After receiving criticism from the show’s judges for playing it too safe last week, the deep-voiced 17-year-old country crooner of Garner, N.C., enticed the panel with his buttery rendition of “You’ve Got a Friend” on the Fox talent competition’s evening of Carole King tunes Wednesday. It was 22-year-old rocker James Durbin of Santa Cruz., Calif., who was dubbed a front-runner though.

Randy Jackson proclaimed that Durbin “just might win the whole thing” after his electric reworking of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.” Steven Tyler didn’t say he saw Haley Reinhart, the bluesy 20-year-old college student of Wheeling, Ill., winning the contest, but he did claim that he “just saw God” after Reinhart’s upbeat rendition of “Beautiful.”

“You have one of the best voices in the competition,” Jennifer Lopez told Reinhart.

Jacob Lusk and Lauren Alaina were praised for going outside their comfort zones. Tyler lauded a plaid-clad Lusk, the 23-year-old spa concierge of Compton, Calif., for “shaking his tail feathers” on “Oh No Not My Baby,” while Lopez hailed Alaina, the 16-year-old high school student of Rossville, Ga., for reaching for the high notes on “Where You Lead.”

“I don’t know if I love the song,” Jackson told Alaina. “What I did love is that you came up there with a vengeance.”

Casey Abrams might want to take a cue from Lusk. Lopez told Abrams, the 20-year-old eccentric film camp counselor of Idyllwild, Calif., that she wanted him to “loosen up your legs a little bit” after his jazzy performance of “Hi-De-Ho,” popularized by Blood, Sweat and Tears. Tyler was more enthused, informing Abrams that it “made my scalp itch, it was so good.”

The top six finalists were also paired for duets of King classics. Abrams and Reinhart brought their growling chemistry to “I Feel the Earth Move,” while McCreery successfully backed up a soaring Alaina during “Up on the Roof.” Durbin and Lusk’s awkward attempt to out-wail each other on “I’m Into Something Good” was deemed something bad.

“Where were you going with all that?” a puzzled Tyler asked the duo.

One of the six finalists will be dismissed Thursday.