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The dramatic music and smoke was cued for Wednesday's American Idol, as the shock of Pia Toscano's abrupt departure had yet to completely settle in.
The show went on, however, and the night was capped by intriguing performances that received much of the same cheerful, gloating and supportive responses from this year's "everyone-is-great" judge panel.
Jennifer López, for one, stole the spotlight with a couple of one-liners and bold statements. Case in point, her response to Stefano Langone's performance: "That was the $%#@!"
(No word yet on whether this will change her apparent, um, affection with contestant Langone this season.)
During, Haley Reinhart's performance, J.Lo expressed her hesitation in even judging the remaining two female contestants because she "feels like all of the girls are getting voted off."
"I am so afraid to say anything about any of the girls because I don't want any of the girls to go home," she said. "I feel like all of the girls are getting voted off and I don't like that."
James Durbin, Casey Abrams and Scotty McCreery all decided to go against the advice from stud producer Jimmy Lovine, and chose songs that weren't recommended. The risk paid off big for all three contestants, especially for Abrams.
The night before the competition, Abrams decided to nix the recommended song, "In the Air Tonight" by Phil Collins, and instead resurrected his original choice of Nat King Cole's "Nature Boy."
It appeared to be a game-changing performance that showcased his unique ability to pull off jazz, and the judges gave a standing ovation. (They don't always give those.)
"It was brilliant and absolutely genius," Randy Jackson said.
"You believed it was in your heart. That is the truest sense of the word artist. You are so good," said judge Steven Tyler.
Abrams, who played the upright bass while singing, was shaken with emotion and said he dedicated the song to jazz artists like Esperanza Spalding.
"I'm so happy," the teary-eyed singer said. "I feel a sense of accomplishment."
As for the other contestants, Haley was once again received the worst reviews by the judges after singing "Call Me" by Blondie. Still, she has thus far survived her fare share of bad reviews.
Stefano sang "End of the Road" by Boys to Men, an ironic choice considering he's been close to the end of the road on this show for weeks. The judges thought it was great, but then again, that hasn't helped him.
Jacob Lusk belted out the dramatic "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" by Simon and Garfunkel.
Of the women, Lauren Alaina, had the best performance singing, of all things, a Miley Cyrus song that only Miley could dream of doing. Paul McDonald opened the show and did his normal sultry performance with a suit lined with roses.
The show ended with a striking performance by James Durbin, who performed heavy metal. It had all the glitz, all the notes, and America seems to love the kid.
Bottom line: No one stuck out as horrible, but Scotty, James, Lauren, and especially Casey brought it to another level.