'Idol' : Adam Lambert's 'Thriller' Night

Photo: Ray Mickshaw/FOX

Michael Jackson may not be a high-profile celebrity anymore — you don’t hear “Gloved One” much this millennium — but Idol‘s 13 finalists all grew up in his pop universe, and most of them were at home performing his music on Tuesday’s show.

Adam Lambert, 27, was crowned the night’s Prince of Pop by the judges. Some might call him a ham, but he knew what he was doing, turning “Black or White” into a theatrical strut with all sorts of vocal tricks. Paula, on the point of asphyxiating with excitement, gasped: “My eyes are transfixed on you.” Kara said he hit notes she never knew even existed — which seems improbable — and even Simon acknowledged he was in his own league.

It was also good to see Danny Gokey, 28, having some flat-out fun with “PYT.” Simon said the vocals were “brilliant,” even if the dance moves were ludicrous. Paula said: “I think you’re on the way to the finals.”

Lil Rounds, 24, also seems safe. She charged through “The Way You Make Me Feel,” throwing in powerful high notes at the end. Randy told her, “You made the song new again.” Simon’s chief objection was her outfit — and Paula, who was festooned with feathers, advised her to stick to dark colors.

Kris Allen, 23, will apparently stay in the competition because of his winning cuteness. Paula thought his performance of “Remember the Time” (with acoustic guitar) was “adorable-sexy.” And Allison Iraheta, 16, with her grownup-rocker delivery, successfully growled, snarled and whooped “Give Into Me.” “You’re one to watch in this whole thing,” Randy told her.

The judges had praise for Scott MacIntyre, 23, who sat at the piano and sang “Keep the Faith,” which somehow led to a conversation between Paula and Simon about the song’s popularity in Norway. Michael Sarver, 27, turned “You Are Not Alone” into a solidly comfy country ballad. Jasmine Murray, 17, reestablished her “great stage presence” (Kara) with “I’ll Be There.” And Matt Giraud, 23, earned comparisons to Justin Timberlake from Randy.

There were some major missteps. Anoop Desai, 22, sang a version of “Beat It” so cornily “street,” even Paula compared it to karaoke. Kara added that for the first time ever she’d felt “disconnected” from his performance, and Simon said the whole thing was so awful, Anoop probably shouldn’t have been kept on in the specially created 13th spot.

Jorge Nu ez, 20, sang “Never Can Say Goodbye” at a rhythmically weird pace that reduced it to glops of syrup. The judges all agreed it was the wrong song for him. He explained that he picked it because it fit his range. “I wasn’t going to sing ‘Bad,'” he explained, setting Simon up to answer, “You sort of did.”

And the beautiful and talented Megan Joy Corkrey, 23, made a bone-headed dunder, performing the silly “Rockin’ Robin” with an arrangement that included a tweeting flute. As Simon noted: “What a stupid song choice!”

The show ended with a puzzling performance of “Dirty Diana” by Alexis Grace, 21. Simon thought it was just over the top, but that was fine by Kara. “You’re a naughty girl,” she said, “and I liked it.”

Ryan promised that Wednesday night’s show will have a surprising new twist from the judges. Maybe Tatiana will join the panel as Paula’s echo. — Tom Gliatto

Tell us: Who gave the best performance of the night? Who should be ready to go home?

Check out all our Idol coverage at PEOPLE.com/idol!

Ray Mickshaw/FOX

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