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'American Idol' Recap: Younger, Better, Faster, Stronger

Will our next Idol be old enough to drive?

January 27, 2011 8:41 AM ET
Emma Henry, 15 from Littleton, Colorado performs in front of the judges.
Emma Henry, 15 from Littleton, Colorado performs in front of the judges.
Michael Becker / FOX.

Youth was a big theme in last night's Idol, with Justin Bieber blamed for messing with the curve for aspiring superstars. Now even babies should hope to go platinum! Out trotted 15-year-old Emma Henry, whose shaky version of "True Colors" held some promising Regina Spektorish lilts, but didn't convince the judges she was ready. In the way of someone who's definitely not ready, she cried until they gave in. Another 15-year-old, Thea Megia, had it easier. Her strong voice wasn't nearly as compelling as Emma's, but it and her “movie star name” soothed the judges' fears. (Side note: A name that rhymes is a movie star name? Only for Disney Channel movies, right?) To illustrate just how many of this new breed of humans there were, the producers played Taylor Swift's “Fifteen” in the background. It was too soft to make out the words, but anyone who knows their Swift knows the song's message. Fifteen-year-old girls, even ones who swear they won't get “swallowed up” by Idol, don't know anything.

On that front, Nathaniel Jones was probably the most oblivious, but his unfortunate choices were all part of his charm. A kid brave enough to delve into a misunderstood hobby, Nathaniel took his love of Civil War re-enactments to the judges' room, marching in uniform to present "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," from The Lion King. It was the opposite of cynical, a boy in a make-believe outfit singing a cartoon meerkat's anthem. But other for Steven, who is sort of a human Rafiki, all cheekbones and dark eyes and energy, no one seemed to get it. Randy laughed behind his card in a way that seemed meaner than if he'd just been open about it, and Jennifer looked pained about having to say anything at all. Steven meanwhile called the performance “outstanding.”

And while it was only really Steven who made an effort to be nice, the overall mood was generous. Randy did a (fair) Simon impression only once, calling a particularly over-confident contestant's run “a joke.” Still, when Chris Medina came on at the end with the tragic story of the accident that left his young fiancee in a wheelchair, the team looked like they wanted to paper him in gold tickets, screw the hassle of hearing him sing. Or maybe it was just us who felt that way. "What if this good person falls flat?" we worried. We don't know what show we thought we were watching. Everything worked out exactly right. Chris sang beautifully. The judges brought his fiancee in, and she said she knew he'd win it. The question now: will the fifteen-year-olds let him?

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