Just when you think you've got this whole "American Idol" thing down, they throw a wicked curveball at you.
Wednesday night, host Ryan Seacrest announced that, for one show only, it would be the girls vs. the guys, and that during Thursday's elimination round, the lowest vote-getter from each side would be targeted. Then, the judges -- not the nation's text-voting maniacs -- will decide who walks the plank. Holy, "X Factor," what a goofy twist.
Now, here's an even better idea: Why not leave the choice in the hands of our "American Idol" Readers Judges Panel? Yes, our six hand-picked fans have got opinions, too, and they're ready to rock. What follows are their debut critiques. We urge you to follow along fromhere through the end of the season and toss in your two cents by leaving us some comments.
CHRISTINA WISE, Boulder Creek -- You know how when you make chicken stock, you need to let the stock sit overnight so you can scrape the fat off the top and get down to the good stuff? Let's start scraping.
Elise Testone. The girl came out of her meeting with Jimmy and Mary J. Blige defensive and went home defeated. She's done.
Jermaine Jones. Aside from being monstrously tall and profusely sweaty, he just doesn't have what it takes. Scrape him off.
Colton Dixon. Yeah, he's got a mohawk and he wears skinny jeans that would make Steven Tyler blush, but he didn't bring it tonight. He needs to mainstream his look and
Joshua Ledet. Great energy, so fun to watch. And what a way to start the night! Face of a baby, voice of a winner and Mantasia hands to beat. Love him.
Skylar Laine. The girl can channel Reba McEntire like nobody's business. Hot damn. As my 7-year-old said, "Mom, she's just TOO GOOD." Word.
Hollie Cavanagh. What a voice, what a face, what a talent! Definitely in the top five.
Phillip Phillips. Between the showmanship and the Paul Rudd-cute face, the voice and the guitar, he's one to watch.
Jessica Sanchez. The only one brave enough to tackle Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You," and the only one good enough to do the song justice. She's my top pick to win the whole thing.
BEN WENTLING, Concord -- With only two exceptions, the girls ruled. Hollie was the best of the night. Strongest voice, greatest range and plus she's cute as a bug. Jessica brought down the house with what could have been a disastrous song choice. She pulled it off wonderfully. Skyler also was very impressive, especially with how she made "Where Do Broken Hearts go" fit her style of singing.
Joshua started the night off great, but the best performance among the guys was from someone I didn't even think belonged in the competition: San Jose's Deandre Brackensick. He absolutely rocked and was obviously very comfortable. Phillip deserves mention because he's a great performer and I look forward to what else he does in this competition, he's so unique.
On the flip side, we can save everyone a lot of time by just getting rid of Jermaine, Erika Van Pelt, and Heejun Han right now. Why in the world Jermaine is even still here is beyond me. Yes he's a sweet guy, but he can't sing. Heejun is only slightly better. They both need to go. Erika is a good singer but against this year's competition kshe's just not going to last.
VAISHNAVI KASHYAP, Sunnyvale -- Wow, it's already been 400 episodes of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Onto the 11th season of the oh-ers, arm flingers, back-talkers, and cry babies.
My musical taste is the complete opposite of Stevie Wonder and Whitney Houston (I mean, can you imagine Stevie singing "All of the Lights" or Whitney rapping to Nicki Minaj's "Moment for Life"?) and I found this episode quite boring. No one even came close to being as amazing as Whitney or Stevie.
I was really disappointed when the judges brought Jermaine back. Yeah, he's "adorable and sweet," but c'mon, it's about the voice, guys. And his performance of "Knocks Me of My Feet" just reinforced the fact that I want him out.
COLTON! No surprise he's my favorite. I'm a teenage girl. So boo to Randy and his "It wasn't picture perfect" comment. Of course it wouldn't be, considering that Colton is a hard rocker and not a bluesy soul singer.
Skylar pleasantly surprised me. I was getting ready to shout "You're better at shooting moose than singing!" but she wasn't bad. Don't mistake me for a Skylar fangirl, though. And both Jessica, who was amazing, and Hollie, blew me away.
Another important highlight of the night was Randy's upgraded threads. Thank God his stylists realized that all those cardigans and sweaters were something my grandma would wear, though Jeremy Rosado seems to have unfortunately caught the "grandma clothes" bug.
DIANE WILSON, Saratoga -- These first few weeks contestants don't have to be great. No standing Os required. You just have to make it through your song without embarrassing yourself and show some personality and energy.
That being said, we have a few contestants who are in trouble. I was very disappointed with Elise. She didn't connect to the song or the audience. I was wondering who died in her world as she looked so grim. She needs to smile more and engage the audience.
I think Jermaine is just too monotonous. I was wanting just a few high notes as he sang "Knocks Me Off My Feet." He certainly didn't knock me off my feet. He has the Barry White voice without the sex appeal.
Shannon just couldn't grasp her song. Every time she went for a build-up there was a fumble. She is a cutie but she needs to bring it and quit promising the goods for "next time."
Now for the best of the evening:
Bring it on Skylar. She looked amazing, poised and hit every note. It was great to watch.
Jessica sang one of the most difficult and iconic songs in pop history. Where is that voice coming from in that little body of hers? She had me crying. Whitney was probably smiling from heaven and going, "Darn girl, you nailed it." She's the one to beat this year.
An honorable mention goes to Heejun Han. He surprised me with his version of "All in Love is Fair." His voice was very soft and controlled.
All in all a good start. Giving it to the girls this week. And it is about time that a woman won "Idol." The men don't seem to be capable of taking their talent to the bank when they've won in past seasons.
TONY LEONG, Oakland -- My top "guy" choices tonight were:
Phillip: Yeah, get down and dirty! Great song choice and great interpretation of "Superstition." Love his gravely and growly voice.
Jermaine: He knocked me off my feet! As Jimmy lovine observed, the timbre of his voice has improved. It was rich and full and you could hear his deep low baritone resonating as well as the mellow high notes in his voice as he sang.
Deandre: His dancing and stage presence rivaled the best of them. And I'm really glad that he didn't fall back on the ease and comfort he has in singing falsettos. Good to finally hear his "real voice. A work in progress. Go San Jose!
Among my top "girls" were:
Jessica: Wow! Wow! Wow! The best of the night both among the girls and the guys. Talk about packing a punch from someone little! I got the case of the J Lo "goosies," especially when she changed key and hit those high notes with an effortless and seamless transition. And she ended it soooo beautifully. I think Whitney was smiling down at Jessica when she was singing this song.
Skylar: Love her southern twang. Great performance. She took Mary Blige's advice to heart by slowly and deliberately building the song up to a dramatic crescendo and then nailed it at the end. She is showing that she is a versatile singer and not just a country crooner.
Hollie: For another short girl, she really packs a wallop. You don't expect such a big voice from her. Hit the high notes with ease and comfort.
In danger of elimination: Elise, Colton and Shannon.
EILEEN SIMON, Walnut Creek -- Did the three wild card contestants earn their spot tonight?
Erika: You bet. The song was great. (The red evening gown not so much.)
Deandre: Hey Bay Area, that's our guy! Stevie Wonder is great but he doesn't move like Deandre.
Jeremy: I was watching too many violins. He didn't hold his own.
Who am I voting for?
Joshua: He started the show with a knockout performance.
Skylar: First time I've liked her. A little less country was good.
Heejun: I want an autographed photo and then I want him to sing to me.
Hollie: She picked a killer song and she killed it.
Who are my favorites?
Phillip: The best guy by far. Can't wait to hear him again.
Jessica: She was stunning tonight. Sometimes I hold my breath. It's love.
So who would I say good-bye to?
Germaine: He is no Barry White.