It's a girl's year to win "American Idol," yada yada yada, but the guys got a chance to make a little noise for themselves Wednesday night.
While several singers made strong impressions — namely Burnell Taylor, Lazaro Arbos and vocal powerhouse Curtis Finch, Jr. — what was most memorable about the episode was the uncomfortably bizzare meltdown of Charlie Askew. The outsider who describes himself as "socially awkward" has stood out in the competition since his Baton Rouge audition, with his mismatched style and personality that is perfectly suited for his last name. But on Wednesday his dark, angsty performance of Genesis' "Mama" — even the song choice was beyond strange — baffled the judges and left them wondering what they'd just seen.
"Where's my little baby at, Charlie? What happened?" a puzzled Nicki Minaj asked a tight-lipped Askew. "I feel like someone stole my kid." She went on to criticize his wardrobe choice (a tie dye tank top), his hair (in a ponytail) and his accessories (a feather) and said she wanted her "cute, cuddly Charlie back." "I don't know what's going on. I'm upset," she said.
She wasn't alone. "It didn't all connect at all. I didn't even get it. I don't know what was happening," said Randy Jackson.
During the criticism, he looked like he was going to break down and cry, and after the performance a visibly trembling Askew explained he felt he needed to vent onstage. "Are you all right? Are you OK? Are you OK?" Ryan Seacrest asked him. Askew took a breath. "The message I was really trying to send is a lot of people think I'm a very happy, buoyant person a lot of the time, and the only reason I smile so much is because I feel like I have to," he said, in a shaky quiver. Ever the pro, Seacrest consoled him and told him he was among friends, and effectively diffused the situation. It remains to be seen whether Askew's plea will lead to a flood of sympathy votes, or if he's even emotionally stable enough to remain in the competition.
Either way, he's got some stiff competition. Curtis Finch, Jr. gave the night's strongest performance, with a gospel-fied take on R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly" that had Nicki Minaj feeling the Holy Ghost. "That is not something that can even be measured in the amount of votes that you get tonight. I don't care how many votes you get for the rest of your life, you have a calling on your life to bless people and do so much good!" she told him. Keith Urban shared her enthusiasm but was more succinct in his remarks. "We just had us a sermon in Vegas baby!" he said.
Burnell Taylor and Lazaro Arbos received glowing marks for their performances of Fantasia's "I'm Here" and the standard "Feeling Good," respectively. And Devin Velez shined with his bilingual take on "It's Impossible," which Mariah Carey called "incredible" and Minaj praised as "muy bien." (Minaj also called Velez a "Spanish Ken Doll," which seemed surprisingly appropriate given Velez' bowtie and V-neck sweater combo.)
If Finch, Taylor, Arbos and Velez go through, that leaves Elijah Liu, Cortez Shaw, Nick Boddington, Paul Jolley and Vincent Powell to battle it out for the final spot. All received fine marks Wednesday, with Liu and Powell standing out the most and showing the greatest potential in the competition. Liu, with his pre-packaged good looks and teen idol smile, perhaps has a slight edge, and his version of Rihanna's "Stay" was far more current than Powell's lukewarm version of Boyz II Men's "End of the Road."
America voted, and the results will be unveiled during Thursday's (March 7) 90-minute results episode, where the top five women will also be revealed.
What did you think of Wednesday's performances and Charlie Askew's meltdown? 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.