"This was the only authentically good performance of the evening," Simon Cowell declared Tuesday on Fox's talent competition.
"Right on the money, baby," Randy Jackson said, while Paula Abdul declared "the competition is back on."
The race is getting tighter, with just seven singers left in the running for the fourth "American Idol" title and a record contract. Several, like Bice, were at their best and no one made a serious flub.
Viewers decide which one gets voted off each Wednesday, but the judges' comments have the potential to sway the outcome.
Carrie Underwood's (search) performance of "MacArthur Park" was so impeccable that Jackson deemed it "an unbelievable vocal" and called her one of the contest's best singers.
Cowell was reduced to criticizing her amped-up hairstyle and cocktail dress as uninspired. "It's like Barbie meets the Stepford wives," he said.
The bubbly Vonzell Solomon (search), the other woman left in the contest, drew kudos. "I'm Every Woman" was her choice to fit the night's theme of '70s dance classics.
She picked the song "with the highest degree of difficulty" and worked it out, Jackson said. She was "right on the edge vocally," Cowell said, but her personality carried the day.
(Unless otherwise mentioned, assume Abdul offered some manner of effusive praise. Also assume that the camera showed at least one Paula-is-dancing-again shot during each song.)
Constantine Maroulis (search) evoked a lukewarm response with "Nights on Broadway." Jackson compared it to a Las Vegas act and questioned his originality — something Cowell's critique also lacked.
"I think the performance was akin to a waiter in a ghastly Spanish nightclub," Cowell said, candidly admitting he may have used the colorful analogy before.
"I'll take that job in Vegas any day," an unfazed Maroulis replied.
Scott Savol's (search) version of "Everlasting Love" was labeled "hot" by Jackson but struck Cowell as the sort of performance managed by an ordinary guy in a karaoke bar.
"September" (search) was Anwar Robinson's choice and Jackson called it "the bomb" after a pitchy start. "I don't think it was a winning performance," countered Cowell.
Fresh-scrubbed Anthony Fedorov (search), at 19 the youngest contestant, sang "Don't Take Away the Music" and carried away compliments from two judges — and one harsher verdict: "It was pleasant, safe and a little insipid," Cowell said.
"I'll take it," Fedorov said.