It kinda sucked to be anybody but James Durbin tonight.
The multi-octave rocker, who matched Muse frontman Matthew Bellamy high note for high note—and then some—on a cover of the British band's "Uprising," was deemed the best performer of the night.
And he went second.
So how did the other six poor schlubs do on a performance night dedicated to tunes recorded since 2000?
Young Scotty McCreery, still only 17 despite the convincing maturity in his country-made voice, trotted out yet another perfectly fine song—John Anderson's "Swingin'" (covered by LeAnn Rimes last year)—but this time he was taken to task a bit for playing it too safe.
Not so much James, who, unlike Paul McDonald, knows how to pull off a flamboyant coat. With the help of an alt-rock marching band and plenty of fog, he made for quite the spectacle, prompting Jennifer Lopez to "go out on a limb" and guess that he would have the best performance of the night.
Randy Jackson joined her on that limb and noted that Bellamy—who was in the audience a few weeks ago with baby mama Kate Hudson—had emailed James to tell him that, if he sang "Uprising," he needed to really go for it with the final verse.
"Matt, I know you're gonna hear this," Randy said, "but he slayed it!" (Actually, upon a second listen, it was a little shrieky, but James couldn't be beat as far as spectacle went.)
"You stay out of my closet now," warned Steven Tyler.
Haley Reinhart took another type of risk, one the judges seemed to appreciate but might not pay off as far as votes are concerned. She covered Adele's relatively new tune "Rolling in the Deep," a fabulous song but one that's all over the charts and radio now, meaning that's the version people care about.
Jacob Lusk, meanwhile, assured that the tears would be rolling every which way by taking on Luther Vandross' "Dance With My Father," winner of the Grammy for Song of the Year in 2004.
But was Jacob too emotional to sing it cleanly?
"That's one of the tricks of being a performer...You have to have enough control," lamented Jennifer, who compared Jacob to Vandross earlier in the season.
Casey Abrams, who can always be counted on to go way out there (Nat King Cole, anyone?), actually reined it in this week—but just the right amount, going contemporary again with Maroon 5's "Harder to Breathe." And, in our opinion, his hard-rocking version was grittier and more interesting than the original.
Not to mention, he blew J.Lo away with that smooch on the cheek at the end.
"You did what I've been trying to do for four months!" cried Steven. And then both he and Randy agreed that Casey is "so f--king good."
"You just kissed the most beautiful woman in all the world!" marveled Ryan Seacrest, who was sporting the fake Casey beard that the 20-year-old's fellow contestants had donned for preshow interviews.
"This is what it feels like to be a man?" the host joked, rubbing his naked chin as Casey took the liberty of peeling off Ryan's beard.
Alas, Stefano Langone didn't get the memo about ill-advised covers of Usher, Rihanna and other pop-R&B superstars. He went with Ne-Yo's "Closer," and it was rather unbearable.
"No one can say you weren't all up in it," offered Steven, while Jennifer said, "Speaking for all the girls in the audience, I thought it was very, very good."
How about speaking for all the judges on the panel, J.Lo?
Lauren Alaina closed things out with Sara Evans' "Born to Fly," which sounded perfectly lovely and presumably her fans will really love it. But, as the case was with the country singer who came before her tonight, the judges persuaded Lauren to push herself further next time.
"I don't think she even knows how good she really is," Randy said. "You can do anything."
Will she have the chance to do anything next week? If not Lauren (and probably not Lauren), who sang a swan song tonight? The field will be slashed to six tomorrow night following performances by David Cook and Katy Perry.