Emotional, captivating performances from four singers outshone even the Nicki Minaj-Mariah Carey "feud" as "American Idol" sent 46 people to Hollywood out of the high-powered Chicago auditions.
Sure, Minaj and Carey sniped at each other a few times, again; but it felt like play-acting as each had fun being the diva, rather than real animosity.
Minaj dominated the show per usual with her amazing verbal creativity. She looked like she was having a ball talking a mile-a-minute, teasing her fellow judges and dropping incisive comments left and right.
But at the end of the night, it was Clifton Duffin, Mariah Pulice, Lazaro Arbos and Kez Ban who really stood out, as each of them wowed the judges with powerful performances and compelling life stories.
Below's how I rated everyone; add your thoughts in the comments below.
1) Clifton Duffin, whose parents had never before heard him sing, did a strong version of Luther Vandross' "Superstar" that left Urban teary as he watched Duffin's parents listen to him from the back of the room. He's got huge likeability and the vocal chops to back it up; seems a lock for the finals.
2) Mariah Pulice, who says she's recovering from anorexia, did a slow, emotional version of "Let It Be" that brought the judges to tears. "I really, really felt that song coming from you," said a subdued and serious Minaj, with Carey adding,"You touched me." Going to be one of the best stories this season, hope her voice holds up.
3) Lazaro Arbos, who has a bad stutter only when he speaks, did an emotional, heartfelt "Bridge Over Troubled Waters." He was crying while beaming as the judges heaped praise on him afterwards; I just liked him a lot, look forward to hearing more.
4) Kez Ban, who said she's a beginner "fire performer" had a unique, almost minstrel-like voice."You're very captivating," said Minaj, which is the exact right word. Ban herself said after making it to Hollywood, "I had a feeling that it was possible, but I just thought I was too bizarre."
5) Charismatic high schooler Isabelle Parrell had a lot of poise, and got both Urban and Carey to join her on "Baby It's Cold Outside." Classic tone to her voice, with Minaj comparing her to Taylor Swift already -- she could be a dark horse for the finals.
6) At-ease Kiara Lanier, who says she sang for President Barack Obama's birthday, got a "wow" from Jackson with "The Prayer" -- she could go far.
7) Big-voiced Curtis Finch, Jr.'s "God Is Able" was nothing fancy, but the guy can sing and he got an "O-M-G" from Minaj.
8) Brandy Neely's "Your Cheatin' Heart"showed off her classic, powerful country voice -- got an, "A+ amazing" for the song choice from Carey.
9) Josh Holiday has the pop star look and also brought a great tone in his voice on "Back At One," with Minaj saying, "I don't think anyone in the competition sounds like you."
10) Mackenzie Wasner, whose dad is in Vince Gill's band, impressed the judges with "Whenever You Come Around" -- I thought her voice was fine, but Minaj claimed "someone like you walks into the room once every few years." We'll see.
11) Stephanie Schimel sang "Dream A Little Dream," in a breathy, Marilyn Monroe-ish voice; interesting, but not great for me.
12) Rocker Gabe Brown screamed out "Gimme Shelter" and got Urban praising his "big belting voice" and "big heart," but he could be just a one-trick pony.
13) Johnny Keyser's "Try a Little Tenderness" was good, but it was his looks that got Urban to quip, "You're not going to be girlfriend-less for long."
14) Griffin Peterson's "Washed By The Water" was average vocally for me, but the divas found him "handsome," to quote Carey.