Michael Becker/Fox
Michael Slezak
March 17, 2010 AT 04:00 PM EDT

There’s a scene in the 1986 comedy Jumpin’ Jack Flash in which Whoopi Goldberg’s character struggles to decipher the lyrics of the movie’s namesake Rolling Stones jam. ”Mick, Mick, Mick! Speak English!” she cries, flummoxed by the meaning of the words pouring from front-man Mr. Jagger’s mouth.

That hilarious moment played out in my mind during last night’s episode of American Idol, because several of season 9’s finalists botched the translation of the Stones’ songs they were tasked with singing. Katie Stevens turned a classic tale of romantic longing into a pitch-imperfect plea for text-message votes. Andrew Garcia massaged a ferocious anti-war anthem into a puddle of meaningless pablum. Paige Miles, well… I’m still trying to make sense of her gender change-up of ”Honky Tonk Women.” And poor, misguided Tim Urban delivered a tale of sexual domination as if he was reading a brunch menu to an aged aunt who’d left her glasses back at the rest home.

Those four singers run the risk of seeing their ”journeys” come to an end on Wednesday night because, yes, at this stage of the competition — with only 10 more performance nights till we’re at the Nokia watching two kids tackle the Kara DioGuardi-penned ”Annual Triumph Over the Odds/Natural Disaster Metaphor Montage Anthem” — Idol‘s Top 12 face a daunting mission, should they choose to accept it. We don’t want to see them merely knock off notes like tin cans on a barnyard fence; otherwise, much like the figure-8 compulsories of figure skating’s yesteryear, we’d be lining up contestants next to the piano and asking them to run through their scales, with points subtracted for each note missed.

Oh, sure, accuracy still counts — especially when you’ve got contestants like Lacey Brown (also at risk tomorrow) fumbling for notes like an exhausted night-shift worker knocking over her bedside light as the alarm goes off. But when it’s all said and done, we, the Idoloonie nation, also demand to feel something from our finalists, too. After all, Idol is both the search for music’s next great superstar — and great songs without emotion are like TV dinners that haven’t been defrosted — and it’s also a twice-weekly TV show that runs on the fuel of joy and pain and occasional blind outrage over the ouster of Alex and Katelyn and Lilly.

Whoa, sorry about that stream-of-consciousness semifinal flashback. The wounds, they’re still fresh.

So yes, Idol finalists. We want you to hit the vast majority of your notes and we want you to live the music all the way to your marrow. And that’s why Crystal Bowersox and Siobhan Magnus entered and exited the evening as the contestants to beat. But seasoned Idol watchers also know the road to the Nokia is lined with the gravestones of early front-runners — Tamyra Gray, Melinda Doolittle, Chris Daughtry, Constantine Maroulis, and Lil Rounds — and that’s why it’s also important to keep an eye on the contestants garnering positive reviews without being set up for a backlash, singers like Didi Benami and Lee Dewyze and even Aaron Kelly. So without further ado, let’s break down the performances…

Crystal Bowersox: ”You Can’t Always Get What You Want” Talk about apt song titles, folks! For those of us folks still reeling from last Thursday’s results show (and I suspect Crystal counts herself among our ranks) we most certainly did not get the Top 12 we wanted. And yet, in the laid-back, dreadlocked earth goddess, we have a women who takes such quietly confident liberties with the melody, that the judges barely give her credit for song rearrangement in the first place. Listen to that first pass on the chorus — the way Crystal colors outside the lines of Mick Jagger’s template but ends up with an equally beautiful result. Having the song end after a mere two minutes seemed almost cruel, especially given the fact that the drama of Crystal’s performance was building so sweetly — the raucous blast of horns playing substitute for the full choral wall that stamps the Stones’ original.

NEXT: Siobhan and her “Lambert” moment

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