By Michael Slezak
Updated March 18, 2009 at 06:13 AM EDT

I cannot say tonight’s Grand Ole Opry-themed edition of American Idol gave us the kind of magical, “whoa mama I just saw a star up thar!” performance that we’d seen multiple times (think “Daydream” or “Hello” or “Imagine” or “Love Is a Battlefield” or “Crazy on You”) by this point in season 7. But that’s not to say I’m not excited by the take-home message of tonight’s two-hour telecast.

The judges have been (not so subtly) driving home the idea that season 8 was a two-way, or at best a three- or four-way race. But while Lil Rounds, Adam Lambert, and Danny Gokey all performed well enough that they shouldn’t have any problem making the Idol tour, four or five key rivals tonight served notice that they are (as Randy Jackson likes to say) “in it to win it, Dawgs!” And, as an Idoloonie who gets a little sour and cranky when by mid-March, you pretty much know which contestants will be the last two standing, I’ve got to give a seal-clapping, not-entirely-steady standing O to said singers. Place your bets, ladies and gents, we’ve got ourselves a horse race!

On that note, I am off to write my full TV Watch recap, which will post here on early tomorrow morning. In the meantime, don’t forget to sign up for’s Idol Prediction Challenge. Even if you got crushed in last week’s standings, or forgot to sign up, you still have a shot to sit atop the Week Two leaderboard, where you can point and jeer at your fellow players, including yours truly, plus season 6 supahstar Melinda Doolittle, and my Idolatry cohorts Kristen Baldwin, Missy Schwartz, Annie Barrett, and Jessica Shaw. So before you post on the message boards, go forth and prognosticate. Yay!