It’s Vegas, baby. The contestants are bussed to Sin City in hopes of continuing their Idol journey. The rules: they must learn and perform a song from The Beatles in less than 24 hours. The talent is at an all time high, perhaps the best the judges have seen in the past ten years (though, do they not say this every season?) With an hour of the episode focusing on Vegas, we invest even more of our emotions into these contestants. The intensity of Hollywood week was just the beginning; the frustration, the stress, the sweat and the tears, it is all making a triumphant return in Las Vegas. This episode becomes an emotional roller coaster for both the contestants and the viewers: new stars will rise while old ones will fade while a few favorites will remain consistent. By the end of this jam-packed two-hour episode, the final twenty-four will begin to surface at last.

We get a sneak peak of the bus ride to Vegas; it is all smiles…for now. The contestants are eager and thrilled to take one step closer to living their dreams. We learn that the previous night, contestants broke up into duos and trios for The Beatles performance. Considering how hectic group day was last week, I am surprised to see how easily the remaining sixty-one contestants form their groups. I think they are showing signs of maturity. Even the wildly crazy, Ashley Sullivan, avoids the break down and finds a girl to team up with. Ryan reminds us all that 1/3 of the contestants will be sent home after The Beatles performance. Uh oh, time to get cracking.

Contestants go off into separate rooms and work with vocal coaches for hours. (Is it just me or did I spot Katharine McPhee’s mother as one of the vocal coaches? Keeping the Idol family intact, I like it.) Immediately, I feel sorry for Thia Megia, a fifteen year old from Milwaukee, and Melinda, another young starlet from New Jersey. Boy, is there vocal coach a handful. No wonder why they continue to mess up; this vocal coach, as Ryan puts it, is the “vocal coach from Hell.” The two young girls definitely manage to showcase some thick skin. I have liked Thia from the beginning; her voice is mature and unique, a bit reminiscent of Adele.

We continue to get more glances into the group rehearsals. My favorite country gentleman, Scotty McCreery, as well as another favorite, Lauren Alaina, struggle with their Beatles Rendition. Their harmonies are all off. Lauren Alaina cries to the camera, claiming that this competition means everything to her. It probably means everything to every contestant, Lauren, but I still like you.

The vocal coach from Hell continues to yell at the young singers. Even the piano guy in the back feels the rush of awkwardness. This woman is not very encouraging, pinning the girls against each other and rambling about eating a Crowe. Yes, I don’t understand her either.

The producers decide to bring in big time mogul, Jimmy Iovine, to give feedback to the contestants. Apparently, his team of producers is some of the best in the business. That’s cool and all, but do we really care? There’s not much to say about this completely unnecessary part of the show. It just adds a bit more drama and reassures us that these Idol hopefuls need to either change their song or get their acts together. After the first few moments of this guy, I fast-forward to the actual purpose of the show: the performances.

Stefano Langone and James Durbin are up first. Their high-pitched voices compliment each other and the judges are pleased. It seems a bit cheesy, but all in all, these guys do the song justice.

Performing classmates, Pia Toscano and Karen Rodriguez, take the stage and do a wonderful rendition of the song, Can’t Buy Me Love. J-Lo loves it, saying, “You guys just get it. You know how to perform.” Their voices blend together so very nicely. These two girls definitely move up on the list. At this rate, they will not be looking back for a long time. I am officially pulling for them.

The next group consists of three people that are truly beginning to shine, now more then ever. Haley Reinhart, the cute 20 year old, Naima Adedapo, the funky bohemian styled girl, and powerhouse singer Jacob Lusk do a wonderfully soulful Beatles rendition. They receive a well-deserved A+ from all three judges, with Steven Tyler claiming, “Wow, that was stupendous, so well done.” Right on, Steven.

We get a quick glance at a few more performances in order to keep the show moving. I wish a few of them got a little more attention, especially one of my favorite girls this season, Lauren Turner. She continues to sing her booty off with each performance. The more I see her, the more I like her. She can do no wrong by me. Her partner is quite the hunk. Oh, and he can sing, too. He is also another early favorite of the judges, and I find myself liking him more and more as well. Though, I didn’t quite catch his name.

Tim Halperin and Julie Zorilla, two people who received much airtime during the audition process, continue to impress. These two are beginning to climb up the star ladder very quickly.

Bar Mitzvah singer, Jerome Bell, Lakeisha Lewis (who?), and Tatynisa Wilson, perform for the judges and receive mediocre reviews. Lakeisha Lewis is the stand out performer, but I have never seen her before, with Randy stating, “You got the whole Aretha thing going on.” J-Lo does not like her as much as Randy does, but Steven Tyler thinks the group nails it. Eh.

