Matt Giraud received the fewest viewer votes this week on “American Idol,” but after he reprised his performance of Bryan Adams’ “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman,” the judges used their discretionary “save” power for the first time and kept him in the competition for at least another week.

The judges worked the drama of the possible save for all it was worth. As Matt performed standing in front of them (he had sat at the piano on Tuesday night), they huddled together, then split apart as Kara DioGuardi and Paula Abdul linked hands and swayed to the beat. When the song was finished, Kara joined the audience’s chant of “Save! Save! Save!”

Then Simon Cowell took the opportunity to torture Matt with the kind of misdirection that he perfects during audition weeks, and that host Ryan Seacrest works to death during the finals. “Matt,” he said, “how many times have you been in the bottom three?”

Matt mouthed, “Twice.”

“Can I be honest with you?” said Simon. “I didn’t think you were as good as you were last night. I don’t see that you have really any chance of winning the competition. Matt, we’ve made a decision. Matt, it’s good news.”

As Matt and the other contestants were celebrating, Simon said, “Guys, girls, I wouldn’t be so quick to congratulate him. No. 1, two people are going home next week now. Second piece of bad news: Next week, it’s disco week.”

That’s why Simon gets the big bucks.

Joining Matt in the bottom three were Anoop Desai, who had also sung a Bryan Adams song, “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You,” and Lil Rounds, who had sung Bette Midler’s ballad “The Rose.” If any trend could be spotted there, other than viewers’ anti-Bryan Adams bias, it’s that all three contestants had made safe choices and had generally ignored the advice they had been given by Quentin Tarentino, who served as the contestants’ mentor this week, in which they all sang songs from movie soundtracks.

This was also the first week on “Idol” in which the contestants weren’t each evaluated by all of the judges. (Because of the judges’ chattiness, the previous week’s show had gone on so long that the final performance, by Adam Lambert, was cut off by many peoples’ DVRs.) But contrary to what one might expect, there was no advantage in being spared a critique from Simon Cowell: Both Anoop and Matt had been evaluated by only Randy Jackson and Kara DioGuardi.

Filling out the hour, Jennifer Hudson made her first appearance on the “Idol” stage since being voted off too early in season 3. After the audience and viewers were repeatedly reminded that she has since won an Oscar (Best Supporting Actress for “Dreamgirls”) and a Grammy (Best R&B Album for “Jennifer Hudson”), she gave a performance of her song “If This Isn’t Love” that showed she doesn’t need awards to prove she’s a star.

With that tough act to follow, Miley Cyrus’ performance of her single “The Climb” suggested that the teen sensation still has plenty of room to grow as an artist.