By Chaz Lipp

Two weeks out from the series finale of American Idol we got two performances each from the remaining four contestants. This season has whizzed by in a blur, often focused more on returning Idol greats than the current performers. This is very first week of the entire season where the viewer votes actually matter (no more judges’ save). First up: a “rock” performance mentored by E-Street Band member Steven Van Zandt.

La’Porsha Renae – “Wanted Dead or Alive” La’Porsha finally stumbles here with a Bon Jovi classic. She doesn’t seem particularly vested in the performance, which is delivered with an off-handed “I know I’m the front-runner, so I can afford to throw one away” casualness. She even completely botches the words at one point. Do the judges call her out? Of course not. “You could sing the phone book,” says Jennifer Lopez. “That’s next week,” Harry Connick, Jr. retorts. Remember, they’re not judges this season – they’re cheerleaders. Grade: C-

MacKenzie Bourg – “I Want You to Want Me” One-trick-pony MacKenzie delivers round one’s least-inspired performance with this utter trashing of a great Cheap Trick hit. All the pile-driving energy of this propulsive tune has been drained. This is what MaKenzie does. It’s all he does. Week after week, MacKenzie has transformed whatever song he performs into the wussiest, most-“sensitive” glop he can manage. You know it’s bad when even the judges don’t like it. “I hated that arrangement,” Keith Urban states, to a chorus of boos. Grade: D

AI Top 4 David Cook Heartbeat

Season Seven champ David Cook comes out to perform “Heartbeat” as highlights from Idol history play on the big screen behind him. It’s kind of melancholic, knowing the grand Idol parade is coming to an end.

AI Top 4 Trent Sharp Dressed Man

Trent Harmon – “Sharp Dressed Man” This year’s underdog steals the entire night with a stylish reworking of a ZZ Top hit. Even in this truncated season, Trent has managed to carve out a classic Idol arc – progressing from a goofy, unknown entity to a true contender. Dropping his customary dumb hats (well, not during his mentor segment with Van Zandt), he looks handsome and confident. Trent shows off his impressive vocal range and wins unanimous praise from the judges. Grade: A

Elimination time: it’s either Dalton or Sonika. It would’ve been nice to have two females left in the running, but Sonika Vaid’s time is up. I’ll miss her, especially since she showed some real fighting spirit in recent weeks. And she’s a far stronger vocalist than Dalton (or MacKenzie, for that matter). But she’s gone and we don’t get to hear her rock choice. (I really wish they’d allow time for “farewell” performances.)

AI Top 4 Dalton God Only Knows

Dalton Rapattoni – “God Only Knows” Dalton was going to rework The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army,” but was convinced otherwise by mentors Steven Van Zandt and Scott Borchetta. So, perhaps in an attempt to stand out, Dalton chooses the decidedly non-rock Beach Boys classic. He delivers the melody fairly well, though the performance feels a bit superficial overall. The judges are generally positive but their comments are pretty superficial too. Grade: C+

AI Top 4 Katherine McPhee Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Season Five runner up Katharine McPhee returns to perform her Idol favorite, “Over the Rainbow.” After that blast of Idol nostalgia, we move onto round two: Sia songs, mentored by the songwriter herself.

AI Top 4 LaPorsha Elastic Heart

La’Porsha Renae – “Elastic Heart” Is La’Porsha on autopilot this week? The judges don’t think so. JLo: “I’m not even judging you.” (No kidding.) Harry says something about feeling like a passenger in a NASCAR race (the final five contestants were special guests at a recent NASCAR event, so maybe he was paid a little extra to work in another mention). This one was fine: professional but passionless. It isn’t going to win La’Porsha any new fans, but it won’t lose her any either. Grade: B-

AI Top 4 MacKenzie Titanium

MacKenzie Bourg – “Titanium” Voters, it’s time for MacKenzie to get the boot. Harry felt this performance existed solely to justify one strained-for falsetto note. MacKenzie is musical wallpaper and it’s time to move on, no matter how many young girls find him irresistibly cute. Grade: C

AI Top 4 Sia

Sia performs her song “Cheap Thrills” with three leotarded dancers.

Trent Harmon – “Chandelier” At this point, only Trent and La’Porsha are even worth paying attention to. JLo: “You can do anything.” Harry: “Phenomenal.” Keith: “Beautiful.” Personally, I find that Trent’s upper range needs work. It’s not full-bodied, but rather kind of thin and weedy. Still, this was another good showing. Grade: B

Dalton Rapattoni – “Birds Set Free” JLo gushes about what an “artist” Dalton is, but you could flip a coin between he and MacKenzie for who deserves the ax next week. I think I like Dalton marginally better, just because he appears to have a slight edge in terms of stylistic range. This was a minor improvement over his Beach Boys tune, as Dalton felt more emotionally vested in the song. Still kinda whiny though… Grade: B-

American Idol Images: FremantleMedia; 19 Entertainment; FOX

Chaz Lipp

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