"David Cook wins the night," judge Simon Cowell declared at the end of the Fox reality show.
The first round of songs was chosen by the judges, the second by the contestants, and the third by the show's producers.
Here's how it all played out:
Round 1 - Judge's Choice
David Archuleta kicked off the evening with Billy Joel's "And So It Goes" chosen by Paula Abdul. Judge Randy Jackson loved it, Abdul called it "a pure and stunning performance," and Cowell thought it was very good but not outstanding.
The gaggle of fans standing in front of the stage booed the cranky judge for his comments. "Oh, you lot are now judging? I don't think so," he snapped.
Syesha Mercado, who looked like she had borrowed Beyonce's glam squad, sang "If I Got You" by Alicia Keys. Jackson said he chose it for her because "I think this is the kind of record she can make and be successful with."
"It was good, but I wish Randy had chosen something where you weren't going to try and sound like the original," said Cowell.
"If you listen back you'll hear she changed quite a few notes," Jackson said.
David Cook sang "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" which Cowell chose for him. "It is one of the great songs of all time, and unlike Randy, I wanted him to do something different," said Cowell.
Cook showed a mastery of his upper register in his performance. "Loved the high note at the end," said Jackson. "But I wish Simon would have picked something that wasn't as predictable as this older kind of stuff for you. I needed more rock from you."
Abdul loved it and, speaking of predictable, so did Cowell.
"I know this is going to sound biased, but I think that was one of your best performances," he said. "Round 1 goes to Cowell and Cook."
Round 2 - Singer's Choice
Archuleta usually sings ballads, so he thought he'd change things up by singing "With You," a recent up-tempo hit for Chris Brown. Abdul said she thought he did a great job, but Jackson and Cowell thought it was an awkward song for the baby faced singer from Murray, Utah.
"I'm not sure that was the right song, seeing you singing 'my boo,'" said Jackson. "I didn't believe it."
Mercado in a sparkly mini dress was up next to sing Peggy Lee's "Fever." None of the judges thought it was an appropriate song choice.
"You had a chance to prove that you are a contemporary recording artist with your choice of song," said Cowell. "Instead it was a lame cabaret performance.
Cook didn't do much better with his song, "Dare You To Move" by Switchfoot. Jackson thought it was a great song choice, but a "little pitchy." Abdul commented on the challenge of taking a three minute song and squeezing it into the allowed 90 seconds. She felt the song was over when it was just starting to hit its peak.
"There's not much I can add to that. I think all three of you had an okay middle round," said Cowell.
Round 3 - Producer's Choice
Archuleta sang Dan Fogelberg's ballad "Longer." Jackson and Abdul loved it. Cowell thought he sang it very well, but he hated the song. "It was a song for someone who's 90, not 17," he said. "But you sang it well enough that I think you'll be in the finals next week.
Mercado sang the peppy "Hit Me Up" from the "Happy Feet" soundtrack. It was just okay for Jackson, Abdul thought she sang it well but not necessarily good enough to get her in the finals. Cowell liked it better than her second round song, but "it didn't give you the defining moment that I would have liked at the end of this show."
Cook finished the night with the Aerosmth power ballad "I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing." It was "just okay" for Jackson, but Abdul loved it.
Based on the judge's critiques, the finals will come down to a battle between The Davids. The judges don't have a say in who stays or goes, so it's up to the viewing audience to vote for their favorites. The results will be announced on Wednesday's show.
By Judy Rosen