The Elvis fanatic delivers a strong performance, but James Durbin had a big night, too

By Tom Gliatto
May 05, 2011 08:45 AM
Credit: Frank Micelotta/Fox/PictureGroup (2)

Elvis is back in the building.

Scotty McCreery made his mark on Wednesday’s American Idol – which presented the final five, with Sheryl Crow mentoring – by bringing out the big guns: Elvis’s sentimental chesnut “Always on My Mind.” He sang it with the easy inevitability of bread browning in a toaster. Jennifer Lopez said he’d proven his versatility. “Beautiful,” said Steven Tyler.

Each singer got to sing twice on Wednesday – one contemporary song and one classic. McCreery also covered Montgomery Gentry’s “Gone,” and it was a total smash and surprise, chugging along with locomotive energy. “I saw you dance with the devil tonight, and that’s a good thing for you,” said Steven.

Still, James Durbin may have come close to clinching the whole thing with his second song – with tears in his eyes as he sang Harry Nilsson’s “Without You.” It was one of the most powerful Idol performances ever – the kind of naked emotion that comes close to obliterating a song.

“This competition, it’s yours to lose,” said Randy Jackson. “Your emotions were incredible,” said Steven. “You are a true, true artist,” said Jennifer Lopez.

“Every single week I leave everything on the stage. Everything,” James told Ryan Seacrest. I believe him.

Lauren Alaina performed Carrie Underwood‘s big showy country rocker “Flat on the Floor.” I missed the Lauren whose voice is like a nice steady river that occasionally overflows its banks with happiness. But the judges were unanimously delighted. “You ate. That. Up,” said Jennifer. Lauren’s second number was the Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody,” which played more to her strengths.

Comeback of the night? Haley Reinhart.

Her first choice was Lady Gaga‘s “You and I,” an unreleased song that the superstar performs often in concert. “A super-bold choice,” said Crow. She sang it well, with a near-gospel fervor, but the judges were unimpressed. Randy wasn’t even sure how great a song it was, which only confirmed for me that Randy and I could never be friends.

Crow suggested Haley start out her followup number, “The House of the Rising Sun,” a capella – a smart idea. She made a silky, mysterious entrance into the song, then tore into it like a cat handed a Kleenex. Randy said it was the best performance of the show. “Sweet and sour, raspy. I can relate to that,” said Steven, who gave her an ovation.

Probably going bye-bye: Jacob Lusk. His first choice for the night was “No Air,” a duet by Jordan Sparks and Chris Brown. His performance left the judges confused. Jennifer praised his talent, and said he should keep going in that direction. Randy called it “corny,” and Steven said he was still “waiting’ for that certain something.”

Next, he sang the old classic “Love Hurts” with the same over-the-top fervor as his earlier performances. The judges faulted him technically, but thought he’d redeemed himself. “I’m a sucker for passion,” said Steven. “Everybody got lost in you, because you got lost in the song.”