Before we get to the report card, a couple of points. Paula Abdul has fallen into her worst habits, especially on that incoherent analysis of Katharine McPhee.
We can figure McPhee did well in rehearsal, since she was opening the show; we can also figure that Paula had planned some remarks based on that rehearsal. So when she did not deliver a standout performance -- and had a bad outfit to boot -- Paula was left vacillating between happy talk and an admission that McPhee was, well, not too good.
Abdul's comments and the strained repartee among Randy, Paula, Simon and Ryan made me realize how much more I enjoyed the show last week when I had recorded it and fast-forwarded through almost everything except performances.
Another thing: Could we get some respect for Smokey Robinson? He wrote ''Who's Loving You,'' and the Miracles recorded it (magnificently) years before the Jackson 5. The Jacksons' version is very good, too, but I'm often dismayed by the places ''Idol'' starts its musical time line.
And now, the vocals. For most of the first 60 minutes, it was not a good night, and it sure looked as if ''Idol'' planned it that way, wanting to hold the audience for that last half-hour. Paris Bennett was the transition act, with her vocal and then her evaluation straddling 9 p.m. Then the last half-hour had the formidable Ayla Brown and the supreme Mandisa (who rightly closed the show), with blonde cutie Kellie Pickler sandwiched in between. Kellie is the second-biggest problem facing Akron native Heather Cox, since they are both cute blondes but Kellie is scoring more personality points.
The biggest problem facing Heather, though, is that she is not stepping up. The judges were right: You don't tackle Mariah Carey's ''Hero'' unless you are going to outshine Mariah. She did not outshine most of the other singers. It's not that she's bad. It's that she is undistinguished.
Here's my card: Mandisa is tops, with a B plus; the goosebumps start almost as soon as she begins singing. Ayla Brown follows with a B, even more impressive because she followed Paris Bennett, whose ''Wind Beneath My Wings'' was a step ahead of the previous performances but still shaky enough to get a B minus in my notes.
C pluses to Melissa McGhee and Kinnik Sky, both of whom were energetic if not overwhelming vocally. C to Heather and to Lisa Tucker. C minuses to McPhee, Brenna Gethers and Kellie Pickler. (Even if Kellie is as cute as a plate of calamari, she butchered the first half of her song.)
Since my lowest-graded women were the ones the voters kicked off last week, I should be expecting McPhee, Gethers and Pickler to be in trouble this week. I'm not that confident. The difference in quality was much clearer last week, for one thing. And the show is boosting Kellie for her cuteness, which audiences may also be responding to. In anticipating Brenna's ouster, Simon may have urged viewers to defy his prediction. So I'm not pretending to be a seer here. Just another viewer, with a blog full of opinions.