Jacob Lusk Jacob Lusk

American Idol's gospel-belting Jacob Lusk escaped the hot seat Thursday night. But he's still in a very uncomfortable position: Lusk is caught between judge Randy Jackson, who continually tells him to "put the pedal down," and record mogul Jimmy Iovine, who wants Lusk to tone down his sometimes over-the-top singing style.

"I'm caught in the middle," says Lusk, 23, a Compton, California, native and church soloist who earns a living as a concierge at an upscale Santa Monica spa. "When Jimmy first heard me sing, I didn't know the song and I was all over the place. I think he was really telling me to hone in on it. But Randy wants me to be myself."

According to one show insider, this problem exists for all of the contestants, but especially for Lusk because of his tendency to let it rip when the song isn't down-and-dirty rock-and-roll or heavy metal. The reason why he's being pulled in two directions? "Jimmy Iovine is looking to make a record," says the insider, "and the rest of us are trying to make a TV show. On the show, Jacob's gotta be who he is, and that's a big, over-the-top, theatrical performer. He needs to be that. But for Jimmy, he's got to tone it down, because it's a record, and that's very different. It's two very different goals."

So what you're seeing a singer trying to please two masters, and it seems to be making Jackson crazy. His commentary was one of pure frustration on Wednesday night when Lusk sang "Dance With My Father." "Every week, now, I keep waiting for the return of the old Jacob," Jackson said. "I need to see you go through the roof, go off the top. Don't hold back any more. It's like somebody's taken a race horse and put the restraints on. If you're here next week, go for it. Just go for it."

It'll be fascinating to see if Lusk takes the advice.

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