After what’s felt like years (OK, just two months), “American Idol” finally got to its first live elimination show Thursday night (March 3), and it was not pretty. The biggest cut-down in show history came after host Ryan Seacrest said more than 40 million votes were cast over two performance nights.
The good news was that favorites like Lauren Alaina, Casey Abrams, Thia Megia and Jacob Lusk made the cut, but that meant that a few beloved singers like Brett Loewenstern and Julie Zorrilla were eliminated as the show revealed its top 13 finalists.
After copious time-killing segments, Seacrest finally got to the first elimination nearly 25 minutes into the two-hour episode, with country boy Scotty McCreery moseying into the top 10 while Robbie Rosen was sent packing. Next up were Clint Jun Gamboa, Jovany Barreto and Jordan Dorsey. After blowing it with Usher’s “OMG,” Dorsey got the hook, along with karaoke host and eyeglass aficionado Gamboa and Barreto.
The girls were in the hot seat next, and it was hard to believe that Pia Toscano and Alaina were standing next to each other, since Toscano got a standing ovation and high praise from the judges, and Alaina has been a favorite for weeks. It was good news for 16-year-old Alaina and, of course, for Toscano as well, as Seacrest reveled in his favorite game of elimination psych-out.
But when Ta-Tynisa Wilson and Julie Zorrilla came up, after a night when both blew their chances with subpar performances, it was no surprise that both missed out on the top 10. It was hard to know who might lose out when glamazon Kendra Chantelle, baby-diva Ashthon Jones and funky bilingual singer Karen Rodriguez took center stage, though. Shockingly Jones was sent packing, as was Chantelle, with Rodriguez filling out the third women’s slot.
Young Luther Vandross-alike Lusk huddled up next to bearded wild man and budding sex symbol Abrams and cutie crooner Tim Halperin. Lusk sang hallelujah when he got the call, and to no one’s surprise, Abrams was next, as Halperin made the long walk.
The hits kept on coming, as funky soul singer Naima Adedapo, 16-year-old wunderkind Megia and blues mama Lauren Turner all got the boot. With only two spots left, Adedapo and Turner got some bad news, as Megia became the second high-schooler to get a magic ticket.
It was anyone’s guess who would be out when two of this season’s standouts, spunky ginger Loewenstern and flair-loving showman Paul McDonald stepped up to the spotlight. Alas, sensitive teen Loewenstern would have to hope for a wild-card spot, as McDonald got the call.
Vying for the final spot on the girls’ bench were Haley Reinhart and resident quirk Rachel Zevita, who went over the cliff on Wednesday night with a mannered cover of Fiona Apple’s “Criminal.” Without much drama, Reinhart got the call, as multiple-auditioner Zevita washed out.
The judges were digging Stefano Langone on Tuesday night, certainly more than James Durbin, who took a chance with a Judas Priest song and may have overplayed his rocker card. But only one of the roommates could snag the final men’s spot, so it was curtains for Langone and joy for Lambert-like rocker Durbin.
With 14 singers vying for the wild card, the judges chose six to get another chance. Jones was up first, strutting to her spot to sing the song that made Jennifer Hudson a star, the “Dreamgirls” classic “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” giving it plenty of attitude, but coming off a bit shouty as she played to the rafters in an attempt to work her way back. Steven Tyler thought she brought it again, Jennifer Lopez felt the passion and Randy Jackson loved the attitude.
Langone picked Smokie Norful’s emotional ballad “I Need You Now,” filling the tune with lots of passion and turning it into a tour de force that tugged heartstrings and seemed to punch his ticket. Randy loved that Stefano picked one of his favorites and Lopez said he nailed it when he needed to.
Chantelle got the next shot with Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia on My Mind,” starting out low and breathy and then climbing into her high, sweet range and hitting a series of giant notes near the end that felt like her attempt to swing for the fences. Jackson wasn’t sure where it was going at first but said she totally pulled it off.
Barreto dedicated Jon Secada’s “Angel” to the woman he once loved, figuring he’d try to curry some favor as well by singing a half Spanish/ half English tune. His vocals were strong and moving, but it was unclear if it was enough to get him back in the mix. All Lopez could say was “you did all you could do,” which didn’t sound promising.
Tyler called Adedapo, which meant the definitive end of the line for Zorrilla, Turner and Wilson. At first Naima didn’t seem to have enough in the tank to take on soul icon Donny Hathaway’s “For all we Know,” but she gave it her all and put some smooth soul into the performance. Tyler felt she dug deep, but Naima’s tears signaled that she didn’t feel confident.
The final shot went to Rosen, meaning Gamboa, Dorsey, Loewenstern and Halperin said bye-bye. Double-R chose Elton John’s “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Hard,” reworking the song into a kind of flamenco torch song, which he sang while flashing his puppy-dog eyes and over-emoting by several measures. Jackson called it nice and tender, saying the decision was going to be a brutal one.
After the break, the judges weren’t ready, so Seacrest cued up the glittery video for Lopez’s “On the Floor” to give them a chance to deliberate some more. With time running out, it was redemption time for Jones and Langone, as well as Adedapo, who helped fill out the top 13.
The first live performance shows of the season kick off next Wednesday.
Do you agree with the top 13? Did your favorite make it? Let us know what you think in comments below!
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