'American Idol' Unveils Seven Top-24 Contenders, Including Casey James, Michael Lynche

The rest of the semifinalists will be revealed on Wednesday's show.

Tens of thousands of potential "American Idol" winners became 181 Hollywood Week hopefuls who were then considered, criticized and often condemned until 71 singers gained passage to the next round at Los Angeles' Kodak Theatre. Tuesday night's (February 16) show saw that number winnowed once again as the first crooners of the top 24 were announced by Simon Cowell and his fellow "Idol" judges.

Early notable contestants Casey James (he of the shirtless Denver audition), Michael "Big Mike" Lynche (the hulking guy who skipped the birth of his child in favor of a stay at Hollywood Week) and Didi Benami (who sang Sarah McLachlan's "Angel" in memory of her deceased best friend) all made the top 24. Joining them were dancer-turned-singer Todrick Hall, curly-haired Duffy-ite Katelyn Epperly, high-schooler Aaron Kelly and singer-songwriter Lee Dewyze.

The fates of early favorites like 17-year-old Katie Stevens (tapped by Kara DioGuardi as a possible champ), Andrew Garcia (the acoustic impresario of "Straight Up" renown) and Crystal Bowersox (she of the blond dreads and the soulful growl) were left up in the air until Wednesday's show, when the rest of the top 24 will be announced.

With the reality-show circus of the audition rounds and the manufactured drama of group day behind us, one could not be faulted in thinking Tuesday's episode would focus, finally, on the music. Yet the show oddly skipped over nearly the entire round of tunes — as contestants sang for the first time with a backing band — in favor of 10- or 15-second flashes of a chosen few contestants. The result was an overall disjointed viewing experience, denying us true insight into everyone's performances and leaving us frustratingly detached from the tension of the elimination. For all the actual music "Idol" producers aired, the show rightfully should have lasted as long as a network sitcom rather than the two-hour snoozefest Fox offered up as entertainment.

What little we did see veered from the enticing to the forgettable. Casey James did his cowboy-cool singer-songwriter thing with a cover of Colbie Caillat's "Bubbly," and 19-year-old Siobhan Magnus came out of her shell of shyness during a lively version of Stevie Wonder's "Living for the City." Crystal Bowersox hauled out the harmonica for a powerful take on Sheryl Crow's "If It Makes You Happy." Coming off his funky rejiggering of Paula Abdul's "Straight Up," Andrew Garcia stuck with the female artists as he busted out Adele's "Chasing Pavements" competently, if considerably less memorably.

Meanwhile Alex Lambert flubbed a ukulele-driven channeling — a la Jason Castro — of Jason Mraz, and both Jermaine Sellers and Thaddeus Johnson found themselves struggling to stay on the same page with the band. Mom-rocker Mary Powers' rendition of Katy Perry's "Hot n Cold" had Simon saying, by way of the most backhanded of compliments, "I think she's interesting because she's old."

As all this action zipped by at a frenzied pace, the contestants bided their time in one of three holding rooms and the judges traded photos of them in an attempt to cull their choices. One of the rooms, we were teased all episode, would be eliminated. To begin, judges visited room one, which housed Casey James, Lilly Scott, Katie Stevens and Siobhan Magnus. After a not particularly convincing bit of you-might-be-going-home misdirection, Ellen DeGeneres announced, "Ya'll are going through!"

Room two was not as lucky — when it was Simon's turn to deliver the verdict, he told singers like Mary Powers, Charity Vance and Hope Johnson, "It's bad news. You haven't made it."

The judges then popped over to room three to let those contestants — among them Janell Wheeler, Ashley Rodriguez and Shelby Dressel — that they were still in the running for the coveted top 24. "It's really hard to tell you this, but you guys are going to stay," DioGuardi said.

At the end of this round of elimination, 46 contestants were left sweating it out. They wouldn't have another chance to flex their vocal cords — rather, the judges gathered onstage at the Kodak to call each singer one by one for a face-to-face elimination round. The question of why the show had to have two rounds of elimination on Tuesday — stretching the show to two hours instead of one — should hardly need to be answered after nine seasons of "Idol."

In all, seven of the top 24 singers were announced. While Big Mike was called onstage first and made the cut, reports indicate he has in fact been booted from the competition after his father was said to have broken the show's confidentiality agreement. Didi Benami and Kaitlin Epperly, the second and third contestants brought in front of the judges, became the first and second women to make it through to the top 24. Casey James sauntered up in a paisley button-down and bounded away a fist-pumping, Kara-hugging member of the semifinalists. Sixteen-year-old shy guy Aaron Kelly battled through ups and downs during Hollywood Week but ended the night on a high note. Lee Dewyze, accused by Simon of having no charisma, nonetheless convinced the judges he had the confidence to go far this season. Only two singers were sent home: Shelby Dressel (who suffers from partial paralyzation of her face) and two-time Hollywood Week bootee Jessica Furney.

The remaining 17 contenders in the top 24 will be revealed on Wednesday. "The drama continues tomorrow night," as Ryan Seacrest put it at show's end, just before the screen flashed to an image of a closed bathroom stall behind which a heartbroken contestant had fled to bawl his eyes out.

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