And then there were 50. If you thought Wednesday night's "American Idol" was harsh, the final night of Hollywood Week really brought down the hammer.
Unlike the previous night, when the show dithered away with group dynamics, Thursday night's (February 17) show jumped right into it, presenting what host Ryan Seacrest promised was one of the most talented group of Hollywood finalists ever assembled. And, for once, he wasn't just blowing smoke, as some of season 10's standout singers brought it and punched their ticket to next week's Vegas round.
Haley Reinhart, 20, barely made it through the previous round after forgetting her lyrics, but the 20-year-old Wheeling, Illinois, student was back on track Thursday night, growling out a gritty and bombastic "God Bless the Child." Though we'd barely met Tennessee's 24-year old Ashton Jones before — she was in Ashley Sullivan's group the night before — she killed it with a soulful "Idol" favorite "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going."
Confident 15-year-old Thia Megia got no shine Wednesday, but when she got back in the spotlight, she did it again, showing some supple vocal beauty with a cool "What a Wonderful World."
The girls definitely brought it, so it was up to the boys to prove they had it too. One of the rising stars, karaoke host Clint Jun Gamboa, peeled the paint off the walls with his dynamic cover of Ray Charles' "Georgia," a feat almost equaled on the same tune by sultry 22-year-old Tennessee office manager Kendra Chantelle, who traded bombast for buttery softness.
Chris Medina went out of the box with an acoustic ramble through Bobby Brown's "My Prerogative," which was also picked by onetime groupmate Carson Higgins. The blond beach bum played it straight with the band, doing a high-energy, slightly spastic soul shout, while Medina did a Dave Matthews-like folk strum take that didn't go over as well.
Able to play their instruments for the first time, a number of the contestants took the opportunity, including Los Angeles student Julie Zorrilla, getting jazzy at the keyboard on Sara Bareilles' "Love Song." Murfreesboro, Tennessee, emo kid Colton Dixon, who came on strong during group night, emoted his way through a dramatic version of Daughtry's "What About Now," while 16-year-old Florida student Brett Loewenstern strapped on his acoustic for a fragile stroll through Brandi Carlile's "The Story."
Melodica-blowing soul man Casey Abrams keeps surprising, and he continued his streak by being the first "Idol" contestant to bust out a stand-up bass for a finger-snapping jazzbo dig at Ray Charles' "Georgia on My Mind" that earned a standing ovation.
Already without her ex-boyfriend by her side, Chelsee Oaks seemed distraught when former groupmate Jacqueline Dunford was forced to bow out of the competition due to illness. The Nashville waitress pulled it together and dug down deep for an emotional "Because of You" by Kelly Clarkson, but her nerves were evident.
After producers dropped the age limit to 15, a number of teens have proven their worth, none more than 15-year-old Lauren Alaina, whose big personality and charming smile have worked their magic on the judges. The savvy high-schooler kept in judge Steven Tyler's good graces by reprising her cover of his band's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing," putting a cocktail-lounge spin on the bombastic ballad, complete with a piled-on-top curly hairstyle.
We just met Jacob Lusk the night before, and the Bobby McFerrin-like master of vocal tics and tricks did his thing again with a whisper-to-a-scream gospel throwdown on "God Bless the Child." It's been awhile since we saw real-life cowboy John Wayne Schulz, but his strummy aw-shucks cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide" mesmerized the crowd and inspired judge Jennifer Lopez to harmonize along. The unpredictable Sullivan proved to be the bundle of nerves she's promised, falling apart singing Michael Bublé's "Everything" by forgetting the words and losing her cool.
Other standouts included Stefano Langone, who did a solidly funky "Sir Duke" by Stevie Wonder, and cherubic teen Jacee Badeaux, whose "Time of My Life" by David Cook showed some subtle emotion, even if it lacked any standout stagecraft.
The night ended with deep baritone Scott McCreery, who couldn't rely on the same song that got him to the big dance and had to pick a new one, Lee Ann Womack's "I Hope You Dance." He mangled the lyrics, fumbled the melody and seemed to blow his chance to advance.
With only 50 singers moving on to next week's Las Vegas round, the first room to advance included Badeaux, Gamboa, Robbie Rosen, Loewenstern, Abrams, Alaina, Medina, Tourette sufferer James Durbin and, yes, Sullivan.
Rooms two and three got the bad news, meaning the end for Brielle Von Hugel and Corey Levoy, as well as Oaks and Mark Gutierrez. Which left room four to get the final verdict, earning a trip to Sin City for Higgins, Zorrilla, Jovany Barreto, McCreery and Rachel Zevita.
For the first time next week, the kids travel to Las Vegas and perform songs by the Beatles on the stage of the "LOVE" Cirque du Soleil show, at which point the contestants will be cut down to the top 24.
What was your favorite performance on Thursday night? Let us know in comments below.