03/14/2012 at 10:00 PM EDT
At this point in the season, American Idol
should be a celebration of the top talent that has survived weeks of auditions, judges' critiques, eliminations and grueling rehearsals. But Wednesday's episode had dark cloud hanging over it. Caution: spoilers ahead!
Following news that broke earlier in the day that contestant Jermaine Jones was booted off the show
, Ryan Seacrest
introduced the live performance episode by addressing his absence. But instead of ripping it off like a Band-Aid – this is a ratings game, after all – producers waited a whole hour to finally get to the details of his removal.
Turns out, Jones was kicked out of the competition for not disclosing four outstanding warrants for his arrest, dating back to March 2011. Sitting before two of the show's producers, who chided him for not revealing his criminal history, Jones explained that he was "scared and nervous" and "didn't want to get judged or penalized" for his past.
Alas, one producer said it was against show policy to "have someone with any outstanding warrants on the program" and he was shown the door.
Jones's elimination aside, the episode had its standout performances – and from some unlikely contestants. (The theme: performing songs from the year contestants were born.) Joshua Ledet and Hollie Cavanagh closed out the show for a reason: both brought their best performances of the season yet. Cavanagh stunned judges with her powerful take on Céline Dion
's "Power of Love." And Ledet ruled with a fiery rendition of "When a Man Loves a Woman," which brought the judges to their feet before he was even finished.
An excited Jennifer Lopez
said it was "the best thing I've ever seen on America Idol
." Steven Tyler had even more profound praise: "You gave it up so big, God came through your eyes."
The judges weren't as kind to others. "Y'all are being mean!" said Skylar Laine said of earlier critiques before she turned out a hot cover of Bonnie Raitt's "Love Sneakin' Up on You." Favorite Jessica Sanchez, who dominated last week
with "I Will Always Love You," wasn't so loved for her cover of the disco classic "Turn the Beat Around." And Lopez, Tyler and Randy Jackson were lukewarm over Heejun Han's breathy version of Richard Marx's "Right Here Waiting." "It was the wrong kind of song for you," said Jackson.
Two contestants who previously had a tough time
, redeemed themselves to the judges on Wednesday. Elise Testone, who was saved from elimination
last week, proved her mirth with a rousing take on Al Green's "Let's Stay Together." "America, Elise is back!" Jackson said.
And Shannon Magrane impressed the panel with Mariah Carey
and Boys II Men's "One Sweet Day," which initially had the judges nervous. "That was not an easy undertaking," said Lopez. "But you did a beautiful job with that."