The two-hour show was partitioned into three rounds.
The singers got to pick what they wanted to perform, with mentoring hints from the lovely Beyoncé. Then they sang a selection by producer Jimmy Iovine and, finally, a selection by the judges.
Read on to see how the three American Idol finalists did.
Round One: Goes to Haley
Scotty McCreery, described by Beyoncé as “just a cutie pie,” tried moving beyond his preternaturally low tone and tested his higher range with Lonestar’s “Amazed.” Cutie pie pulled it off.
“You kicked that song into the middle of next week,” said judge Steven Tyler. Scotty described it as “going for my inner Casey,” meaning Casey Abrams. He’d almost cried, he added, but “I wanna stay away from them waterworks.”
Lauren Alaina sang Faith Hill’s “Wild One.” Beyoncé brought up the eternal question – how can Lauren deal with her insecurity? – and suggested she needed to protect herself in a sort of projected stage image, in short, by imagining herself a diva. The song let her be loose and flirty, although she seemed to swallow a syllable at the very end. Randy thought Beyonce’s advice was smart, although Lauren without the vulnerability isn’t quite Lauren, is she?
“I think Haley is a rock star,” Beyoncé said of Haley Reinhart, who made the daring choice to perform Led Zeppelin’s “What Is and What Should Never Be.” I sometimes think she’s a female Casey, starting her songs with a trill, building to a growl and then yowling away, but it was a big, audacious performance and easily eclipsed Scotty and Lauren. (And that was her dad on guitar!)
She even tripped and fell onstage, but that didn’t throw her. “This is what it’s all about,” said Randy Jackson. “You’re fearless. … One of your best performances ever.”
Randy and Jennifer Lopez handed the round to Haley, while Steven demurred from settling on one singer. Lauren, he noted, “got her freak on.”
Round Two: Scotty
For Scotty, Iovine picked Thompson Square’s “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not.”
“I’m beyond thrilled,” said Scotty, betraying not one iota of excitement. The song added a touch of rock to his country roots and he rolled along very comfortably. Jennifer said she loved it and then, with the charming flirtatiousness allowed a superstar, asked Scotty to cut his hair back short for the finale. Randy compared him, favorably, to country giant Garth Brooks.
For Lauren? The Band Perry’s “If I Die Young,” which Iovine thought would fit her voice, and hit her sweet spot. He was right, as he is often is: She managed to be both sadly achy and somehow hopeful. Steven and Randy noted a couple of technical flaws, but they didn’t seem to think those were significant.
“You have the most beautiful tone of our finalists,” said Jennifer. “It is a magical, magical thing.” And then he assigned Haley “Rhiannon,” the great Fleetwood Mac classic sung by Stevie Nicks. She got to have her hair and dress rippled by a wind machine while fog licked at her heels, a nice touch, but it all sounded strangely becalmed.
The judges were very kind, although they all admitted it wasn’t the same killer performance as her first song. “I think you did a good job,” said Randy. “It was more of a somber moment for me.”
Steven gave the round to Lauren, but Jennifer and Randy preferred Scotty.
Round Three: Lauren
The energy level really began to sink – either the singers were losing steam (understandably) or the judges hadn’t chosen all that well. Maybe both?
“She Believes in Me,” by Kenny Rogers, was the judges’ pick for Scotty. It came across as much too slick, but I think it would have sounded the same even if Patti Smith sang it. There’d be no point faulting the vocal. “That’s the first big chorus you sang in a big way,” said Steven.
Lauren’s selection was Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance.” She wore a long powder-blue gown that looked as if it had floated on over from the Grand Ole Opry, and her performance had a floating ease to it, too.
“You just gave me goosies from head to toe,” said Jennifer. Randy said she’d “slayed it,” and Steven said she’d sung it “perfectly.”
Haley thought it was “pretty cool” her song would be Alanis Morrisette’s “You Oughta Know.” But she had trouble during the rapid run of lyrics, and then was close to shrill during the big power moments. “Haley is in it to win it,” said Randy, who by now has said this of people who aren’t even on the show.
At the end, Randy and Jennifer went with Lauren as Round 3’s winner, and Steven voted for Haley.