The Fox reality competition determined the last of its eighth-season finalists on Thursday night with the show revealing a surprise "Wild Card Round" twist in which the judges not only selected the final three members of the season's Top 12 but also added a thirteenth contestant to the finals.
However after revealing Giraud's advancement, Cowell surprised Anoop Desai -- who had been the only other contestant still in the running for the final Top 12 slot when Cowell revealed Giraud's advancement -- with the news that he would also be advancing to the finals.
"So you have two contestants [left and] we have one [remaining finalist] stool. Who gets the final spot, Mr. Cowell?" American Idol host Ryan Seacrest asked Cowell.
"Matt, you've made it through to the Final 12," replied Cowell.
But as Desai embraced Giraud while Seacrest congratulated him and the studio audience cheered, Cowell grabbed control of the moment and revealed the twist.
"Ryan, Ryan -- Anoop, Anoop, I wanted to say something to you. On behalf of all of us, we decided -- recently -- we're going to make this a Top 13," Cowell deadpanned.
"What?," a shocked Desai shouted as he covered his face.
"Can I get a stool? Get me one stool, an extra [finalist] stool please!" Seacrest shouted to the show's off-stage staffers.
However after getting the stool, Seacrest decided it wasn't necessary.
"You know what, [get] out of your seats, out of your stools -- bring them on down here. This is your finalists ladies and gentlemen," Seacrest shouted. "You're looking at your Top 13, the first-ever I think on Idol!
Even moreso than usual, song selection seemed to be the overwhelming theme of the judges' feedback to the "Wild Card Round" performances.
Murray, a a 17-year-old from Columbus, MS, had performed Christina Aguilera's "Reflection" during the special Thursday night performance and the judges felt it was significantly better than the performance she had delivered during last week's semifinals performance show.
"The other day it was really, really bad. You've definitely 100% improved from then," Jackson said. "I still think the song is a little too big for you. There were some flat and sharp moments that were big, but there were also some great, bright spots again. I'm must say it was way better than you were the last time you sang."
"Ya, I'm now confused, because actually I didn't even know you had that big of a voice and now I'm starting to think that maybe she has a really big voice," DioGuardi added. "And I was going to tell her 'Why'd you pick that song' in the beginning we wanted you in the pop commercial [space] but now she's got this voice that just came out of nowhere so now I'm confused!"
"You look lovely and you picked a beautiful song and you were determined up there, you were really determined," said Abdul. "There were some notes that fell off a little bit but overall I think you did a wonderful job."
However Cowell seemed to be Murray's biggest supporter.
"I don't think you're giving this girl enough credit actually, Paula," he said. "That [performance] was pretty special compared to what we heard before. I mean, I've got to tell you, you took a real... it was a very, very brave song choice. It sounded a little bit at times like a young girl try to sound more grown up but compared to what we heard before it was huge improvement and I think you just yourself back in the running."
Corkrey, a tattooed 23-year-old single mom from Taylorsville, UT, had performed KT Tunstall's "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" during the show and seemed to make the judges' cut based more on her intangibles than the performance she delivered.
"You look beautiful tonight and you picked a song that fits your personality, so you picked the right song," Abdul said. "You had a lot a joy up there, I had a lot of fun watching you... overall, you picked the right song."
"I've always liked you and I still like you, I think you're terrific," Cowell said. "What I like about you is that you are current and sometimes this show can get a bit karaoke and I don't get that from you. I think that you've got originality, you're quirky, you got your own thing going. It wasn't the best vocal we're ever going to hear, but it doesn't matter, it was terrific."
"I'm going to agree with my boy Simon, it wasn't the best vocal I've ever heard but here's the deal," Jackson added. "You know what's cool about you is that this song choice was you back in the right range you're supposed to be in, you know what I'm saying? This is the kind of artist I could see you becoming, I can see you making these kinds of records, nice choice."
"I think that we need you because you give some variety to what's already up there," said DioGuardi. "And I think America needs that choice, somebody who like you -- you're different you're unique. I hope you stay, I do."
Giraud, a 23-year-old from Ypsilanti, MI, sang The Jackson Five's "Who's Loving You" during the show and, given the judges' feedback, seemed to be the only one of the four contestants that was selected based purely on his vocal ability.
"Wow, thank you for bringing back the bluesy, soulful Matt, he left us for a week. He's back, thank god," DioGuardi said. "You can riff amazingly. A little bit over the top at points, but what a great vocal, you showed us."
"This is the right zone for you, this is the perfect song that you picked," Abdul added. "Don't go against what you're great at... this is you. I happen to think you did an amazing job."
Cowell also agreed with the women's assessment.
"It was, again, a billion times better than last week, you went back to what you do best," he said. "Great choice of song."
However he was critical of the outfit Giraud was wearing.
"I don't care what you wore," Jackson responded. "You what I love about what you just did? You make everyone sitting in this whole place scared that you're going to maybe enter this competition and give them a run for their money. That's how to sing, that's what I want -- a competition! That was hot!"
Similar to DioGuardi's comments about Corkrey, Cowell -- who has previously repeatedly boasted that he wanted Idol's eighth-season finalists to have more personality than the show's seventh-season finalists -- seemed to make it clear that Desai's advancement was based more on his intangibles than his performance of Bobby Brown's "My Prerogative," which he had already performed during the season's "Hollywood Week Round."
"This has been a very strange night, hasn't it. You're like an enthusiastic dog, aren't you? Again, not the best singer we're going to hear, but you have a huge... but people like you and that's important," Cowell told Desai. "And I think one of the jobs we're going to have to do tonight is that we've got to 'cast' this next stage, you know, so that we're not just going to put the boring singers through, we're going to put some personality through as well. You have a lot of personality to compete with, with that lot. Listen, this was the Anoop we liked before, so congratulations."
"So yo, check it out baby -- once again it was a song you sang before but I've got to tell you something -- you know what, dog I think you did better this time than the last time you sang it!" said Jackson. "So I'm okay with people repeating songs, you've just got to slay it dude, and you slayed it. I have had a good time -- I was like [it's] 'Anoop Brown Dog,' Bobby Brown's cousin."
"I agree with you, this is the best he ever did it," DioGuardi added. "You know, I don't like to get up and dance, but I wanted to dance. I wanted to get up and dance with 'Anoop Dog.'"
"Well Anoop, you certainly are the showman," Abdul said. "You're whipping out moves that are a little nasty there! I was going 'Woe!' But the truth is everyone loved it,,, and that's where you stay relevant and that's where you need to be really careful in picking your songs and for this one time I'm glad you went back and picked the song, because you did perform it better than in Hollywood [Week] and you showed a tremendous amount of personality."
Given Fox has already previously announced that Idol's season finale will take place on Wednesday, May 20, the show's Top 13 twist would seem to signal that another twist -- either a double elimination week or the show's first-ever Final 3 finale, presumably -- will likely be coming down the road.
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