‘American Idol’ Judges Save Matt Giraud

Giraud is first contestant in show's history to avoid elimination thanks to new rule.

At last. No, not the Etta James song every [url id="/news/topics/a/american_idol/"]“American Idol”[/url] contestant thinks is their ticket to the winner’s circle. At last the judges busted out their one-time-only save Wednesday night, making “Idol” history by giving dueling piano player Matt Giraud a second chance after he landed in the bottom three again.

Though he didn’t appear to win them over with his singing Wednesday night, there’s clearly something about the Justin Timber-alike from Kalamazoo that continues to speak to the four panelists, who only had two weeks left to use the save before it ran out. The bad news? That means two contestants have to go home next week.

After a hectic night in which time constraints forced the judges to give their opinions in pairs for the first time — and the show still ran over — the elimination night felt almost breezy.

Because this week’s mentor, filmmaker Quentin Tarantino , is one of the show’s biggest fans, it seemed he couldn’t help but put his imprint on the opening of Wednesday night’s show. With a doomsday showdown vibe fueled by an ominous voiceover, “Pulp Fiction”-style titles screens, quick edits and scratched-negative reels, the intro set up the elimination show as a do-or-die faceoff.

But before any drama could unfold, things got warm and fuzzy for a while. In keeping with this week’s movie theme, the top seven sang the “Flashdance” classic “Maniac,” with Kris Allen and Allison Iraheta taking turns flirting with the judges as the kids shimmied through a high-energy arrangement. We also got to see tape of the cast meeting Zac Efron at the premiere of “17 Again” after Tuesday night’s show and watch Iraheta get a bit tongue-tied as the boys teased her about her Efron crush.

Speaking of Iraheta, who got props Tuesday night for being the girls’ only hope left in the competition thanks to her gutsy take on Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” she was the first one to pass through to the next round. Though Simon Cowell didn’t love Adam Lambert’s cover of Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild,” the leading contender on the show quickly took a seat as well, though Anoop Desai wasn’t so lucky despite good notices from the judges for Bryan Adams’ “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You,” landing in the bottom three for the third week in a row.

To shouts of “My sister loves you!” Kris Allen waited to find out whether viewers liked his cover of “Falling Slowly” from the movie “Once,” which Kara DioGuardi labeled his best, but which Randy Jackson called pitchy. Simon, who didn’t get a chance to discuss the song Tuesday night called it “brilliant,” the opposite of what he said about Lil Rounds’ cover of “The Rose,” which sent the one-time leading contender back to the bottom three again.

That left Matt Giraud and Danny Gokey as the last two awaiting their fate, with Giraud having sung an unevenly received cover of Bryan Adams’ “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman,” and Gokey banking on his performance of Lionel Richie’s “Endless Love,” which Simon said he found boring and unoriginal. Gokey got the pass, which meant Giraud was facing the bottom three for the second time.

Looking the cellar dwellers over, Kara said the bottom three looked right to her. It wouldn’t be a long trip for Desai, though, who got yet another reprieve.

With only two more weeks left to use the once-only season save, Simon said, “You know, there is one I think that I would consider saving, and it might be a surprise to that person.” When pressed by host Ryan Seacrest if it was Rounds, who has come under repeated fire from Cowell, the judge said, “We’ll see who it is.” After a vote of more than 36 million, Seacrest sent Rounds back to the couches, leaving Giraud center stage to sing for his life.

Throwing a bit of rasp onto his usually smooth croon, Giraud gave the Adams song from the 1994 Johnny Depp/ Marlon Brando movie “Don Juan DeMarco” a bit of a country swing, appearing confident and energized as he faced down the judges. At one point, he stretched to hit a high note that he couldn’t quite reach, grimacing a bit, but then ended on one of his signature clean falsettos, which brought the audience to their feet. Paula Abdul and Kara, who swayed along and clapped during the entire performance, stayed on their feet as the crowd broke out into a chant of “save, save, save, save!”

Simon asked Giraud how many times he’d been in the bottom three and then told him that the performance was not as good as the night before. “I don’t see that you have really any chance of winning the competition,” he said flatly, as Abdul, Jackson and DioGuardi protested, “Oh, come on!” and waved their fingers.

“Matt, we’ve made a decision,” Cowell said. “Matt, it’s good news.” Giraud was swamped by his fellow contestants and burst into tears as Cowell looked on with a warm smile and warned the remaining seven, “I wouldn’t be so quick to congratulate him. Number one, two people are going home next week now. Second piece of bad news, next week is disco week.”

The show also featured the triumphant return of former “Idol” finalist, Oscar- and Grammy-winner [artist id="2481017"]Jennifer Hudson[/artist], who sang her latest single, the slinky R&B tune, “If This Isn’t Love.” The pre-taped segment featured Hudson unleashing some of her signature titanic vocals, providing further proof that viewers got it wrong when they prematurely voted her off in season three, a mistake that led to the implementation of this year’s save rule.

Also performing on the program was Miley Cyrus, who sang her new single, “The Climb,” while wearing a glittery silver ball gown on a stage enshrouded in fog.

In addition to the sounds of disco from the competitors, next week’s elimination show will feature music from last season’s runner-up, David Archuleta, singing his latest single, “A Little Too Not Over You,” as well as disco legends Harry Wayne “KC” Casey of KC and the Sunshine Band, Thelma Houston and Freda Payne, who will perform a medley of their boogie-fever hits, including “Get Down Tonight,” “Don’t Leave Me This Way” and “Band of Gold.”

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