Just when we started to get anxious that the ninth season of "American Idol" would really turn out to be the franchise's worst, Crystal Bowersox, Lilly Scott and Katelyn Epperly arrived on Wednesday night to rescue the show. As Bowersox overcame illness, Scott embraced her soul side and Magnus unleashed the Note Heard Round The Reality Show World, "Idol" delivered its finest live show of the year.
Who surprised us, who disappointed us and who's in danger of going home? Let's take a look at the top 10 women's report card. (And don't miss Jim Cantiello's review in the Newsroom.)
Crystal Bowersox: Last week, Bowersox was accused of sounding exactly like a thousand buskers standing in a thousand subway stations. If true, that's a commute we'd happily take twice a day, because her gospel-infused rendition of Creedence Clearwater's "As Long As I See the Light" was as purely beautiful as anything we've heard in the show's history. Earlier in the week, a hospital visit called into question whether the singer would even be able to continue in the competition. But not only will Bowersox be on the "Idol" stage to stay, she's established herself as the season's true front-runner.
Lilly Scott: Two weeks, two strong performances. By choosing The Beatles' "Fixing A Hole" and Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come," Scott proves that an "Idol" contestant doesn't need to select a current top 40 song to prove her worth as a relevant, contemporary recording artist. What the hopefuls need to do, rather, is exactly what Scott has done: bring a current sensibility to your music — in her case, a quirky singer-songwriter vibe — and deliver ear-pleasing, toe-tapping tuneage.
Katelyn Epperly: Too slow a reworking of Coldplay's "The Scientist," as Ellen and Randy complained? Who cares? Epperly sat down at the piano, showed off some gorgeous pipes and transported us with a lovely little lullaby of a pop song. She's got to do some serious work on her interaction with the camera, but that will come in time. She's gonna be a contender.
Lacey Brown: After last week's crash-and-burn performance of "Landside," Brown wisely decided to give a performance that wasn't so wearily serious. Sure, her performance of Sixpence None the Richer's "Kiss Me" was fun, but it was fun in the way people enjoy drunken group-sings at karaoke bars. Nothing about her act communicated a take-me-seriously-as-a-recording-artist passion. Brown should be worried this week.
Katie Stevens: Like fellow contestant Aaron Kelly, Stevens suffers from a case of Benjamin Button syndrome. The two are teens who have grown old far before their time. As lovely a voice as she has, Stevens seems hamstrung by an octogenarian's musical tastes. That she couldn't even name a young recording artist when prompted by the judges speaks volumes. She still seems to be a fan favorite, and so she won't be voted off just yet. But it ain't looking good for the 17-year-old.
Michelle Delamor: Bonus points for most creative song choice of the evening with Creed's "With Arms Wide Open." And some serious demerits for an off-kilter performance that was variously pitchy and perplexing. Following last week's strong take on Alicia Keys' "Fallin', Delamor finds herself outside of the top tier of female contestants. But she's in no danger of going home for a while.
Paige Miles: She's a cheery one, as evidenced by her performances of Free's "All Right Now" and Kelly Clarkson's "Walk Away." Still, that cheeriness seems to come at the expense of a true emotional connection to the material. And admitting to the world that you enjoy coloring books doesn't exactly scream, "Take me seriously, y'all!" Miles is still on the judges' good side, which is a good place to be, and she'll likely be around next week.
Siobhan Magnus: Magnus almost made it into the Excellent category this week on the strength of that one long, high note she let loose during her take on Aretha Franklin's "Think." Truth is, the performance was extremely average until that climatic note. We're digging Magnus and her anything-might-happen-when-I'm-up-stage eccentricity, but she still hasn't made clear what kind of artist she really is. She'll have a while to decide. She's safe this week.
Haeley Vaughn: We're confused. We thought she wanted to be a country singer. Then last week she selected the Beatles, and this week Miley Cyrus. We're confused, too, because she sounded like she had a gorgeous instrument in the weeks before the live broadcasts. What's going on? The answer doesn't matter, because Vaughn has given us two straight weeks of worst-of-the-bunch performances. After the judges' evisceration on Wednesday night, Vaughn probably won't be around next week to clear things up.
Didi Benami: Oh, Didi! It's not easy, week after week, to hear such brutal criticism, but her take on "Lean on Me" was painful for viewers. The 23-year-old is clearly confused and rapidly losing confidence, which explains why she ditched her jazzy-cool persona and went with what she hoped would be a crowd-pleaser. It was the very definition of playing it safe, rather than playing to win, and it's likely going to result in a plane ticket back home.
Get your "Idol" fix on MTV News' "American Idol" page, where you'll find all the latest news, interviews and opinions.