April 01, 2009 12:00 AM

The theme of Tuesday’s episode of Idol allowed contestants to perform songs that are popular on iTunes, and the nine finalists were delighted to be freed from genre constraints like country or Motown. “This is like the week we’ve been waiting for,” Scott MacIntyre said.

It was a surprise, then, that Kris Allen avoided contemporary hits and reached all the way back to 1971 for Bill Wither‘s “Ain’t No Sunshine” — more surprising still, he was accompanied by a string quartet. But he captured the song’s powerful sadness, and the judges were thrilled. “Lovin’ you,” said Randy. “Lovin’ you!” Kris has steadily moved his way up in the competition, in his modest way, and is probably going to be tough to dislodge.

Adam Lambert once again proved himself the singer in strongest command of his voice with a screaming rollercoaster ride through Wild Cherry‘s “Play That Funky Music,” a performance Randy described as “definitely in the star zone.” Simon didn’t necessarily like it — maybe because he senses that Adam is always starring in an imaginary staging of Jesus Christ Superstar — but he conceded its originality. Paula invoked Mick Jagger and Steve Tyler. He’ll be around for a while.

This was also a strong week for Danny Gokey, who toned down his usual stomping exuberance for Rascal Flatt‘s “What Hurts the Most” and ended up giving Kara goosebumps. Scott did unexpectedly well, too. With his hair decurled and slightly puffed, he sang Billy Joel‘s “Just the Way You Are” from “an honest place” (Kara). Simon — never much of a fan — said it was his “best performance by a country mile.”

Unfortunately, several singers nearly went down like downloads. Anoop Desai, who says his heart is in R&B, nonetheless misfired with Usher‘s “Caught Up,” which was nearly as cheesy as his cover of “Beat It.” Kara thought he performed the song as if it were a challenge from his frat brothers. Matt Giraud, who unexpectedly landed in the bottom two last week, tried to resurrect himself with a more rugged, contemporary style. But singing The Fray‘s “You Found Me,” he sounded (to quote the song) “lost and insecure.” Paula fretted that he’d sacrificed too much of his style. “I didn’t get it at all,” said Simon. “It sounded very put-on.” Matt looked pretty bummed, and understandably. But Kara said he deserved to stay in. Even Lil Rounds sounded like a wedding singer, according to Simon, after singing Celine Dion‘s “I Surrender.”

It’s Megan Joy who’s probably doomed. She may have the most original voice among the top nine, but the judges unanimously panned her version of “Turn Your Lights Down Low” by Bob Marley and Lauryn Hill. Simon called it indulgent and monotonous. Randy told her, “It took forever!” And The Dawg sounded like he meant it. — Tom Gliatto

Tell us: Whose performance did you love? Who will go home? And how cute are Lil Rounds’s little girls?

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

Chris Cuffaro/FOX

You May Like