Kendra Chantelle and Paul McDonald are the next duo. Their performance of Blackbird gives J-Lo chills. Their voices are soft, soothing and incredibly sweet. I don’t know what it is about Paul, but I spotted him being a favorite of mine from the beginning. Don’t remember? Well, that may be because he got very little time on screen. His audition was quick, a snippet of him signing in a montage of others being put through to Hollywood. Despite that, something about him made me rewind and re-watch. Maybe it’s his style, maybe it’s his dazzling smile, or maybe it’s his breathy voice, I don’t know. But, he proves to be my favorite guy and my new crush. Kendra is a relatively new face, but she impresses as well. The judges fall in love with their light-hearted performance.

The show begins to pick up steam again, showcasing a string of clips from the group performances. The producers do not even bother to show us names, but, nonetheless, they all do great renditions. Next, the show decides to take quite the departure from its usual course. Instead of American Idol, maybe they should call it American Bride. Yes, they spend about ten minutes chronicling the wedding plans for crazy Ashley Sullivan. Spoiler alert: she gets hitched. Clearly, I fast-forward this within seconds, as I do not care that she gets married in the same chapel as Britney Spears.

The two young competitors, Thia and Melinda, who were subjected to the most evil vocal coach of all time, are up. The judges seem to like Thia more, especially the way she keeps her unique voice. They are not the biggest fans of the performance, though. The girls tell Ryan that they wish the performance went better. Me too, guys.

Ashley Sullivan is up with vocalist Sophia Shorai. I actually like Sophia, but it seems as if Ashley has only been kept around for good TV. Honestly, I have had enough of her wildly twisted facial expressions; sometimes it looks like her face was the mold of the original Scream mask.

Scotty McCreery, Lauren Alaina, and some other girl that I have never seen before hit the stage. The judges tell them that they sound relatively good, but they are not the biggest fans of the performance. They agree that they are all amazing singers, but the song did not fit them well at all. The judges promise to keep that in mind.

Casey Abrams and Chris Medina are a bit of a disappointment. We only get a small clip of their performance, but I think the judges expect more, especially from them. The judges, however, still feel a strong connection to these two. My guess, they’re safe for now.

We get an encore performance from Robbie Rosen, Aaron Sanders, and Jordan Dorsey (who has remained scandal free since his diva behavior in Hollywood week.) They are fun and entertaining. Randy and J-Lo give them a few critiques, but they let the boys know that they are impressed.

Performances are over, and brutal cuts must be made. Randy calls seven people to the front of the line. A few standouts: Thia Megia, Robbie Rosen, Jordan Dorsey, and Lauren Alaina. Randy tells the front seven that they are the first people through. Sigh of relief.

More and more contestants are sent home, including Ashley Sullivan (who is surprisingly not upset), White House intern Molly, and Carson Higgins.

Finally, some of the top 24 is about to be revealed. We do not get to see much of their solo performances; rather, the show cuts right to the judges telling the contestants their fate. A bit disappointed in that, I must say. But the show must go on.

Naima Adedapo is the first one to face the judges. After a lengthy look back at her journey thus far, plus an emotional speech from Naima, the judges finally stop yanking her chain and put her through.

Holly, an emotional young teen who has held onto the support of J-Lo, is unfortunately a no. They think she can come back and win the whole thing, but she needs time to grow. Agreed.

There are a string of more dreams being crushed and tearful goodbyes. Clint, the guy who kicked Jacee out of his group (I still have not forgiven him), takes the hot seat. He rambles about how sad everything is, but Randy puts him on the spot and asks about his decision to kick Jacee out. Clint gives some excuse, and the judges toy with him a bit. Jacee aside, Clint can really sing and he is put through.

Haley Reinhart sits down; she is impressively composed and quite mature for her age. She has a good head on her shoulders. The judges put he through as well and the 20 year old, composed and all, is extremely ecstatic.

Paul McDonald, my love interest of the season, is next. The laid-back singer has quite the captivating voice, and he continues to impress the judges. He even takes a risk and sings an original song for his solo. Where can I buy it? I love it. The judges do as well. He is through with flying colors. As Simon would say, ‘he is what this competition is all about.’

Finally, the last contestant of the night, Chris Medina, takes the stage. Where do I start? This is quite possible the most heart-breaking ‘no’ I have ever seen. Chris came to us with a gut-wrenching story about his fiancé, who unfortunately suffered a terrible accident, leaving her severely injured. Chris vowed to take care of her for the rest of his life. He is the epitome of good, and the judges felt a very strong connection to him. Through tears, J-Lo slowly breaks the news to Chris. You can see how he has affected the judges, and it is quite beautiful to hear how much they appreciate him as a person and as a musician. Chris was an early favorite, but unfortunately, the judges send him home. It is a sad moment, but Chris is thankful and gracious as always. He thanks the judges for meeting his fiancé, as he says that it was the best moment of her life. J-Lo breaks down afterwards, crying and crying. Pass the tissues, please. Through her tears she mutters, “I don’t want to do this anymore…” and the show leaves us with: To Be Continued…

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