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'American Idol' Recap: Mantasia Arrives; Phillip Phillips Shines; Jessica Sanchez Fizzles on Top 7 Night

The show's "Now and Then" theme featured multiple songs by Lady Gaga and Alicia Keys as well as soul classics by Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding and Sam Cooke.

Phillip Phillips Top 7 performance L
Michael Becker / FOX

Music lost two major icons in 2012 -- American Bandstand’s Dick Clark and Soul Train’s Don Cornelius.

Wednesday night, American Idol paid tribute to both, with the top 7 performing the theme of "Now and Then," Billboard hits from 2000-2012, and “soul” songs of the past.

It was a lot to squeeze into two hours-a grand total of 14 songs were performed, so there was no time for antics or Tommy Hilfiger-just the music, with a healthy dose of drama.

Notably, Jimmy Iovine mentored the Top 7 by himself -- no celebrity guest needed.

The bottom line: after last week’s dramatic save of Jessica Sanchez (and they milked it for all it was worth in the opening segment), not one singer is safe after last night’s show, and host Ryan Seacrest reminded viewers to vote for their favorite.

Who fared best? Let’s break it down:

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Hollie Cavanagh has been having a rough time with the judges, and her performances have started to suffer. "The audience should watch her closely from that first note," said Iovine. "You can see if she's nervous or not."

 This was not the case last night. Cavanagh bravely took on Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” for her first song -- a bold move considering it was a watershed moment for Haley Reinhart last season. For the first time in weeks, Cavanagh portrayed confidence, sang with a strong bravado, and looked like she was having the time of her life. She even began the song a capella, with no noticeable nerves. Steven Tyler noticed right away, telling her she took a popular song and made it perfect. Jennifer Lopez was proud that Cavanagh took her advice to stop over thinking everything, and said, “you just forgot about everything and sang that song.” Randy Jackson was positive, but drew some “boos” when he said there were pitch problems and it was “not perfect,” but ended with “for the first time ever, I felt you. Very well done.”

For her second song, Cavanagh dusted off Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man.” Cavanagh has some hot fans -- the Liverpool Football Club, who sent a video message of encouragement. Cavanagh’s British accent mixed with her Southern drawl created an interesting stew as she playfully belted the song, and drew a more enthusiastic reaction from Jackson, who noted she “dug in” for her last note, and gave his usual backhanded compliment “You worked it out!” Lopez said Cavanagh found her composure, and Tyler thinks she can still push it more. Tyler doesn’t sound completely sold on Cavanagh, but he was nicer last night, telling her “you’ve got the voice.”

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Colton Dixon took a few risks with his choices, picking Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” Iovine wasn’t sold, warning Dixon that the tempo could do him in during the live performance. “He’s got to hit it high when that chorus comes in,” said the label head.

Dixon had support from his sister, Schyler, in the audience, but he is going to need votes after his disco metal take on Mother Monster. He was off on the melody, and the whole performance was just strange-with pyro, a female backing band, hot pants, and some flashes of pink in his hair. Jackson said he felt like he was at a Colton Dixon concert and the key felt low, Lopez loved the risk and Tyler loved it all.

Dixon fared better on Earth, Wind and Fire’s “September,” seated at the piano and flanked by images of falling leaves. His emotive take on what is really an upbeat dance song was a nice, artistic move, and there is something about Dixon and the way he looks at the camera that makes performances like this an intimate experience for the viewer at home. Unfortunately, the judges didn’t get it. Lopez said, “I couldn’t understand what he was saying,” Tyler said, “this is the part of the competition where you’ve got to find just the right song, and this wasn’t it,” and Jackson suggested Dixon do a Lil Wayne song. WTH? Lil Wayne? Lollipop? Why did he tell Dixon to do a song from this century during the “soul” part of the show?

Elise Testone is fighting for her life, or at least trying to avoid the bottom three stools of doom on Thursday night. Iovine knows it, and said Testone has a “vacation home in the bottom three.” To remedy it, Testone went for sympathy votes talking about her sick dog before performing Alicia Keys' anthem, “No One.” She needed a big performance last night, and although she sang it perfectly with just the right amount of restraint the question remains if she connected with Idol fans. She connected with Lopez, reporting her first “goosies” of the night (can we retire that word, please??). Jackson said she sang it great, and Tyler said, “I love you, baby. I love the grit.”

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Her second song, Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On,” was sexy and confident, with vocal growls worthy of Reinhart.  Something about the performance made Lopez’s goosies disappear, and she claimed that Testone showed more emotion for her dog than in the song. Jackson said that the song wasn’t right for her voice, but Tyler had goosies of a different kind saying it “struck a note with every man in America.” The commentary dragged on for what seemed like an eternity, with Testone judging herself. She may need to start packing early tonight.

