Follow live commentary on http://twitter.com/HowardCohenand return here later for a review of the show.
The durability of the Carole King canon withstood the Idol onslought tonight and made for one of the season's standout performance shows.
James Durbin delivered the season highlight with his beautifully nuanced reading of the tender Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? He opened King's moving examination of young love in 1960 and the repercussions of moving too fast with an uncharacteristic soft opening which showed off the pure tone of his voice. He then navigated up half keys effortlessly on the uptempo rock portion and stayed on point completely -- not an easy skill to pull off. Randy Jackson was so taken with the performance he not only uttered the "you can win this" prediction but he left his seat to hug the singer. Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? Yes, James. And at the finals when you deservedly win this whole thing.
Scotty McCreery is Idol's other big talent this season but Babyface's misguided arrangement of King's You've Got a Friend was all wrong for the song -- the lyric is a supportive ode to friendship in troubled times, not an excuse for a booty call -- and poor Scotty was left to fend for himself amid all sorts of aural goop. Scotty did the best he could but it was close to unlistenable. Though I didn't agree with Randy's love for that performance, I appreciated the return of judging on the Idol stage. Randy's positive analyses was thoughtful and genuine.
Babyface also had all the wrong ideas for Haley Reinhart when he suggested taking 1971's Beautiful at a languid tempo. Thankfully, she mostly listened to Jimmy Iovine and rendered the song somewhat closer to its more foreceful Tapestry roots and had one of her better performances of late. Can't imagine what producers were thinking when they booked Babyface, a banal early 90s hasbeen, as guest mentor with Iovine. Iovine does not need the help from the likes of sleep-inducing, out of touch Babyface.
Lauren Alaina, a marketable contemporary country star in the making, is still searching for her Idol Moment and Where You Lead didn't lead her anywhere close to where she needs to be at this stage. Her vocal was forced, missed a note, and lacked the energy and conviction necessary to make for anything memorable. The same could be said for her duet of Up on the Roof with Scotty. It was adequate and sweet but won't replace James Taylor's definitive 1979 version on too many iPods. Certainly not on mine. Our gifted country twosome fell well behind James at the top of my Idol chart for two weeks running.
Casey Abrams, meanwhile, plays like a Saturday Night Live skit gone awry with his "jazz" performances. Just because he's different doesn't mean he's good. That said, his growly take on Hi-De-Ho wasn't as rancid as his usual. Wish the same could be said for his duet, with Haley, on I Feel the Earth Move. I wish the earth would have moved to swallow up this caterwauling pair on that aspirin-required race through the piano pounding Tapestry hit. "Made me scalp itch, it was that good," Steven Tyler said of Casey's solo, as he itched the tattered nest atop his head. Try shampoo, Mr. Tyler.
This brings us to Jacob Lusk. Jacob will go home tomorrow night but mostly because his time is up. He'll be eliminated despite giving his best, liveliest and most engaging performances to date. His vocal on Oh No, Not My Baby hit a few off notes but he was invested in the melody, he moved around a bit -- certainly more than his usual potted plant style -- and despite fighting overloud backing singers, an overproduced arrangement and a louder jacket, he was fun. I can't recall typing the word "fun" and "Jacob" in the same sentence yet but I'll do so again to describe his surprising duet of I'm Into Something Good with James to close the show. They are an unlikely pair, two big voices and personalities vying for attention on the same stage, not to mention different tastes in music. Still, they were into something good on this over the top performance. It was, dare I say it again, fun.
Finally, the Idol oddities tonight: Ryan Seacrest kept trying to make a love connection between the duet partners -- stopping short at Jacob and James but probably only because the show was running long and they had to wrap by 9:30. It was awkward and odd. Concentrate on your own love life, Mr. Host.
Miley Cyrus turned up to offer advice to Lauren, but this only inspires me to borrow one of Scotty's raised eyebrows in disbelief. Lauren can outsing Miley any day of the week. The only lasting impression Miley made was the condition of her own speaking voice. She sounds huskier and raspier than Stevie Nicks who has more than 43 years on her. Lay off the bong, m'dear.