Basically, if they'd been featured before, they got in. Jacee Badeaux, the young'un with a voice like a thousand cherubim: in. Raving Liza Minnelli fan: in. The British wisp from Austin even made it, dry-eyed and resolute. Boy with the country voice, stars-for-boobs girl, Lauren who trumped Aerosmith, the ex-couple with unresolved issues. They all stomped righteously forward. Randy barely even listened to Chris Medina, who with his good heart and stricken fiancee, has been in from the start. Then there were the shadow people, non-entities skulking around who may or may not have aunts with leukemia and bills to pay and houses reduced to ash. No one's told us yet. But they seemed to be getting in.
There were a few old friends who weren't so lucky, and Idol waved them long, elegiac goodbyes. Victoria Huggins – who wondered pointedly at her hotel window if anyone might ever admire her the way she was admiring those fantastic California mountains – got her answer: err, no, not just yet. But she faded out with grace: “I don't feel like a normal seventeen year old,” she said. “I feel special.” Others didn't handle rejection so well. We're looking at you, Nick Fink. Despite being (improbably) into his girlfriend Jacqueline, as some nifty camera work in the fields of Austin put forth to us last week, he couldn't match her on stage. This led to A Scene. “Let me sing it to the end,” he begged, the implication being that he deserved more of a chance than did the shadow people to his left and right. Randy delivered a strict no. Nick didn't care. He sang from the aisle, he pouted in the lobby, he even questioned Seacrest's hardened sangfroid: “Are you just washed out emotionally because you've been here for ten years now?” It's not possible Seacrest hasn't wondered this himself.
The judges were as close to sphinx-like as could be expected for three “personalities.” They drank Vitamin Water (or, at least, they drank out of Vitamin Water bottles) and consulted each other in stage whispers. Red herrings were planted, mostly by Jennifer, who was about as sneaky as a foghorn. “The first time, I thought it was amazing,” she confided to Randy after a round of recycled songs from contestants who'd already earned more camera time apiece than Seacrest has all season. “But this time ...” Ellipses or no, it was clear what was coming. Yes, yes and more yes. Whether luck will continue to hold for the grizzled TV vets in the always brutal group round, only time and our soft-hearted judges can tell.