Following two nights of performances from the male and female semi-finalists, "American Idol" returned Thursday night (March 1) to whittle the number of contestants down to 13. A few of the singers still standing may surprise you.
That said, most won't. Though it was a night of high drama perpetuated of course by Ryan Seacrest's indiscriminate long pauses before revealing any kind of important information, the vast majority of the show's Top 13 finalists could have been seen coming from a ways away. But that doesn't mean there's any standouts that seem like potential winners.
Joshua Ledet and Jessica Sanchez come close, though. After powerful showings Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, both sailed through with relative ease. Record exec Jimmy Iovine, returning for a second season as mentor/Simon Cowell fill-in, noted that Jessica is "the one to beat."
The pressure was lessened in the first hour for eight other contestants as well. From the guys, it was Phillip Phillips, Colton Dixon, Heejun Han and Jermaine Jones grabbing spots, with Skylar Laine, Hollie Cavanagh, Shannon Magrane and Elise Testone being voted in from the group of girls.
At least one of those contestants comes as a surprise. Jermaine, who wasn't even supposed to be on the show after being eliminated a week ago, returned to the show arguably as a ratings boost, and the gentle giant seems to have received the sympathy vote, as well -- though his rendition of "Dance With My Father" Tuesday night was quite splendid.
Heejun Han might have surprised a few people, too -- until one remembers that the Korean-American is one of the funniest contestants on the show in years, so of course he'll have support. You can tell already that Jimmy Iovine doesn't like him, saying that the competition is not "American Comedian." Shots fired!
Of the 15 who didn't get voted into the final 10, six contestants were chosen by the judges to, as the judges and Seacrest kept putting it, "sing for their lives," which sounds a lot more grave than it actually is (Yo, "Idol" producers -- ratings boost next year: pit full of alligators next season during this round. Make it happen.).
Here's where the choices became a bit more questionable. After pimping him for so long, one might have thought the Bieberlicious Eben Franckewitz would get a crack at singing again, despite his uninspired Adele  cover of "Set Fire to the Rain," right? Nay, good sirs and ladies! Eben didn't even get a shot, along with father Adam "White Chocolate" Brock, street performer Creighton Fraker, R&B crooner Aaron Marcellus, Portland's Haley Johnsen, early frontrunner Hallie Day, and forgettable country guys and gals Chase Likens, Baylie Brown and Chelsea Sorrell.
That means Jeremy Rosado, Deandre Brackensick, Reed Grimm, Erika Van Pelt, Brielle Von Hugel and Jen Hirsh got the chance to do the only performing on Thursday night's show. Some of the choices may come as a surprise. Jeremy, for instance, was rather forgettable before, but he's got this emotional connection thing going with J-Lo, who you just KNEW was going to pick him after he tearfully explained to them that singing was his dream, so the choice was understandable. I'm still trying to see what they saw in Brielle to give her another shot, though.
It was Erika Van Pelt who far and away gave the night's best performance. Her version of Lady Gaga 's "The Edge of Glory" was less glitzy than the original, but it showed off her powerful voice. Even I, as I watched Seacrest announce her song choice, thought, "Yes! This is perfect!" And, mostly, it was. Of the six, she sang for her life most prominently. No alligator pit for you!
Deandre Brackensick showcased his falsetto yet again on the millionth rendition of "Georgia On My Mind" the show has seen. The judges love the teenager, and his performance was adequate, so one had to think he'd be through. The same can't be said for early frontrunner Jen Hirsh. After seeming like one of the few girls on the show we should care about early on, Jen kind of lost her mojo (maybe her pairings during group week benefitted her?), presenting a ho-hum "Oh Darling" by The Beatles .
Jeremy Rosado ended up crying again after his performance of Carrie Underwood 's "I Know You Won't," as did J-Lo. Do I really even need to explain to you where this is heading?
Remember when we determined last night that tackling Adele can bring dire consequences if you have no obvious emotional connection while singing the songs? No one got Brielle Von Hugel that memo, and her "Someone Like You" made me wish the judges could've instead picked a fourth guy for the wild card rather than a third girl. (Facebook notification alert: Adam Brock likes this post.)
And Reed Grimm's just trollin'. You can tell that he doesn't really care much about what happens no matter what, and it showed as he scatted and grinned through Bill Withers ' "Use Me." It's about as far away from "Idol" as you can get, but as he's proven time and time again, Reed's just there to entertain the best way he knows.
No surprises with the judges' selections: Erika, Jeremy and Deandre filled out the Top 13.
"Idol" returns next week as the finalists tackle the songs of Whitney Houston . Too soon? Who knows! They'll be mentored by Mary J. Blige , and let's hope Jimmy Iovine makes more appearances to say the things the judges aren't (see: any semblance of criticism). Who'll be brave enough to tackle "I Will Always Love You" (hint: I'm guessing Ms. Sanchez)? Find out next Wednesday at 8 p.m. on FOX.
- Reality Check