It’s that magical time of the American Idol process when the thousands of hopefuls who auditioned are whittled down to the Top 10 — those lucky few who go on tour — and you realize that, after nearly three months of shows, we’re finally about halfway through Season 14.

And so nine singers will hit the stage comfortably before the most nervous advancing guy or gal nabs the once-coveted pimp spot and the odd performer out sings for his or her Idol life. Thanks, new format.

Addition By Subtraction 

So who stays and who goes? I’m basically in agreement with esteemed colleague Jeff Dodge this time around, though I think my always-favorite boy wonder Daniel Seavey sticks around for at least another week. 

American Idol Predictions: Who Makes the Top 10? >>> 

While Daniel has been the most deserving of elimination since he auditioned in San Francisco, he surprisingly, and for the first time ever, did not turn in the “worst performance of the night” during the “Get the Party Started” round. His version of “Happy” reminds us that he’s just like Pharrell, minus the edge. Yikes.

No, the honor of being the eleventh of 11 went to the almost-always-safe Jax, who butchered “Blank Space” by Taylor Swift (thanks again for discovering her, Scott Borchetta), by imitating instead of creating. 

American Idol Recap: The Top 11 Get the Party Started >>>

So if I were a betting man who wasn’t already in six NCAA Tournament-for-money pools, I’d pick Rayvon Owen or Qaasim Middleton to get the boot. 

Take Me to Hollywood 

Don’t forget your popcorn (and copious amounts of wine … am I the only one who occasionally sneaks alcohol into the theater?) but leave your wallet at home, because the Top 10 is treating at the box office this week. And I think we’d be naive not to expect the old yawn/arm-around-the-shoulder trick at least once. I’m looking at you Sneaky Seavey. 

Speaking (again) of the Seaves, before we start the live blog, let’s take a fun Throwback Thursday look at my initial description of him back before he went to Hollywood:

“Daniel Seavey is 15, but he looks like he’s about 6 or 7. He’s a musical prodigy who plays like 47 different instruments, but can he sing? He’s got a guitar around his neck, but he’s playing piano and singing “Hallelujah.” Because no one has ever done that song before. He sounds like he has a frog in this throat, and his voice cracks several times. His guitar playing is equally impressive on “Straight Up,” but the vocals are only a teensie bit better. The judges all agree he isn’t even close to being ready, but they put him through anyway. It’s just a joke at this point.”

#TBT. Ribbit on, my good child-man.

And it Begins

Song choice will be key, as the comfort zone-vs.-potential showstopper debate rages. And it appears we’ve got some rather risky and/or overly-campy selections on tap. Not to mention a #TBT trend of older songs and the possibilities for some haunting original takes on tunes that would otherwise be seemingly bizarre picks.

After an opening number involving a bunch of underage kids singing about staying up all night to get lucky (Nick, you are excused), Ryan Seacrest introduces the judges, attired in the standard garb. Except Harry Connick, Jr.’s shirt isn’t tucked in and J-Lo is showing off half of each boob. I’m assuming there is tape involved.

To help guide the potential idols, Scotty B. brought in the legendary Nile Rodgers, whose 40-year-old guitar has been dubbed “The Hitmaker.” He might be older, but he gets the job done. Retiring NASCAR star Jeff Gordon brings out the results envelope, invites the singers to the Race at Fontana to sing the National Anthem and do the “start your engines” call, and then it’s on to the show. 

Adanna Duru is Safe

Going first has not boded well thus far, and it could be trouble for an on-the-ropes contestant like Adanna. She’s singing Jennifer Hudson’s “Love You I Do” from Dreamgirls, which some speculate is on the edge of her range. 

She’s no J-Hud, but it’s a quality performance overall. Her sparkly dress interacts with the lighting well and she looks the part. The only problem she runs into is getting a bit screechy with the giant notes, but it’s a minor complaint. She might be coming into her own a bit.

