The "American Idol" girls were fantastic on Wednesday, but the guys proved Thursday night that they're hungry for the title too.
There were standout performances by some confident contestants, but the most emotional moment came from the one person least-equipped to handle all the pressure: Charlie Askew.
All season long, the 17-year-old has been portrayed as this happy-go-lucky free spirit. But when he took the stage Thursday with his hair pulled back and arms exposed, he revealed a much darker side. Charlie's song choice -- Genesis' "Mama" -- only reinforced that he was experiencing some private pain. Things got even more uncomfortable after he received a harsh critique, and Charlie almost broke down crying while his number was being read before hastily exiting:
Here's Charlie's Audition:
And his emotional outburst after hearing the judges' critiques:
Were the judges too harsh or just honest? I thought their comments were generally right. Charlie felt more disconnected, as if he were venting to the audience instead of performing. As for the judges' laughter, Randy Jackson often does his nervous laugh as filler. I don't think it was malicious.
If America votes Charlie through, perhaps it'll be the burst of confidence he needs. But it's clear that he will need some way to deal with the stressful nature of the competition. Share your thoughts in the comments below, and check out the other nine performances, ranked from best to worst.
1. Devin Velez
Devin wasn't only vocally flawless (save for a little minor pitch problem in the beginning), he commanded the stage. He and Amber Holcomb are the best technical singers in the competition, but also have real connection to their songs and the audience. His song -- Andrea Bocelli's "Somos Novios" -- was perfect for his voice. Like Mariah Carey said, this guy has global appeal.
2. Curtis Finch Jr.
Curtis delivered the big tricks, but I don't know why the judges bash Paul Jolley for his theatricality when Curtis is just as, if not more, dramatic. His talent in undeniable, but in my opinion, he comes off as smug instead of pious. His ending to R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly" was a little rough:
3. Burnell Taylor
I almost wanted to put Burnell above Curtis. He might not have Curtis' powerhouse voice, but he's far more genuine. Burnell reprised his audition song "I'm Here," and it almost brought Mariah Carey to tears -- again. This performance moved me more than Curtis':
4. Paul Jolley
I like Paul, and I like that he performed Christina Aguilera's "Just A Fool." I don't know why the judges keep knocking him and says he overperforms. His vocal was pretty good, and showed off range. Perhaps they just don't want another white guy to win again.
5. Lazaro Arbos
Let's face it, Lazaro was not good last week, and probably got through on the sympathy vote. He was much, much better on Thursday, showing more control and confidence. He's gotta be "Feeling Good" after this performance:
6. Cortez Shaw
Cortez is a really, really good singer but it's clear nerves get the better of him. I think he's just as marketable as Elijah, with a better voice. Tackling Bruno Mars' "Locked Out of Heaven" is a tall order, and Cortez was definitely reaching for those high notes. But this was actually an entertaining and enjoyable performance.
7. Nick Boddington
Nick sang The Goo Goo Dolls' mega-hit "Iris," but he changed too much of the song: the tempo, the melody. He's talented and I appreciate he sang at the piano, but this version just didn't come off convincingly. It's a shame because he's one of the best "artists" on the show.
8. Elijah Liu
I so want Elijah to do well because he's representing two cultures and a real current sound. And while his song choice to Rihanna and Mikky Ekko's "Stay" totally catered to his fan base, it wasn't great (though a HUGE improvement over last week). It was pitchy and one-level. I think in a few years this kid could be great, but he just needs more time. When the judges praise your relevancy over your voice, you know you're in trouble.
9. Vincent Powell
This was a shocker. Vincent blew everyone away during the "sudden death" round and clearly the producers thought he'd again close the show on a high note. Instead, his version of Boyz II Men's "End of the Road" was a low note ... or more accurately .. a whole bunch of bad notes. He went for the big tricks, and they fizzled.
So who advances? I think Devin, Curtis and Lazaro are locks, and would love to see Burnell advance too, because he's something special. Paul could get a lot of the country vote. Of course Charlie could sneak in there, too -- which will probably worry "Idol" producers.