The country's red state/blue state split cut a fault line across the "American Idol" stage Tuesday night as Grand Ole Opry night tested the 11 remaining singers' reverence for the most traditional of American genres: country music.
Many performers no doubt delighted "Idol's" red state voters by kneeling at the altar of country standards, but others tempted the wrath of down-home audiences with shocking reinterpretations that promised to please the bluer ends of the "Idol" spectrum. But in the end, it was those who performed between the two colors who seemed to carry the day.
Opry night saw contenders including Michael Sarver, Alexis Grace and early favorite Danny Gokey deliver solid but respectful versions of country standards by Garth Brooks, Dolly Parton and Carrie Underwood, respectively. They won fair to good reviews from the judges -- and the night's mentor, Randy Travis -- but perhaps were held back by their devotion to the material.
At the other end of the scale, favorite Adam Lambert alternately delighted and appalled the audience with a psychedelic, sitar-backed version of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire," which for better or worse is destined to go down in "Idol" history as one of the show's most daring performances. In the Idoldome, the crowd seemed torn between wild applause and heated disdain.
"That was extremely disrespectful to country music," huffed one visitor from Missouri.
However, the day seemed to have been won by Matt Giraud and Anoop Desai, who turned in earnest, soulful takes on "So Small" and "Always on My Mind," respectively. Both offered a third way through the polarized "to do it country, or not to do it country" conversation.
The night did have some backstage drama before the show thanks to quirky crooner Megan Joy (formerly Corkrey), who was felled by flu and had to miss the dress rehearsal.
Ultimately, Joy delivered her strongest performance to date with an offbeat version of "Walking After Midnight."
Those who make it through tonight's elimination will earn spots on the show's national tour -- and the hefty paycheck that comes with it.