May 13, 2009 12:00 AM

It was performance night for Idol‘s Adam Lambert, Danny Gokey and Kris Allen on Tuesday. “Our three amigos,” Ryan called them. They may be friends, but the stakes are enormous as the season heads into the finale — and the singers, who each sang one song picked by the judges and one song of their own choice, were clearly all going for broke. Kris, it seemed, knew he had to pull off an impressive stunt to get out from the shadow of the other guys.

His performance of Kanye West‘s “Heartless” was a calculated gamble that redeemed him after the judges were underwhelmed with his first song, One Republic‘s “Apologize” (picked by Kara and Randy). He performed “Heartless” with no backing other than his own acoustic guitar, which he strummed with a beat that sounded borderline flamenco. Randy thought it was even better than the original, and Kara called it “bold, brave, fearless.”

And Simon recognized the moment for what it was — Kris’s likely ticket into the final two. “I had written you out out of the competition,” he said. “That, however, has all changed.”

Adam scored with both his performances. Simon chose U2‘s “One” for him, and he managed as always to go from arrestingly quiet to keeningly loud — sometimes you’d think he was pleading with an unseen terrorist to release a hostage. Simon said it was “brilliant,” and Paula all but crowned him the season’s winner. When he sang Aerosmith‘s “Crying,” Kara marveled: “How do you hit those notes and still talk the next day?” She added: “We’ll see you at the finals.”

Ah, but Simon seemed worried that viewers might turn on Adam and produce a cataclysmic upset. Is a Danny-Kris showdown even possible? Would anyone watch?

Paula assigned Danny the Terence Trent D’Arby hit “Dance Little Sister.” She thought it would take advantage of “that magic part of your voice,” and he did have a wonderfully smooth run of scat singing. “That was dope for me, dude,” said Randy. Danny’s own selection was Joe Cocker‘s “You Are So Beautiful,” sung with a chamber arrangement. “You can really, really REALLY sing,” Randy told him. “Mad vocals!” Simon, unimpressed by the arrangement, nonetheless called the performance “a vocal master class.”

What Danny lacked was anything like the electricity of the other two — Adam’s high voltage, Kris’s unexpected little jolt. — Tom Gliatto

Tell us: Who will be in the finals? Is Adam a sure thing? How does this semi-final round compare to other seasons?

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

Frank Micelotta/PIctureGroup for FOX

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