American Idol cranked the pressure up to 11 tonight.
Not only did the guys have to sing Stevie Wonder songs—almost always a mistake when it's their own idea—but the ladies were tasked with Whitney Houston tunes in an unheard-of-at-this-stage battle of the sexes.
Tomorrow, the guy and gal with the fewest votes will once again be at the mercy of the judges, who can only allow one to move on.
So, who were their babies tonight?
Surprisingly, not everyone!
The judges, maybe realizing that consistent praise is boring (and unrealistic), definitely had a few least-favorites.
After Joshua Ledet kicked off the show with a ridiculously great performance of "I Wish," Elise Testone brought the proceedings down a bit when she failed to tame "I'm Your Baby Tonight."
"Whitney's a beast," Jennifer Lopez admitted, echoing the sentiment that's always pointed out whenever a female contestant tries Whitney (or, to a similar extent, Mariah Carey and Christina Aguilera).
But it's hard to fault Elise for not being able to keep up. A similar fate befell Shannon Magrane, who was understandably having trouble keeping her breath throughout "I Have Nothing."
"I think your nerves got the best of you, baby," Steven Tyler told Shannon. "You kind of crashed and burned on the turn-around."
And Stevie's a beast, too.
Wild card Jeremy Rosado's otherwise beautiful voice was little too weak tonight for "Ribbon in the Sky," and even the booming Jermaine Jones was faulted for "forcing" the chorus (whatever that means).
Heejun Han turned in a satisfactory "All in Love Is Fair," and Colton Dixon ably warbled through "Lately," having an easier time with the long notes than his opening bars suggested he'd be capable of.
"The song started out shaky for me, but by the last eight bars, you were flawless," observed Randy Jackson, who noted that Colton had the most trouble staying on pitch when he was singing "soft and low."
They also liked what Deandre Brackensick did with "Master Blaster," praising his "different flavor."
As for the standouts...
Besides Joshua, wild card Erika Van Pelt duly impressed with "I Believe in You and Me," Hollie Cavanagh was praised to no end after "All the Man That I Need," and Phil Phillips did the best Idol version of "Superstitious" yet.
"You have a lot of forget-about-it in your voice. You just are," Steven informed Phil.
Skylar Laine was also a big, beltin' surprise, turning "Where Do Broken Hearts Go" into a believable country ballad.
"You are, like, the definition of composure," raved Jennifer. Added Randy, "You're a country girl, right, and you can sing any country song—but what you just proved, you can sing any song!"
But it was Jessica Sanchez who took on the real beast, Houston's biggest hit, "I Will Always Love You."
And guess what? She rose to the challenge and nailed it!
"Jessica Sanchez is legit!" Randy exclaimed. "This is one of the hardest songs in the world to sing...I think you're one of the best singers in the whole competition!...This is what it's really all about!...America, this is one of the best talents in the whole country!"
(Originally published March 7, 2012, at 7:30 p.m. PT)