"American Idol" continued its brand of swift Las Vegas justice Thursday, presenting 10 singers and promptly cutting half of them by the end of the two-hour semifinal episode.
It was good news for glorious oddball Charlie Askew, bilingual singer Devin Velez, heartthrob-in-the-making Elijah Liu, soul singer Curtis Finch, Jr. and the earnest Paul Jolley, all of whom survived the sudden death elimination. Jolley was let through after the judges deadlocked and Jimmy Iovine was brought in to break the tie.
Among those meeting "Idol" grim reaper was Johnny Keyser, who was cut last season during Hollywood Week and whose dreams were cut short deep into the competition for the second year in a row. Also getting axed were Kevin Harris, Chris Watson, Jimmy Smith and the mysterious, unforgettable, glitter-covered JDA.
During the episode, Nicki Minaj showed she's not shy about doling out compliments, telling Kevin Harris, "every single solitary musical choice you made tonight was perfection," praising Chris Watson as "the prettiest man I've seen in my life, ever," celebrating Elijah Liu as "my new favorite boy" and even offering to have one contestant's babies.
Minaj was over the moon for Charlie Askew, telling him "I want to cradle you in my arms" after his endearingly weird spin on Elton John's "Rocket Man." Askew, who makes early Clay Aiken look as smooth and confident as Constantine, runs the risk of coming on too strong with his outsider geekdom, but it worked in his favor Thursday, with Keith Urban telling him, "it's like if Freddy Mercury had a love child out at Woodstock somewhere."
Curtis Finch Jr. hit a grand slam at the end of the night with his smooth, dynamic performance of the Carpenters' "Superstar," which showed off his masterful vocals without ever getting too showy. And Elijah Liu made it through despite a somewhat shaky performance of Bruno Mars' "Talking to the Moon," mostly on the pop star charisma and potential he displayed on stage. Nicki told him, "I would sign you today. You have the most marketable face and voice and combination that I've seen tonight and you're ready now, now, NOW!" She also told him she wants to have his babies, so there's that.
Devin Velez earned a lot of goodwill from the judges when he slipped into Spanish mid-song while singing Beyoncé's "Listen," and also for giving one of the night's most understated performances. Meanwhile, Jolley's show-opening performance of Keith Urban's "Tonight I Wanna Cry" split the judges — Jackson and Mariah Carey were wowed by his power and potential, while Urban and Minaj were less impressed — and when it came time for Iovine to break the tie, he gave him the benefit of the doubt, saying he was a "good singer with the wrong song."
Jimmy Smith had less luck with a Keith Urban song, and was dubbed "boring" by both Jackson and Minaj after singing "Raining on Sunday." Kevin Harris was also The second half of the top 40 is set to take the stage next week, with more brutal sudden death eliminations on the way as the "Idol" field gets closer to the live episodes.
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