‘American Idol’ Report Card: Sizing Up The Top 12 Men

Paul McDonald and Casey Abrams get high marks, while Jordan Dorsey and Robbie Rosen might not make it to the next level.

Another season of live “American Idol” episodes is officially in session, which means it’s time to bring back MTV News’ reality-show report card. Who rose to the front of the crooning class Tuesday night when the top-12 men took the stage for the first time? Who’s in danger of being booted out of class? Sharpen your pencils and open to a fresh sheet of notebook paper, because it’s time to get busy grading!

Excellent

Paul McDonald

Why wasn’t he featured more in Hollywood Week? Goofy and gospel-y, this Southern boy was an utter delight during his breakout performance Tuesday. McDonald was, at times, overwhelmed by the backing band, but his vocal tone is truly distinctive and his song choice of Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May” was spot on. We remain undecided about those dance moves: wink-wink awkward or just awkward?

Casey Abrams

This could have gone so wrong. And if Simon Cowell were still around, we have a feeling he would have slammed Abrams for his hyper-growly take on Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You.” But somehow, to us, it just worked. Abrams has a true artist’s confidence in his own gifts, and even when he takes it too far — sometimes, dude, less really is more! — you still get the feeling he’s in control and knows exactly what he’s doing.

Good

Scotty McCreery

With that subterranean twang of his, the kid sounded like he could be a regular presence on county radio right now. That doesn’t mean we’d want to listen, but he certainly fits a mold; we’ll wait and see if he has any desire to break it.

Jacob Lusk

Though it was an old-fashioned performance and Lusk needs some work on his phrasing in the lower register, we have to applaud him for one of the more impressive performances of the evening. What a range he has! What’s more, he’s able to communicate genuine emotion when he sings. This wasn’t, however, his breakout performance. We’re waiting for more before bumping him up to the next level.

Satisfactory

Clint Jun Gamboa

What Randy Jackson got wrong about the singer’s take on Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” is that karaoke isn’t just about vocals; it’s also about a feeling. Clint’s performance just felt karaoke. There’s no doubting he has pipes. What he’s missing is artistry. The “Idol” stage practically swallowed him up in a swirl of pulsing primary-colored lights.

Jovany Barreto

My colleague Jim Cantiello is right on when he zings Barreto for falling far short in the charisma department. We should, though, give credit to Barreto for simply possessing a beautiful instrument. Close your eyes, and it was a much finer performance. Alas, for a TV show, that’s not a good thing.

James Durbin

We don’t get what all the fuss is about. Everything Durbin did onstage, from the schoolboy-rocker hand gestures to the scarf-tail-thingy that’s supposed to make him stand out, came off as phony. He tried his hardest to project a rock-star image, which is the least rock-star thing anyone can do. At least we’re glad he toned down the scream-singing.

Tim Halperin

Halperin sneaks into satisfactory territory, if only because we hardly remember his performance, so forgettable was his take on Rob Thomas’ “Streetcorner Symphony.” Uptempo tunes might not fall in his comfort zone, nor did he have the vocal power to compete with the band. Also: Demerits for encouraging the hand-waving clappers in the audience to burst into action.

Stefano Langone

Langone started off a hair behind the band and couldn’t ever seem to catch up. Don’t even get us started on how he chop-sueyed. Still, he’s got plenty personality to carry him past those vocal missteps.

Unsatisfactory

Jordan Dorsey

He tried on a top 40 pop tune, and it just didn’t fit. How could we even concentrate on his vocals while Dorsey was spastically shaking his body in the name of dancing like Usher? We have a feeling that Dorsey is due for a major comeback — when he returns to his R&B roots — yet we fear he may not get the chance after Tuesday’s outing.

Brett Loewenstern

Oh, Brett! What can we say? Maybe don’t dance next time? Maybe only shake those fiery locks once or twice? The smallness of Loewenstern’s voice was unmistakable during the Doors’ “Light My Fire.” We don’t think he’s in danger of going home — the kid remains aw-shucks likable — but we can’t say we’re expecting better in coming weeks.

Robbie Rosen

Pitchy and somnolent, lacking in youthfulness and energy, Rosen’s was one of the more surprising of the night in that it just wasn’t very good. We were expecting more from him.

Share your “American Idol” grades in the comments!

Don’t miss “Idol Party Live” at 10 p.m. Thursday on MTV.com, following the “American Idol” results show, for analysis, celebrity guests and even some karaoke. In the meantime, get your “Idol” fix on MTV News’ “American Idol” page , where you’ll find all the latest news, interviews and opinions.