READ MORE | View all of our Project “Idol” recaps from each episode this season and last

imageThe only thing consistent from last week on Wednesday’s 21st Century songs “American Idol” was JLo’s fashion grade: D. Her two-tone, lame short suit was just awful. The rest of the show left me shaking my head, too.

Paul McDonald crashing a somewhat decent girl-power group number? Haley Reinhart doing a good job? Did I slip into a worm hole?

The show kicked off in pretty good measure, with some of the eliminated girls—including early favorite Pia Toscano – returning to perform Pink’s “So What.” Last week’s reject Paul joined them mid-tune, singing so cluelessly off-key that he officially became a caricature of the promising artist he showed us in the early days. He’s understandably well distracted anyway, having been linked romantically to “Twilight” star Nikki Reed.

Feeling vindicated by the “Idol” contestants poking fun at how Scotty McCreery holds his microphone (top photo) – I’ve commented it looks like he’s about to bite a hot dog – this reviewer was eager to hear some good singing. I’m not hearing anything new with Scotty’s song – and seeing increased eyebrow raising and odd movements rather than taking chances does nothing to win me over. He feels stuck in safety and comfort yet again – the judges got this one right.

imageOn a night when the arrangements actually outshined the performances, James Durbin (second photo) emphasized his showmanship with a marching band behind him and minimal new vocal territory. Unfortunately, he was flat and sharp in many places. Loved the arrangement, didn’t like the performance, and was really disappointed with the judges’ comments. The “Amazing” and “Unbelievable” kudos were seriously misplaced. He’s a sentimental favorite, but the Muse tune he chose cannot survive the missed notes.

The judges’ tepid kudos on Haley Reinhart seemed to miss the mark, too. I’m probably grading on a curve because I’ve harshed out a lot on her in past weeks. Haley delivered my favorite performance of the night, though. When you take on a current and well-respected artist like Adele, you better make it something even bigger – “Rolling in the Deep” was actually nuanced and tonally very, very interesting. Perhaps my positive review comes because I didn’t have to endure the bad stripper pole dancing. Was it perfect? No, but it was, for her, my favorite performance to date – and the judges missed this one in their comments. Randy came the closest, saying she seemed to find her express lane as an artist with the song choice.

imageCoinciding with the late R&B legend Luther Vandross’ birthday, Jacob Lusk (third photo) took on the classic and Grammy winning “Dance with My Father.” Just think: you’re up on stage trying to connect with your huge emotions around a performance in front of 23 million people, and you’re hearing crap coming through your in-ear monitor. Would that throw you off your game? Probably. And that’s not the only singer who had in-ear monitor problems. With all the money this show makes, I’d think they could figure out feedback, wrong tracks and whatever else is going through the monitors. Seacrest was right – Jacob rebounded nicely and delivered a nice performance.

I think I’m pretty well done with Stefano Langone – vocally he was boring and off-key. He’s a pretty good showman, but the Neo song choice was off target and I think he’ll be in the bottom three again. The only positive thing I’ll say is that he’s connecting measurably better each week, but without the singing chops behind it, the results will still not be good. There was apparently a monitor problem with him, too.

imageCasey Abrams (bottom photo) was my second favorite performance. “Harder to Breathe” was current, rocking and, to my delight, included an impromptu kiss for JLo. Again, a great arrangement added some street cred to his nerdy-funk performance territory that was engaging, a little crazy and fun. Also, and way more importantly, Casey and the contestants gave us a number of obvious Seacrest “beard” jokes that would make any gay fan ca-chortle with delight – and, perhaps, cause an eyeroll or three. Randy’s right – Casey keeps taking the chances that other singers this year aren’t. If Lauren and Scotty continue to perform safely, Casey has been daring and wild. Love it.

Note to Steven Tyler: don’t stop cussing. We love the sailor mouth.

The aforementioned Lauren Alaina has been mired in safe choices and delivery the past few weeks, and this week was no different, unfortunately. I can’t say I blame her – she’s timid because of her younger years and still-budding confidence. Jimmy Iovine is right: she could easily win this thing if she amps up her performances and owns her own talent more. I still think she’ll sail through.

The bottom three is a mystery at this point, but I’d look for Stefano as a likely candidate for going home – with Jacob, Haley and James likely at risk too. We’ll see!

imageWill Pollock is an Atlanta-based freelance writer, photographer, musician and artist. He is founder and director of ARTvision Atlanta and writes “Emo.Intel” for EquallyWed. Pollock is also working on a number of books, including one on emotional intelligence in men. He blogs about politics, pop-culture and other nonsense, and you can follow him on Twitter.