Host Ryan Seacrest starts the show with a shout out to those affected by the Virginia Tech tragedy, but it's kind of undermined when followed up by the usual "... This is American Idol."

The theme this evening is country, with an assist from mentor Martina McBride.


Phil Stacey is going to sing Keith Urban's "Where the Blacktop Ends." Martina says the first part sounded stiff and overly precise but toward the end got really soulful (that sounds familiar). She tells him to get the end tone into the beginning of the song. Here's hoping. And actually, he gets a stronger start than I think he has the whole season and stays there through the whole song. Randy says Phil could have a career in country music and he sounds really surprised about it. Phil says that's what he wants. Randy: "Now I know Phil Stacey." Paula says he sounded good right from the start. Simon: "Well, it's only taken 10 weeks." He says the personality, the music, everything worked for him finally. Phil goes: "Woo!" Oh, don't do that.

Jordin Sparks will sing "Broken Wing," and she says she was so nervous to sing it in front of Martina, but Martina says she did a great job. She goes a little sharp on a couple of the big notes, but not the last one, which is endless and awesome. She starts crying a little when she's done. Randy says it's a difficult song to sing, but that it was the bomb. Paula says she did a fantastic job. Simon says it's the first time that he believes Jordin could win American Idol.

Sanjaya Malakar takes a viewer question: What judge would you make sing a song, and what song? He says he would have Simon sing "Shiny Happy People." He's going to sing "Something to Talk About." He says he chose the song because he has been giving people something to talk about, so he wanted to just say it. Heh, nice. Good thing he has a sense of humor about this madness. He says he wants to do Bonnie Raitt proud. It's pretty bad, actually. Randy says, keeping it "most real," it was "just like karaoke ... very bland and boring." Paula says they are watching "someone who loves adversity." She says he's a lovable guy. Simon says it was "utterly horrendous." Ryan stirs the pot, Simon gets mad and says, "I know this has been funny for a while, but based on the fact that we are supposed to be finding an American Idol, it was hideous." YES. It was.

LaKisha Jones is going to sing "Jesus Take the Wheel," which Martina says is a good choice because she relates to the story of the song. She actually makes Martina tear up and get "verklempt." She starts a little quietly but gets to show off her big voice starting about a third of the way through. Randy says there were some pitch problems in the beginning and that she could have done a little more with it and that it wasn't his favorite. Paula says she agrees with Randy and that it was a little shouty at points, but she's still brilliant. Simon says, "It's like eating a hamburger for breakfast; it doesn't go together. And I don't think you and that song went well together at all. ... It was almost like halfway through you thought, 'I'm going to give the song the LaKisha treatment,' and the song couldn't hold that, so it actually ended up that you were shouting at us. ... You absolutely blew us away eight or nine weeks ago" and that she needs to pick the right songs.

Chris Richardson is going to sing "Mayberry" by Rascal Flatts. Martina said she questioned the song choice until she heard him sing it. He has a little feedback problem at the beginning, but it doesn't throw him off, and he does seem comfortable with the song, and it works well with his voice. Randy says he sang it OK, but he didn't feel any sense of connection, so it didn't really hit him. Paula says the joy and love he has on stage didn't come through. Simon says sometimes the audience and he seem to be hearing completely different things and that he heard a "nondescript, nasally, tinny vocal." Well, OK, but he's been singing with that same quality in his voice since the beginning of the competition, and sometimes they seem to like it, so ... And the audience disagrees. Then Chris kind of fouls things up by back talking: "Nasally is a form of singing, I don't know if you knew that." Simon (and me): "Oh, so it's intentional. OK." Then Chris (a Virginian) throws in a quick shout to everyone at Virginia Tech.

Melinda Doolittle has to take a viewer question: "Have you ever ran into any crazy fans on the street?" She says a woman said, "Oh, my God" and ran at her, and she ran away thinking there was a problem. Whoops! She's going to sing "Trouble is a Woman" by Julie Reeves. Martina says she hadn't heard the song before, but she couldn't take her eyes off her. And she nails it from start to finish. Again. Personality, fun, etc. Randy says it's "another solid performance from our resident pro." Paula says she picked the right song and performed her heart out. Simon: "Melinda, I'm about to compliment you, and I'm going to ask you to lose the surprise. ... It was fantastic. It was a great choice of song, you look better than last week, I saw a little Tina Turner thing going on there." And she takes the compliment without the shock. Huzzah!

Blake Lewis is going to close the show with "When the Stars Go Blue," a song by Ryan Adams and also popularized by Tim McGraw. Martina says she is friends with Tim, and he said he hoped someone would do this song. Blake sounds like he might be fighting a cold in his interviews. That would not be fun. Martina says she hopes she loosens up during his performance. He takes her advice to go into a softer falsetto in the high parts, and it definitely works for him. Randy says he loves the song choice and the arrangement (and his style). Paula says he has the whole package. Simon says it wasn't a jumping out of his chair performance. And he adds in the middle a comment about Virginia Tech, saying it was "a tricky week for you guys [the performers]." Then he closes with, regarding Blake: "It was OK." The sentiment was good, but the placement was a little odd.

I think the best of the night were Melinda, Jordin, Blake and (I can't believe I'm saying this) Phil. How about you?