'Idol' : Anoop & Megan Joy's Country-Night Comebacks

The big news on country night was the return of Anoop Desai, who tanked last week with Michael Jackson‘s “Beat It.” Chastened by all the criticism, he was back on top with Willie Nelson‘s “Always on My Mind,” which he sang with a reverent hush. This time, said Simon, “You’ve just managed to go from zero to hero.”

Megan Joy Corkrey, who’d actually been hospitalized with the flu, also had a comeback triumph with “Walking After Midnight.” Dressed in a brown and blue gown, she made the song sound like a trippy-bluesy turn on a ballroom stage — very “Midnight At the Oasis.” Randy said he was “quite impressed.” Simon agreed: “You should have flu every week,” he told her.

Most of the singers aren’t huge country fans, but most of them found a secure and even successful pop middle ground. Michael Buble look-alike Matt Giraud seemed so in control crooning Carrie Underwood‘s “So Small,” Simon praised him as the competition’s underdog — in this instance, even better than Danny Gokey, who, inexplicably bundled into a snow-white safari jacket, took a while before clicking on another Underwood hit, “Jesus Take the Wheel,” with his usual throaty earnestness.

Kris Allen did a very nice job — introspective and soulful — with Garth Brooks‘s “To Make You Feel My Love.” Simon, surprised and impressed, said, “You’ve actually got a shot at doing really well.” Randy was wowed, too: “Tender moments from my dog Kris!”

Scott MacIntyre, 23, tried something similar with Martina McBride‘s “Wild Angels.” But the judges seemed rather bored, and Paula and Simon got into one of their ridiculous tiffs over whether (as Paula maintained) he was too dependent on the piano. Wonder if he’s in trouble.

At least Allison Iraheta should be secure: True to precocious form, she sang a window-rattling version of Patty Loveless‘s “Blame It on Your Heart.” “You could sing the alphabet,” said Kara, “and sing it well.”

Most surprising disappointment: Alexis Grace should have killed with Dolly Parton‘s classic “Jolene” — she even looks like Dolly! — but she sang it with a sort of overwrought grimness that struck the judges wrong, for the most part.

Less surprising disappointment: Lil Rounds, who said the only country hits she knew were featured in movies. Trying to get away from R&B, she ran into a rough patch with McBride’s “Independence Day.”

Ironically, the most country of the bunch may very well be the one to go — and miss the chance to sing on tour with the top 10. Michael Sarver managed to have fun plowing through the lyrics to Brooks’s “Ain’t Goin’ Down (Til the Sun Comes Up).” But he was the first singer of the night, and two hours later it was hard even to remember the big guy.

The craziest moment: Adam Lambert‘s interpretation of “Ring of Fire,” which he sang as a sensual, Middle Eastern-tinged love cry. The week’s unofficial country mentor, the imposing Randy Travis, couldn’t say much more than “You’re scaring me.” Kara found it “a little strange.” Randy, who was enthusiastic, said it made him think of Nine Inch Nails meets country. Simon was, in his own zesty way, appalled: “What the hell was that?” he said. “I think there are a lot of throwing their television sets out the window.”

Maybe, but you can bet they won’t throw out Adam. — Tom Gliatto

Tell us: Who was your favorite on country night? Who might be sent home?

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

Michael Becker/FOX

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