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'American Idol' Recap: Paula Abdul Makes Triumphant Return; Another Finalist Bites the Dust

The ex-judge joined season three winner Fantasia on Thursday's results show. A cryfest ensued.

Paula Abdul American Idol Season 12 - P 2013
Ryan Seacrest, Paula Abdul and Candice Glover.

The first moments of Thursday's American Idol made me want to turn off the TV: the final five, forced by the increasingly out-of-touch producers to perform another unwatchable and dated medley of '70s elevator music, moved awkwardly onstage as a pack of hyper-caffeinated back-up dancers writhed around them to a soundtrack of "Last Dance" (and other songs you never, ever, ever want to hear again, not in your lifetime, not at a wedding, not at an office Christmas party, not ever). 

But just when this quartet of seriously talented singers began to resemble a middling high school show choir, Idol pulled out all the stops and showed a rare glimpse of the exciting event it once was. 

Firstly, WHO GOT THE BOOT? Janelle "Little Marshmallow" Arthur. We all knew this was coming, so let's not act surprised. In an actually shocking twist, Kree Harrison somehow wound up in the bottom two and, for a second, I had the slightest panic that America would do Kree like Chris Daughtry and vote her out way before her time. As widely predicted, it was Janelle with the lowest number of votes --even before Ryan Seacrest revealed the result, she could be heard saying her name aloud, one step ahead of the robo-host. The country cutie reprised her well-received rendition of "You Keep Me Hangin' On" while the judges deliberated over her fate. Would they use the save? OF COURSE NOT. Especially when Candice Glover remains on the roster; if the vocal dynamo (my favorite, can't lie) had been in jeopardy, Mariah Carey and crew would no doubt do whatever they could to toss her a life line. (Turns out both Mariah and Keith Urban sought to rescue Janelle; Nicki Minaj and Randy Jackson thought otherwise, and since there was no consensus, Janelle was shown the door.)

STORY: 'American Idol' Burning Questions: The 'Who Knew?' Edition

Not to get all gushy and sentimental, but how nice was it to see the girls support Janelle while waiting to hear the panel's final decision? Kree, holding on tight to Janelle's hand and looking sick to her stomach, showed genuine concern for her competitor. She truly is the mother hen of season 12, and like Jimmy "I Dress Like a Tween" Iovine says, she needs to make better song choices if she's going to fulfill the prophecy as decreed by the Idol gods (and the Internet!) that she will be the one to break the glass ceiling six years after Jordin Sparks out-sang beatboxer Blake Lewis.

As for Angie Miller, she's on a roll following her double-whammy performances of "Halo" and "I'll Stand by You" on Wednesday. Amber Holcomb is an elegant and competent performer, but I fear she's a goner next week, given Candice's momentum and the popularity of Angie and Kree (who stands to avoid the chopping block through savvier song selection).

Also on Thursday, Idol harkened back to the past with an OMG OMG OMG cameo from Paula Abdul, who graced the Idol stage for the first time since her tabloid-fueled 2009 departure following a contract dispute. Looking radiant in a red dress, Paula wept while telling Candice how moved she was by the sing-testant's decision to sing "Straight Up" this week. The studio roared; I may or may not have teared up a little. An Idol legend, that Paula. Marveling over the all-female line-up, she said:  "Congratulations to America for getting it right!" Then she sat in Randy Jackson's chair. Alas, after commercial break, she was gone. (Sidenote: Urban dissed "Straight Up" the night before, and Paula is famously sensitive, so I'm so curious to know if Keith smoothed over any awkwardness on that front. Unsolicited advice: pretend it never happened.)

VIDEO: 'American Idol' Season 12: The Red Carpet Interviews

Clay Aiken, the season-two runner-up more famous for his Twitter fights with Adam Lambert than his singing career, crooned "Bridge Over Troubled Water" while sporting an oompa loompa orange spray tan and a weird twitch in his left eye. His contact bothering him? Too much plastic surgery? 

The retro Idol reunion continued as Fantasia unleashed a sensational, emotionally raw performance of "Lose to Win" that proved again why she deserved to win in season three. Soulful and passionate, she schooled this year's hopefuls on how to "feel" a song -- something she never had to learn because it came so naturally. Keith was really into it, bopping his head to the beat, and Nicki Minaj looked as if she were going to burst into tears. Ending the song, Fantasia started to sob, overcome with emotion. The judges rose for a standing O. (Over on Twitter, season 11 alum Joshua Ledet enthused: "And this is why Fantasia is my favorite .. jeeze!!!")

And this is what American Idol used to deliver each season: that one performance, that one song, that one contestant who blows everyone away.

Of the four remaining, who's got the potential to seal a victory by bringing Fantasia-level A-game? Which judge should quit the show to make room for Paula to return to the panel? Last but not least, is Jason Derulo never NOT sitting in the audience?!? 

Twitter: @ErinLCarlson

Email: erin.carlson@thr.com