeback? It’s hard to imagine, but Durbin gave it his best shot and his instincts have served him well so far.

Scotty McCreery also took what passes for a risk for him, switching from “Everybody’s Talkin’” to George Strait’s “I Cross My Heart.” In other words, moving from one country song to a different country song that Iovine didn’t like as much. McCreery’s no George Strait, but of course he impressed the judges, and it’s hard to see him in danger at this point.

Nearly everyone else is at risk this week, some for reasons beyond their control.

Based on the attrition of women so far this season, neither Lauren Alaina nor Haley Reinhart would be a shocking elimination. Iovine set the bar very high for Alaina, saying that she was a better singer than Miley Cyrus and should therefore kill “The Climb.” That made her actual performance, which was merely OK, seem disappointing. Iovine told her she could capture the departed Pia Toscano’s votes with a strong performance, but she likely didn’t do that.

Of course, J.Lo told her she didn’t need them anyway. “You don't need to steal any of Pia's votes. You've got plenty of your own,” she said. But based on what’s happened to women so far this season, Alaina needs all the extra ammunition she can get.

Reinhart’s version of Blondie’s “Call Me” received the only negative feedback of the night. She’s very comfortable onstage and is obviously enjoying herself immensely, but it was a step back from what she’s done over the past couple of weeks. Still, J.Lo mostly held her tongue because “I'm so afraid to say anything about any of the girls because I don't want the girls to go home.” She did not offer a reason for giving nothing but positive feedback to the six guys.

Jacob Lusk sang “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon & Garfunkel and did fine. But Clay Aiken nailed that song in a defining performance way back in season two, which judging by the reaction on Twitter, isn’t something that Claymates have forgotten. Of course, many of the “Idol” voters were in grade school back then, but considering Lusk was in the bottom three last week, he can’t feel secure.

Starting off the show is never a great slot, and Paul McDonald’s “Old Time Rock ‘n’ Roll” by Bob Seger won’t make anyone forget Tom Cruise’s moves to it in “Risky Business.” “America, you just witnessed the first number in a Paul McDonald concert,” Randy Jackson gushed afterward. If so, that’s a concert that anyone but a die-hard McDonald fan would skip.

Finally, Stefano Langone would never have picked Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road” if Simon Cowell were still on the panel because he would have known the British judge could not have resisted linking the song title and Langone’s probable fate. If he does go this week, it will sadly come after one of Langone’s better performances.

He did credibly well, but it’s a tough song and he’s always in the bottom. One of these weeks, his nine lives will run out. Perhaps that will come during Thursday’s results show, but at this point, not much would be truly surprising.

Craig Berman is a frequent contributor to TODAY.com. Follow him on Twitter as he live tweets each episode.