After weeks of highs and lows in which the girls outsang the guys, prompting predictions that a female winner might finally prevail this year, American Idol has revealed the top 10 finalists for season 12.
For the first time this week, the two gender-divided performance nights in Vegas were open to viewer voting. The show returned to L.A. for the results round, with Ryan Seacrest announcing that 39 million votes had been cast to determine the lineup.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!
Behold, the five gent and five lady contestants who made the cut: Paul Jolley; Burnell Taylor; Curtis Finch Jr.; Devin Velez; Lazaro Arbos; Janelle Arthur; Candice Glover; Angie Miller; Amber Holcomb; and Kree Harrison.
Over the course of the 90-minute broadcast, Ryan Seacrest unveiled the top 10 one-by-one backstage. In a new twist, the judges and studio audience were kept in the dark until an America-approved contender stepped out on stage. Each was forced to perform a song apiece, and liberated from the pressure of judge feedback, many in the group seemed more relaxed on stage.
Take Jolley, for example. We never expected the sweet-natured, perpetually nervous Tennessee native to remain in the competition, given his ongoing performance anxiety, but he showed a rare confidence on Carrie Underwood's "Alone."
"My eyes were kind of numb ... did you really just say that?" Jolley, who didn't expect to be there either, told Ryan Seacrest after hearing the result.
Miller's eyes welled with tears -- crying while singing is tough, just ask Anne Hathaway! -- which, in turn, made Keith Urban weep. "You're so ready to go, baby, I'm so happy for you," gushed Urban, whose warm internal glow is like a Care Bear Stare warding off bad energy and the ghost of Steven Tyler.
Arthur infused Dierks Bentley's "Home" with her rich voice and classic country style, wowing Minaj, who raved: "You came alive today. This is one of the best you've ever looked and sounded."
As the big finale looms ever closer, on Thursday we said goodbye to some tough competition, judge favorites and memorable hams such as Charlie Askew, who suffered a near meltdown on Wednesday following his dark, polarizing take on Genesis' "Mama."
"Charlie, you stay strong," Seacrest reassured the 17-year-old Minaj-endorsed Idol oddball, who smiled while heading offstage.
Meanwhile, in Shocking Exits, vocal powerhouse Vincent Powell got the boot along with Bruno Mars wannabe Elijah Liu, who Minaj said she could envision on "blankets" and other merch, NKOTB-style.
Among the girls who were shown the door: kooky Zoanette Johnson, sassy Breanna Steer and gorgeous Aubrey Cleland.