Thursday’s blast from the past was a far cry from Wednesday’s Twilight Zone-esque “off night.” All-stars Chris Daughtry, David Cook, Kellie Pickler, Jordin Sparks, Constantine Maroulis, and the dreamiest contestant ever, Haley Reinhart, returned to blaze up that shadowy stage, determined to lend Idol some last-minute legitimacy despite Fox’s express wishes to let it sputter out and die, ASAP. Ryan Seacrest even went off script long enough to get goaded by the judges into both twerking and rapping “Ignition.” THIS! Was American Idol in its heyday...ish. J.Lo lied her ass off, claiming to “phenomenal vocalist” Haley’s face that she and the other judges had thought Haley was a shoo-in to win season 10. I’m guessing Jenny just forgot to finish the sentence: “…so we couldn’t let THAT happen, you uber-talented bitch!” Then, in a final eff you to the spiral-haired crooner, the judges unceremoniously dumped both of Haley’s duet partners, fully grown artists with souls who might make great music someday. What a hideous thought! Trot out the commercially viable teens at once! So it’s farewell to Kory Wheeler, C.J. Johnson, Adam Lasher, Amelia Eisenhauer, and Shelbie Z, the Heart-esque, country-singing hairdresser inexplicably saddled with a “Bohemian Rhapsody” duet with freaking Constantine. (“Doesn’t really matter…” J.Lo mouthed along.) Here’s my ranking of the seven moving through, from the least likely to the sure things: Tristan McIntosh and Kellie Pickler, Kellie Pickler’s “Best Days of Your Life” Aw. “Pickles.” The walking, talking platter of comfort food from season 5 brought out the “happier, sassier side” of genetically engineered Idol-bot Tristan, who struggled to keep up with the pro via perfectly timed head bops and off-key singing. J.Lo called the 15-year-old “one of the very special ones,” which I believe best translates to “pretty and malleable.” Lee Jean and Chris Daughtry, Daughtry’s “Home” Season 5’s fourth-place finisher (who’s sold 16 million albums worldwide, according to a giant plaque, thank you very much) pinpointed the problem with 15-year-old Lee: “If you look nervous, you’re nervous.” Despite their cute, big-bro-little-bro vibe, the performance only served to highlight Lee’s shakiness and Daughtry’s prowess. "You were singing with him, and you’re a baby still," J.Lo cooed to Lee while foaming at the mouth.
Manny Torres and Jordin Sparks, Chris Brown and Jordin Sparks’ “No Air” Jordin won this thing NINE seasons ago! I’ve aged 25 years since then, but she is looking amazing. Like Daughtry, she zeroed in right away on her partner’s major flaw: a lack of authentic feels: “I don’t believe you,” she lovingly snapped as he aped the lyrics in a spoken-word confessional of sorts. “You have to put yourself into that situation, even though it makes you uncomfortable.” Manny’s vocals are not much to gasp for no air about, so Harry threw some subtle shade into a makeshift compliment: “The fact that my eye was going back and forth from you to Jordin is a testament to how much charisma you have on stage.” SNORE. (Other eye: closed.) Olivia Rox and David Cook, David Cook’s “Light On” Gah! In this new age of glitchy teen machines, I’m struck by how much I appreciate the stripped-down yet totally passionate consistency of the season 7 winner. No one is as believably emo as the Cookie! Once again, the all-star’s advice was just what the doctor ordered for the 17-year-old Jem doll: “If you can pinpoint when you go in for the jab, as opposed to just singing wildly, it makes for a better performance.” Still, David claimed he was “just trying to keep up” with Olivia all week. I guess she is pretty tall. Dalton Rapattoni and Chris Daughtry, Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” The band overpowered their vocal performance, but from what we could hear, Dalton — who “vomited in his brain, in a good way” upon learning he’d be paired with Daughtry — kept up well enough with his childhood hero. Once Seacrest finished his audition for J.Lo’s Vegas show, she called the judges’ clear favorite from day one, “kind of this dark horse coming to the surface at the right time, with amazing blue eyes.” VOMIT. NOT JUST IN THE BRAIN. Jenn Blosil and Constantine Maroulis, “My Funny Valentine” Season 15’s affected alien lady, meet season 4’s theatrical wonder man (and former love object of Paula Abdul). Harry felt a duty to knock the way they injected so much energy into an old standard, but I didn’t find their eye-locked duet to be a “shouting match” at all. (Isn’t Harry the one who lauded the Fantasia/La Porsha “battle of the runs” last week?) Jenn can be a loose cannon, but I have a soft spot for anyone who admits to Googling “how to flirt.” Been there, girl. That’s how I discovered I’d been exclusively flirting with everyone I’d ever met. Whew! Trent Harmon and Jordin Sparks, the Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody” “He’s so good I don’t want to siiiiiiing!” the season 6 winner squirmed. OMG. Tone it down. And that’s exactly what Jordin wisely suggested Trent do in his performances — pull back a little bit, so he can “hit ‘em with it a bit later” and let his vibrato go. The hat fanatic who gets watery eyes and a wrenched face every time he sings a vowel is a lot to take on his own, but the pair’s vocals balanced each other out pretty well. Their faces almost touched! Keith Urban mouthed the lyrics in a painful reverie. Harry even shifted in his seat a little. Honestly? It was nice. Your votes start counting next Wednesday, so it MIGHT be time to tune in! Or not!