Thank God he's a country boy.
With country crooner Randy Travis mentoring, and a Grand Ole Opry theme, Anoop Desai, the 21-year-old North Carolina college student seized the American Idol limelight Tuesday night with a soulful rendition of Always on My Mind.
Even Simon Cowell -- who shredded Desai's performance last week -- said Desai "managed to go from zero to hero" on country night.
"It was compelling, drew you in, and never seemed contrived or anything but natural," Newsday's Jamshid Mousavinezhad said of Desai. "As Simon noted, one of the things we like about Anoop is his personality--he's not a whiner, doesn't talk back mindlessly to the judges, and hopefully has now found his groove in the finals."
SoCal native Adam Lambert, 26, continued gaining momentum in the competition, belting out a rendition of Ring of Fire Newsday described as a hybrid of Jim Morrison and Ravi Shakur. The judges bought what Lambert was selling again, as Kara DioGuardi said it was "confused and sort of happy," while Simon Cowell dubbed it "absolute indulgent rubbish."
Kris Allen, Megan Corkrey and Matt Giraud also received praise from the judges for their performances, granting a likely reprieve from elimination on Wednesday's results show. A new rule introduced last week grants judges veto power on viewer votes to save one contestant of their