‘American Idol’ Experts Ask: Is New Top 24 The Worst Yet?

Season-nine semifinalists' rocky live debut has 'Idol' experts and fans concerned.

The early semifinal rounds of “American Idol” are always difficult. You are bound to have some early hopefuls falling victim to first-time-on-TV jitters, a few dark horses soaring before an eventual crash and a handful of singers proving they were lucky to have gotten there in the first place.

But after the first two nights of mostly panned performances, veteran “Idol” watchers woke up Thursday (February 25) wondering, “Is this the worst top 24 ever?”

The answer is easy for Dave Della Terza, webmaster of the long-running “Idol”-bashing blog VoteForTheWorst.com, which encourages “Idol” watchers to purposely stuff the box with votes for the weakest contestants. “This truly is the worst top 24 in ‘American Idol’ history,” Della Terza said. “If you notice, the only contestant in the entire top 24 to be universally praised by the judges was Casey James . And Casey isn’t even that good.”

Things are so bad, Della Terza said, he’s actually having a hard time picking contestants to highlight because of the embarrassment of riches. So far, he’s targeted country-star wannabe Haeley Vaughn and Tim Urban, the mop-topped Texan who made the cut after Chris Golightly was disqualified . After a painful performance on Wednesday night, judge Simon Cowell told Urban the panel had it right the first time.

“I’ve never found it so difficult to narrow down just one person as the worst,” he said. “This year’s crop could probably all be selected for one reason or another. It’s hilarious to think about the judges’ comments last week on the show when they were cutting people and talking about how this year is so competitive because of the level of talent. I bet the producers would love a do-over to start with a brand-new 24. We’re actually stuck with these contestants for three more months. It’s going to be a painful but hilarious three months.”

Rickey Yaneza, webmaster of popular “Idol” blog Rickey.org, said the two-night live kickoff was, in a word, a “bloodbath.” While in some ways it was worse than previous years, Yaneza said he was glad the poor performances revealed what he sees as the true story line of season nine. “Previous seasons hid it better, but it became clearer than ever that this show is cast, and they’re not looking for the best singer but for a ‘type,’ ” Yaneza said. “Like Casey James, who apparently appeals to the Kara DioGuardi demo, you’ve got the young kid [Aaron Kelly], the soul singer [Jermaine Sellers], who were picked more for their type than singing abilities.”

Yaneza also suspects the show was cast in a way to ensure a female winner — which Cowell has been loudly touting after two straight years of male winners — “so they’re throwing in these mediocre guys who they hope can at least sing a decent tune, but they’ve faltered.” He did, however, pick a few of his favorites, including Kelly, Andrew Garcia and Cowell’s early fave, Lee Dewyze.

It could be that viewers are simply spoiled from last season’s embarrassment of riches, MTV News “Idol” expert, Jim Cantiello suggested. “Last year’s semifinals gave us plenty to buzz about, and not just from A-listers Allison Iraheta, Adam Lambert, Kris Allen and Danny Gokey,” he said. “Singers like Mishavonna Henson, Felicia Barton and Ricky Braddy all delivered vocals that were miles better than most of the performances seen this week. … If Lil Rounds got up on the semifinal stage and sang her face off, there’s no reason why Ashley Rodriguez couldn’t have done the same.”

Cantiello felt the problem so far is that the men who were off were “jaw-droppingly bad” and that ones that were good weren’t even that good. “In previous years, for every embarrassing Garrett Haley or Jason Yeager, we had a Jason Castro or David Cook offsetting the [poor performances],” he said. “This year, viewers were left straining to come up with a highlight.”

That said, Cantiello said viewers need to give the singers at least another week before they write off the season-nine cast. “It’s important to remember that ‘holy crap’ moments rarely come the first time the performers hit the live stage,” he said. “Elliott Yamin, Chris Daughtry, David Cook, David Archuleta, Melinda Doolittle, Chris Richardson … they all brought it week two.”

And while most focused on the disappointment of the male singers, almost all agreed that Tuesday night’s debut of the women was also rocky, with early favorites like Crystal Bowersox, Katie Stevens and Rodriguez getting taken down several notches.

Another veteran “Idol” watcher, MJsBigBlog.com founder MJ Santilli, agreed with Yaneza about the seeming female tilt this year. “The guys were terrible last night, but I’m not surprised, because in their pursuit of a girl winner this year, I believe the producers have stacked the deck with mediocre male talent,” she wrote via e-mail. “The most buzzworthy of the bunch, Andrew Garcia, has a shtick — turning pop songs into awesome little acoustic ditties. Not only has the ‘turn a pop song on its head’ shtick been done really, really well on ‘Idol’ already (David Cook, Kris Allen), but it could get old pretty fast.”

Santilli suspected “Idol” producers were not expecting the women to stumble out of the gate like they did, with mediocre live debuts from Rodriguez, Janell Wheeler, Stevens, Katelyn Epperly and Vaughn. But even with those missteps, Santilli targeted Didi Benami, Crystal Bowersox, Epperly and Stevens as potential winners.

“However, I don’t think there is one contestant out of this group who will create the kind of buzz that Adam Lambert, David Cook or David Archuleta did in past seasons,” she said.

MTV.com readers responding to the male performances didn’t have many kind words either, with Ted writing, “That was bad … nightmarish bad. If [it] doesn’t get any better next week, I am out of here.” Bridgette added, “I thought the women were bad, the guys were awful. Where is the talent? This is the worst collection of supposed talent I have ever seen on this show.”

What do you think of the top 24? Will they step up their game, or is this as good as it will get all season? Let us know below!

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Often guilty, never convicted. Serving 15 years to life at MTV News.