Let the speculation begin.
And no, we're not talking about who's going to win "American Idol," but rather, is Simon Cowell totally kissing the show goodbye?
For weeks, there have been whispers that the cantankerous "Idol" judge might not be returning for the show's ninth season, and on Tuesday night's (May 12) show, Cowell didn't seem like he was in the mood to stick around, spending most of the night sparring with fellow judges Kara DioGuardi and Randy Jackson.
The battling began during Kris Allen's first performance of the night, a swooning take on OneRepublic's "Apologize" chosen for him by DioGuardi and Jackson, when DioGuardi took issue with Allen's straightforward interpretation of the song.
(Who's going home this week? "American Idol" expert Jim Cantiello offers his predictions, in the Newsroom blog.)
"It's a copout. ... You can't choose a song for him then blame him for doing the song," Cowell said. "You didn't hold up to your responsibility."
"You're gonna tell me about interpreting songs?" DioGuardi shot back. "Have you ever interpreted a song in your life?"
In a lot of ways, the fireworks at the judges' table outshone those on the stage. The "Idol" top three — Allen, Adam Lambert and Danny Gokey — each performed a pair of songs, one selected by the judges and a pick of their own. And perhaps not wanting to make a misstep one week before the finals, everyone played it pretty safe. Mostly.
Allen followed up his straightforward take on "Apologize" with the night's biggest risk, a strummy take on Kanye West's "Heartless" that drew squeals of approval from the ladies in the audience and earned him high praise from the judges, with Jackson calling it "better than the original" (we anxiously await West's blogged response) and Cowell saying that Allen had sung himself back into the hunt for the "Idol" crown.
"I had written you out of the competition," he said. "That all changed with that performance."
Gokey started things off with a song chosen for him by Paula Abdul, Terence Trent D'Arby's "Dance Little Sister," which saw him weaving vocal scats with saxophone licks and, like the title of the song suggested, dancing ... for better or worse. Then he slowed things down, getting somber and sentimental on a version of Joe Cocker's "You Are So Beautiful," augmented with an acoustic guitar and a string quartet.
"It was stunning," DioGuardi opined. "A vocal master class," Cowell added.
Lambert took on U2's "One," as chosen for him by Cowell (he called Bono personally, BTW), slowing it down to an understated ballad. Then, he let his freak flag fly with a version of Aerosmith's "Cryin'," which showed off his powerful pipes and had the judges -- Cowell in particular — openly campaigning for him to land a spot in the finals.
"Vote. Don't take anything for granted," Cowell told viewers.
As if, after tonight, we'd ever do that.
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