Yesterday we gave "American Idol" producers props for [article id="1633595"]reducing the show to one hour instead of two[/article]. Today we feel like tossing the judges in detention for their shenanigans this week, from Tuesday's awkwardly forced lap-sitting incident between Simon Cowell and Ellen DeGeneres to Wednesday's infantile Simon/Kara DioGuardi flirtation.
But this is a singing competition, isn't it? So on to the contestants. The evening took off with strong performances from Lee Dewyze and Alex Lambert and U-turned into Snoozeville at a certain point, before blissfully blasting away with an injection of Michael Lynche-provided power. Who surprised us, who disappointed us and who's in danger of going home? Let's take a look at the top eight men's report card. (And don't miss Jim Cantiello's recap of their performances in the MTV Newsroom.)
Michael Lynche: First things first. While Big Mike's take on Maxwell's version of [article id="1633681"]Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work"[/article] was the highlight of the evening, it was nowhere near the waterworks-generating territory that Kara's tears suggested. That being said, Lynche keeps surprising us. Last week he ditched the guitar and brought an ear-pleasing soul sound to the stage. This week he busted out a falsetto during a butter-smooth channeling of Maxwell that showed off an impressive vocal range and convinced us that Big Mike is in the upper tier of "Idol" contestants.
Lee Dewyze: Owl City's "Fireflies" was by far the smartest song choice Dewyze has made during these lives shows. The emo rock vibe seems to be a comfortable niche for him, and we were almost able to dismiss his rampant pitch problems. Almost. Dewyze is like a poor man's David Cook. And when you consider that we've never had a very high opinion of the seventh-season "Idol" winner, you can imagine what we think of Dewyze's long-term prospects. No matter, he did well for himself on Wednesday and is a lock to make the top 12.
Alex Lambert: The kid keeps impressing. The judges seemed to think he'd reverted back to a jelly-legged newbie. Not us. His tone on Ray LaMontagne's "Trouble" was compelling, his vocals generally soft yet powerful. We don't buy for a second that the only thing standing in the way of his winning "Idol," as Kara suggested, is his lack of confidence — [article id="1633573"]ever heard of Crystal Bowersox[/article]? — but we're digging Lambert's growth from week to week. "Trouble been dogging my soul," he sang, and ya know what? We believed him.
Casey James: Has any contestant this year been so lovingly framed and lit on the "Idol" stage? The crooning cowboy's rendition of Keith Urban's "You'll Think of Me" was a step up from last week's sub-par Southern rock number and nowhere near as magical his take on Bryan Adams' "Heaven." James keeps delivering confident, calm, passionate performances and he'll keep doing it for a long while.
Todrick Hall: Todrick narrowly nabs a Good grade because of his sheer enthusiasm. It's the most clichéd "Idol" explanation ever, but he really was up there just having fun. His performance of Queen's "Somebody to Love" might well belong on a Broadway show version of "Idol" rather than the actual competition, but that's a show we wouldn't mind taking in. Hall's in big trouble this week, but what may have been his last performance was certainly his most enjoyable.
Tim Urban: Has Urban's God-fearing adorableness run its course? Will the judges start to honestly evaluate his singing talents rather than concentrating on his dimples? Those were the questions heading into Wednesday's show, and the answers were made clear when Ellen jetted out of her seat to hug the kid. His version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" was the essence of just-all-right-for-me-dog dullness. And yet Urban is not going anywhere this week. His Christian music vibe and his all-American niceness will win him a spot in the top 12.
Andrew Garcia: In choosing "Genie in a Bottle" by Christina Aguilera, Garcia announced himself as a gimmick artist, a one-trick-pony novelty act. He takes pop tunes and reworks them with a mildly funked-up acoustic guitar arrangement. Anything else he tries doesn't deliver. What we took for amazing artistry after his rendition of Paula Abdul's "Straight Up" was in actuality a sort of creative tunnel vision. Garcia has gone from front-runner to in-danger-of-going-home contestant. We don't think it's going to happen, mind you, but he's not nearly the top-12 lock we once assumed he was.
Aaron Kelly: Oh boy. We don't like tearing apart the efforts of a 16-year-old. But what are we to do when voters keep sending him through week after week? His take on Lonestar's "I'm Already There"? Pitchy beyond belief. It's not just because he was the youngest kid onstage that we think he's a boy amongst men. He just can't belt with the front-runners. We'd keep asking how this kid is still here, but continually asking the same question and expecting a different answer is the definition of insanity, right? Right?!
What did you think of the men's performances? Who killed it? Who blew it? Who is definitely making it to the top 12? Let us know by leaving your comments below.
Get your "Idol" fix on MTV News' "American Idol" page, where you'll find all the latest news, interviews and opinions.