Ray Mickshaw/FOX
Steve Helling
April 18, 2013 09:30 PM

Now it gets interesting.

Week after week, we’ve watched American Idol‘s male finalists leave the competition. It hardly mattered in which order the guys went home – an all-female final five was basically preordained from the beginning. But after Lazaro Arbos left last week, all bets were off for Thursday’s elimination night.

It says something about the quality of this season’s finalists that any of them could win the competition – and they will all probably find some niche in the music industry after the show.

But before we got the results, we heard from a lot of old-school Idol contestants. Jordin Sparks was in the audience. Season 2 runner up Clay Aiken sang a gospel-influenced version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” We got a quick recap of the “Three Divas” of season 3: Jennifer Hudson, Fantasia and Latoya London. Hudson has gone on to Oscar glory. Winner Fantasia has a new album out. And Latoya London – who was Simon Cowell‘s favorite of the season – is still trying to find her place in the music business. Then Fantasia – looking better than she has in years – sang her new single, “Lose to Win.”

But perhaps the most exciting part of the show was a surprise appearance by Paula Abdul. Wearing what looked to be a puffy Christmas tree skirt, she congratulated Candice Glover for her strong performance of “Straight Up” on Wednesday. It was a nice throwback to what Idol used to be – and a reminder of how much we miss Paula.

Candice was the first to be declared safe, followed quickly by Angie Miller and Amber Holcomb. That left a bottom two of Kree Harrison and Janelle Arthur.

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After a break, Arthur sang “You Keep Me Hanging On” for the judges’ save. Randy Jackson, speaking for all the judges, said they had an intense discussion of whether to keep her – but it wasn’t unanimous. And so Arthur became the first female finalist to leave the competition.

Did they make the right decision?

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