Keith compliments her voice, which he says is suited to this song. J-Lo was worried about the high parts, which were fine, but the real problem was that the emotion of “I love you, I do” didn’t come through for her. Harry thinks she looks like a movie star, and he cautions her about staring down the barrel of the camera at the expense of singing to the audience. 

Daniel Seavey is Safe

Yep, our boy gets another shot to muck things up, but even I have to admit he deserves it this time. He’s singing Adam Levine’s “Lost Stars” from Begin Again, and he was initially planning to play the piano. But it sounded horrible in rehearsal, so based on a recommendation from Nile that he “had his head down the whole time,” he’s playing the guitar instead.

It starts off with a pitchy falsetto, and it’s hard to focus on the all-over-the-place performance with those five feet of spikes on top of his head. The other contestants look on in awkward amazement that this is actually happening again and will for an entire summer-length tour. He has absolutely reverted to deer-in-the-headlights mode.

J-Lo cites his cutie-ness as making it difficult to be mean, but this wasn’t his best. Harry bashes his falsetto for not comparing to Adam Levine’s, and he feels like it was a practice-room performance. Keith gives him a 10 out of 10 for something to do with the melody, then advises him to dig in and not get distracted by the audience.

Rayvon Owen is Safe

Wow, this may mean the end of the line for Qaasim, but we’ve got 90 minutes to get through first. Rayvon is singing The Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” from Saturday Night Fever, and his task is to do something different with one of the most famous songs ever. You know he picked this one to show off the falsetto and because he can smile. 

It’s basically a slowed-down and more soulful version, and it’s just fine if not mostly forgettable. The big runs are, as usual, impressive. But he’s off pitch in spots, and at some point the guy has to show at least the potential to blow me away. But this is Rayvon doing Rayvon.

Harry was surprised that he enjoyed the arrangement as much as he did, but wonders what Rayvon can do to stay interesting. It was fine and pleasant, but there’s no substance, and Rayvon needs a lyric that has some depth. Keith agrees, wanting to be wowed, and he found himself lost by Rayvon’s stage movements. J-Lo agrees with both of them, and she wants him to think about how he can capture the audience.

Nick Fradiani is Safe

Nick wants to be an action hero, so he’s taking on Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” from Top Gun. He feels like he’s been playing it safe by relying his guitar, so he’s slowing it down and bearing his soul on stage.

He’s definitely a bit lost out there by himself without a band or anything in his hands, busting out some awkward-looking movements. But it comes across as a slightly-poorer man’s version of Chris Daughtry. I’ll be honest, it’s not his best. There are highs that are high and lows that are low. But it’s a risk that mostly pays off. 

Keith appreciates that he’s getting more comfortable out of his comfort zone, while J-Lo calls him a hottie and liked the tone. But she still sees Nick in his own head. Harry adds on to the previous points, and while he’s a huge Kenny Loggins fan, “Danger Zone” didn’t give Nick anything to work with. Silly lyrics, he says. 

Joey Cook is Safe

After catching me completely off guard with her top-ranked performance last week, I’m very interested to see what she can do with Michael Andrew and Gary Jules’ “Mad World” from Donnie Darko. It was made famous on the Idol stage thanks to Adam Lambert, but this could be punk or ska or jazz or lounge. Who knows?

She’s solitary out on the stage, and it’s pretty true to the original outside of the Joey twang she puts on some of the lyrics. She says in her intro that her problem is eye contact and that connecting with the audience is her goal, and while she sounds great, I almost feel like her eyes are avoiding directly looking at anything.

J-Lo go Sia vibes and saw a different side to Joey, but this was a far cry from the usual accordion Joey-ness. Harry thinks she always stays in her lane, but she’s widening said lane, and this was a great song choice that allowed her to chew on some lyrics. Tremendous job. Keith praises her artistry and evolving depth. 

After some underwear and NC-17 jokes…

Tyanna Jones is Safe

Nile’s best advice on Elton John’s “Circle of Life” from The Lion King is to rein in her vibrato and focus on the melody, and I’m just wondering if she’s going to sing the African part at the beginning. No. No she’s not.

