"American Idol" producers dispensed with some of the drama right off the bat Wednesday night, when host Ryan Seacrest waved early favorite Lil Rounds over to the top 12 without the usual nail-biting suspense. Rounds got the nod near the top of the last one-hour audience-voted elimination show before the finals begin next week.
"Thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you!," Rounds shouted before reprising her flawless take on Mary J. Blige's "Be Without You."
The news was not great for Arianna Afsar, who got slammed Tuesday night for her dull arrangement of ABBA's "The Winner Takes It All"; Taylor Vaifanua, who got a mixed vote from the judges for her rendition of Alicia Keys' "If I Ain't Got You," and geeky growler Alex Wagner-Trugman.
That left Texas girl Kendall Beard and the show's first legally blind piano-prodigy, Scott MacIntyre, fighting for the night's second spot. MacIntyre took the prize after his rendition of the 1980s soft-rock classic "Mandolin Rain" by Bruce Hornsby and the Range got the judges hyped again about his prospects.
Before learning their fate, the finalists sang a cringe-worthy version of Katy Perry's "Hot N' Cold" and executed some of the most awkward choreography in "Idol" history while seated on a series of semicircular couches.
The ax continued to fall fast and heavy, as karaoke hostess Kristen McNamara, done in by a growly, somewhat messy cover of Tracy Chapman's "Give Me One Reason," was sent packing. Flair-tastic drama king Nathaniel Marshall, who crashed and burned with his brash take on Meat Loaf's "I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)," flamed out in what Simon Cowell said was an entertaining, but ultimately "excruciating" performance.
They had fast company. Felicia Barton, called back when Joanna Pacitti was disqualified, had wowed the judges and seemed to rise like a phoenix with a strong performance of Alicia Keys' "No One." Still, it was ultimately not good enough to get her in. And Von Smith's quavering take on Marvin Gaye's "You're All I Need to Get By" earned him some Clay Aiken comparisons, but, alas, not a spot on the big show.
That left smooth singer Ju'Not Joyner and funky bilingual crooner Jorge Nuñez standing center stage, waiting to hear who would take the final audience-voted spot in the top 12. Though Joyner got plenty of props for his soulful take on the Plain White T's "Hey There Delilah," it was Nuñez's powerful performance of Elton John's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" that won the day, probably the result of some extra audience love thanks to the tears he shed when the judges rained praise on him on Tuesday.
Shortly after those three made the cut, the judges unveiled the eight wild-card round contestants who will vie for the final three spots in the top 12 on Thursday night (March 5): Von Smith, Jasmine Murray, Ricky Braddy, Megan Joy Corkrey, Tatiana Del Toro, Matt Giraud, Jesse Langseth and Anoop Desai.
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