The show began with an opening montage: footage of classic Motown artists and highlights from last night's performances.
Casey Abrams gets the news
This week, Mark Anthony stopped by to offer some tips on using in-ear headphones. He gave them a crash course on performing live in front of an audience and stopped by to watch the performances, even disagreeing with some comments from his wife, Jennifer Lopez. [Mark Anthony coaches Top 11]
The Top 11 performed "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," with the guys in black suits and the girls in white dresses. The song started out with Jacob Lusk and was passed around to different pairings, just a little hint of what the tour will be like this summer. Who wouldn't be on it, though? [Group performance]
Then the music kicked in for "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," and Stevie Wonder at the keyboards glided out onto the stage through sliding doors in the back wall. He was there to show them all how it's done, with the Top 11 singing background vocals. Now we know why the Top 11 sang so many Stevie Wonder songs.
As Stevie Wonder launched into "Happy Birthday to You," a multi-colored cake and an artist's rendering of Steven Tyler were brought out to celebrate his birthday, and he joined the group on stage just before a commercial break. [Stevie Wonder performance]
For this week's Ford commercial, the Top 11 carried carloads of recycling to a park in the rain, and then turned the materials into a sculpture resembling a tree. [Ford commercial]
Dim the lights. Time to go. Lauren Alaina, Pia Toscano and Scotty McCreery joined host Ryan Seacrest at center stage to hear their results. Ryan revealed that they'll all be packing their bags... "in a few months to go on the summer tour, because you're safe." [Lauren, Pia & Scotty's results]
Next, Sugarland performed "Stuck Like Glue," which seemed a very old-school kind of song, sort of '80s. The lead singer wore a very '80s outfit of green leggings and a bright pink short-sleeved button-down. [Sugarland performance]
This was followed by a montage of the Top 11 talking about their fondness for professional wrestling. James and Paul have bonded over wrestling, and they demonstrated some of their moves for the camera, hamming it up with Naima and Pia. [Wrestling fun]
Ryan had James Durbin and Paul McDonald join him at center stage. "The nation has spoken, and both of you guys are not safe tonight... I mean, you're really not safe tonight." At this point, a very tan Hulk Hogan came through the wall, and the two of them were absolutely gaga, with James falling to his knees in front of him. Their hero!
"You know something, guys. I have some really good news and some really, really bad news," the Hulkster told them. "The good news is both of you are safe and both of these guys are going on tour. The bad news is, you, Mr. Ryan Seacrest, you're not safe." He gave him a huge fake punch in the face, and Ryan took a tumble into the audience. Nice slapstick, Ryan! [James & Paul's results]
After the break, Thia Megia, Stefano Langano, and Jacob Lusk were brought to center stage. Quickly, Jacob was told that he was safe. Thia and Stefano both learned they're in the bottom three.
Finally, it was time for Naima Adedapo, Haley Reinhart and Casey Abrams to get their results. The person sent to safety first was Naima, leaving Casey and Haley to sweat it out. Ryan reminded viewers that Haley had been in the bottom three twice before. But the third person in the bottom three this week? Casey. [Thia, Stefano, Naima, Haley & Casey's results]
Jennifer Hudson performed "Where You At," showing great vocal control in a masterful performance. She always had poise, but she's a real seasoned performer now. And looking great, too, in a sleek black dress. I didn't realize it until Ryan pointed it out, but George Huff, another former finalist, was one of her backup singers. [Jennifer Hudson's performance]
At the close of the performance, Ryan sent someone back to safety: Thia. This left Casey and Stefano in the bottom two, and the camera cut to Casey's tearful parents in the audience. Commercial break. [Thia sent to safety]
After the break, Ryan said, "The person with the lowest number of votes and in danger of leaving us tonight is Casey." Stefano was safe and hugged him, blubbering into Casey's shoulder for a long time. There were several instances of dropped-out sound, where apparently something had to be bleeped out. A reaction shot to Randy showed him stunned.
Casey Abrams, singing for his life, selected "I Don't Need No Doctor." A short ways into the song, judge Randy Jackson waved at Ryan and told Casey to stop. "We know who you are, Casey. We don't need to hear you any more."
"This is crazy wrong," fellow judge Steven Tyler said. "We made a decision... to keep you on."
Casey reacted with strong emotion and looked almost as if he was having a heart attack. He was shaking as he walked down to the judges' table and took J. Lo's hand. "I can't believe it! Oh, my God." He sat down on the stage and then shouted, finally running into the audience and hugging his mother, who said, "I love you so much." [Casey saved!]
Ryan asked Casey to tell him what's on his mind. Casey didn't think that anyone would be saved tonight, because there's 11 people. "I'm going to make you proud," Casey told the judges.
Having used their one save of the season, Jennifer Lopez said they don't know why he was at the bottom. "Just let people feel your soul and you're going to stay," she advised him. Randy told him to "Be the person you are... you don't need to growl any more."
Ryan told them that two people will leave next week. But there was time for one more surprise: all 11 will go on tour! According to Ryan, that had been predetermined if something like this happened. It's somewhat ironic that this took place on the week that Jennifer Hudson performed. Her elimination had been regarded as exactly the sort of shocking result that led to the establishment of the judges' save. [Judges give Casey advice]
What on earth happened? Casey had been a favorite among fans and critics, with "Entertainment Weekly" giving him one of the highest chances of winning. Many had praised his musicianship and his creative take on songs. How did he find himself, not just in the bottom three, but the person in danger of going home?
I suspect two main factors: one, he did better than the previous week, when his version of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" struck many as odd and even grating, but he still resorted to growling out parts of the song. That might have turned some voters against him, if they're tired of that vocal technique.
More likely, however, he suffered from the fact that voters believed he was safe. Knowing that this week's results would determine who would go on tour, voters probably voted harder than ever to ensure that their favorites stayed in the competition. Singers like Naima and Haley, who have been in the bottom three more than once, and Stefano, who got some negative comments this week, might have received votes that otherwise might have gone to Casey. After all, voters probably believed that Casey would be safe, while the other contestants needed more help. A similar phenomenon, many believe, is what doomed Chris Daughtry, with underdog Eliot Yamin receiving enough votes to stay in the competition.
Unlike the two previous seasons where the judges' save was in effect, this save could actually change the course of the season. If Casey takes the judges' advice and steps it up, he could very well vault from this save into the top five or even the top two.
This all goes to show, of course, that Idol fans should never take anything for granted.
It's not over until the judges say it's over.