In some ways, the first two weeks of this year's "American Idol" semifinals have felt a lot like an extension of the brutal Hollywood Week: a painful but necessary mass culling of the herd in order to get to the good stuff.
Four more singers went down Thursday night (March 4), including Michelle Delamor, Jermaine Sellers, Haeley Vaughn and John Park. Inexplicably, Tim Urban, the cute boy who has proven two weeks running that he is the luckiest guy on the stage, was given a pass, which allowed him to bust out his "what? me?" face yet again along with Todrick Hall, whose Tina Turner cover drew serious fire but also enough votes to keep him in the running.
Pumped-up Michael Lynche did it again with a solid James Brown cover, and Casey James was waved through despite a split decision from the panel on his cover of the oft-sung "I Don't Want To Be." That left Purple Haze singer Park standing after another messy week courtesy of John Mayer's "Gravity," which, in typical "Idol" fashion, Park sang way better on his way out after being eliminated, almost hitting half the notes and showing more personality and verve than he had in weeks.
The second man to go was testy soul man Jermaine Sellers, who got the dreaded "cabaret" putdown from Simon for his smooth-jazz version of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On." He was paired center stage with onetime front-runner Andrew Garcia, who kept on chugging despite a just so-so reception for his version of James Morrison's "You Give Me Something," which the panel felt lacked pizzazz.
That left suddenly surging rocker Lee Dewyze in the running after his solid take on Hinder's "Lips of an Angel." Nervous teen Aaron Kelly and equally nervous Alex Lambert, who is starting to come around thanks to a nuanced cover of John Legend's "Everybody Knows," also survived.
Sellers said it wasn't his unpredictable personality that did him in. "Where I sing from, you can't be taught how to riff and run and sing high notes," he said. "I'm a church singer. That's where my heart is." He tried to take it to church one more time as he gently sang his way off with the Gaye classic, hitting all the same nutty, seesaw notes that did him in to begin with.
For the ladies, the first casualty was Michelle Delamor, the somewhat bland R&B singer who took a chance that didn't pan out with Creed's power ballad "With Arms Wide Open." "I think I was so wrapped up in trying to do everything right while being judged that I kind of lost sight of just performing," she said dejectedly, promising to keep on keepin' on. The second run through "Arms" was no better and maybe a bit sharper, so America appeared to have gotten it right.
Didi Benami dodged a bullet, even after Simon compared her to a screeching cat thanks to her bomb-tastic cover of Bill Withers' "Lean on Me." Also making the grade were quirky jazz bird Lilly Scott, soul belter and possible new front-runner Paige Miles and high-schooler Katie Stevens, who still hasn't found her groove but did just enough with "Put Your Records On" to stick around again.
The second ax then fell on Haeley Vaughn, the teenage cow-pop wannabe who fell down hard with her attempt at Miley Cyrus' "The Climb" and appeared to sense she was not going to stick around. Standing next to her was Lacey Brown, who did what the judges suggested and sang Sixpence None the Richer's "Kiss Me," even if they didn't like the results, and made it through anyway.
"I think I could definitely use some more experience," Vaughn said, lamenting that she's going to have to return to high school next week before making the rocky climb one more time.
Even with mixed results from the judges for her gutsy but very slow solo piano ramble through Coldplay's "The Scientist," Katelyn Epperly lived another day; resurgent leader Crystal Bowersox bounced back from possible elimination after her hospitalization Tuesday thanks to a winning version of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Long as I Can See the Light"; and resident oddball Siobhan Magnus blew the room away with her note-heard-'round-the-world throwdown on Aretha Franklin's "Think."
Returning to the stage was last year's #3 finisher, Danny Gokey, who performed "My Best Days Are Ahead of Me," the debut single from his upcoming album. Rocking a leather jacket, jeans, a burgundy shirt and his signature specs, Gokey's gravelly soul voice was warmly received as he sang the peppy country/pop tune about the power of positive thinking. "I can be whatever I want to be/ My best days are ahead of me," he crooned over a twanging pedal-steel riff. "I've got sunsets to witness, dreams to dance with/ And beaches to walk on and lovers to kiss."
After spending most of his "Idol" run being tagged as "the guy with the tragedy" — a reference to the death of his young wife Sophia four weeks before his audition — Gokey said he wanted to come out with a first single that showed how much hope "Idol" gave him. "I just found out the writer of the song lost his wife too, and he wrote this song a few months after she passed away. And without me knowing it, I picked it up, I recorded it and put it on radio. ... It's an anthem for me. I'm excited about life again."
The group sing-along was to the Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling," with the girls doing a much better job of selling he corny lip-synch than the boys, who seemed like they were extras on a "Sesame Street" skit about positive hip-hop. The painfully cheesy segment did give us a glimpse of mullet man Lambert fake-shouting the lyric "Mazel Tov!" and Urban throwing up some painfully suburban rapper hands, as well as the quirky Magnus just saying no to tight skirts and leggings and going with ripped jean shorts over tights.
The girls will be back performing Tuesday, followed by the guys on Wednesday.
What did you think about the eliminations? Did America get it right? Who do you think should have gone home? Let us know below.
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