jamesdurbin_museThe James Durbin show just keeps rockin’ along on American Idol. Last week he was the closer, and brought down the house with his raucous “Heavy Metal.” In this week’s random shuffle, he was the evening’s second performer on Music of the New Millennium night; typically, he brought the show to a premature climax with his powerhouse delivery of the anthem, “Uprising” by Muse

I love Muse. I’ve seen them live onstage, and I can tell you, covering one of their songs is not for the fainthearted. “Uprising” is probably one of their best known numbers, played incessantly on TV a couple of years ago as the driving theme song for the sci-fi series “V.” But as usual, James put his own stamp on the number.

First, there was the production: he marched out of the wings with a corps of drummers who circled the stage, pounding out the beat, while James sang. Then there was the performance itself. James sang the busy lyrics with power and clarity, but while the song builds in intensity, it doesn’t afford the opportunity to hit those high wailing notes that he loves. Undaunted, he created his own drama by singing two of four lines in the final chorus an octave higher. (“They will stop degrading us!”) In a word: yowza.

“That’s going to be the best performance of the night—and you’re only number two!” enthused judge Jennifer Lopez. “Dude, you are unbelievable out there!” Randy Jackson chimed in.

Granted, there seems to be less and less to fear from the competition as time goes by. Scotty McCreery played it country safe with a laid-back version of LeAnn Rimes’ “Swingin’.” Ditto Lauren Alaina, closing with a sweet, but uninspiring “Born To Fly” by Sara Evans. Jacob Lusk channeled Luther Vandross with an emotional “Dance With My Father,” and sang beautifully (although Jackson did suggest he not hold back, and learn to “bring it” like James). Haley Reinhart did a pretty strong vocal on the Adele song, “Rolling in the Deep,” but the backstage clips of producer Jimmy iovine instructing her to look for the “heartache” in the song were illuminating for a singer who doesn’t always seem to grasp what her lyrics mean. Stefano Langone, too, sang a fairly confident cover of Ne-Yo’s “Closer,” but only after we saw clips of Iovine trying to explain to him the “difference between whining and begging, and sexy.” Ouch.

Then there was wild-card Casey Abrams, who confounded expectations again by coming out with a guitar and a back-up band to work out on the Maroon V rocker, “Harder To Breathe.” He lost a little of the song’s relentlessness, but otherwise gave an accomplished performance. Besides which, there’s just something indefinable about Casey, something sly and fun that makes you just want to see what he’ll do next.

On the other hand it’s easy to define James’ appeal—he’s exciting! He also understands the science of performing. The production he envisions for his number every week (no doubt honed during all those years in local musical theater) is light years ahead of what any of the other contestants ever thinks of. And you certainly never hear Iovine lecturing James about what his songs mean.

What does America think? Tune in tonight, 8 pm, for the next round of judging.

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