(CBS News) "American Idol" has enjoyed several brushes with criminality over the years. Sometimes, it's been contestants who have had secret criminal pasts. Sometimes, though, it's just been murderously bad singing.
Complete Coverage: "American Idol"
Last night's show offered both. First, the impeccable Ryan Seacrest explained - without mentioning Jermaine Jones' name - that one contestant had been disqualified after the show had collaborated with police to discover a murky rapsheet.
Jones allegedly has four arrest warrants outstanding. However, how many of the remaining contestants, asked to sing compositions from their birth year, would be charged with breaking the laws of music?
The judges appreciated his efforts. "It's in every cell of your body, not to get too medical," said Jennifer Lopez. Wait, didn't she star in "The Cell" - not to get too medical about a movie that had its own pained existence?
Jessica Sanchez doesn't want to get caught in the Pia Toscano ballad-trap. So, this early in the competition, she wanted to show that she could raise her tempo without losing her timber. She chose Gloria Estefan's "Turn the Beat Around."
In rehearsal, Will.i.Am, accompanying a peculiarly relaxed Jimmy Iovine, called her "a swaggernaut." This refers to her astonishing ease, one that wouldn't be expected from a 16-year-old.
Wearing shiny trousers from an especially enterprising consignment store, Sanchez's performance was hard to love, but possible to enjoy. She jumped. She jigged. She swaggernauted. The song and her voice, however, didn't enjoy a swaggernautical relationship.
"You can't stray too far from what you sing the best, which is ballads," offered Steven Tyler, unhelpfully. He is, after all, a rock star who is possibly most famous for his ballads. Still, he found her rhythm shady and loved her pants.
Heejun Han wanted Fergie's number from Will.i.am. But the number he chose to sing would have surely given Fergie lergy. Richard Marx's "Right Here Waiting" feels about as contemporary as "Chirpy-Chirpy-Cheep-Cheep." (Look it up.)
One could hear a Cowell cry "Karaoke", as the judges struggled for kind words.
"Dude, I didn't really enjoy this at all," said Randy Jackson. "It felt like you were out of breath all the time."
Elise Testone was saved by the judges last week and promised that, when she sang, "people will be making babies." It had to be Marvin Gaye or Al Green, right? It was the latter's "Let's Stay Together."
As Will.i.am wondered whether Iovine had heard President Obama's version, the producers spliced it with Testone's version and had them singing side by side in relative harmony. For the actual performance, Testone wore a long black dress, sat near a pianist and created a soothing atmosphere for the baby-making.
Suddenly, she changed it up to rough and raucous, as if her life depended on staying together. The horns blared. Testone marched across the stage and gave it her very loud all. One can only imagine that any baby made during that performance will turn out to be a very spry and active child.
"It came from your heart. It was beautiful," offered Lopez, who showed no signs of wanting to make babies with either of fellow judges.
Deandre Brackensick was talked into "Endless Love" by Iovine. While this wasn't endless agony, Brackensick seemed to endlessly struggle reaching the right notes of a very difficult song.
Lopez touched on schizophrenia. She said that Brackensick could sing anything, but that this wasn't the right song. She blamed Iovine. Jackson called it "boring."
The problem young people like Brackensick, 17 - and next contestant 16-year-old Shannon Magrane - have is similar to that of young figure skaters. Even when they can perform the elements, they don't have the maturity to offer subtleties of interpretation.
Magrane's "One Sweet Day" was not as sweet as Mariah Carey's. In shorts from what seemed like Agent Provocateur's children's department, Magrane attempted to impersonate, but struggled to find an identity.
"That was not an easy undertaking," began Lopez before declaring it beautiful.
Please declare yourself if you're familiar with "Broken Heart" by White Lion. Even the band didn't know it. But Colton Dixon was going to sing it and intended to rock it. After so much well-intentioned mimicry, it was refreshing to see someone not only attempting originality, but delivering it with such joy and such a lack of pandering to the average. This wasn't mere singing. It was a performance.
"I feel like you've had broken hearts," explained Lopez. "And also I think you look pretty when you sing." (As an entirely irrelevant aside, Lopez is currently dating a much younger man.)
Tyler, oddly, declared this "the wrong song for your voice and your passion."
Will.i.am offered this passionate warning about Erika Van Pelt: "She's gonna go home if she doesn't execute."
There are surely better candidates for someone to go home (if anyone does, after Jones' ouster).
"I think you're too busy all over it," said Tyler of Van Pelt's version of Bryan Adams' "Heaven." The other judges disagreed.
Then, oddly, the singing halted and we were confronted with the soap opera of Jones meeting with the show's producers in which he was confronted with their discovery of his legal issues. He told them he had been too scared to admit to these charges. Executive Producer Nigel Lythgoe explained that the show wasn't allowed to have anyone with outstanding criminal charges.
Jones seemed to take it well. Just to make him feel a little worse, some of his fine and final rehearsal was then aired.
Will.i.am and Iovine were both desperate for Skylar Laine not to sing Bonnie Raitt's "Love's Sneaking Up on You."
Laine doesn't sneak up on anyone. You can hear her coming from the next county. But this was a little pedestrian. The judges, naturally, loved it.
It's odd when contestants declare they're going to sing one singer's version of another singer's song. This would suggest a sad desperation to impersonate. So when Joshua Ledet said he would sing Michael Bolton's version of Percy Sledge's great "When a Man Loves a Woman," one wondered if he would simply come out in a long, blonde, curly wig.
It's not as if Bolton had suddenly re-invented one of the great songs of all time. Thankfully, what Ledet really did was grab the original, insert it into his throat and sing it as if he was one song away from the hangman.
When he took off his jacket in order to offer the final refrains, the judges stood. Surely Lopez wanted to remove some of her clothing in order to deal with her celebrated goosies.
Jackson called it "phenomenal and incredible." Lopez interrupted that this was "the best thing I've ever seen on 'American Idol.'"
It can't have been easy for Hollie Cavanagh to follow that. All she had with her was Celine Dion's "The Power of Love." Still, her genes are from Liverpool, England, where they enjoy a fight once in a while. She jutted out her chin and swung. It was all punctuated by an extraordinary final camera shot in which the director had clearly requested close-up imagery of Cavanagh's tonsils.
Lopez decided it would be silly to criticize. Tyler mumbled something about pitchiness. Jackson asked her for her dentists' number. Perhaps I missed what he actually said.
The question now is whether the producers, having dismissed Jones, want to send another home. There were plenty of candidates. But you can't send the girl who dueted with the president home, can you?
TOP THREE: Joshua Ledet, Colton Dixon, Elise Testone
BOTTOM THREE: Heejun Han, Deandre Brackensick, Shannon Magraine