Three contestants left . . . three songs a piece . . . and Lauren Alaina, Haley Reinhart and Scotty McCreery came out singing for the American Idol finale.  In last night's episode, each contestant got to choose one song, sang another chosen for them by producer/mentor Jimmy Iovine and a third chosen for them by Steven, Jennifer and Randy!  Who was the standout performer last night?  or WAS there a standout performer?  Three rounds . . . three decisions.  Let's turn to our Idol expert Steve Thompson for his thoughts on who stays and who goes?  Check out Steve's blog, then take a listen to Chad's interview with him about last night's episode of Idol.

From Steve Thompson:

After all these weeks of competition, I'm finally giving Jimmy Iovine his due.  Every song he picked for our trio tonight was superior to any Clive Davis or even Nigel Lythgoe pick of seasons past.  However, our current judging panel wasn't nearly as successful with their picks.  As always, the contestant picks told us a little bit more about each personality.

Round One: Contestant Choice

3) Lauren Alaina sang Wild One by Faith Hill.  The first problem for me is that Lauren is not ready to carry Faith Hill's microphone stand.  Even though this is probably my least favorite Faith Hill track. the song was ready for Lauren to own it with a stellar cover.  Instead, the song may have hurt more than it helped.

2) Scotty McCreery sang Amazed by Lonestar.  A good song choice for Scotty as he continues to be able to sing every country song available (as a solo artist.)  I get that he's improved enough to coast a bit since he's pretty much a lock for the final before the night began-- just kinda miss the days when a country singer had to choose a rock song and "make it their own."

1) Haley Reinhart sang What Is and What Should Never Be by Led Zeppelin.  This was an incredibly bold choice.  There's not many women who can sing Robert Plant (to my mind there's Ann Wilson and-- that's about it.)  After Haley sang the heck out of House of the Rising Sun a few weeks ago, representatives from Zep allowed her to sing anything from their catalogue.  That, my friends, is something. Previously, only Adam Lambert received that blessing.  Kudos to Haley (and her dad, who proved himself quite the able Jimmy Page) for winning round one.

Round Two: Iovine's Choice

3) Scotty McCreery sang Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not by Thompson Square.  This was a good pick by Jimmy.  I've been trying to think of anything remotely current that Scotty could sing and this ran through my head the other day.  Not nearly as good as the original-- but adequate.

2) Lauren Alaina sang If I Die Young by The Band Perry.  One of my favorite songs of this century.  Lauren did a prety good job of conveying the message of the song, but I prefer the plaintive style of the original.  I've always thought Lauren had a pleasant voice for Bluegrass-- but I felt she belted here where she could've been better with a softer tone.

1) Haley Reinhart sang Rhiannon by Fleetwood Mac.  Stevie Nicks was on Dancing with the Stars the other night and, given that they tape side by side, wondered if she was anywhere in the neighborhood.  Haley went with the version Stevie did on the last major Mac tour-- mostly acoustic and eerie.  Ms. Nicks should be beaming somewhere as Haley won round two.  (A confession: I had posters of Stevie Nicks on the walls of my dorm room back when I was in college.)

Round Three: Judges' Choice

3) Lauren Alaina sang I Hope You Dance by Lee Ann Womack.  This is one of the best songs in the past fifty years and, to my ear at least, it sounded like Lauren messed up the lyrics.  I know this song rather well and either she lost concentration or lost another key change-- but something was lost in her translation.  Not the easiest song to sing-- just ask Scotty back during Hollywood Week.

2) Haley Reinhart sang You Oughtta Know by Alanis Morrisette.  If this was the Olympics, Haley should get extra points for degree of difficulty.  The judges gave her a very hard song to sing and I thought she sang it adequately.  I realize they had to clean the lyrics up a bit-- "take me out to a theater?"  I guess FOX doesn't want to incur the wrath of the ridiculous watchdog groups who would complain to the FCC, even though iTunes and Pandora and all the other music sites have the song.

1) Scotty McCreery sang She Believes in Me by Kenny Rogers.  This was the least affected of any of Scotty's vocals this season.  Even though he's still too young t be completely believable singing this song, he may have done enough to make sure he's made the finals.

What will happen?  I think Scotty's safe and the real drama is between Lauren and Haley.  I can't see two country stars in the final, no matter how hard I try to squint to see it.  However, a boy/girl final where both sing similar songs?  Possible.  I'd rather see the two girls in the final-- I just don't see it happening with Scotty's fanbase.  Lauren may squeak out a second spot, but I think Haley is more deserving to be in the final. 

 We'll see Thursday.

@May 18, 2011  Stephen W Thompson