(CBS) "American Idol" is down to nine competitors, and some of them rocked out in Wednesday's competition. The show opened with judge and rock legend Steven Tyler giving a brief tour some of the Roll and Roll Hall of Fame artifacts, including his wax bust, to set the stage for the performances.
The judges were their usual encouraging selves as the "Idol" nine, soon to be eight, took on some of the greatest rock 'n' roll and soul classics with the help of mentors Jimmy Lovine and the Black Eyed Peas' will.i.am.
Haley Reinhart gave the bluesy Janis Joplin's rock classic "Piece of My Heart" a ride. Randy Jackson said, "That's the Haley we loved when we first saw you." Janis she wasn't, but it played to Haley's strengths as a singer. "Janis gave the voice to rock 'n' roll in 1968...and you nailed it," Steven Tyler praised.
Casey Abrams performed Credence Clearwater Revival's "Have You Ever Seen the Rain," channeling John Fogerty, but giving the song his own crazy vocal spin and playing the upright bass. JLo said she would be in the front row to see him perform.
Country singer Lauren Alaina took on Aretha Franklin's awesome "(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman." The encouraging Steven said, "Tonight you are a natural born woman...and I love your voice." Randy allowed that she did a good job with a difficult song, noting the challenge of stepping in Aretha's shoes.
James Durbin took his hard rocker act down a notch performing George Harrison's classic Beatles ballad "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," complete with violins and cello on stage. He held off the high notes until the very end of the song. JLo and Randy said they liked seeing the emotional, other side of him. "You did a good job, dog," Randy said. The poet judge Steven said, "Not only did the guitar gently weep, so did you."
The deep-voiced, pure country, Scotty McCreery, sang an Elvis rock classic, "That's Alright Ma Ma." He lacked the costume and hip movements of Elvis, but showed he has some real rock in his country. Randy exclaimed, "This was amazing...this is like a new Scotty...dude, Scotty is in it to win it."
Pia Toscano chose Tina Turner's "River Deep, Mountain High," going seriously up-tempo from her previous performances. Will.i.am told Pia in rehearsal, "I don't want to do Madonna singing Tina Turner...you have to wow them."
She powered through the song with vocal conviction, and wowed them. Steven said, "You killed it. There are millions of guys in millions of bars having drinks about you tonight." JLo told Pia that she wanted her to research some of the great performers, like Tina Turner, to get to the next level. "You can deliver on an up-tempo...all you need to do now is to work on the movement. Pia is in it to win it," Randy said.
Stefano Langone sang Percy Sledge's major hit "When a Man Loves a Woman." JLo said, "That was beautiful. I loved it....that had another layer of emotion as if you were singing to or about somebody." Randy wasn't jumping up down (JLo said he was crazy if he wasn't) during Stefano's performance. Steven agreed with JLo. "Tonight you nailed it, a lot of passion...beautiful."
Paul McDonald selected Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison" and he did not hang his head and cry. The arrangement rocked, and the crowd was clapping throughout, and all three judges said they "loved it." JLo said, "It's right in your lane."
All nine of the competitors were beautiful, amazing and good to some undefined degree, according to the reassuring Idol judges. Tomorrow, the voters will decide who among the nine is the least amazing and beautiful singer.