Still, the show's top seven did a mostly admirable job on Michael Jackson night, as Jackson's mother Katherine and his three children, Prince, Paris and Blanket, watched from the front row.
Melanie Amaro, in particular, wowed the crowd and the judges with her show-closing rendition of "Earth Song," with Simon Cowell telling the 19-year-old, "I couldn't think of a better way to pay tribute to one of the greatest artists in the world."
The judges had somewhat mixed feelings about the other performances, with Rachel Crow doing the Jacksons's "Can You Feel It," Drew delivering a slow, piano-driven "Billie Jean," Marcus Canty giving a spirited, sweaty performance of "PYT," Astro remixing "Black or White," Josh Krajcik rearranging "Dirty Diana," and Chris Rene adding hip-hop flavor to "I'll Be There."
And all of the singers told PEOPLE afterward that it was a thrill to perform in front of the late pop icon's family.
"It was a honor," Amaro said. "I feel as though he was there through them, and I felt that he was really proud."
But there was pressure, too. "Performing in front of Michael Jackson's family is too crazy," said Drew. "I didn't find out until an hour before they were going to be there. Having them in the audience is way scary. It made me feel like I can't mess it up."
Added Krajcik: "You don't want to not do justice to one of Michael's songs when they are right there watching. It's also an honor to have them there while you are performing. I hope they enjoyed it."