Thank goodness it's Hollywood week on American Idol. Goodbye embarrassing contestants, hello major talent!
Before we get to that talent, however, let's also greet Ellen DeGeneres... with open arms. Wasn't she great on her first night as a judge? The comedian was funny (we loved when she had singers moving all around the stage before letting each one through), but also fresh and straightforward.
Ellen won't be Paula Abdul 2.0, sugarcoating every critique and covering up bad performances by telling the contestants how nice they look. She'll bring the criticism, but in a humorous fashion, such as when she told one dude his routine "scared" her and resembled a leopard stalking his prey.
There were also no contrived cat fights, nothing that Ellen did to bring attention to herself. She seemed steady, focused and, of course, funny.
As for the best of the night...
Didi Benami has finalist written all over her. She came across as a more polished Brooke White, strumming her guitar and bringing an emotional singer/songwriter vibe. Probably our favorite performance.
But the "infectious, real" Crystal Bowersox, as Simon put it, was a close second. She also relied on her guitar and had fellow contestants applauding before she even completed "Natural Woman."
The third impressive female was Haeley Vaughn. Only 16, she offers a unique pop/country sound and a healthy dose of charisma. We were very happy to see her advance.
Two men stood out, as well:
Andrew Garcia proved that guitar-playing was a theme for the top performers so far, impressing the judges with a soulful acousting rendition of "Straight Up." We wouldn't refer to him as "genius" or compare him to Adam Lambert (closer to Kris Allen), as Kara did, but certainly someone to keep an eye on.
- The same can be said for Casey James, and not just because he took off his shirt for his initial, pre-Hollywood audition. We loved his bluesy number... played with the help of a guitar, of course.
Watch all five of these performances in our American Idol video section and then let us know: WHO WAS YOUR FAVORITE?