Needless to say, James Durbin did not spend a single uneasy nanosecond in the penalty box on last night’s elimination round of American Idol, waiting to hear how America voted. It should come as no surprise to anyone who saw his performance of Muse’s apocalyptic anthem, “Uprising,” the night before—sung in a black leather steampunk duster, complete with marching band drum corps—that the minute James was asked to step out and hear the verdict, he was pronounced “safe” to sing another week.
Not so lucky was Stefano Langone. After flirting with disaster often over the last few weeks (he’s been in the bottom three, vote-wise, three weeks in a row), he finally came up too short in the vote count to qualify for another round. As Jennifer Lopez pointed out, finishing in the Top 7 was pretty impressive—especially for a guy who only made it into the Top 13 by divine intervention (hers) back when the judges still had the power to influence who went home and who got to stay. But Stefano needed to bring more to the table than his trademark big achy ballads if he was going to stay to the end of the feast.
Still, it was an emotional departure. James looked even more devastated than Stefano, since the two of them have been buddies and roommates throughout the competition; when Stefano finished his goodbye song—actually, a note or two before the finish—James leaped up to wrap him in a farewell bear hug. I think it’s a measure of James’ growing popularity on the show that there was so much camera time devoted to his reaction during Stefano’s elimination. The producers get it that James is good TV; he’s the one America wants to watch, even when he’s not performing.
Also perilously close to the bottom this week were Jacob Lusk and Haley Reinhart—although Haley was dismissed from the penalty box almost immediately, perhaps in deference to Lopez, who said earlier in the show she hoped no more girls were going home. Both Haley and Jacob have finished in the bottom three at least once before in the last few weeks, and both will have to step out of their comfort zone and do something, you know, exciting, if they want to continue to play in the big leagues.
So far, only James and country crooners Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina have never been in the bottom three. Is this the Clash-of-the-Titans match-up the show is gearing up to, now that there are only six contestants left? Neither Scotty nor Lauren has ever displayed one iota of the chutzpah or imagination that James brings to every single performance, but all America is voting, and America is full of country fans. After all, America voted for George Bush twice (well, once, anyway), so who knows? And let’s not count out wild-card Casey Abrams. Stay tuned…