There were new twists, familiar faces and loads of drama on American Idol Tuesday night, as the ladies kicked off the first of the live performance shows.
The new twists? In what was dubbed Rush Week, the judges reviewed tapes of the Top 15 Girls and picked the 10 that impressed them the most to perform, surprising the ladies one at a time.
The familiar faces? Randy Jackson, the “Dogfather” of Idol, was back to mentor the contestants, leading a sort of Rush Week “wisdom workshop” for the pledges, which included vocal coaching from former Idol contestants Adam Lambert and Chris Daughtry, and guidance from stylists, a movement coach, and a pair of spiritual advisers.
But biggest drama of ladies night – besides Jennifer Lopez‘s low-cut blue dress and a contestant’s near-fall off sky-high heels – actually belonged to the boys, as America decided whether Neco Starr or Ben Briley would make the Top 15 Boys.
After the nationwide vote, Ben Briley moved on to (possibly) sing Wednesday night.
The first singer into the Top 10 Girls was preschool teacher Majesty Rose, 21, who played the guitar and sang “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, a performance Keith Urban called “easy, breezy,” while Lopez said she was “ready for show time.”
Nurse Kristen O’Connor, 24, sang Adele‘s “Turning Tables,” showing off what Urban called her “killer range,” with Lopez stating, “I can hear you recording records tomorrow.”
Briana Oakley, 17, who tried to make it to the Top 15 for two years in a row, sang Demi Lovato‘s “Warrior,” and she reminded Lopez of “a young Whitney Houston,” although Harry Connick Jr. warned Oakley that high notes are akin to “triple axels” in Olympic skating and not to hit them just for applause.
High school senior Jena Irene (formerly Jena Ascuitto, but still “Gina” and not “Jenna”) rocked “Paint It Black,” and her “sultry” performance earned Lopez’s love.
“You’re one of my favorites, I’m not gonna lie,” she said.
Connick earned the first boos of the season, when he criticized “Wrong Side of a Love Song” by 16-year-old Bria Anai (and her glittery lips) as “very, very shouted.”
“We’re like the Three Bears,” Connick laughed. “[The audience] booed me, did nothing for Keith and applauded Jen.”
Marialle Sellars, 17, didn’t soar with “Roar” by Katy Perry, with the judges calling her performance a “good save” in the midst of “complete calamity.”
Not only did Sellars pick a song the judges didn’t like, sing out of tune, and be “too karaoke,” she nearly fell off her heels, before losing a shoe and gamely saving herself, grabbing it at the end of her performance. “You’re supposed to knock us off our feet,” quipped Connick.
Country rocker Jessica Meuse, 23, who fought her way through mama drama and a sing-off to make it into the Top 15, played the guitar and subtly sang “Drink a Beer.”
“Underneath all that edge, there’s a softness and heart,” said Lopez, whose words prompted Meuse to weep.
Emily Piriz, who just celebrated her 18th birthday, sang “Paris (Ooh La La),” and its racy lyrics did not sit well with Connick, who challenged her on the choice.
“Harry kickin’ into daddy mode over there,” joked Ryan Seacrest, while Lopez shouted her support: “I love you!”
MK Nobilette, 20, Idol‘s first openly gay contestant, sang “All of Me” by John Legend, a touching performance that earned a lengthy standing ovation from the audience and kudos from the judges.
“Your vulnerability and humanness comes through,” said Urban, while Connick called her an “elegant, articulate singer,” emphatically adding, “You belong here!”
Malaya Watson, the tuba playing teen, brought some old-school soul and “to-the-wall energy” singing “Hard Times” by Ray Charles from the first album she ever bought. “You make glasses and braces look so cool,” said Urban.
America will now vote for their top five girls and, after Wednesday’s show (at 8 p.m. ET on Fox), their top five boys, with the judges making an additional three wild card selections.