Kicking off the night was the Bruno Mars-esque 18-year-old Elijah Liu, who immediately sought to seduce the show’s key voting bloc.
“I love the ladies,” he said, making it clear that he’s also “single and available.”
And his plan worked like a charm: His performance of Rihanna‘s “Stay” elicited a chorus of high-pitched shrieks from the audience. It also caused the judges to rave about his marketability.
“I can imagine seeing your face on blankets and posters and cups,” said Nicki Minaj.
St. Louis’s Cortez Shaw tried to work some Bruno Mars magic of his own, singing “Locked Out of Heaven.” Although Shaw’s performance also drew shrieks from the crowd, he didn’t receive quite as much love from the judges.
Then the night took a surprisingly dark turn after the lovably geeky Charlie Askew – wearing a tie-dye tank top and a dangling feather earring – completed his performance of a Genesis song.
It did not go over well (Randy used the word “terrible” a few times), and Askew, who looked completely dispirited and on the verge of tears, confessed that “a lot of people think that I’m a very happy, buoyant person a lot of the time and the only reason I smile so much is because I feel like I have to.”
That’s when Ryan Seacrest – who proved once again that he’s a virtuoso TV host – comforted the singer and reminded him that he has “friends here tonight.”
On a more joyful note, New Orleans native Burnell Taylor, who lost 40 lbs. since his first Idol audition, got rave reviews for his reprise of “I’m Here” from the The Color Purple musical.
Stutterer Lazaro Arbos and Chicago barista Devin Velez also proved to be strong contenders.
But the evening’s showstopper award went to Curtis Finch Jr., who got a standing ovation from the judges for his gospel-infused version of R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly.”
Keith Urban summed up the panel’s feelings when he told Finch: “You just ooze everything good and light and godly.”
Once the votes are tallied, the top 10 – five men and five women – will be announced Thursday.