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American Idol Recap: We Get Our Final Two, to the Sounds of Justin Bieber

Last night’s episode of American Idol revealed who will make it to next week’s final showdown, thereby determining who will be this season’s winner and runner-up, i.e., the only two performers we're likely to hear more from in the upcoming years. (Although you have not been forgotten, Alex Lambert, you mullet wunderkind.)

The eliminated contestant was decided by 47 million votes (not bad considering Idol’s ratings slump), and the results probably didn’t surprise or upset anyone outside of Texas. Casey James went home last night, taking with him his golden locks and guitar chops.

No slur on Casey (“Jealous Guy” was a season highlight), but anything other than his elimination would have been a stain on Idol’s history. While statements decreeing that Crystal and Lee “deserved” to make it to next week are absurd (the Idol-verse is a democracy, not a meritocracy), placing Casey as the winner or runner-up for this season would be incredibly underwhelming. This is, after all, a guy whom Kara and Victoria Beckham got through the initial audition on the merits of his pectorals. (For the record, Simon said “no” and Randy passed Casey “for the girls.")

To fill out the rest of the hour we saw extended footage of the top three's homecomings, and a little elf (and a larger boy-band elf!) stopped by to entertain us with some music. Here’s how it went down:

Travis Garland’s performance of “Believe”:

Yes, it’s hard not to take an immediate distaste to a singer pimped by Perez Hilton, but Travis Garland’s world debut was actually the type of performance that works pretty well for American Idol. While his single “Believe” is probably too Euro-pop for U.S. radio, it was still an enjoyable way to eat up a few minutes on results night. (Watch it below.) The music was unabashed dance-bubblegum, but in a forgivable A-Ha meets *NSYNC vein. (Less forgivable, however, was the split screen direction — did Brian de Palma take over the cameras for a second?)

Garland’s dance moves were totally New Kids on the Block, and, in fact, this dude has a boy-band history. According to seconds of Internet research, Garland used to be in a boy band with Kevin McHale, who now plays Artie on Glee.

But the great thing about a Perez-sponsored singer is that if he really bugs you, you can draw a Microsoft Paint penis on his press photo guilt free.

Casey went back home to Texas:

• It began with Casey in a stretch Hummer shouting, “Texas, baby!” What did you expect?

• He signed a weird lady's silver dachshund.

• He dropped an F-bomb, surprised at the hometown-fan response. Which was soooooo third-place finalist of him, you know?

The meaningful moment: Casey returned to the doctors who saved his life after a motorcycle accident a few years back to let them know he’s doing something with the talent that they rescued, and to let them know that he hasn’t forgotten them. He was tearing up after the video wrapped, and it was easy to see why.

Justin Bieber’s performance of “U Smile” and “Baby”:

Let’s begin by acknowledging that Justin Bieber is obviously the next stage in human evolution — a creature so likable, adorable, and inoffensive that even people who hate things liked by everyone else are incapable of maligning him. The moment he starts singing in that New Edition–style tiny, whiny voice, with his shiny doll eyes peeking out from beneath his perfectly coiffed yet boy-next-door-casual moptop, it’s difficult to say anything other than “aw shucks.”

Bieber’s musical style is basically Bay City Rollers pop through a modern-radio lens, but he almost one-ups his Rollers. After all, meaningless pop is easier to take from this face than these faces.

Bieber even wrapped up his performance by taking over drumming duties. While tunelessly banging away, his mouth contorted into one of those “please let this hold together for another five seconds, I don’t really know what I’m doing” expressions. But when the song ended and he flashed his “thank you” smile to the camera, it was clear the Bieb knows exactly what he’s doing: winning hearts and cleaning out Hello Kitty purses.

Crystal went back home to Ohio:

• To complement Crystal’s hometown montage, the Idol producers made that rare wise choice and used CCR’s “Fortunate Son,” which totally fits Bowersox: authentic Americana with a skeptical twist.

• Crystal signed a sweaty boy’s chest and in spite of her protests, he assured her it would be made into a tattoo.

• Having some fun with the celebrity thing, Crystal popped her head in and out of the limo’s sunroof like she was playing a game of whack-a-mole with her fans.

• We accompanied her to her dad’s house in the middle of a field for a BBQ with her adorable blonde toddler in tow. Obviously, her dad is a balding ex-hippie in Harley clothes.

• We heard her perform an original song back home, "Holy Toledo," which she wrote as an anthem for the city as it was hit by the recession. It was actually pretty great Lilith Fair–style blues-rock.

Notably, Bowersox didn’t have a "moment" in her video. Does that mean she’s emotionally detached from Idol, too cool to let us in to her life? Or does it mean she’s just too real and real people in real life don’t have single moments that sum up the dreams and pains of their existence? Or maybe her moment was at the beginning of the episode when she reminded us in the span of a minute that she struggles with diabetes, is a single mother, and loves the Lord. Yeah, that was probably it.

Lee went back home to Illinois:

• Lee returned to his elementary school — which from the looks of the uniforms was Catholic — and he was “overwhelmed” in his whole non-emotive way.

• The meaningful moment: Lee returned to the paint store he once worked at and within seconds he started to tear up. The producers cue “The Boxer” without hesitation. But in all seriousness, it was lovely and inspiring to see Lee return to a dead-end job he might have been stuck at for years and be able to compare it to the dream he is now living. As Kara would say, that’s what this show is all about.

• After Lee’s video, Ryan asked him, “What is it like to make your father proud?” This is clearly a question Ryan wants to know the answer to.

Before leaving, Casey reprised John Mayer’s “Daughters” and grabbed a little girl who must have been his niece to increase the awwww factor.

Next week Crystal and Lee duke it out for the season-nine title. While Bowersox has been the longtime favorite, that consistency could hurt her in the end. It really is starting to look 50-50, thanks in no small part to the judges hustling Lee’s paint cans–to-riches story arc. If Kris Allen versus Lambert is any example, Lee will come out on top, but then again, Crystal has the whole Lord-lovin’ diabetic single mother thing on her side. Not to mention the actual talent.

But in a way, Lee might be a better Idol winner. Because then he can be the one shilling Ford cars during next year’s season of Idol, leaving Crystal free to do the whole music-making thing. Hell, maybe the judges realize she’s checking out from Idol after this season wraps up and that’s why they’re pimping Lee. Nothing sells Ford Fiestas like a goatee.

Other Recaps:
The AV Club's Leonard Pierce is glad that "we'll find out soon enough if they pick the one who's been dominant all season or the one you can buy for ten cents a dozen at suburban bars all over the country."
Entertainment Weekly's Michael Slezak: "Go ahead Ryan, and grab the eliminated contestant's bicep and declare 'Casey James, we'll see a lot of you.' He's used to being reduced to livestock by now."

Photo: Michael Becker/FOX