Normally, we break it down for you in the order the contestants performed. But this week, we’re starting with the bottom two because seriously

Laura & Sophie
Thanks goodness the teen duo got gone. John Rich and Jewel would have thrown (bigger) fits had they not gotten the boot. The girls did Taylor Swift’s “Picture to Burn,” which, while age appropriate, was still an odd choice considering every week they’ve been told that Taylor Swift would wipe the stage with them. Of course, the sparks really flew after the lackluster performance, when John ambushed 16-year-old Sophie for her obvious frustration on last week’s show with Jewel telling America, repeatedly, that they should’ve gone home instead of Pearl Heart: “Why do you think it’s okay to roll your eyes and disrespect Jewel on national television? I just want an answer to that.” Sophie said she didn’t even realize she did it, until people told her afterward. Jewel made some crack about Sophie needing to have a seizure — complete with flickering eye gesture — to get it out of her system. (That’s mature.) Then Jewel dismissively said the girls looked better than they have, but their harmonies continue to get worse. Jeffrey Steele, who doubles as the girls’ mentor, sounded like he was trying to say something almost nice about them looking grownup, but I was too busy watching to see whether Sophie was going to cry. She fought back tears, and, it looked like, got some off-camera comfort from host Billy Ray Cyrus — you saw her turn to him and say, “I know. Thank you.” (Even I wanted to hug Billy Ray at that moment, dangling earring and all.) Here’s the thing: John made it clear last night, while praising Gabe Garcia’s performance, that NBC had the final say on this year’s contestants. That’s something I suppose we all should have suspected, even though the season premiere showed the judges narrowing down the finalists and inviting them onto the show. John flat-out said that NBC made some “very questionable choices,” which no doubt included Laura & Sophie, whom all the judges thought too young, too soft, and too underdeveloped for the music biz. I think the judges took out their frustration with the network and America on the girls last week. They can’t help that they’re still in the competition. Yes, Sophie rolled her eyes, which was a bratty, 16-year-old thing to do. But it wasn’t like she did it in Jewel’s face. She was standing in the balcony; Jewel was talking to someone else who was onstage. And for the record, I did the exact same eye roll on my couch because I was tired of hearing that should’ve been you refrain, even though I agreed with it. Bottom line: If any of these judges return next season, I hope they demand full control of casting. (NBC may think this “drama” is fun to watch, but it’s painful.) Also, I’m going to give Sophie a pass on her snippy post-elimination “thanks” to the judges for the criticism that “maybe” helped the duo. Bratty again, but the judges (meaning John and Jewel) had clearly given up on them.

After the jump, your final five.

addCredit(“Coffey and Laura and Sophie; John Russell”)

Shawn Mayer
She was in the bottom two, but Shawn was all smiles because George Jones was in the audience. That, combined with her shout-out to Randy Travis two weeks ago, cements my love for this girl. HOWEVER, I wasn’t quite as thrilled by her performance of Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats” as the judges were. It’s the kind of badass song she needs to be doing, especially after struggling with ballads in recent weeks, but there’s no way it fit the “love song” theme of the night. I thought for sure the judges were gonna say, “Your best performance to date, but still just a girl singing at a bar.” Instead, John said it’s the performance he’s been waiting for — the kind that makes it possible to see her sticking around for awhile. (It must have been her spelling out her name. That was cool.) I definitely want to see what newly confident Shawn comes back with next week, because I’m rooting for her, but I just hope it’s more original than recreating Underwood’s mojo and wearing a leather studded jacket that makes her look like Elvis’ long lost illegitimate daughter. (Though again, a more believable look than those short dresses she’d been wearing as of late.) P.S. No one should sing that song but Underwood. (Teri Hatcher, I’m looking at you.)

Ashlee Hewitt
Now we can go back to the top of the show, which Ashlee opened by singing a slightly slowed-down rendition of the Dixie Chicks’ “Cowboy Take Me Away.” I missed not seeing mentor clips for most of the performers this week. Instead, we got Ashlee talking into the camera about how she’s never been in love, but knows her cowboy is out there — and hey, maybe he’s watching! I’m coming around to Ashlee and the (intentional) cracks in her voice. Jewel praised her control, and I think there’s definitely something there that a good producer could mold in the studio (meaning, get rid of the unintentional cracks in her voice).

Gabe Garcia
For once, I would’ve been fine with the judges fawning all over Gabe, but they reined themselves in this week. He sang his song with his ex-girlfriend, Billy Currington’s steamy “Must Be Doin’ Something Right.” (Yeah, we’re gonna need to link to that video.) I thought this was a great choice for Gabe, because even though he’s not ready to physically flirt with the audience (like Jewel wants him to, with his eyes), the song is definitely a come on. And buttoned-up Gabe is different enough from shirt-open Currington that you didn’t feel like he was copying him. (What I did feel? An uncontrollable urge to hear George Strait sing that song. Sex-y.)

The breakthrough of the week. Coffey took on Tim McGraw and Faith Hill’s “It’s Your Love,” choked up in his video confessional and onstage, and John finally had to admit that Coffey was human (he actually said that) and had a little “country” in his heart. While I thought it was kinda weird that Coffey thought of his late mother while singing this love song that the rest of America associates with Tim and Faith getting it on, I suppose that’s the beauty of lyrics — they mean whatever you need them to. Coffey needed that emotional release, as a person who’s had to deal with loss (“Music is healing,” Jewel said), and as a performer. It’s interesting: He was always trying to get the audience to sing along with him on the show, but he didn’t really want them to get too close. Last night, the somber look on his face just drew them in. The level of emotion he was experiencing did manifest in some pitch problems, but I’m always a fan of his voice. I’m glad he’s made it to original song night, which is next Monday. We’ll get to see once and for all if he’s country.

Melissa Lawson
It was another dip into the Martina McBride songbook for Melissa, who dedicated “My Baby Loves Me” to her husband. The judges were split on her performance: Jewel was worried by the song choice, but thought Melissa handled it well, waiting to belt until the end. John thought she over sang it, and said he never would’ve signed off on her singing it that way if they were in the studio. (Love how he told her not to think that she’s won the competition, after he refers to being in the studio with her, which is part of the prize.) Jeffrey thought it was “a little over the top,” and I’d agree with him if he was referring to the constant nose crinkling.

So, what are your thoughts on Sophiegate? Who’s the next to go home? Who’s going all the way?

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