‘American Idol’ Top 8 Results: First Guy Goes Home

In yesterday’s “American Idol” Top 8 recap, I said that only James or Haley leaving would really upset me at this point. After tonight’s results show, I stand corrected. When the word came down tonight that our resident Rod Stewart Muppet, Paul McDonald, was going home–I actually felt a bit emotional. It was the look on Paul’s face that did it, and the fact that he couldn’t manage to turn on his beaming smile no matter how hard he tried.

What Paul’s ouster, and his delicious final performance of “Maggie May,” showed is that “American Idol” makes it nearly impossible for quirkier artists to get a foothold. Jimmy Iovine said it early on that Paul was made to sing his own songs, and not anybody else’s. This is only somewhat true. Paul was not made to sing the tunes of people with completely different styles, or with big bombastic notes. Strutting his way comfortably through a Rod Stewart tune, Paul was suddenly the cool dude we’d fallen in love with at the start. While Season 8’s Kris Allen managed to twist other genres of music to suit his own, quieter, guitar-strumming vibe, the addition of all these big name producers has made it nearly impossible for this year’s contestants to do the same.

Which is what made it so ridiculous that after Haley and Casey’s scorchingly good performance of “Moanin’,” Randy acted all shocked and wondered where that scatting, drawling goodness was the night before. I dunno, ask Jimmy Iovine why he chose an awesome song for Scotty McCreery (which Scotty didn’t do) and then gave Haley a Blondie tune that she was having just as much trouble with in rehearsals as she did on stage.

All that aside, let’s just take a moment to whoop loudly for the two growlers, Casey and Haley, and their harmony, chemistry, and Haley’s awesome vocal acrobatics. Extra points for Haley’s sexy lace dress and her vintage style tumble of curls and Marcel Waves. Rock on, Haley! Or as Randy would say, “Yo Haley, that’s what’s up!”

I was ready to gripe over Lauren and Scotty getting yet another duet, and at the top of the hour again–but after Haley and Casey mopped the floor with them, I felt more forgiving. Both Lauren and Scotty were weak vocally at the start of “American Honey,” but they did blend nicely on the harmonies. They also were a little less awkward together than last time, but Lauren always looks a little bored, and three seconds shy of hunching her shoulders forward and pouting. Big step up in the styling department, however, with her cute ruffled yellow dress and giant gold earrings.

The behind-the-scenes video of the “American Idol” Top 8 kids making a mini zombie movie was mildly entertaining, and Haley did make an oddly sexy undead person. It was very sad, however, when the “making of” seemed far more intense than the oddly bland and sing-songy Ford video. I know these kids aren’t actors, but yikes. This production made Ed Wood look like an Oscar winner.

After the two duets, Ryan lined up the performers, and we all knew it was going to be bad news for Haley. Of course Scotty was the first to be safe, then Lauren, and then Casey. This doesn’t necessarily reflect the top vote-getters, but the producers really seem hell-bent on a Scotty/Lauren finale. At that point, we may as well call it “Country Idol” and all pop/jazz/rock/blues lovers can just switch over to…maybe “X Factor”? “The Voice?” It’s too soon to tell.

We got video of legendary Rob Reiner, there to “give advice” to the “American Idol” contestants. In other words, he was pimping his movie and giving the home audience a few laughs. He entertained the Top 8 kids with his jabs at the overlooked-for-an-Oscar “From Justin to Kelly,” and aspiring actor Casey–“Why couldn’t you be Seth Rogen’s younger bass-playing brother?” Rob didn’t leave himself out, saying he loved the ego boost of being the “oldest and baldest person in the room.”

The “American Idol” audience got treated with a visit from the original “AI” winner, Kelly Clarkson. She was there performing her first number one country tune, “Don’t You Wanna Stay,” with country star Jason Aldean. Other than the distraction of Jason’s enormous hat that cast his face in perpetual shadow, it was a pleasant performance and the pair sounded good together. Kelly seemed to enjoy belting out her trademark big, clear notes, and Jason seemed content to let her have the floor to do that. Kelly then showed a little fire at the end, when Ryan insisted they didn’t have time on a results show to chat. “I’ve got to get right to it,” he said, prompting Kelly to reply, “Just like a man.” We don’t get too many surprised reactions out of Ryan, but his big, nearly doubled-over laugh was a gem. Kelly is still the Queen of “Idol.”

Jacob, Paul, Stefano and James next assaulted our ears with “The Sounds of Silence.” The guys on this show just do not harmonize well at all. In Stefano’s defense, he was trying to mesh with Paul’s unusual falsetto tones, and he made a valiant effort. He did a lot better when he and Jacob paired up at the start of “Mrs. Robinson,” and the upbeat number had the guys blending a lot better. What is appealing about these goofy numbers is that they all look like they’re having such a good time up there, just enjoying the music and each other.

The camera gave us a brief glimpse of Pia in the audience, whose friend got her to stand up after the guys performed–though Pia seemed to be thinking, “I got booted instead of that?”

Ryan brought the four guys up to hear the results. James looked very nervous and then supremely relieved when he was sent to the safe couches. When Stefano got sent to the stools, Haley adorably patted the seat next to her as a welcome-to-the-silver-stools-of-doom gesture. Then Jacob was once again safe, and Paul rounded out the bottom three.

The “American Idol” cameras panned to the audience, where Ryan was basking in the glory of standing between Chaka Khan and Anita Baker. To see these two great ladies followed up by a performance by Rihanna really didn’t say too much for the progression of music. Singing “California Kingbed,” Rihanna spent the beginning of the song hiding behind some hanging sheets on the stage, and at first it looked as if the camera wasn’t actually going to be able to find her. Dressed in a long gown and sporting a cascade of brilliant red curls, Rihanna looked striking and sounded okay. I’m really not sure if she just has an odd tone to her voice or if all her notes are consistently flat, but it’s pretty much the way she sounds all the time. It may just be a matter of taste whether you find it pleasing or a bit off.

Every girl who voted a hundred times for Haley last night had the same look of sad inevitability as she stood with the guys. Ryan of course mentioned the elephant in the room, that not a single guy has left the Top 13 yet. Then, after a bit of insane wordplay, Ryan let Haley know she was actually safe. Stefano once again proved his cherubic sweetness, hugging Haley and telling her “You deserve it, you take it!”

This week, Stefano got the good news again, and curled up into the waiting arms of buddy James Durbin. The four-way bromance of James, Casey, Stefano and Paul is now down to a threesome, and James’ teary eyes showed he was having a tough time with it. Paul did his wonderful “Maggie May,” Jennifer smiled up at him proudly, and we have to say goodbye to Paul McDonald. The show has already given a boost to his career and his band The Grand Magnolias, so we think Paul will do all right.

Watch “American Idol” every Wednesday and Thursday night on FOX, at 8/7c. Check your local listings to verify times.

Check out: ‘American Idol’ Top 8: Judges Throw Haley Under the Bus