Harsh Criticism Fuels Haley's Comeback on “Idol”

If Haley Reinhart makes it through Thursday’s results show, she might want to give the “American Idol” audience a bonus performance next week by singing her first number before the show starts.

For the second week in a row, Reinhart started off slowly. Her choice of Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song” as her inspirational song didn’t have the excitement of James Durbin’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” or the shameless pandering of Scotty McCreery’s “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” or Lauren Alaina’s “Anyway.” From both a tactical and vocal level, she was way behind entering the second round, as Randy Jackson made explicit when he said the other three finalists were tied for first at the halfway point.

And once again, she came up with the best performance of the night in her second number, showing some strength and power in “I (Who Have Nothing).” The same judges who slammed her first performance — well, at least in comparison to their usual ubiquitous praise — were very pleased to congratulate themselves for their high standards that clearly inspired Reinhart’s turnaround.

Self-serving though that judges theory is, Reinhart does seem to sing best when she’s angry, or when she has something to prove. She was definitely seething after Randy wouldn’t shut up about how “Earth Song” didn’t suit her. And for the first time all season, the usually unflappable Reinhart did not look happy to be there. The conservative hairstyle didn’t help either, as she looked like an older and tenser version of herself.

The second effort gives her a chance to survive, but unlike last week, this one didn’t close the show. She’s been the surprise of the season and her momentum grows every week, but “Earth Song” may have finally been the moment she ran out of chances.

If she survives, she’ll need to figure out how to avoid these slow starts if she wants to win.

A match made in ... not heaven
Lady Gaga showed up to be the guest mentor this week, but made it clear that she wasn’t going to be a monster to the four remaining finalists.

“I'm not interested in judging them, I'm just interested in being a friend,” she said. Which pretty much qualifies her to be a judge this season.

Some contestants had more of a comfort level around her than others. To anyone who’s watched the show this season, it will come as no surprise that McCreery looked like he spent every moment of the session praying for it to be over.

“I felt like I needed to kiss my cross,” he said after spending time with Gaga. That’s perhaps not the response she was expecting when she told him to think of the microphone as his girlfriend and make love to it, but it’s clear her chances of being his prom date are approximately zero.

After his Gaga-mentored performance of “Young Blood,” Steven Tyler compared McCreery to Pat Boone. That can’t be what she had in mind either.

Winning Randy’s vote
Durbin didn’t start the show off with a flourish. In fact, he nearly took a tumble walking down the steps to the stage as he stumbled over the Princess Diana-esque train on Alaina’s dress.

But he made up for that with his first solo. Not only did he pick a Journey song, he wore a vintage Journey T-shirt and shouted, “Come on, Randy! I know you know the words.”

Any more of a lobbying effort and he’d have had to register with Congress.

No trouble for Alaina
The 16-year-old rebounded nicely from her struggles of a week ago, which saw her face the danger of the final spotlight for the first time. Referencing the devastation that the tornadoes caused the South before her performance of Martina McBride’s “Anyway” didn’t hurt, but even without the shameless pandering, her vocals were good enough to earn another “in it to win it!” from Randy.

Alaina said she was worried about her second song, however, because Elvis’ “Trouble” has a line about the singer being evil and she feared the audience would see her as such.

Yeah, right. It may not have been her best effort, but her persona is about as evil as a sunbeam.

Craig Berman is a TODAY.com's "American Idol" correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @CraigBerman   as he live tweets each episode.

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