It turned out that Randy Jackson's recent prediction was inaccurate: James, the high-decibel rocker with the highly emotional back-story, was eliminated after being in the bottom two with country guy Scotty.
"I worked so damn hard to get here and, God, I was really hoping to get there," James said, his voice shaking with tears while Jennifer Lopez cried from the panel. "I did so much stuff that's never been done on this show before ... In my eyes, in my mind ... I did what I came here to do, and that was to give metal a chance!"
He managed to get through "Maybe I'm Amazed" for his encore, and even exited with a few high leaps and throwing his jacket into the crowd – a noble attempt to keep up the proper swagger.
Judges' PraiseThe judges generally praised James more than any of the other finalists, but a certain aural fatigue was starting to set in over the past few weeks. Viewers may simply have tired of the way he was thrust at them as the frontrunner.
Jimmy Iovine wondered if he hadn't allowed himself to show too much naked emotion when he struggled to perform "Without You" the other week. Judy Garland and Edith Piaf may have sobbed during their signature songs, but there was never any doubt they had the showbiz instinct to get through – sometimes it takes the resolve of an ice trucker.
Why did Scotty finally wind up in the bottom two? I suspect his second number on Wednesday, a jokey-hokey attempt at a crowd-pleaser with the oldie "Young Blood," played a lot worse on TV than for the judges. Maybe he should go back to holding his mic at that odd angle, like Bugs Bunny with his carrot.
Who'll Make the Final Two?At least Jennifer's wish has been granted: Not only did women stay in the running – but at least one of them will be in the final two.
But who would have expected Haley to survive into the final three, after so many ups and downs with the judges and the voting audience? Viewers must like her resilience, her ability to go with the flow even when the flow is going horribly, and her knack for pulling off comeback performances – especially, it seems, when the judges' criticisms have stoked her determination.
Lauren was the first to be declared safe, to huge applause. She'd improved this week, showing more confidence and technique. It also helped that she looked so heartbreakingly crestfallen when she slipped into the bottom two last week.