Call it a case of nervousness on the first day of class, a failure to study hard or a bunch of students in over their heads. Whatever the case on Wednesday's "American Idol," the top 12 men arrived for their first live show test and promptly flunked. At least, most of them did, especially when compared to the top 12 women the previous evening. So, who surprised us, who disappointed us and who's in danger of going home? Let's take a look at the top 12 men's report card. (And don't miss Jim Cantiello's review in the Newsroom.)
Casey James: The judges predictably continued to milk the Kara-hearts-Casey storyline, which besides getting a bit tired, is starting to be unfair to the singer who called himself "just some dude." Drop the manufactured drama, because with his stripped-down acoustic take on Bryan Adams' "Heaven," James established himself as a front-runner. He alone among the male contestants looked natural onstage. He alone injected a sense of live show verve to the dull proceedings. He alone deserves two gold stars.
Andrew Garcia: By now, Garcia's shtick has become clear: He takes a pop tune and turns it inside out. The judges were not impressed by his remix of Fall Out Boy's "Sugar We're Going Down," but it hardly deserved such vociferous hate from them. If anything, Simon and his crew seem to be knocking down a front-runner just so that he might rise from the ashes later in the season. Make no mistake: Garcia is still the singer to beat this season.
Todrick Hall: Hall took the judges' instruction to be creative and ran with it ... possibly off a cliff. It's never good when words used to describe a performance include "murder," "torture" and "verging on stupid." But you know what? With his re-jiggered version of Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone," Hall displayed guts and creativity, and has us looking forward to his performance next week. He shouldn't have a problem making it through.
Joe Muñoz: The 20-year-old came into the evening without the benefit of much previous camera time, and he did indeed look like he was having a blast now that he's on center stage. His version of Jason Mraz's "You and I Both" was serviceable, but compared with some of the stinkers we heard, Muñoz benefits from a steep grading curve.
Lee Dewyze: At least the goateed guitarist introduced a measure of energy into this drowsy evening. Dewyze was pitchy at times and screamy at others while singing Snow Patrol's "Chasing Cars," and he'd be wise to embrace the judges' urging to stake out a David Cook-esque raspy rocker vibe. He'll absolutely have a chance. Dewyze is safe.
Michael Lynche: Big Mike is a head-scratcher of a contestant, a lovable hulk with a melodic voice one minute, an ego-heavy diva the next. Which is it, dude? Either way, his take on Maroon 5's "This Love" was among the better performances of the night, which doesn't mean much when everything else was so awful. He's still a fan favorite, though, and will clearly stick around for at least a few more weeks.
Aaron Kelly: Were the judges listening to the same thing we were? That was a seriously pitchy performance, and it bordered on embarrassing when he couldn't hold a single high note in Rascal Flatts' "Here Comes Goodbye." Buh-bye is surely what "Idol" would be saying to Kelly if not for loads of praise from the judges. The 16-year-old will stick around to sing another day, but I'm not sure he deserves it.
Jermaine Sellers: The guy's got a nice falsetto, but it turned shouty too often during his take on Oleta Adams' "Get Here." Sellers' voice was suddenly so small. Far worse than his performance, though — and the reason he finds himself with a failing grade — is that he flubbed his chance to make up for his diva-ish run-in with the band during Hollywood Week. Ryan Seacrest served him a perfect "let's all make nice" setup and Sellers clumsily batted it away. He's in big trouble this week.
Tim Urban: The 25th contestant welcomed into the top 24, Urban went out of his way to prove the judges right in their original decision to send him home during Hollywood Week. Meek on the high notes and cringe-inducing in the falsetto parts of "Apologize" by OneRepublic, Urban won't be around for long. His only hope, as Ellen put it, is for voters to ignore his singing and focus on his adorableness.
Tyler Grady: His take on the Guess Who's "American Woman" started off promisingly with a super bluesy intro. When the song segued into full-on rock anthem mode, Grady showed himself as a poseur of the highest order. We've all pulled this sort of performance in our bedroom, lip-synching with the blinds closed. But who among us has dragged out this cheesiness for tens of millions of viewers? Grady might be in trouble this week. He might not go home, but he should certainly be sweating.
John Park: What happened to you, sir? Why on earth would you choose a jazz standard like Billie Holliday's "God Bless the Child" and then perform it like you're an octogenarian lounge singer on a cruise ship headed straight to the Underworld? Compare that snoozer to your endearing pre-performance interview, when you professed your love for Shania Twain and emerged as this season's resident comedian? Park, my friend, you'll make it through to next week, but you better get your act together.
Alex Lambert: This kid was so terrified, his jangling anxiety traveled through the camera and into the home of every viewer. It was uncomfortable, to say the least, listening to him warble though "Wonderful World" by James Morrison. Lambert might benefit from the pity vote, but unless he starts popping Xanax and beats his stage fright quickly, he'll be headed back home soon.
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