Scotty McCreery continued to show his vocal and emotional range on "American Idol" tonight, singing both an emotional Sept. 11 anthem and a fun 1950s song. Plus, he told us how much he misses Garner. He vowed to "kiss the grass" – then find some tea and fried chicken – if he gets to come home for a Final Three visit this weekend.
But the highlight of the night was probably Scotty's encounter with this week's guest mentor, Lady Gaga. Clad in black-and-white hair, makeup and clothes, Gaga looked like some sort of bird, as my colleague Brooke noted. Gaga, below, was obsessed with making sure Scotty didn't pull away from the microphone, even going so far as telling him to think of the mic as his girlfriend and to "make love" to it. "I better have a good-lookin' microphone," Scotty joked. Later, he was shown good-naturedly kissing the cross around his neck and seeking forgiveness after his Gaga encounter.
For the first round of tonight's show, the Final Four were asked to pick songs that had special meaning to them. Scotty chose Alan Jackson's 9/11 anthem “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning).” Of course, Scotty was just 7 on Sept. 11. Still, he gave a strong, emotional performance that the judges loved.
Randy Jackson called it "the perfect song choice for where we are now as a country." Randy also said Scotty was "ready for superstardom," and, of course, "in it to win it." (Randy said this so often tonight, many on Twitter wondered if he knows people are trying to make a drinking game out of the phrase.)
For their second songs of the night, the contestants had to select a tune from the Jerry Leiber-Mike Stoller songbook, then be mentored by Gaga. (Yes, it was as incongruous as it sounds. But Gaga proved amazingly game and fun to have around.) Scotty's Leiber-Stoller choice was The Coasters’ “Young Blood.” He had a good time with it, racing across the stage and going really low on the low notes. The judges liked that, after the seriousness of the Jackson song, Scotty showed his fun side, both with "Young Blood" and his interaction with Gaga.
The best of the rest:
--The judges didn't care for Haley Reinhart's first performance (see below), but they raved about her second -- an emotional version of Ben E. King's "I (Who Have Nothing)." Haley was coached to wring every bit of drama out of the song by Gaga, who knows a little something about theatrics. Randy declared it "one of the best performances of the year." "You just had a moment right here!" he yelled.
--Lauren Alaina's best song came in the first half. She sang Martina McBride's "Anyway" and mentioned all the devastation caused by the tornadoes in her native South. Lauren said the song was dedicated to "any person who's ever had anything bad in their life." It was a powerful performance, coming after a so-so week last week. Randy declared that – wait for it – "Lauren is back in it to win it!" Steven loved everything about it, including Lauren's over-the-top prom dress that could have been made from the curtains of her parents' Georgia home.
--James Durbin's song with special meaning was Journey's "Don't Stop Believin' " It was good, but we think the song has just been "Glee'd" to death in recent years. (My friend Andy also reminded me that it was "Soprano'd" to death before that. Maybe James' performance would have been more interesting if, like the infamous finale of the HBO mob show, he had abruptly stopped right in the middle of the song.) Still, the judges loved, and Randy went on and on (and on and on) about how he used to be in Journey himself. And he was in it to win it, too!
--For his Leiber-Stoller song, James sang a hard-rock version of "Love Potion No. 9." It had its good parts, but there also was a whole lot of wailing. The extended yelling that James did at the end would have earned an "indulgent" from Simon Cowell if he was still on "Idol."
--Lauren went with Elvis Presley's "Trouble" for her Leiber-Stoller song. Initially, she worried about it, since the lyrics say "because I'm evil." Because Lauren wanted us to know that she is not evil. She finally got over that to deliver a fine, but not too memorable, version of the song.
--For the tune that inspires her, Haley, left, went with Michael Jackson's "Earth Song." Yeah, we weren't familiar with it either. But once she started singing, we recognized it as that "what about us, what about us, what about us" song. An odd choice. The song started off sleepy and ended up screechy. As my wife noted, "Haley yells too much!" Jennifer Lopez and Randy don't think it was the right song. Randy even – gasp! – wasn't sure whether Haley is in it to win it. Of course, Steven liked it. Because Steven likes everything. "What is she supposed to do with that concoction of feedback?" a dumbfounded Ryan Seacrest asked after the judges' views.
The contestant with the fewest viewer votes will be eliminated on Thursday's 8 p.m. live show on Fox. (We'd bet on Haley or Lauren being ejected.)
Garner is having a Scotty viewing party from 7-9 p.m.Thursday at Garner High School, 2101 Spring Drive.
Assuming Scotty survives, there will be a Saturday afternoon parade and party at Lake Benson Park, 921 Buffaloe Road. Parking shuttles will be available at Bryan Farm, 1832 New Bethel Church Road.
And don't forget: He'll kiss the grass.