Host Ryan Seacrest opens tonight's American Idol by reminding voters that Michael Johns got sent home because people assumed he was safe. He doesn't address how rude he was to Michael in his departure. Figures.

Mariah Carey is the evening's mentor. Immediately, I wonder if the contestants will have to sing her songs. If so, they're in trouble -- almost every time a singer takes on Mariah, Whitney or Celine, the judges eviscerate them. I don't know if I can take a whole hour of that!


Heh, as soon as I finish typing that, Ryan asks the judges about that very issue. Randy Jackson says they just have to be themselves and not to try to compare to the original.

David Archuleta is the first contestant to hit the stage tonight. He practices "When You Believe" with Mariah, who suggests he try out his falsetto a little during the song. He takes her suggestion (of course) for his performance, which is perfectly pleasant and shows off his best feature -- his tone -- to good effect. Randy Jackson says he was a little worried about tonight because of guys singing girl's songs, but, "That was the bomb, baby!" Paula Abdul says Mariah must be happy to hear his interpretation of the song. Simon Cowell says he just knew that David would choose this song, though he doesn't think "we're in for a lot of laughs tonight." But, he adds, "You performed that very well." Ryan says sometimes David is so nervous on performance night that he doesn't even eat, but David says he did manage to eat. Whew! Otherwise, all the motherly types will be trying to feed him at every turn.

Carly Smithson tells Ryan that it's been very boring since Michael Johns left last week and that "it's just not the same without him." Mariah tells Carly that she was looking forward to meeting her, and how cool would that be? Carly's taking on "Without You." Her performance is nice, and I don't think she will be called a copycat since her huskier voice sounds very different from Mariah's. There are a few weird notes at the beginning, which might have been her changing it up to "make it her own," but it didn't quite work for me. Randy says he likes that she challenged herself with this song, but that she needs to believe in herself starting from the beginning. Paula likes the restraint she showed at the beginning of the chorus. Simon says he really wanted to hear her sing this song -- but he doesn't think she quite pulled it off, but he thinks she's capable of it. He ends by calling it "an OK version."

Syesha Mercado chooses "Vanishing," which Mariah loves. She gives Syesha some pointers on making it her own for her performance. She sings a lot of runs and big notes, most of which works, but she loses it for a bit in the middle, one of the quieter bits. But people probably won't remember that part since that was before the big notes. Randy says he was worried that she took on (yet another) big, challenging song, but that overall she did a good job with it, "all things considered." Paula says this choice was extremely smart because not many people know it as well, so she won't be compared to her as much. Simon says again, technically, "it was very good indeed, but I'm not sure at this point in the competition I would choose a song not many people know."

On the way to break, Ryan asks Simon how it's going so far, and he says David is stealing the show so far.

Brooke White tells Ryan she missed her sister's wedding because they film the mentor part of the show on the weekends. She sings "Hero" for Mariah, who says she originally wrote the song for Gloria Estefan. Mariah tells her to sing it how she feels in the moment. She is much more comfortable back behind the piano, that's for sure, but I think she's a little nervous because she seems to be rushing it a little. In the close shots, I think for sure that she's nervous because she appears to be shaking, but it's still good. Randy says he was in it until the bridge, where she pitched it up a little (as Mariah had suggested) and that she lost her confidence toward the end. Paula says says she had a few off notes, but it was still good, and brave to take it on unplugged. But she does mention the speed issue. Simon says he doesn't think she had much choice to do besides what she did. He compares it to getting a hamburger without the meat because the part in the middle was missing. Then the judges argue over the hamburger analogy. Can we wrap this up before my DVR cuts off again?

Kristy Lee Cook sings "Forever," which Mariah says she sang well and "could be a hit for you." Her performance is pretty good, especially in the bigger notes. A lot of people are crediting her staying around with Vote for the Worst, but here's the thing. She's actually showing some improvement during the season. A lot of the other contestants started out strong and ... are in the same place now as they were when the season began. Maybe that's the real aftermath of having so many people who had past experience (and record deals) make the finals. Although, yes, Kristy was one of them, but would you have guessed that during Beatles week? Anyway, let's toss it to the judges. Randy: "I didn't think that was like amazing ... but I've got to tell you, you've definitely started stepping up." Paula says she is a smart girl because she is getting better every week; "Oh, my God, I'm like blown away." Simon says he didn't give her chills, but "you managed with what you could. ... It just wasn't great."

David Cook surprises Mariah by taking on "Always Be My Baby," but she likes his arrangement, calling it "haunting." (And if it's not his arrangement, certainly someone will correct us shortly in the comments.) There's not a lot that would have really worked for him this theme week, but he worked with what he had and does something different. Randy says that more than anyone else on the show, David is ready to make an album. He says he hasn't stood up for anyone yet, but he does now. Paula says that could be in a movie soundtrack right now, and "maybe it will." Simon says it was like "coming out of karaoke hell into a breath of fresh air. It was original, it was daring, it stood out by a mile." David cries. I'm feeling that every-so-often break with the judges because I thought it was nice, but I wouldn't put it on repeat on my iPod or anything. Oh, well.

Jason Castro closes the show with "I Don't Want to Cry." It sounds like a completely different song, but in a good way. It's mellow and cool and a nice listen. Randy didn't really love it and says he felt like he was "at a weird beach luau." Paula says she would like to be at that luau listening all night long. Simon agrees with Paula, but he liked his take on it. He adds: "The guys have completely won the night."

Do you agree with Simon on that? I think he's probably right, but also, like he said at the beginning, the guys had an advantage because most of the songs would have to be changed up a little, and they'd sound different from a guy's perspective no matter what.

(Photo by Michael Becker / Fox)