This is when it must really be hard to be Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez or Steven Tyler. The talent pool for this season’s “American Idol” is one of the best ever, thanks in part (sorry, I’m going to say it) to Simon Cowell not being there to choose good looks over vocal talent. So now, when you get 61 very talented singers and have to pare that down to 24, it’s a difficult task.

Anyway, last night’s episode began with the contestants being bused to Las Vegas to the Mirage, where a running of a Beatles show is behind shown. They were given 24 hours to learn a song and working with AI vocal coaches before performing in front of the judges. But first, they had to sing in front of industry veteran and AI exec this season, Jimmy Iovine. Iovine and his producer friends were brutally honest with the singers, which is something some of them really needed. They also were “encouraged” by “vocal coach from hell” Peggy. Ha!

Anyway, first up was James Durbin and Stefano. James has got to stop those Adam Lambert screams, because they keep getting in the way of the fact that he’s really got a nice voice. Stefano needs to stop accentuating, because that is getting in his way. Mrs. Mike favorite Jacob was told by Iovine not to “oversing” and emote, but Randy told him to go right ahead and do that. Still, it’s a bit too much, just like Durbin’s screams. People, just SING. Naima, the toilet cleaner for Milwaukee, appears to really be coming into her own, as does Hayley Reinhart.

Tim Halperin and Julie Zorrilla did a stunning duet on pianos, and Paul McDonald and Kendra Chantelle did a great duet of “Blackbird.” Then they showed good ol’ ratings queen Ashley Sullivan, and what else would she be doing in Vegas but getting married? That poor sap. They showed youngsters Thia and Melinda getting “coached” by Peggy but they did a decent version of “Here Comes the Sun.” When Ashley finally got to sing, she wasn’t all that good, and neither was her partner Sophia. The group of (didn’t we get done with group week last Thursday?) Lauren Alaina, Scotty McCreery and Denise (sorry, forgot the last name) did “Hello, Goodbye” and it was just okay and didn’t showcase any of their voices much. Carson and Caleb did a nice rocking duo with guitars and Casey and Chris Medina did a nice version of “Hard Day’s Night.” Finally, Aaron, Jordan and Robbie Rosen did a super cool version of “Got To Get You Into My Life” to close out Vegas.

Then they showed some cuts that took the contestants down from 61 to 40–and among those moving on were Thia, Scotty, Jordan, Ashton, Robbie and Lauren. Among the homeward bound were Molly the White House intern, Carson and Caleb, Denise, Melinda and (thankfully) Ashley Sullivan.

So they were down to 40 and had to get further down to 24–the 24 that will sing for America’s votes, and among whom will be the next American Idol. This time, the contestants had one last chance to sing for the judges with or without accompaniment, and then they would have to walk down a mile-long hallway to meet their fate with the judges.

First up, Naima, and she made it. There is something special about her and I’m glad they chose her to move on. Then Holly, who I have not been crazy about since she first auditioned, was sent home, thanks to Randy and Steven out-voting J-Lo and having J-Lo tell Holly that outright. Lakeisha and Alex Ryan did not make it, but Clint Jun Gamboa and his very large ego did. Hayley Reinhart made it, and she is suddenly looking like a serious contender. Someone named De’Andre (who?) was sent home, but Paul McDonald made it (he is quirky and just unique enough to make some noise in the next round) and so did Ashton Jones. Finally, they closed the show with Chris Medina being tearfully sent home by J-Lo. She kept crying and told Randy and Steven she wasn’t sure she wanted to continue (whatever!) and that she wasn’t sure if she told Chris the news correctly. Um, okay. Hey, it’s hard to deliver news like that to someone who had become a fan favorite (he’s the guy with the disabled fiancee). Thankfully, Chris told them all he wasn’t giving up on his music career, and here’s hoping he means it. But Chris’ elimination was proof of how great the competition is this season.

So now that they have announced 5 of 24 and left J-Lo in tears until tonight, the rest of the semi-finalists will be revealed tonight. Will your favorites Lauren Alaina, Jacee Badeaux, Tim Halperin and Julie Zorrilla make it? Tune in and find out! See you back here tomorrow morning…..