"American Idol" launched its Rush Week on Tuesday (February 18), putting a brand-new twist on its semifinal round. There have been several tweaks to the "Idol" formula so far this season, but Tuesday's episode marked the biggest departure yet from the "Idol" of old.
In a snazzy new studio, fans packed the floor and grandstand behind the judges (the Coke cups are back, of course). The judges don't enter from center stage, but rather from the side, where they stroll through a gauntlet of fans before taking their seats. These minor changes give the show a fresh feel and an updated look, like a badly needed software upgrade on an aging app.
Of the top 15 women, 10 got to perform and five were cut based on the judges' evaluations of their dress rehearsal performances. To add another twist to the mix, the contestants didn't know which of them would be performing, or when — they learned when everyone else learned, when the judges called their name to come out and hit the stage.
Here are the notable moments from Tuesday's kickoff of "Idol's" Rush Week:
"American Idol" didn't escape Randy Jackson for long. "The Dawgfather," as he was introduced by Ryan Seacrest, was back on Tuesday, in a relaxed capacity as a mentor for the "Idols."
Jackson was also on hand to introduce "Idol's" team of bandmembers, singing coaches and assorted other personnel, including, the show's first-ever "non-denominational spiritual advisors." Former "Idol" finalists Adam Lambert and Chris Daughtry also serve as mentors.
Marrialle Makes A Shaky Save
It wasn't Marrialle Sellars's performance of Katy Perry's "Roar" was a bit all over the place. She stumbled onstage late in the song and lost one of her shoes, which she worked into her act at the end of the song by crouching down and picking up her shoe and holding it to her ear like a telephone. It was messy, but her ability to play through it may have endeared her to voters.
"If we were ranking people on ability to maintain a performance in the midst of complete calamity," Keith Urban told her, "you won the night."
Connick followed up with a zinger. "You're supposed to knock us off of our feet," he told her.
Harry Gets His First 'Booooo' Of The Season
In his first live show as judge, Harry Connick Jr. proved himself to be the most technical judge the show has ever seen, providing quality feedback and not granting any breaks.
He told Briana Oakley not to get caught up in high notes, comparing them to triple axels in figure skating; he questioned whether Jena Irene knew the meaning of the words she was singing in the Rolling Stones' "Paint it Black" (short answer: She didn't); he rode Bria Anai for shouting her lyrics; and he chastised Emily Piriz for singing Grace Potter's "Paris," a song he deemed beyond her years (the second time this season he's taken issue with the song).
Connick is sharp and funny without being harsh. And when his critique of Anai earned him his first boos of the season, he took them in stride. "I'm sure it's the first of many," he boasted.
MK Gives All Of Herself
The night's best performance was also its least showy, as MK Nobilette — who made headlines last week for speaking openly about her sexuality and effectively becoming "Idol's" first openly gay contestant — sang a lovely and moving version of John Legend's "All of Me."
Connick, calling her an "elegant, articulate singer," said Nobilette showed signs of getting over her defeatist attitude. "For a while you looked like, 'Do I belong here?' " he told her. "You belong here."
Six Go Home
Sorry to Andrina Brogden, Brandy Neely, Jillian Jenson, Kenzie Hall and Austin Wolf, who never got to perform — or even be individually acknowledged! — before they were sent packing. They were brought onstage as a group at the end of the show and quickly dismissed while a package of the night's highlights ran onscreen.
Tuesday also saw the results of last week's Hollywood Week cliffhanger, as Ben Briley and Neco Starr fought it out for the final spot among the guy finalists. After America's online vote, Briley edged out Starr, who judging by his televised performances, deserved a fairer shake.
The top guys perform Wednesday (February 19), and a top 13 will be determined by the end of Thursday's show.