(CBS) The "American Idol" producers couldn't maintain the drama of last week, when ERs all over America had to call in additional defibrillators and spiritual counselors. Instead, in last night's results show, they split the contestants up into small groups, asked them to sing together and then revealed which was eligible for the axe.
The little groups were a splendidly cruel and honest means of showing who could really sing, who could really dance and who could really do neither terribly well.
Lauren Alaina showed that, even sitting down, her voice has all the power of a Range Rover, while Scotty McCreery, seductive as he is to some, has the range of a power drill.
Jacob Lusk needed little effort to reveal that when it comes to performance and entertainment, he needs only voice, not gimmicks, while Naima Adedapo looked like she knew she was singing at her own wake.
Indeed, she was immediately told she was in the bottom three.
Lusk was an excellent warm-up for "Idol" winner Fantasia Barrino, who showed what it means to perform with your heart and soul, not merely with your mouth, arms and legs.
Next, it was a curiosity to see Pia Toscano sing something that had a beat beyond the foxtrot, as she attempted to re-create, um, Charlie's Angels or something, with Haley Reinhart and our own Bay Area, Mountain House resident, Thia Megia.
Pia really took a risk--she wore trousers. But it was all a little soft. As was Megia's performance of "Daniel" the night before, one that landed her in the bottom three.
Then we had the interlude, in which we were allowed to see even more nosey footage of Casey Abrams losing his mental equilibrium after the judges had last week used their save to keep him in America's eye.
But before we could be too appalled at this prurience, there was Abrams, guitar in hand, in a band that featured Paul McDonald, Stefano Langone and Santa Cruz native, James Durbin. They managed a slightly wingless version of Paul McCartney's "Band on the Run," finishing rather better than they started.
Steven Tyler offered them a gig to open for Aerosmith. While we wondered just how serious he might not have been, we were suddenly overwhelmed by a lot of drum-bangers.
And behind them sat Jamie Foxx and will.i.am. What they lack in vocal range (a lot), they make up for in bravado (a helluva lot). Their song was launching a movie called "Rio" (produced and distributed by the same Fox that brings you "American Idol," of course). It was about partying and samba. It needed a little Brazilian.
As soon as we returned from the commercials, Lauren Alaina was crying. Presumably she didn't want to lose a friend, or two, which she did. McDonald was told that he was safe, and Megia and Adedapo had to take the long walk to probable obscurity.
In truth, McDonald was fortunate to survive, after his dull, complacent performance of "Rocket Man."
Some might suggest that his survival - and, this week, that of our own James Durbin - might simply be down to the fact that the voters are predominantly female. Could it be that girls prefer to vote for boys, while the older ladies prefer to vote for someone talented, but conservative, like Pia Toscano?
Last year, the first three to be voted off in the finals were women. Now the pattern is being repeated. The first four to be voted off this year have all been women. Last year, moreover, Crystal Bowersox was the lone female representative in the Top 5.
But it might just be that the voters, though predominantly women, still enjoy an amusing objectivity. They won't put up with flat singing, wobbly dancing or smug acting - not unless the guy is really, really hot. (Does anyone remember Jason Castro?)
Adedapo and Thia Megia, for different reasons, really weren't good enough. The same, however, might be said of perhaps half of the remaining nine.
(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)
for more features.