From a quiet, dimly-lit stage, Ryan breaks the news that this is the first-ever sudden death round in front of a live audience. There's a crowd in the seats of Cirque du Soleil's The Beatles Love show at the Mirage in Las Vegas (enough proper nouns in that sentence?). After the credits, Ryan introduces the judges, and Randy -- who is dressed like Captain Kangaroo tonight -- explains that ten performers will sing tonight and five will go home. It'll happen again tomorrow, and next week, and forever and ever amen, in this season's never-ending quest to stretch out every stage of this competition for as long as possible. This now takes the form of Ryan chatting at length with each of the judges... because ten people singing ten songs in two hours means we're not in any kind of hurry. Ryan points out Jimmy Iovine in the audience, waiting to serve as a tiebreaker if necessary. Good, I was hoping he'd be back this year. He and Nicki could be the only judges with a coin as the tiebreaker and I'd be fine with that.
Finally, Ryan introduces the singers who will perform tonight: Jenny Beth Willis, Tenna Torres, Adriana Latonio, Brandy Hotard, Shubha Vedula, Kamaria Ousley, Kree Harrison, Angelia Miller, Isabelle and Amber Holcomb. Yes, I know we've never met half of those people. Just go with it.
We start with Jenny Beth Willis, who is 17 and from Oklahoma City, according to some footage of her initial auditions that they somehow unearthed. She's working cowboy boots and an overly flouncy pink-and-black dress to sing an up-tempo country song I don't know. She's not bad and she's having fun, which is good because she's not going to get a lot more chances to sing on this show this season, her big note at the end notwithstanding. Keith didn't love the song choice, but appreciated her confidence. Nicki agrees with me that it wasn't that great until the very end. Randy accuses Jenny of being out of sync with the band and says she may be in trouble later tonight. Super-helpful, that. But then Mariah gives her some actual technical vocal critique as though she's going to get to do another take, which is also not terribly helpful. I guess at this point, the only purpose for feedback from the judges is to let everyone know what to expect later.
We're reintroduced to Tenna Torres, who we're reminded went to Camp Mariah as a teenager. Now 28, she's too ancient to come back next year, so this is her last chance and her giant hair seems determined to rise to the occasion -- if rising were something that happened horizontally. She's going with some soulful, but overwritten ballad, making up for the five-dollar words in the lyrics by displaying some actual vocal restraint. Keith compliments the control she "mostly had;" Nicki asks why Tenna looks so sad before saying she remembered why she loves Tenna's voice. She adds, "Lose the hair," which is also good advice. Randy says the night just started, which is more bad news for Jenny Beth Willis. Mariah comments on Tenna's emotional commitment to the song. So that's unanimous on Tenna, except for her hair. Ryan comes out and reveals that she avoided seeing her boyfriend before the song to keep the sadness real. Method singing?