Those two themes worked wonders for Jessica Sanchez. After a rocky few weeks and earning the final judges' save, the California-native rebounded Wednesday with dynamite performances of Jennifer Holliday's "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" and Etta James's "Steal Away," during which she showed full vocal acrobatics with gritty growls and ethereal coos.
As the judges noted, Sanchez showed she's far wiser than her teenage years. "She's 16 and singing Etta James," Randy Jackson said. "The blues is all about pain ... your vocals are ridiculous!"
The same couldn't be said for Hollie Cavanagh. After a stellar last week, she slipped tonight. The judges have criticized her for not bringing enough emotion to her performances, and her rendition of Bonnie Raitt's classic "I Can't Make You Love Me" didn't fare well. Lopez, for one, was hoping she'd do better – "I wanted it to be the best performance you've ever had," she said – while Jackson said she needs to turn things around should she survive elimination.
"You need moments," said Jackson. "You're a different kind of singer than Bonnie Raitt. You've got this ginormous big voice … there were no moments for me."
That wasn't the case for Joshua Ledet. He brought soulful gospel touches to Josh Groban's "You Raise Me Up." (A note to producers: you know you're running out of song themes when L.A. native Groban gets a pass for having written a "California song.") And Ledet later nailed his cover of James Brown's "It's a Man's World," which scored his millionth standing ovation from the judges.
"Neither man nor woman has sang that good or with more compassion on this show ever," said Tyler. "I can go home right now! I've never heard anything like that in my life!" Jackson had higher praise: "I think it was the best performance in the history of any singing show!"
But if America (and odds-makers) are looking for any indication of who might take home the title, look no further than Phillip Phillips.
His mere presence on the stage elicited Beatlemania-style shrieks from the females in the audience, who pierced the air with cries of, "I love you Phillip!" His performances didn't disappoint either, particularly his subdued cover of Damien Rice's "Volcano." "I'd never heard you sing like that before," said Tyler. "That was beautiful!"
The night's best moment? Seacrest's fake-out engagement to girlfriend Julianne Hough, who appeared on the show to promote Rock of Ages, co-starring Tom Cruise.
"There's something I've been meaning to ask you," he said, reaching into his jacket pocket. "Will you give this note to Tom Cruise?"
What are you waiting for, Seacrest?