Steven Tyler continued to say nice things about everyone on “American Idol” on Wednesday ... except one of his fellow judges.
Tyler hasn’t met an “Idol” contestant he doesn’t love, clearly viewing every week as a referendum on his role in getting them here in the first place. But he particularly loved Pia Toscano, who ignored Randy Jackson’s plea not to sing another ballad when she went with “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” as part of the Elton John theme week.
Toscano promised that she’d go up-tempo next week if the voters kept her around. It’s a safe bet she’ll be back, even though two singers will be sent home Thursday. But as far as Tyler is concerned, she can sing whatever she likes.
“Some people might have been wrong up here when they told you not to sing ballads anymore,” Tyler said. And by “some people,” he meant Randy.
Though Randy backpedaled for a second, both are right. Toscano is not going to win singing only ballads, but it’s not like Elton John has a lot of songs in her wheelhouse. Did Randy want her to sing “Crocodile Rock”? At any rate, it didn’t much matter because Toscano was just the second-best woman to sing a ballad.
The winner there was Lauren Alaina, who took a huge chance in taking on the ever-present “Candle in the Wind.” She turned it into a star-making vehicle that was the highlight of the night, making it suit her country voice.
“I've loved you since the first moment you laid eyes on me,” Tyler said, adding that she’d soon be making enough money to “afford the rest of that dress.” Steven, seriously, she’s 16. It’s creepy. Knock it off.
Piano man … and woman
A pair of other singers stood out from the crowd as well.
The judges love them some James Durbin, and he ran around on stage like a genuine rocker in “Saturday Night’s Alright (for Fighting).” Not only did his singing impress them, but there were some pyrotechnics added when the piano burst into (controlled) flames. It could have been a disaster, given the amount of hairspray he was wearing, but tragedy was avoided, praise was offered and Durbin left the stage to thunderous applause.
Also using the piano to great effect was Haley Reinhart. She began “Bennie and the Jets” perched on it like a siren from a old movie, and then got up and strutted around the stage with confidence. For someone who said last week that her goal was not to be in the bottom three, she finally had the look of someone who could last a long time.
“Best performance of the night!” Randy said. And considering she closed the show, the odds are heavily stacked in her favor to come back again next week.
Cut for Casey
If getting the fewest number of votes a week ago wasn’t a big enough jolt to Casey Abrams’ self-confidence, he got more opportunities to get kicked in the teeth in the days leading up to Wednesday’s show.
“You know what was wrong with that performance? Everything,” mentor Jimmy Iovine said.
Then Abrams learned that not only did he not sing well, he was scary-looking as well. So he bowed to the consensus that the scruffy look was steering voters away and let the hair and makeup folks clean things up a bit. The result ... a slightly more clean-cut Casey with a little less beard.
The judges wholeheartedly approved of the sort-of-humbler version of “Your Song,” with Randy gushing that it was “one of the greatest saves we’ve had on this show.” Of course, that puts him in a very small group, since this is just the third year of the save. So basically, he ranks up there with Matt Giraud and Michael Lynche.
It was a big night for the family members of the “Idol” hopefuls, as several got shout-outs onstage.
Scotty McCreery sang “Country Comfort” to his grandmother, who was in the audience and looked impressed that her grandson had somehow found a country tune in the Elton John songbook. Thia Megia sang “Daniel” to her brother and told the cameras she missed him.
And Stefano Langone’s father discovered he had a long-lost twin when Howie Mandel sat next to him to plug his new series, which begins next week. Seriously, the resemblance between the two might make a DNA test worthwhile. If they’re indeed long-lost relatives, Mandel could use his flash mobs to help the younger Langone stick around in the competition.
Who’s in trouble?
Since everyone got positive feedback again, the judges didn’t give a lot of clues as to who they’d like to see go home. But several singers left themselves vulnerable.
Start with Naima Adedapo, who’s been in danger before and doesn’t have much margin for error. She tried to make Elton her own by mixing up “I’m Still Standing.”
“She’s turned it into a reggae song, which is a very brave thing to do,” Iovine said. And by “brave” he meant “not very smart.” It was an interesting idea, but it didn’t work. It might have worked out better if she hadn’t gone all-in with the Bob Marley accent. Her introductory shout-out to the people around the world who were having problems but were still standing would have come across better had they not shown the discussion of it in the pre-performance clip. As Randy said, it was “corny.”
“I love your reggae swagger. I’m not sure this song was suited for that,” J.Lo said. “It was a better idea than it was payoff for me.”
Adedapo’s likely to be one of the two departing singers this week. As for the other, it could be Langone or Megia, both of whom were in the bottom three last week and did nothing to break out and change minds. It could be Paul McDonald, whose “Rocket Man” fizzled at the finish instead of taking flight. Or even Jacob Lusk, who was overly theatrical in “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word.”
As the voters showed last week by attempting to send Abrams home, strange things can always happen once the votes and texts are counted.
Craig Berman is a frequent contributor to TODAY.com. Follow him on Twitter as he live tweets each episode.
Want the latest reality television and TV news? Follow us and .