LOS ANGELES – Jessica Sanchez, the petite powerhouse who, in a surprise turn last week, barely escaped elimination on “American Idol” by earning the season’s only “save” from the judges, once again delivered the goods with her rendition of Alicia Keys' "Fallin'” and a plaintive version of Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness."
“I’m so glad that you’re still here with us,” said judge Jennifer Lopez.
“Your talent is so other-worldly to me,” added judge Randy Jackson. “I don’t even know if you how good you really are.”
On Wednesday night, Sanchez and the other contestants had the option of choosing hits from “Now and Then”–anything that reached #1 on the charts from 2000 on, and a vintage soul hit, respectively.
But before the Top Seven performed their song choices, host Ryan Seacrest paid respect to his friend and mentor, the late Dick Clark.
"Without Dick, a show like this would not exist,” said Seacrest. “He will be missed greatly; our thoughts and our prayers go out to his family. I know he's in a better place saying, 'Hey, let's get on with the show, OK?' You got it, boss."
With that, Hollie Cavanagh, the Liverpudlian by way of Texas, opened the show and finally let loose, confidently belting out Adele's "Rolling in the Deep.”
“It was perfect!” raved judge Steven Tyler. “You had feeling, you had emotion,” praised Jackson.
In past weeks, the judges had criticized Cavanagh for appearing too “stiff” and “robotic” on stage, but Cavanaugh rebounded, singing a soulful take on Dusty Springfield’s "Son of a Preacher Man."
Actual son of a preacher man Joshua Ledet, the 20-year old from Louisiana, earned a standing ovation from the judges after performing Fantasia’s "I Believe" and Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come."
“You are truly one of the most gifted singers I think we’ve ever met on the show,” said Jackson. “Love you, love your voice–well done.”
Handsome Phillip Phillips also earned a standing ovation with his take on Usher's "U Got It Bad"
“No chump love, sucka,” noted Tyler. “It was great tonight, man–great.”
Lopez, who has never been shy about her appreciation of younger men, made Phillips blush after he sang sans guitar Wilson Pickett's "In the Midnight Hour.”
“You made me want to get up there and do that little step with you,” raved an excited Lopez. “When the leg comes up and everything...”
Lopez then raised both her fists, squeezed them, and let out what could be best described as an ecstatic groan.
“I think half of the nation would like to see you get up and dance with Phillip tonight,” quipped Seacrest.
Skylar Laine rocked it out with country version of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” and Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.”
“You’re like a wild horse who refuses to be tamed,” said Tyler. “You are just something else.”
Colton Dixon, who mentor Jimmy Iovine noted “has that female vote that backs him like a stone wall,” performed Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” and Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September.”
Lopez called his reinterpretation of Gaga “exciting,” while Tyler advised, “keep taking chances and risks.”
The contestant who received the most criticism from the judges this week was Elise Testone, who sang Alicia Keys’ “No One,” and Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.”
Lopez suggested that Testone try smiling more during her performances, while Jackson noted that she “oversang” Gaye’s classic and instead needed to let the song “marinate.”
At the end of the program, Jackson also managed to get in a dig at rival live music show, “The Voice.”
"The talent this season on “Idol” is better than any show on TV. Period. End of story!"
Up next: One of the seven finalists WILL be eliminated.