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May 23rd
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Fearsome Foursome

james-durbin_freakOnly four contestants remain after last night's elimination round of American Idol, and, yes, James Durbin is one of them. He and fellow survivor Scotty McCreery continue to be the only two competitors who have never been in the bottom after a round of voting. The surprise last night was not who went home, but who else ended up hanging by a thread in the penalty box.

The producers were cagey about it, of course, desperately trying to drum up some drama through the interminable course of fluff and foolery that is the Thursday night Idol show. After the weekly Ford commercial video, a guest performance by Lady Antebellum, and an Idol contestant omelet cook-off presided over by Chef Gordon Ramsay (Lauren Alaina won; Jacob Lusk came in second), host Ryan Seacrest started calling names. James, he segregated on one side of the stage, and Lauren on the other. It was an anxious moment, since neither of them had ever finished in the bottom before.

After a gaseous production number by Jennifer Lopez, Haley Reinhart was sent to stand with James, while Jacob went over to Lauren's side. Since Jacob's two performances the night before had garnered the iffiest reviews, it was becoming clear that not only Jacob, but Lauren, America's country sweetheart, had finished below the Mendoza line. Which was confirmed when golden boy Scotty was marched over to the "safe" side with James and Haley.

A new thing last night was the ascendance of backstage music producer Jimmy Iovine to the "bad cop" role of uber-judge and critic. (Well, somebody has to do it, if the other so-called judges are just going to gush and fawn all night.) In video clips, he fearlessly rated each performance from the previous night. Praising James' first performance in an otherwise unexciting mid-tempo rocker, Iovine also gave him points for his heartfelt delivery of "Without You," but thought he should have better controlled his emotions. Final verdict: 8 out of 10.
As to Lauren, he clucked over her fear of sustaining high notes in her rendition of "Unchained Melody," and gave her a 2 (!) Haley scored and average of 8 on the Iovine-ometer (although he gave her "House of the Rising Sun" closer an unabashed 10), while Jacob racked up a soft 6, for the combination of raw, undisciplined vocals and a few too many flats and sharps in his power ballads, "No Air," and "Love Hurts." And the American voting public appeared to agree with Iovine in general, if not in the details: they kept Lauren and sent Jacob home.

But not without a rousing farewell performance of "A House Is Not A Home" (one of the very few Burt Bacharach tunes torchy enough to suit Jacob)—which Jacob ripped into with all the verve, vigor, and playfulness he should have displayed more of in the competition. During the final verse, as he was surrounded onstage by the other contestants, Jacob turned to James and hit a wild, soaring, James-worthy note; James immediately fell to his knees and bowed down.
And something tells me that's the last time we'll see James subordinate to anyone else on this show. Next week: the Final Three. Stay tuned...

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