Annie Barrett
April 19, 2012 AT 07:41 AM EDT

We began with some tender footage of Jessica Sanchez watching herself on TV in the mansion and a slow motion reprise of last week’s “dramatic” judges’ save. “The end is where we start from,” read a quote from everyone’s favorite musician, T.S. Eliot. American Idol, please. Save the drama for Wilmer Valderrama.

It was a new beginning for all — especially our little sparkle sprite Hollie Cavanagh, who kicked off “Now & Then” night with a fierce cover of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” My instincts said “How dare she,” but then my better judgement took over and determined within the first few a cappella notes that this would be awesome. Good for her! Hollie’s been the judges and Jimmy Iovine’s punching bag for weeks due to her “slightly robotic” stage presence. The fact that she’s probably been belting this favorite out within the non-intimidating confines of her car or the shower for at least a year must have made it easier for her to loosen up and just sing. She couldn’t let that thinking cap go completely, though, because there were a lot of unexpected cuts and twists in there to shorten the song to 90 seconds.

This was a masterful comeback performance from Hollie. She even showed some sass and confidence during the brief pauses in the song instead of resembling a frightened woodland creature. I loved it! Ryan was even more excited than I was, hissing “Nice” in Hollie’s ear after Steven Tyler called the song “perfect.” (Randy disagreed; a couple of notes were pitchy. “No. Beautiful.” stated J. Lo, who surely beat out Steven in the all-important “beautiful” tally last night.)

Amazingly, Hollie’s newfound onstage ease only increased with her effort during the “soul hits” portion of the evening, Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man.” I was a little thrown off because I didn’t detect any sparkles in her short, flirty pink dress, but then I found a bunch in her necklace, so whew. Didn’t know if it was her for a minute there. But she really did seem like a different contestant.

I don’t know why I’m so impressed that she’s able to switch the mic from one hand to the other while standing still and swiveling her hips a little, but I am. I guess switching the mic from hand to hand is Hollie’s version of “juggling balls” (which is how J. Lo described the way Jessica Sanchez plays with songs). I lost my breath a little when Hollie hit that big note at the end, because I really wasn’t sure she had it in her to pull off a soul number and I was just so thrilled that she hadn’t turned out to be the complete zero the judges had conditioned us to expect. The camera man must have been overcome with emotion, too, because he started shaking.

“Drive your car!” cried Randy after Steven told Hollie to push it even further. Just go! Drive all the way back to Liverpool for all he cares.

No one is a bigger fan of Colton Dixon than his sister Schyler. “He does great every week. We’re always surprised,” she told Ryan. She said a lot more supportive stuff after that, but I got bored. Colton had been missing the rock element he’d exhibited in the past, so he went with a modern rock classic, Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” He wasn’t changing who he was, he said. “Just taking on a new monster.” Oh I get it. Little Monsters. Colton continued to play around with language when he assured Ryan after the performance, “I plan on expanding my box every week, so I can include everyone in on the party.”

NEXT: ‘You gotta get low to get high.’

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