Phillip Phillips, on the other hand, came completely out of his comfort zone with Usher’s “U Got it Bad.” His decision to be more intimate impressed Iovine, who said Phillips may have discovered a new voice. Whatever that voice is, Phillips was sexy and intense, and the choice to go acoustic reminded me Kris Allen (who performs tomorrow night) and his version of Kanye West’s “Heartless.” Phillips may have picked up a slew of new fans last night-including Lopez, who said, “that was so sexy.” Jackson called Phillips “a true artist..he tries to be original, and most importantly, he tries to be himself.” He also earned the first standing ovation of the night, usually reserved for Joshua Ledet.

Phillips continued with his sexy self covering Wilson Pickett’s “In The Midnight Hour” sans the guitar! It was frat boy rock at best, and once again, Lopez went all cougar on the boy growling at him, and added, “You make me want to get up there and step with you.” Tyler uttered his first “beautiful” of the night, and Jackson liked that he took his time with it.

You would think that Jessica Sanchez would get at least one stinking standing ovation after last week’s dramatic save, but it was not to be. Iovine is still in her corner, however. “Jessica doesn’t deserve to be in the Bottom 3 if she sang 'Yankee Doodle Dandy',” he said.

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To fix the situation, Sanchez belted out the second Alicia Keys song of the night-the oft-covered audition song, “Fallin’.” She needed a big moment, according to Iovine, and started strong, a capella. Her diction, tone, and vocal runs were all perfect -- so naturally the judges patted themselves on the back for saving her. “The way you play with songs, it’s crazy, it’s insane,” said Jennifer. Jackson loved how Sanchez got “mad” at the song, and Tyler hoped that America would wake up from its slumber and vote for her.

After that, you would think the love would continue-but something happened on the second song. Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” is one of those songs that is worthy of a show stopping moment: think of Jon Cryer lip-syncing it in Pretty in Pink and you get the idea. Sanchez put her heart and soul into the classic, possibly in an attempt to show off her more rocking alter ego, but it came off as a bit screechy. Lopez threw her right under the bus, with her tainted praise and advice to push her performances and take it further (this advice seems to confuse contestants -- see Erika Van Pelt and Cavanagh for evidence). Jackson talked about showing emotion in the lyrics, and that “it’s all about growing now.” Only Tyler was elated, shouting “Good God Almighty! Bless my soul! You’ve done it again!”

Iovine is more than pleased with country cutie Skylar Laine, telling the pint sized powerhouse that she looked like a front-runner last week. Laine revealed that she was going to do a country version of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” something Mother Monster already did for her fans. This was a wonderful decision for Laine, the most natural performer this season. Accompanied by Ashley and Adam Clark from Sons of Sylvia, her Gaga selection erased Dixon’s earlier weird Vegas spectacle from memory, with a raw, fun, and completely spirited interpretation of the song. Laine may be headed for the finale at this rate-she has the love of young girls, a major voting bloc of Idol-and Lopez is quick to point that out later on,  noting that she sees them in the front row week after week cheering Laine on. “You are such a fighter,” she said. Jackson said she is “beyond ready,” and Tyler said Laine is giving the other girls a run for their money.

STORY: 'American Idol': 'Now and Then' Theme Includes Songs by Lady Gaga, Adele, Marvin Gaye

Proving that the first song was not a fluke, Laine rocked it out again with “Heard it Through the Grapevine,” wisely skipping the California Raisins choreography. She is so comfortable on stage -- she belongs there. “Every time you come on stage, it’s a party,” said Jackson, who dubbed her the rocking country girl. Tyler said Laine is a “wild horse that can’t be tamed.”

Finally, Teacher’s Pet Joshua Ledet fulfilled his destiny with a performance of Fantasia Barrino’s “I Believe.” He may have chosen the song because Barrino sent a video of support last week, and how could Mantasia ignore that? Of course he sang it well, with impressive high notes and runs,  but after last week’s barn burner of Bruno Mars’ “Runaway Baby,” was it necessary to return to a worship like ballad? No matter -- standing ovations all around, with a healthy dose of the word, “amazing” and Lopez commenting on Ledet’s teary eyes and bulging throat.

For his finale, Ledet went all out with Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” It was a beautiful, heartfelt, powerful showcase of Ledet’s talent, evoking yet another standing ovation and a plea from Lopez, “Please, America, don’t send this boy home!” This, of course, could land Ledet in the bottom -- America doesn’t like to be told who to vote for. Jackson said it was “stellar” and Tyler said Ledet stretched his voice “to the limits of soul.”

So, who is going home? Jackson said he doesn’t want anyone to go home, but alas, someone must leave. Testone could be in the Bottom 3 once more, but who will join her? What do you think, Idol Worshippers?

Twitter: @Idol_Worship