Michael becker/FOX
Tom Gliatto
May 05, 2011 10:05 PM

Sixty million votes, said Ryan Seacrest, poured in after Wednesday’s strong show.

But we were put through a half-hour of time-squandering nonsense (including an omelet-cooking segment with FOX’s resident chef, Gordon Ramsay) before he told America, “We might be surprised.”

We were – not by the outcome, but by the near-outcome. (Read on to find out why)

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Jacob Lusk was the week’s loser on American Idol, leaving us with four remaining contestants. But he was joined in the bottom two by adorable young Lauren Alaina.

She instantly began crying, and ducking her head rather than face the camera.

She probably had become accustomed to Haley Reinhart being the girl most in danger of going home.

Jacob, on the other hand, had had a messy couple of shows. This week, the judges suggested he should be taking one artistic direction, then another, after he sang “No Air.”

They might as well have blindfolded him, spun him around and told him to pin the tail on the donkey.

Although Randy Jackson said he redeemed himself with “Love Hurts,” the judges – not very helpfully – pointed out that he had momentarily fumbled the performance. The audience might not even have noticed it otherwise.

His chief problem, said producer Jimmy Iovine, was that “his nerves are getting the best of him. If you lose confidence, everyone knows it.”

He gave Jacob a measly overall rating of only 6.

And Lauren? She was more consistent than Haley last night, but Haley’s less-than-stellar performance of Lady Gaga’s “You and I” was forgiven when she upended expectations with a powerful, unusual version of the hoary old folk-rock classic “House of the Rising Sun.”

“She won the night,” said Iovine, whom I’m quoting at length once again because his observations are thoughtful and the judges contributed nada in the course of the hour. “She’s a lock for the finale.”

Iovine thought Lauren “did great” starting out on “Flat on the Floor,” but when she came out to sing “Unchained Melody” she “pulled back on the biggest note.” She’s being undermined by her fear, he said. And she herself admits she’s unsure just how much to push herself, or even how to do it.

That charming modesty may finally be misfiring.

Iovine, by the way, didn’t agree with Randy Jackson’s assessment that James Durbin’s emotional performance of “Without You” made him a possible lock for the win. “His voice closed down,” he said, “and that hurt.”

Ryan also revealed that Scotty McCreery, who had a terrific night overall, has yet to place in the bottom two – because he’s good, of course, but probably also because the enormous country-music fan base is responding to a young singer who sounds like the genuine article.

Even if he loses, said Iovine, he’s one of those Idol also-rans who go on to have a solid recording career.

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