Harry wonders if she can keep up her streak of not having a bad performance, and the answer to that is also no. It’s off key, off time and downright cringe-worthy. Her last note is great, but otherwise, ugh. Out of wheelhouse equals out of tune.

Harry points out that usually, she achieves the greatest results with the least amount of effort. But this one looked like she was trying really hard, and she overshot the mark. It sounded like it was yelled the whole way through, and it’s the first time he’s heard that from her. Keith thinks she’s the best singer in the competition, but there were serious pitch issues with the track. J-Lo thinks the song was too challenging, but Tyanna will do amazing things next week.

J-Lo Takes Us Home

Before we get on with the show, J-Lo is performing “Feel the Light” from Home. The plot, about an alien on the run who teams up with an adventurous young girl on a quest to reunite with her mom (played by Jennifer Lopez), seems very strange until you realize it’s a computer-animated film. 

I can’t tell where her dress ends and the stage lighting begins, but she’s not moving around to reveal anything. It’s pretty cool when they project scenes from the movie onto her dress, and it’s a fine song. Not sure if we’ll be hearing it on the radio or see it on the iTunes charts, but that’s usually how I feel about J-Lo’s songs. Except when she teamed up with the Lox to take us back to her block. Don’t be fooled by the rocks, bro.

Quentin Alexander is Safe

Maddie or Qaasim in danger, right? Quentin’s movie has llamas (Lorenzo?) and involves New Orleans losing all its music and him getting it back. I was nervous when I saw he was singing John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John’s “You’re the One that I Want” from Grease, but he’s slowing it down to bring out the lost meaning of the lyrics.

He was pitchy in rehearsal, which I guess makes it seem risky, but it’s not. Even at its worst, which is a bit off key, this is the kind of performance that establishes someone as an artist and a contender. It’s haunting and delivers goose bumps, and I can’t believe he’s the first one I’ve ever heard do this to a cheesy Grease number.

Keith has heard the arrangement before, though, but it was just an “interesting” performance for him. He wants Quentin to loosen up, which seems disrespectful to me. J-Lo calls it haunting and beautiful, but it somehow still didn’t work for her or translate the way the Quentin felt it. Harry is disappointed that Quentin didn’t focus on both emotion and technique, because he found it horribly out of tune. 

Maddie Walker is Safe

Maddie wishes she was a mermaid, and she’s singing Deniece Williams’ “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” from Footloose, and uh oh, campy alert. In addition to that unfortunate choice, she also missed some prep time this week because of her medical condition. J-Lo is afraid the song will come off as light, and she wants to see if Maddie can bring any weight to it. 

It stars off with a slow spin from the camera that goes on too long and makes me dizzy, but it’s clear from the get go that this is bad karaoke. It’s a disappointing night as a whole, which Jax and Clark can hopefully break us out of. Maddie could always do this on Sprout, and I expect some “You look great!” comments (because she does look great).

J-Lo is glad for the song choice only because her mom loved it, and it was cute and sweet but not memorable. Harry doesn’t think it was good, at all, because he doesn’t know who Maddie is as an artist and found it pageantry. Keith doesn’t like the song choice and thinks she needs to pick something that plays more to her strengths, because a ballad could have hit. 

Harry is upset and thinks anyone whose performance was just average has a huge advantage because everyone else has been sub-par.

A Nostalgic Break

I wonder if Harry feels bad for ridiculing the “Danger Zone” lyrics, because Kenny Loggins is in the house to sing “Footloose.” I have to give him credit for not looking nearly as old as famous old-school rockers his age, and I would’ve appreciated a montage. 

The dude still rocks, and J-Lo’s dress stays in place despite her vigorous dance moves. Definitely some tape involved.

So am I wrong? Only Jax, Clark and Qaasim left? If either of the first two get cut, we’re looking at the same Top 11 performing next time, because they’re guaranteed the save. They have to be holding them for the end for pimp spot/vote purposes, but under this crazy new format, it actually makes us worry either of them might be in last place. Preposterous. 

