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Few ‘Idols’ feel safe after country night

Martina McBride guest-mentored on "American Idol," which left everyone feeling a little bit country. But even after the seven remaining singers performed on Tuesday, it was hard to tell for sure who would be singing the blues during the results show.
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

Martina McBride guest-mentored on "American Idol," which left everyone feeling a little bit country. But even after the seven remaining singers performed on Tuesday, it was hard to tell for sure who would be singing the blues during the results show.

Just as he was beginning to assert himself as a decent singer, Sanjaya Malakar regressed with a ragged rendition of "Something to Talk About." If Simon is right and this is a singing competition, he'll be the next to go.

But it's impossible to predict that Sanjaya will actually be voted off, since he's defied the odds to last as long as he has. And if he stays, the competition is at a stage where literally anyone (except Melinda Doolittle) could be sent home without it being too great of a shock.

Phil Stacey has been in the bottom three almost every week, but came through with one of his best performances in weeks. Chris Richardson struggled early, but may have redeemed himself at the end. LaKisha Jones picked a bad week for a bland performance, while Jordin Sparks starred, but sang early in the show. Doolittle and Blake Lewis have the best chances of resting easy.

The obviously weighed heavily on the minds of both viewers and show participants. Ryan Seacrest began the show acknowledging the tragedy and offering thoughts and prayers, while Simon Cowell closed his commentary by saying how it was on everyone's mind. And Chris Richardson, from Chesapeake, Va., gave a shoutout to his neighbors, telling them to stay strong.

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Jordin Sparks, 17, Glendale , Ariz.:  Sparks showed no fear of McBride, singing the coach's own "Broken Wing." It was a strong performance vocally, and she broke down in tears by the end. It wowed all three judges; Simon said "I actually believe, based on that performance, you could win 'American Idol.'" But it may suffer in the voting for being a slower song following Stacey's lively opening. Grade: A-Stay or Go? Sparks should be safe, but this week may be unpredictable enough to threaten her.

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LaKisha Jones, 27, Fort Meade , Md.: "Jesus Take the Wheel" is a hit from former "Idol" winner Carrie Underwood, but Jones didn't do well enough to warrant a new version. She picked the song because it had special meaning for her as a single mother, but it didn't showcase her voice enough. It took her a long time to get going, and the finish seemed more shouting than singing. None of the judges were particularly impressed, and all are looking for the spark Jones showed in the show's early weeks. Grade: C+Stay or Go? Jones is a definite candidate for the bottom three.

Chris Richardson, 22, Chesapeake , Va.: The first half of Richardson 's version of "Mayberry" by Rascal Flatts was brutal, and it looked like he'd be the odds-on favorite to go home. He came through at the finish with a more lively effort, but it may not have been enough to make the voters forget the poor start. On the other hand, Richardson did offer a shoutout to Virginia Tech, and he may be feeling the effects of the shootings more than the rest of the contestants, since he's from Virginia.  Grade: CStay or Go? It wasn't a great performance. If Sanjaya-mania continues to reign, Richardson may be the next "Idol" hopeful to go.

Melinda Doolittle, 29, Brentwood , Tenn .: Doolittle is the closest thing "Idol" has to a superhero. Shy and mild-mannered offstage, she transforms into a powerhouse as soon as she grabs a microphone. "Trouble is a Woman" by Julie Reeves suited her style perfectly, and all three judges agreed that she nailed it. Simon, however, called her out for always acting surprised when she gets such lavish praise each week. Maybe he has to criticize a certain amount of contestants each week or he doesn't get paid. Grade: AStay or Go? It would be the shock of the season if she were in the bottom three this week. She's safe.

Blake Lewis, 25, Bothell , Wash.:  Blake Lewis flashed some serious tattoos when talking with Martina McBride, then looked like something out of the J-Crew catalog when he actually went onstage to sing "When the Stars Go Blue" by Tim McGraw. It's hard to believe he auditioned with the beatboxing gimmick, since he's now unquestionably the best male singer in the competition. Though Simon was less impressed than the other judges, he cut the criticism short and yielded a portion of his time to offer condolences to Virginia Tech. Grade: B+Stay or Go? Lewis should be safe.

Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C.