After a number of uneven, forgettable performances by the top 12 ladies Tuesday night, it was starting to feel like Simon Cowell's prediction that a female would win this year's "American Idol" was a bit premature. And then the men took the stage Wednesday night (February 24), and for most of the two hours, well, they seemed determined to prove Simon right.
From poor song choices to shaky vocals and clear nerves, one by one, the guys got hammered by the judges, with even front-runner Andrew Garcia drawing some fire for his somber Fall Out Boy cover as pinup cowboy Casey James appeared to slip into the pole position with his mix of good looks and strong vocals.
First out of the gate was Todrick Hall, one of the most experienced singers in the competition. He took a big chance singing a Chris Brown-y funk take on original "Idol" winner Kelly Clarkson's breakthrough hit "Since U Been Gone." He satisfied the judge's desire to hear something original, and Ellen DeGeneres was visibly pleased, applauding Hall's stage moves but saying the chorus was a bit of a mess. Randy Jackson actually didn't love how the arrangement was so different that he almost couldn't recognize it, and Cowell said Hall came over "as a dancer trying to sing," docking him for completely "murdering" the song.
One of this year's youngest contestants, spiky-haired 16-year-old Aaron Kelly tackled Rascal Flatts' "Here Comes Goodbye," showing remarkable poise and self-confidence as he wrapped his raspy voice around the schmaltzy cowboy ballad. "Bearing in mind it's your first live show, it actually was quite a good performance," said Cowell, who suggested that the high-schooler looked a bit embarrassed to be onstage and not confident that he deserved to be in the competition. "You're a good singer, very likable, very cute, but you have to take control of the song," he added.
Church singer Jermaine Sellers, 27, who almost blew it in Hollywood when he threw the band under the bus, went the inspirational route with Oleta Adams' version of the gospel tune "Get Here," busting out some powerful falsetto amid breathy verses. Ellen liked the song choice but said Sellers seemed to be trying too hard, and Randy suggested he go more contemporary with his big voice and try a tune by Ne-Yo or Maxwell instead. Simon likened it to a corny piano-bar song and said the middle section sounded like screaming. "I think you've totally blown your opportunity," he concluded.
Tim Urban, 20, revealed that he didn't even tell his family that he'd made the top 24 after initially missing the cut and then sliding into the 24th spot when Chris Golightly was disqualified, letting them find out only when they watched the final Hollywood Week episode. The floppy-haired Texan went contemporary with OneRepublic's "Apologize," strangely staring into the camera and displaying his limited vocal range when he reached too far for the falsetto notes on the chorus and went oddly aggressive on the verses. Cowell congratulated him for coming back. "Having said that, we absolutely made the right decision the first time around by not putting you through with that performance," he said, telling Urban his voice was just not good enough. For Randy, none of it worked, and Ellen agreed, saying the high notes were just not there, though people might vote for him because he's adorable, which she mentioned more than once.
One of the least-known semifinalists, California's Joe Muñoz, 20, tried to prove himself with Jason Mraz's "You and I Both," sounding a bit rushed at times as he tried to loosen up and get into the song's lite-funk groove. "You are so comfortable onstage, aren't you?" said Ellen, as Randy questioned the song choice and Kara gave props to Muñoz for being the most consistent of the night at that point. Simon, however, said it was safe and forgettable and lacked the star power needed to win.
None of those things were a problem for Nazareth, Pennsylvania, college kid Tyler Grady, this year's resident retro rocker. He boldly covered the Guess Who's "American Woman," starting out with a Doors-like acoustic-blues vibe before busting into a crunching Lenny Kravitz rock groove that had great energy and stage presence amid some flat vocals. "Plus side, people are going to remember that performance; down side, partly for the wrong reasons," said Simon, who called it the clichéd work of someone who has gone to pretend-to-be-a-rock-star school. Kara agreed, saying the Jim Morrison thing is cute but lacks originality and needs to be updated to this decade. Randy called it style over substance.
Lee Dewyze, 23, a Chicago sales clerk who mostly flew under the radar in Hollywood, strapped on his acoustic guitar for the Snow Patrol ballad "Chasing Cars," shouting half the vocals in his signature bar-band rasp. Randy and Kara hated the song choice, calling it a bit too soft for Dewyze's harder-edge voice. Inexplicably, Simon said it was his best performance so far, praising his "authentically good voice."
College student John Park, 21, who famously got props on his "bottom end" and lips from Shania Twain during his audition, tested his luck with the jazz standard "God Bless the Child," crooning it in a loungey style and missing most of the notes during a schlocky performance that almost made it seem like a blatant taunting of the judges. "You have got to have an incredible voice to take on that song, and you haven't," Simon said, calling the performance flat, devoid of emotion and kind of pointless. Kara said despite a big voice, Park just didn't show where he would fit into today's music business.
Proud new papa Michael Lynche plugged in for a peppy, acoustic take on Maroon 5's "This Love" that scored with the audience and DeGeneres, who praised his big personality and smile and said Lynche benefited from a night of mediocre performances. "Michael, what they're really saying in a roundabout way is that you were like the support act before the main act," Cowell said. "You're a big guy, big heart, but ... you delivered so little on that performance. It was kind of like a vague, jazzy version."
Soft-spoken Texas high school student Alex Lambert, 19, was memorable mostly because he was stuck with overbearing Mary Powers in Hollywood, but he came out of his shell with James Morrison's "Wonderful World," trying to shake off a clear case of nerves while showcasing his exquisitely ragged vocals. Cowell said Lambert has a great voice, but called it "the most uncomfortable performance" of the night thanks to Alex's stage fright. Kara just wanted to give him a hug and praised him for a great vocal tone, while Ellen gave his mullet a thumbs-up. She also pulled out a remarkably spot-on Paula-ism, telling Lambert, "I love bananas, and sometimes a banana is just not quite ripe, and you're like, 'Ooh! I wish it was riper, because I'd like to eat that banana right now. ... You just need to ripen."
Kara crush Casey James, 27, let down his golden locks and went with Bryan Adams' "Heaven," cowboying the song up with a yodely edge, staring into DioGuardi's eyes as he confidently strummed his guitar. Kara joked that she didn't recognize him with his shirt on, Randy said he loved the song and James' swagger (though not in that way), and DioGuardi finally gained her composure enough to admit, "You are eye candy, but you are also ear candy." Even Cowell got in on the jokes about James' looks, though he too got serious and said Casey chose a great song and came across as honest, sincere and likable.
Andrew Garcia got the primo final spot, doing exactly what you'd expect by singing an offbeat, strummy acoustic version of Fall Out Boy's "Sugar We're Going Down," adding a Mraz-esque jazzy swing to the song. Though he was looking forward to him the most, Cowell said the redo was too indulgent, too serious and not original enough. "I don't think tonight you took a risk," Simon said, referring to the attention-grabbing cover of Paula Abdul's "Straight Up" that made Garcia's mark in Hollywood. Ellen suggested he be less morose and show some of the personality he flashed when he looked over to where his family was sitting midway through the song. "I think you're gonna stick around," she predicted. "We like ya."
Two men and two women will go home Thursday night, when last year's winner, Kris Allen, will perform and talk about his recent trip to Haiti, and finalist Allison Iraheta will sing her new single "Scars."
What did you think of tonight's performances? Were the guys better than the girls? Who do you think will go home? Add your comment below.
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