Put too much stock into Ryan Seacrest's over-dramatic introductions and you would think that, with each passing week, "American Idol" is becoming more and more like the Bataan Death March.
"One song, one chance, no mercy," he said ominously before Wednesday's semifinal round. "Prepare for the most brutal cuts of the year!"
Yes, it's the first-ever "sudden-death" phase for "Idol" and blood apparently will be shed at The Mirage in Las Vegas. Or at least a few tears. Tonight, 10 female singers perform in front of a live audience, but only five will make it to the Top 20 and fan-voting rounds.
Surviving the carnage were Tenna Torres, Adrianna Latonio, Kree Harrison, Angela Miller and Amber Holcomb.
Not as fortunate was Oakland's Kamaria Ousley, who made a questionable song choice with Kelly Clarkson's "Mr. Know It All" and delivered a lackluster performance full of wobbly notes.
Judge Keith Urban said Ousley failed to connect emotionally to the song and Nicki Minaj picked up on a bothersome "throaty twangy thing" that wasn't evident in her earlier performances.
Randy Jackson was the most blunt of the judges, calling the song pitchy and her worst performance of the season.
"There's nothing redeemable I can say about it," he said.
Ousley was vying to become the first "Idol" finalist from Oakland since LaToya London finished fourth in Season 3. Instead, she leaves without making much of a mark, thanks to precious little
"I know that tonight was not my best performance," Ousely said before departing. " ... And I know I'm capable of doing better."
Other contestants eliminated on Wednesday included Jenny Beth Willis, Brandy Hotard, Shubha Vedula, and Isabelle.
Among the five women who advanced, Kree Harrison and Angela Miller and established themselves as prime contenders
Harrison delivered a smooth, bluesy take on Patty Griffin's "Up to the Mountain": that was capped off with a raging glory note that had the judges raving.
"You make love to a song. There's something so sexy when you sing," said Nicki, who added, "I would be very afraid if I were any of these other girls tonight."
Mariah Carey joined in on the praise, calling Harrison's performance "amazing."
"You sang the hell out of that song," she said.
Miller, who performed an original song last week, brought her huge, soaring voice to Jessie J's "Nobody's Perfect" and had Randy Jackson beaming: "I think America is witnessing the building of a superstar right there."
Added Mariah, "Your potential is limitless."
Latonio, deemed a "lady bug" by Nicki because of her diminutive stature, came up big on Aretha Franklin's "Ain't No Way." So big that Mariah gave it an "A+."
The long-legged Holcomb, who was cut in Las Vegas last season, earned redemption with a smoky-jazzy version of Rodgers & Hart's "My Funny Valentine" that she "knocked out of the park," according to Keith. Mariah, meanwhile, found it so "brilliant" that "I wanted to smack you" -- in a good way, of course.
Torres, who's in her last year of eligibility, wasn't quite as good on Natasha Bedingfield's "Incompatible," but still brought enough power and emotional purity to the song to earn a pass into the Top 20.
Of the singers who missed the cut, Isabelle was serviceable on "God Bless the Child," but Randy found it to be a little too pageanty. Willis was a "little jerky" on Trisha Yearwood's "Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love." Hotard failed to connect with Travis Tritt's "Anymore," and Vedula was a bit manic and inconsistent on Lady Gaga's "Born This Way."
Ten guys will perform on Thursday. Next week, another 20 singers will take the stage. Then the judges will hand over the decisions to the text-voting masses.