"American Idol" debuted a new twist on its semifinal format Wednesday, with 10 singers performing live and five of them getting cut by the end of the two-hour episode.
Welcome to sudden death, "Idol"-style. And if you thought Las Vegas was harsh and unforgiving after a long night of partying, that is nothing compared to the punishments doled out by the judges to half the singers who hit the stage during part one of Girls' night.
Just ask Shubha Vedula, Jenny Beth Willis, Brandy Hotard, Kamaria Ousley and the one-named Isabelle, all of whom were cut after their performances Wednesday. Meanwhile, Angela Miller, Kree Harrison, Adriana Latonio, Tenna Torres and Amber Holcomb graduated to the next round, but will face another cut before they leave Las Vegas.
The revised format seemingly had as much to do with letting the judges get used to one another and their critiquing styles as it did with sprucing things up around the "Idol" house. As it played out, each judge gave thoughtful and informed feedback to the contestants, although things tended to get repetitive by the time they rolled around to Mariah Carey, who was seated last on the panel. (Carey would perhaps work better in the #3 slot, with Jackson as the table's anchor.)
Kree Harrison was the episode's standout, as her performance of Patty Griffin's "Up to the Mountain" earned standing ovations from Keith Urban and Nicki Minaj and had Mariah Carey raving, "you sang the hell out of that song." "Every time you sing a song, you make love to a song," Minaj told her. "Something about you is just so sexy when you sing. I'm in love!"
Amber Holcomb also brought the judges to their feet — everyone but Nicki, that is — after her version of "My Funny Valentine." Nicki was a fan, giving her an "A+++" for her vocals, but she wondered if what they saw onstage in person would translate on television to home audiences. Carey didn't share those concerns. "I wanted to smack you," Mimi told her. "It was that good."
Angela Miller, who whipped the judges into a frenzy during Hollywood Week with a performance of an original song called "You Set Me Free," was still riding the praises of that performance on Wednesday. Half of her comments were rehashes of her Hollywood Week kudos, but the judges were also pleased with her version of Jessie J's "Nobody's Perfect." "America is witnessing the building of a superstar right there," Jackson said after Miller's performance.
Camp Mariah graduate Tenna Torres won over the judges with her version of Natasha Bedingfield's "Soulmate," though Nicki Minaj advised her to change her hairstyle and lighten up her mood, but went on to compliment her tone which she said reminded her of 1980s R&B singers.
Adriana Latonio, who sang a confident, assured rendition of Aretha Franklin's "Ain't No Way," was the final singer to make it through to the next round. The five-footer was celebrated for her poise on stage and her lack of fear as a performer. "It was so damn good," Urban told her.
The others weren't as lucky. Jenny Beth Willis, who hit a big power note at the close of Trisha Yearwood's "Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love," was criticized for not doing enough to spice up the rest of the song. The judges questioned why country singer Brandy Hotard smiled through her performance of Travis Tritt's decidedly unhappy "Anymore." Kamaria Ousley wasn't able to find her center in Kelly Clarkson's "Mr. Know It All," and while Isabelle's take on Billie Holiday's "God Bless the Child" earned mostly solid marks, Jackson criticized it for being old-fashioned and pageant-y. And Shubha Vedula's take on Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" prompted Minaj to liken her to "a mashup of Christina Aguilera and the 'Gangnam Style' guy." Ouch.
Ten of the top 20 guys perform Thursday, and just like the ladies, five of them will be cut on the spot. If you can't take the heat, get out of Vegas!
What did you think of "Idol's" new Vegas cuts? Let us know in the comments!
Get your "Idol" fix on MTV News' "American Idol" page, where you'll find all the latest "Idol" news, interviews and opinions.