Ryan starts from backstage, trying to pump up the top 13 and the judges before the show. Unfortunately, he’s once again wearing a three-piece suit with no tie so he looks like a miniature version of The Mentalist. After the credits, Ryan reports that this is the 400th episode. Is that all? It feels like twice that many. And that’s just this season. Ryan brings out the girls from the top 13: Elise Testone, Skylar Laine, Shannon Magrane, Hollie Cavanagh, Jessica Sanchez, and Erika Van Pelt, not that any of them get last names any more. Then out come the guys: Jermaine Jones, Colton Dixon, Joshua Ledet, Heejun Han, Phillip Phillips, DeAndre Brackensick, and Jeremy Rosado. Ryan reminds us that one of these people will be the next American Idol, as if still trying to get us used to the idea. Then, there’s breaking news! Literally, that’s what he says. He tells us that for the first time, it’ll be the guys versus the girls, with the guys singing Stevie Wonder and the girls not just singing, but “paying tribute to” Whitney Houston tonight. Tomorrow night they’ll tell us who got the fewest votes from each gender, and the judges will decide which of them to keep. In other words: we trust you, America, but not that much. That’s okay, America doesn’t trust these judges either.
“Who’s crying, and why?” asks seven-year-old M. Edium the minute they cut to the studio where Joshua is greeted by Jimmy Iovine and Mary J. Blige. Nobody yet, but it’s early. The Stevie Wonder song Joshua’s singing is “I Wish.” Mary J.’s only concern is that Joshua will hold back, so she clearly doesn’t know Joshua very well. When he sings it for the audience, with a whole horn section out onstage with him, he does seem pretty peppy and energetic, at least vocally. It’s a bit of a departure from his usual gospel thing, but it works. Although Randy calls it “flavorless” when he means “flawless.” Freudian slip? Jennifer loved it, and goes on about his church-singing background coming through in some hand gesture he kept doing, and Steven pretty much just agrees. Except for the “flavorless” part.
Elise’s song is “The Greatest Love of All,” at least until Jimmy and Mary J. hear her try it and saddle her with “I’m Your Baby Tonight” instead, which she barely knows. Elise interviews that it wasn’t ideal, but the mentors tell us that she’ll just have to suck it up. Judging from her performance, Elise did just that. And look, there’s the horn section again. She does the best she can, but she’s not inhabiting the song the way she normally does. Under the circumstances, though, I guess she’s lucky she remembered all the words. There are kind of a lot of them. Jennifer says that Elise has a great voice, but this wasn’t her best. Steven tells her that she needs to find the right song for her voice, and Randy dings her for trying to fight with the song. I’m pretty sure she just got sandbagged. After that’s over with, Ryan asks her how the last-minute song change affected her, and she admits she’s only known it for a few days, but bravely says them’s the berries. Ryan gives the voting instructions. Wait, did I just say “them’s the berries?”