‘American Idol’ Elimination Shocker: Who Did the Judges Save?

Josh Ledet, Elise Testone and Jessica Sanchez on American Idol (Carin Baer / FOX)

As is standard procedure this season, tonight’s episode of “American Idol” began with a heavy-handed video about the intensity of this process for the contestants, in which everyone speaks in clichés like, “It’s anyone’s game,” and “Gotta kill it,” and “The pressure’s on.”

That all segues in to Ryan Seacrest’s opening monologue, in which he welcomes us to our “second dose of ‘American Idol’ for the week,” like the bitter medicine that this show is. He reminds us that one contestant may or may not go home tonight (there’s still that pesky judges’ save to worry about), but counters with this: “The upshot is James Durbin is here.” That’s good news?

But wait, there’s more good news. The group sing is back! I know you missed it. They do Pink’s “Raise Your Glass.” Unfortunately, seven contestants is just too few to hide the really bad performers, and maybe other than Elise Testone, it’s obvious how lifeless everyone is. And then Phillip Phillips strokes Colton Dixon’s hair on the line, “Why so serious?” And then Skylar Laine raps. So, no, we didn’t ever miss the group sing.

Then the Ford commercial. Tonight, the Idols faces are transposed onto doodles in a math notebook, which boils down into a battle between Jessica and Phillip vs Elise as a fire-breathing dragon. The fighters shoot at Elise, but she drowns them in flames. An allegory for this show if there ever was one.

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Ryan hosts a really slow and awkward segment in which some Idols get fan mail. Colton gets invited to a prom, and some hottie invites Hollie Cavanagh to his winter formal. Elise gets two pairs of feather earrings, one for her and one for Steven Tyler.

Steven easily slides the giant feather onto his ear and it blends right into his hair, which is pulled back tonight in a pretty half-ponytail. He’s wearing a pink leopard blouse. Actually, looking back on his outfit last night—gold earrings, pearl necklaces, ladies’ top that’s beginning to look totally natural on him, I’m wondering if Steven is actually doing something to push the boundaries of maleness. Is he mainstreamizing male femininity? Would someone please write a dissertation on this?

Results Part One

Hollie and Jessica Sanchez are the first called up, and the comparison is inevitable, as Jimmy Iovine points out the obvious—Hollie is “stiff and calculated,” while Jessica is “effortless.”

But instead of sending Hollie off to the slaughter, Ryan sends them each to different sides of the stage.

Ryan’s summary: “Hollie stands on one side of the stage. Jessica on the other side of the stage.” Helpful!

Next up is James Durbin, who is now blonde, but just as annoying as he was last year as a contestant on “Idol.” In case you forgot, James was the high-screeching, not-Adam Lambert, faux-heavy metal singer from Season 10. And besides the hair color, he’s changed in one other way: married. Apparently Stefano Langone was his best man, and Casey Abrams was late to the wedding. Anyway, he’s here to promote his new track, “Higher Than Heaven.” He roboticizes his voice, he screeches, there are LED skulls indicating this is all very legitimate and hardcore.

Results Part Two

Elise and Phillip get some analysis from Jimmy, who calls them both singer-songwriters. Ouch! What he means is, they can’t sing big, and they’ll never sound good unless they’re singing their own material. Phillip, he says, is influenced by Dave Matthews—so that explains why I don’t like him!—”and what you have is Dave Matthews singing a Maroon 5 song.” Jimmy thinks they’re both heading to the bottom three.

Instead, Phillip joins Hollie and Elise joins Jessica.

Ryan’s summary: “So this is what you’ve decided so far. Hollie and Phillip are in one group. Elise and Jessica are in another group.” Thanks again for that clarification.

Ryan introduces the only former contestant to have a Grammy and an Oscar, the one who was kicked off in seventh place and owes “Idol” nothing anymore, Jennifer Hudson. She and Ne-Yo sing “Think Like a Man.” Watch closely, tonight’s cast-off, this could be you.

Results Part Three

Colton and Joshua Ledet get the rundown. Jimmy thought both of them did great and that Bruno Mars could have written “Runaway Baby for Joshua.”

There’s some chatter about Colton’s never gotten a standing ovation from the judges, which has to make you feel really bad since they stand up for anything.

Joshua joins Jessica and Elise, and Colton joins Hollie and Phillip.

But wait! There’s still Skylar. Jimmy praises her for having the technical skills of the first pair and the singer-songwriter essence of the second. But he says he worries she’ll be forgotten.

Jimmy picks Phillip, Elise and Hollie for the bottom three. And if the two groups are any indication, already he’s wrong.

Skylar is safe! And now she has to do that thing where Ryan tells her to pick which of the two groups is the bottom three, and she refuses to choose because that’s cruel, even though we all know which group she would pick, since she already gave Hollie a long, hard goodbye hug.

But no, we’re wrong, because Skylar is told to join Hollie, Phillip and Colton—they are all safe. That leaves Joshua, Elise and—what?—Jessica in the bottom.

Randy lambastes America for picking a “ridiculous” bottom three, and the audience cheers, as if they weren’t all responsible for this mess. You know those are the only people who probably vote on this show, about 70,000 times per person.

Steven tells Ryan that “we’re gonna use our card tonight.” So it’s decided, and the bottom three can relax knowing no one is going home.

Joshua is the first sent to safety. And then, it’s Jennifer Hudson all over again. The person with the lowest votes is Jessica Sanchez! The judges have to be so relieved they didn’t waste that save on any of Jennifer Lopez’s pet projects thus far, or else at this point we’d be saying goodbye to Jessica but would have the pleasure of listening to more DeAndre Brackensick or Jeremy Rosado.

Jessica begins to sing a few lines, but doesn’t get far before Jennifer runs up to the stage and grabs the mic from her. Jessica looks completely in shock. No, actually, she looks kind of annoyed that her song was interrupted. Always the pro.

Randy announces that they are using the judges save. And while it seems great that justice is served or whatever, you have to wonder for a moment—if the judges had a save back in Season 3 and Jennifer Hudson wasn’t kicked off in seventh place, where would she be now? Sending video birthday messages like Fantasia Barrino? The world will never know.

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