Clark Beckham is Safe

I wrote that heading out before they made the announcement, because it’s the only thing that makes sense. In Clark’s romantic comedy, he’s a janitor at a fancy nightclub posing as a wealthy businessman to impress a beautiful woman who winds up being a waitress posing as a beautiful woman. I’d see it. He’s singing Maroon 5’s “Sunday Morning” from Cheaper by the Dozen 2, exploiting the loose parameters of the theme.

It’s a slowed-down and jazzy version, and he successfully makes it his own without detracting from the original. Imagine John Mayer singing Adam Levine. Different, but still amazing. It’s fantastic, complete with goose bumps, and I must offer thanks to Clark for showing why he’s in a different class than the rest. If he’s not in the finals (likely with Jax), something terrible has happened.

Harry insults everyone watching and listening by explaining what “arrangement” means, but it’s all to point out that Clark knocked it out of the park. Keith also has praise, but his only criticism is that he would’ve liked a bit more smile. J-Lo calls it beautiful. 

So it’s down to Jax and Qaasim, and I’m about 99 percent confident. Sure, Jax was the worst last week, but Qaasim was second-to-worst and doesn’t have nearly the resume. I’m upset with myself for even considering this as a possibility.

Jax is Safe

Whew! Ahhh the anxiety that goes along with the pimp spot. I don’t think anyone deserves it, and that’s why having the bottom three felt more suitable. But it definitely adds to the anticipation. Jax’ odd choice — Adam Sandler’s “Grow Old With You” from The Wedding Singer — simultaneously has the most potential and biggest chance of failure, but I’m not worried. If she Jax’s it up properly, it will be a moment. Gotta worry about those nerves though, especially after she bursts into tears upon hearing her name (and yes, I also wrote this whole intro paragraph, except for the tears part, during the commercial break).

She’s going with the idea that less is more, and Nile cautions her against losing our gaze. It’s her on a stool with an acoustic guitarist, and I actually feel warmer inside while listening. Jax is back, and it’s so sweet I’d love if she’d sing it at my upcoming wedding. It’s quirky and cheesy for sure, but on a night when so many singers faltered, this one hits the spot.

Keith welcomes her back after her stumble, while J-Lo thinks it accentuated her voice. Harry calls her a high-risk, high-reward performer, and this one paid off because it was personal and stood out. He cautions her about rushing, which Ms. Lopez attributes to the nerves of going last. Should we call it Pimp Syndrome?

Qaasim Middleton Sings for the Save

Qaasim is hoping The Beatles’ “Come Together” from Across the Universe will bring about his redemption, but he’s dead in the water. Too many potential winners left. Still, I prefer to think of it as being from Armageddon, though I guess that’d be the Aerosmith version. Not sure which Qaasim we’re going to get, but part of me will miss epileptic James Brown. 

They don’t even bother to show his training session before he launches into what I can only describe as the sexy version of “Come Together.” It’s far and away better than about seven or eight of the people who performed already, and it’s actually my favorite of his all season. But there’s no way they can keep him, though he makes it tough.

Harry calls it arguably the best performance of the night, but unfortunately they only get one save. And Qaasim is all performance, which sometimes the vocals are lacking. But…

The Judges Save Qaasim

Wow. Just … wow. I don’t know what to say. Speechless. I guess he earned it, but he didn’t deserve it, if that makes sense. What if Jax or Clark goes home five weeks from now? This is insane. No way Qaasim will win.

And so the two Q’s remain. Were you surprised? Should the judges have used the only save on Qaasim? Did they make a mistake? Which two singers will be going home next week? And how would you rank all those who came up short?

I wish I had a better closing line, but I got nothing. The save. Used to keep the Top 11 intact. The only save. On Qaasim Middleton. Yep. That just happened.

American Idol airs Wednesdays at 8pm (starting net week) on FOX.

(Image courtesy of FOX)

Bill King

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV

Emmy-winning news producer & former BuddyTV blogger. Lover of Philly sports, Ned, Zoe, Liam and Delaine…not in that order