The four finalists were expected to sing two songs – one inspiring, the other moving. But isn't an inspiring song moving? Not only that, but the "moving" song would be from the vintage pop-rock catalog of songwriters Leiber and Stoller. At that point – the second half of the show – producer Jimmy Iovine, absent during the first 45 minutes, showed up with the funny, fabulous, totally non-vintage Lady Gaga as the night's mentor.
Gaga seemed to be wearing a wig made from a panda – something similar to her hair at the end of her "Judas" video – and was shot sitting against a white background.
First Round: Inspiring!James Durban kicked off the night with Journey's "Don't Stop Believing." He was very confident, although I can't say he brought much interpretive oomph to the song, which is now most strongly associated with Glee. "That was the highest degree of difficulty," said Randy Jackson, "and you did it!"
Haley Reinhart, looking older and prettier with her hair up, sang Michael Jackson's "Earth Song." She seemed out of her element with the pretty, vague sentimentality of it all, and was saved only by the backup chorus. (Casey Abrams was in the audience, applauding enthusiastically for his duet partner.) Jennifer Lopez said she felt the inspiration, but thought the song choice was off. "It felt like you were just screaming," said Randy. But Steven Tyler stood up for her: "Don't listen to them," he said. "They're both wrong."
Scotty McCreery's first choice was Alan Jackson's 9/11 ballad "Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning." Very low-key but fervent – his eyes were dewy by the end, and Jennifer seemed choked up too, saying she was glad to witness his birth as a performer. "I think it's the perfect song choice for where we are now as a country," said Randy. "You're ready for superstardom."
Lauren Alaina dedicated Martina McBride's "Anyway" to victims of the recent tornadoes in the South (including her hometown). She executed a really lovely upward swoop on the high note – a new stylistic touch for her. "Lauren, you did it again," said Steven. "You deliver a song like a blue-plate special." Randy thought this was a return to form after a spotty previous week. He called the performance "flawless."
Ryan Seacrest asked Jennifer who won the round. Jennifer ducked the question. Randy answered the question by saying simply that Haley would need to catch up.
Round Two: Moving!Well, Haley caught up. She performed "I (Who Have Nothing)," a desperately campy classic associated with Goldfinger diva Shirley Bassey. Gaga suggested she try something "psycho," although her suggestion was just a sensible sharp intake of breath to suggest melodrama. Haley's probably too young for such a florid number (although Jordin Sparks sang it on her way to her Season 6 win), but she always performs best when she's the underdog. "Look what you're capable of," said Jennifer, who called it "one of the best performances of the year." Steven predicted she'd stay in to next week.
When it came time for Scotty to sing the Coaster's "Young Blood," Gaga corrected his mic technique by explaining it in terms of sensually kissing a woman. ("He's a bit more conservative than I imagined," she said of his reaction.) It was a silly, twerpy performance, but so was the song and he seemed willing to kid himself. Steven, praising his humor, compared him to Pat Boone.
Lauren's follow-up was "Trouble," an Elvis Presley standard. When she said she was uncomfortable with the lyric "I'm evil," Gaga told her, "At the end of the day, the word 'evil' is not that big of a deal." So she went out and had fun with it – as if she were stomping little balloons under her big shoes. "Some serious, good performance there," said Jennifer.
James ended the show with "Love Potion No. 9." In rehearsal, Gaga stood behind him with her hands on his hips to encourage him to loosen up and put some Elvis action into his body. It was a very, very big performance. "You're peaking at the right time, dude," said Randy. "Beautiful thing, man," said Steven.
Thursday night's show (8 p.m. ET) should be a big one, as the final three will be revealed.