Reality Check: Sanjaya-Less 'Idol' Stronger Than Ever

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Perhaps it was that their singing was inspiring votes that could, as Ryan kept explaining, change lives. Perhaps it's that we're at the do-or-die stage of the competition. Perhaps it's because they didn't have a mentor and were free to do what came naturally. Perhaps it's just what happens when a show goes from being Sanjaya-focused to Sanjaya-less.

Whatever the reason, most of our top six "Idol"-ers sounded better Tuesday night than they ever had.

Faithful readers know I've never even come close to jumping on the Chris Richardson bandwagon. I've speculated, in fact, that it's his Justin Timberlake-esque style choices and gee-shucks, grandma-loving persona that has kept him around more than his actual singing.

But his version of Eric Clapton's "Change the World" gave me the chills.

Whether it was enough to save him — we're down to the wire here, which means somebody who's good is going to have to go — remains to be seen.

Someone who's definitely not going home any time soon is Melinda, who, as usual, brought the house down — this time with Faith Hill's "There Will Come a Day." How on earth did this girl last so long as a backup singer without people demanding that she come to the front of the stage?

As an added bonus, her surprised-you-like-me faces have officially left the auditorium.

Another surefire contender for the top spot is Jordin, whose mere existence inspires fits of shrieking from the audience and whose rendition of "You'll Never Walk Alone" motivated Randy to tell her it was one of the best vocals he'd heard in the history of the show.

I also loved LaKisha's version of Fantasia's "I Believe," but it's dangerous to tread on former "Idol" territory, and the judges seem to be completely over her. Simon is throwing around the fact that she's "shouting" her songs with more frequency than Randy used to use the word "pitchy," and Paula rambled nonsensically in that way she does when she's afraid to say something mean.

While I didn't love Phil's performance as much as I did last week, the judges went absolutely crazy for it. The weakest of the lot was probably Blake: His "Imagine," while solid, lacked the excitement of a lot of his previous performances. I, for one, am missing his beat boxing.

Who will be eliminated during the special two-hour "Idol Gives Back" results show, which will feature performances from everyone from Bono to Celine Dion? What's the shocking surprise Ryan keeps promising? Will Sanjaya be able to take a break from his many media obligations to cheer on his former castmates?

Stay tuned to find out.

Anna David is a freelance writer. Her first novel, "Party Girl," is coming out in June 2007 from HarperCollins.

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