With a wait almost as painful as the one the contestants went through, "American Idol" fans finally got the rest of this year's top 24 on Wednesday night (February 17), with a number of early favorites making the semifinals, including Andrew Garcia, Crystal Bowersox, Katie Stevens, Ashley Rodriguez and Haeley Vaughn.
After seven singers made the cut on Tuesday, the first woman through the gate on night two was Orlando's Janell Wheeler, 24, whose Hollywood Week was filled with ups and downs, swinging between a strong acoustic performance of Estelle's "American Boy" to a blown take of Taylor Swift's "Love Story." New judge Ellen DeGeneres kept up her rope-a-dope style, seemingly setting the blond wine-sales rep up for disappointment only to wave Wheeler through.
With the pace much quicker than Tuesday night's pedantic two-hour torture session, deep voiced, shaggy-haired '70s rocker Tyler Grady quickly got his ticket punched. "I think we wanna see those moves again," Kara DioGuardi told the drummer about his Roger Daltrey-inspired stage acrobatics. He was swiftly followed by second-timer Lacey Brown, who made the top 50 last season and was back in the hot seat. Despite Simon Cowell telling her the female competition was even tougher this year, Brown got in thanks to a haunting rendition of "Over the Rainbow."
Diva-in-training Ashley Rodriguez was next, followed by ukulele-strumming Alex Lambert, little-seen Joe Muñoz and Paige Miles, quirky "Pretty in Pink"-style '80s singer Siobhan Magnus and another below-the-radar favorite, Michelle Delamor, the 22-year-old Miami native who sang Beyoncé's "Irreplaceable" alongside fellow semifinalist Rodriguez.
Early favorite, dreadlocked Chicago rocker Bowersox, got a bid as well after nailing it with a gripping cover of Sheryl Crow"s "If It Makes You Happy" during Hollywood week. "I want this so bad," she told Simon when he suggested that she was the type of person who would have thought "Idol" was the right platform for her. Randy Jackson dubbed the singer "Mama 'Sox" after she showed the judges a picture of her young son, Tony. "I feel like I can surprise all of you ... I'm very glad I came," an emotional Bowersox said.
One of this year's youngest contestants, 17-year-old Katie Stevens — who tried out for the show in honor of her Alzheimer's-stricken elderly grandmother — blew it out in Hollywood with her take on Stevie Wonder's "For Once in My Life." She, too, got the DeGeneres fake-out, sitting on pins and needles and on the verge of tears as the talk-show host teased about hating to give bad news. In a touching moment, Cowell asked Stevens how her grandmother was doing as she exited the stage.
The judges were a bit easier on 16-year-old Haeley Vaughn, the bubbly teen whose dream is to be the first black pop-country mainstream star. With just one spot left for a girl, Vaughn — who Cowell said verged from fantastic to a bit annoying in Hollywood — got the call while a devastated Tori Kelly was sent packing.
Even a bit of diva fuss didn't stand in the way of Jermaine Sellers, while Internet sensation John Park will finally get more screen time, to the delight of his legion of fans who've dubbed themselves the Park Rangers.
Among those not making it to the top 24 were Destiny's Wild member Jareb Liewer and Maddie Penrose, whose oversized glasses made her stand out in the crowd, as well as a teary Angela Martin, who struck out in her third consecutive attempt at making the "Idol" finals. Kara sat by her side, telling her, "We just think you are so special and have improved so much, don't we guys?" as Ellen looked on with tears in her eyes. DioGuardi broke the bad news again, telling Martin — whose father was killed during the lead-up to her season-seven auditions, and who spent six days in jail for traffic violations last year — that she should keep on going. "You are a star no matter what," she said. "You are one of the bravest people have ever met."
Jazzy bleach-blond Lilly Scott killed it with Ella Fitzgerald's "Lullaby of Birdland" during Hollywood, before falling down hard on Hall & Oates' "Rich Girl." But Kara, who said she didn't have the strongest voice while praising the sandwich maker's unique style, made her dreams come true with a top-24 berth.
Along with Bowersox, the year's other early frontrunner, Andrew Garcia, who killed it with his Adam Lambert-esque take on former judge Paula Abdul's "Straight Up," easily passed through. "You feel good about this week what you did?" DeGeneres asked Garcia, who said he did and that he enjoyed mixing up arrangements. "We like that too, so we can't wait to see you. You made it.
Meanwhile, soft-spoken R&B powerhouse Thaddeus Johnson got aced out and did the long, tear-stained walk out of the Kodak Theater.
Confusion reigned at show's end as the top 24 was announced seemingly without the final male slot revealed. A final montage featured Chris Golightly among the finalists, but in the following celebratory montage he was inexplicably replaced by Tim Urban. Requests for comment from an "Idol" spokesperson were not returned at press time.
The show goes live for the first time this year next Tuesday with the top 12 girls performing, during which fans will get their first live look at new judge DeGeneres. Wednesday night will bring the big stage debut of the top 12 boys.
Get your "Idol" fix on MTV News' "American Idol" page, where you'll find all the latest news, interviews and opinions.