Wednesday night's "American Idol" revealed the Most! Talented! Top 24! Ever!, according to ringmaster Ryan Seacrest, who pimped that talking point like he was working for Fox News — that is, when he wasn't busy acting in lame "Jumper" tie-ins. (Seeing Hayden Christensen and Seacrest try to out-butch each other was like watching chimpanzees on roller skates. Something just wasn't right there.)
The 60-minute episode was the "final judgment," where contestants take an elevator up to a giant room to hear their fate from emotional wreck Paula Abdul. Seven seasons in, we all know that the harder Paula works to make it sound like a contestant won't be making it, the more likely it is said contestant will hear a "yes."
Carly "Blue Mouth" Smithson isn't a savvy "Idol" watcher, apparently, because as Paula stretched out the verdict into Tyra-esque levels of cruelty, Smithson turned into a pile of goo. The more Carly wept, the longer Paula milked it. (I thought Abdul was supposed to be the "nice" judge!)
Carly was the first singer to make it to the top 24, and other obvious producer faves soon followed. Both Aussie rocker Michael Johns (sporting a bitchin' "Sweet Freedom" T-shirt) and 16-year-old wunderkind David Archuleta were no-brainers considering the hyperbolic accolades and ample screen time they'd received thus far.
All three of those contestants fit into the first group of contenders: the Jordin Sparks Sure Things. Unless David pops a vocal chord again or the two imports become prime targets of Lou Dobbs, we'll be seeing this trio through many theme weeks and several lame Ford music videos this season. As Meat Loaf once sang, "Two out of three ain't bad." (Sorry, Carly, I still don't get the fuss.)
The second, significantly larger gang I'll call the Blake Lewis Wild Cards. They're not sure things coming out of the gate, but if they choose their songs wisely and challenge our first impressions, they could go far. Asia'h "Abs" Epperson and Syesha "S-Yes-ha" Mercado have the back stories, Danny Noriega and Ramiele Malubay have the electric personalities, and former boy-bander Robbie Carrico has the experience. I'd also throw Chikezie Eze and JoAnne Borgella into this group, if only because Chikezie's name is so damn musical that once you hear it, it gets lodged in your head like a top 40 hit, and JoAnne's "I'm doin' this for the fat folk" platform is sure to win over the plus-sized viewers. Kady Malloy and Kristy Lee Cook are more than capable to play the token cute white girl roles, but they also have just enough memorable traits to set them apart from the others. Kady has the strange ability to imitate Britney Spears, and Kristy can dance like an extra in a rap video. (Let's just hope the latter learns a song besides "Amazing Grace.") There's a second Cook in the kitchen, David Cook (no relation), and his Daughtry-esque presence should have the Heartland hitting speed dial.
The other rocker of the bunch, biker nurse Amanda Overmyer, has a tougher time ahead of her. Unless she expands her range and lightens up a little bit (her nonchalant reaction to the big news didn't win her any points in my book), she'll quickly become this season's Sundance Head and end up the leader of the third group, the Haley Scarnato No Chance in Hells. Wednesday night, Carole King-ish Brooke White proved to be as stable as Paula Abdul on an empty stomach, which means we're in for some wildly nervous performances whenever she takes the stage. Bland white girl Amy Davis and Carrie Underwood clone Alaina Whitaker will most likely pick a forgettable ballad and blend into each other, while David Hernandez, who we met for the first time on Tuesday, is too much of a cheeseball (not unlike last year's Rudy Cardenas) to seriously compete against the edgier men. Colton Berry narrowly edged out Kyle Ensley (to Simon's shocking dismay) but his airy take on "A Whole New World" was perplexing to say the least. That leaves teenager Alexandrea Lushington, who would fare better on a season where there weren't so many strong female personalities.
And finally, there's an elite group of four who make up the Stephanie Edwards Where the Hell Did You Come Froms? We've watched 12 hours of this season so far, yet we haven't seen one second of these guys crooning. The group's members are the dread-and-lovin'-it Jason Castro, "Leif" Garrett Haley, the unfortunately blonde-streaked Jason Yeager-meister and Luke "Looks Like He Was in a College A Cappella Group" Menard (and wouldn't you know it, he apparently was).
Lack of screen time was never something homeless teen Josiah Leming struggled with, which is probably why he was super-cocky going into his final meeting with the judges. Josiah may have crashed and burned during his final audition (both musically and personally), but it was still an eye-opener when the judges told him to hit the road. Season seven's first sucker-punch-of-a-shocker will be the sole reason my texting fees jump through the roof this month.
What do you think of the top 24? Would you swap out any of the contestants for Josiah, or did he get what was coming to him? Did you find the final pairings as anticlimactic as I did? And do you really think this is the most talented top 24 in "Idol" history?
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