Now we're getting serious.
American Idol is now down to a nifty nine, and there's no time like the present to bring it, especially when the name of the game is artists who are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Casey Abrams, for one, chose tonight to start slapping his bass again. But what did the others do?
Jacob Lusk chucked "Let's Get It On" at the last minute in favor of "Man in the Mirror"—and we're so glad he did. Not only did Randy Jackson praise him for his convictions, for knowing that the racy tune wasn't right and the righteous tune was, but Jennifer Lopez called his performance "perfect in every way."
Decent praise. But Jacob had already predicted that he wouldn't be in the bottom three tomorrow for singing the Michael Jackson hit "bad" or "wrong."
"It'll be because everybody in America wasn't ready to look at themselves in the mirror," the 23-year-old from Compton, Calif., said.
Or they liked other contestants better, but...OK.
Haley Reinhart, meanwhile, doesn't even resemble the girl who spent the first two weeks in the bottom three. Rocking leather leggings and red lips, she tore into Janis Joplin's "Piece of My Heart" and more than rivaled Crystal Bowersox for best-ever Joplin performance on this show.
"I couldn't find nothin' wrong with that," Steven Tyler said, and his fellow judges agreed.
Similarly, Lauren Alaina hit most of the right sultry, throaty notes in "Natural Woman"—already perfected by Aretha Franklin and reperfected (and originally written) by Carole King—and got almost nothing but googly eyes from Tyler.
Casey, who admits to feeling like he must "give 150 percent" since he's progressing in the competition on borrowed time, had his way with his upright bass for the first time since the show went live, plucking it confidently as he turned out "Have You Ever Seen the Rain?" by Creedence Clearwater Revival's John Fogerty.
James Durbin took a major risk by tackling George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," penned for the Beatles' White Album and just so iconic. But while not all of the notes were perfect, James did a great job, punctuating the emotional tune with, what else, a pitch-perfect whine.
Simon Cowell, who almost always seemed to have trouble with upbeat songs, might have been concerned for Scotty McCreery, who took on "That's All Right," an Elvis Presley hit in 1954. But somehow, the 17-year-old managed to sound great, not embarrass himself or Elvis and, most importantly, not be hokey!
"I know you're a country guy, but do you ever watch rap or hip-hop? Because I feel a little bit of flavor in there!" wondered an impressed Jennifer. We wouldn't go that far, but still, it was really good. Shoot, a gaggle of girls even ran onto the stage when he was done.
"I didn't know what was goin' on, but I enjoyed it," Scotty said backstage.
Oh, and if Randy was at all still concerned about Pia Toscano shaking it up...consider her shaken.
She duly impressed with "River Deep, Mountain High," including a closing note that literally rang through the studio. Of course the judges were pleased. In fact, J.Lo thinks Pia is so good...she told her to keep studying the greats, like Tina Turner.
"Stomp it out!" Lopez advised, saying the only thing barely missing from Pia's act is more movement onstage.
Stefano Langone caused a little dissension among the ranks with Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman," absolutely blowing Jennifer away and prompting her to try to put the kibosh on Randy's constructive criticism.
"She's trying to shush me!" Randy laughed. "Are we through?" countered Steven.
With the night going so far, so good, it was up to Paul McDonald to pull himself out of the bottom-three doldrums and end the night with a bang. A whispery, hipster bang, but a bang just the same.
Well, he did better than that! Of course, Paul had the best material to work with: Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues," but he managed to channel one of those recordings that makes you think, "Huh, I know the song but not the artist," and then you find out that you're listening to the guy who originally performed the song—like Carl Perkins doing "Blue Suede Shoes." Well done, Paul. He was about 1,000 times better than last week.
This is one fine group here, as especially evidenced tonight. But the axe must fall tomorrow, so the top nine better enjoy the glory tonight.
Who do you think bought a one-way ticket outta town? Anyone? Anyone?
WATCH: Lauren and Scotty joined forces last week