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'American Idol' Recap: Hometown Heroes

Who earned their way into next week's finale?

American Idol season 12 final 3 L
Michael Becker / Fox
From left: Angie Miller, Candice Glover and Kree Harrison

It’s down to the wire, and America is faced with the unenviable task of cutting one of the final three American Idol girls down to two on the show’s famed homecoming episodes.

True to Idol history, all three -- Kree Harrison, Candice Glover and Angie Miller -- were treated to a trip home, replete with parades, emotional reunions with their families, trips to elementary schools and visits to former places of employment. Each singer also got to perform a show for her hometown crowd.

PHOTOS: 'American Idol' Season 12 Finalists' Hometown Visits

It was hard not to get emotional watching all three homecoming packages. Nicki Minaj's tear ducts were working overtime, and even tough guy Jimmy Iovine got choked up. Mariah Carey, clearly moved, noted that returning home changed the game for each vocalist.

“I feel like I went home with you,” she told Glover. “You got re-energized when you went home."

Each girl was given three songs to sing: one from Iovine, one from the judges and one from the producers. It was a three-way race until the end when Glover knocked “Somewhere” from West Side Story so far out of the park that ball is somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. Iovine-who picked Miller for the first round and Harrison for the second-went so far as to declare Glover as the victor for the whole night.

I really feel for Idol viewers tonight. Who do you send home after a night like this? All three sang their hearts out, and it’s evident that no matter who wins, each of them will have careers in their chosen realms. Still, a choice must be made, and it’s clear that Thursday night is going to be hard on everyone. Here is what went down:

Round One: Songs picked by Jimmy Iovine

Iovine chose “Perfect” by Pink for Harrison because he wanted to hear her sing a pop song. Harrison is really a country gal, and as lovely as it was, the song requires more gusto in the chorus, a la Pink, who sings every song like she is begging for her life. Keith Urban: “For my ear, you are a country girl. No matter what song you sing, you have a strong signature sound.” Nicki Minaj: “You went back to your easygoing Kreedom feel.” Randy Jackson: “You sounded good, but it didn’t have a lot of pizzazz. It was a little flat for me.” Carey: “You could have gone further.”

Glover’s version of “One” by U2 owed more to the Mary J. Blige cover than the original, and I’ll admit it irked me that Bono was never mentioned once by the panel. I also wish she hadn’t started at the second verse of the song or rushed the ending, but there is no denying Glover’s power when she hits those runs. Minaj: “You did that justice. The competition just started.” Jackson: “I think the third time is going to be a charm for you.” Carey: ”I sense you weren’t that happy with the song. I was with you. We felt it.” Urban: “I love that you have so much power." But he added: “You got sharp in a few spots.” Iovine felt that Glover missed a few key moments in the song.

For Miller, Iovine went with “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” by Elton John. It was clear he picked this so Angie could return to the piano, but she didn’t take the bait. Was it a mistake? Jackson wanted to know if it was hard doing the song without it, but Miller felt she couldn’t learn to play it that quick. Jackson said he enjoyed it, he sang the verses in a “more interesting” way than what she’s done before. Carey: “I felt that this was one of the best performances I have seen you do.” Urban: “I would have been happy with you holding back even more.”  Minaj: I love how you look tonight. This was a stellar vocal, but you clearly are bringing it to win this competition." Iovine said Miller did a stellar job but should have played the piano.

Round Two: Judge Picks

The judges chose “Next to Me,” by Emile Sande for Glover. The song has a hot R&B groove, and fits Glover like a glove. Urban: “Those opening lyrics are a straight-up clear confession about your man. It was a conversation. At the end you were in the zone melodically riffing. It was so good.”  Minaj: I am so proud of you. Congratulations." Jackson: "That was amazing. It shows people how you can be in the modern world today." Iovine disagreed and thought the track was “a little too subtle for her.”

Miller was assigned the second Pink song of the night, “Try.” Miller went for this with gusto, rocking out and clearly enjoying the choice. The only thing she needed was the hot guy Pink dances with in the video. Urban: “For me you have never looked so comfortable. Boston strong, baby!” Minaj: You believed every single word. You are Miley Cyrus’ long-lost twin.” Jackson: “That song fit you like a glove. You sounded amazing." Carey: “You performed like never before. The song has a rock feeling. You really found her place at home, and it’s on the stage.”

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Props must be given to the judges for choosing “Here Comes Goodbye” by Rascal Flatts for Harrison. The song, co-written by former Idol finalist Chris Sligh, was a perfect fit for the Nashville girl, who had an emotional return home and poured her pain into every lyric. Minaj: "I don’t think people realize how much strength you have to have to be this young and have no parents. You sang it like a pro." Jackson: “You just sang your heart out. That was unbelievably beautiful.” Carey: “I am overwhelmed with emotion. I am so in awe of the purity of you when you sing." Urban: "That was the perfect song for you and you sang it so right."

Round Three: Producer Picks

Miller was assigned the second Sande song of the night, the sad ballad “Maybe." Miller returned to her sweet spot -- the piano -- and earned admiration from the judges. Jackson: “I think tonight you became a complete performer." Carey noted that the song was hard to sing: “[The] song is in a high key, and you sustained in your belting register for a long time." Urban: “You’re finally in your groove. Next week sing a song under the piano." Minaj: “You’ve come full circle. You are out of your head."

The producers clearly tried to give the show a lift with an uptempo song by The Band Perry, “Better Dig Two.” Harrison for some reason can’t rock out on stage the way Lauren Alaina did with a similar-sounding song by Carrie Underwood, “Flat on the Floor.” The judges caught that immediately. Carey: “We see the wild side of Kree this evening. I love to feel the pain when you sing from your soul. I like the sorrow more than the anger.”  Urban:" I don’t know that that’s the place for you." Minaj: “Whoever picked that for you should be stoned." Jackson: “It was too ordinary for you."

In the final spot, Glover went all theatrical with “Somewhere” from West Side Story. Who would dare take on a song Barbra Streisand flat-out killed on record? Glover, that’s who -- and it was magical, earning a standing ovation from all four judges. Urban: ”If you don’t want to vote for Candice, call your doctor, you don’t have a pulse." Minaj: “See you next week." Jackson: “This is like a singing lesson." Carey: “That was my parent’s song and I got even more emotional. Thank you again for making me cry.”

I don’t want to see any of them go, but someone must. So who will it be Worshippers?

Twitter: Michele Amabile