So when I saw that this week would be "Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Week," I prepared myself for a night of air guitar and adrenaline-pumping performances. Steven Tyler's intro walking us back through rock and roll history with greats like Paul McCartney, Jimi Hendrix and - of course - Aerosmith only fueled my excitement.
In my anticipation I overlooked the broad catalogue of artists who have been inducted into the Hall of Fame - ranging from Madonna to Run DMC. But the contestants didn't. Rather than embracing the theme and taking a risk, a number of contestants chose songs that were very light on the rock in favor of sticking with their comfort zones.
I also didn't understand the choice of this week's "coach," the Black Eyed Peas' will.i.am. Don't get me wrong, I like a lot of the Black Eyed Peas' songs, but rapping via Auto-Tune, like will.i.am does so regularly, is not Rock 'n Roll.
The biggest surprise from Wednesday night's episode was that one of my favorite performances of the evening came from one of my least favorite performers. Haley Reinhart has been a steady member of the Bottom 3, but she finally found the right fit for her growling vocals with Janis Joplin's " Piece of My Heart." Granted, it helped that Janis was not known for being able to carry a steady tune, but there was no denying that Haley made a perfect song choice and performed it well.
I was also pleased by James Durbin's performance. As this season's token "rocker," I expected Durbin to go to the wall with an outrageous rock or metal performance. Instead, he chose to go simple and emotional with George Harrison's timeless ballad "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." Durbin ended the song in tears, later explaining that the rendition was something he had been working on personally for years. While other competitors stayed close to their comfort zone, Durbin ignored it. It was a risk, but in my opinion, a good risk.
Frontrunners Pia Toscano and Scotty McCreary turned in solid performances once again. Pia finally tackled something other than a ballad with Tina Turner's "River Deep, Mountain High." She showed a little more movement on stage, but was still a little too stiff. I don't necessarily think that she needs to run around stage or break down into a dance routine, but she's running into a little bit of the problem that last season's third-place finisher Casey James had - all of the talent in the world, but the stage presence of a lawn dart.
Meanwhile, Scotty managed to infuse more rock and less country into Elvis Presley's "That's All Right." If he can overcome his equally stiff stage presence (and the cheesy faces he makes while singing), it "should" be a Pia/Scotty finale.
The remaining contestants avoided risks like the plague. We got a sappy cover of Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman" from Stefano Lagone, Jacob Lusk's ode to R&B/Pop with Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror," and a very vanilla rendition of Aretha Franklin's "Natural Woman" by Lauren Alaina. I think they all should have tried to stretch and show some range rather than playing it safe.
In my mind, Paul McDonald and Casey Abrams had performances that were in the middle of the pack with covers of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" and Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Have You Ever Seen the Rain," respectively. It was nice to see both contestants play instruments again, because that is where they shine. But their performances were still mediocre at best.
As always the judges all chose to heap praise upon the contestants rather than offer constructive criticism, so how their comments will influence voters is anybody's guess. My predictions for the Bottom 3 are Langone, McDonald and - unfortunately in this week's case - Reinhart, who doesn't seem to have the fan base needed to keep herself out of danger. As for who should go home, I think Stefano's weak performance will likely send him packing. And it should, for no other reason than the kid's song choice, "When A Man Loves A Woman." Seriously, Stefano? You made Michael Bolton look manly.