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Think the wild-card round was a mixed bag?

The wild-card round was a mixed bag. This group ran the gamut from, um, passable to slightly more than passable, says Nicholas Fonseca

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Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell, ...
American Idol: FOX

American Idol

TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
Harry Connick Jr., Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban, Ryan Seacrest
Reality TV

Think the wild-card round was a mixed bag?

It seems to me that the least desirable place to be in America last night was right in that pit of losers who were so rudely shaken out of the ”American Idol” wild-card episode in its opening moments. I mean, not only were Lisa Leuschner, Marque Lynche, Tiara Purifoy, and Eric Yoder disgracefully dismissed like second-rate pound puppies at the top of the hour, but they were actually forced to sit there, plastic smiles frozen on their faces, as they watched the remaining 8 hopefuls in this month-old season (don’t it feel like years, people?!) give their all for one last shot at the final 12.

Poor things. But I haven’t got much time to worry about their fate, because there are eight performances for me to size up. First of all, ”Idol”’s producers chose very, very wisely when they picked this year’s wild-card finalists, giving us the almost (and sometimes actual) best from the past three weeks of competition.

I was happy to see once-and-forever ”pen salesman” Jon Peter Lewis amid the crowd, overjoyed to hear that Jennifer Hudson had passed muster, and beside myself with glee when I realized that I’d get another chance to throw tomatoes at the screen when Katie Webber appeared in all her snooty glory. Were these smoldering emotions worth it? Was my excitement just much ado about nothing, or did these folks actually give us a reason to believe that they deserve a second chance?

Well, let’s start with Jon Peter Lewis, just as the show did. I’m not quite sure if you can call what Jon Peter did last night ”dancing,” nor am I certain that you can call it ”moving in a rhythmic motion.” Whatever it was, it didn’t quite work for me, and to be totally frank with you, he looked like he was suffering a dual bout of constipation and ants-in-the-pants syndrome. His whole performance, like Jon Peter himself, was endearing enough to leave a smile on my face, but there’s no way this dude could ever become much more than a one-joke wonder, so I’ll leave it at that and thank him for gracing us with his odd yet lovable presence over the past month and a half. Now, kid, go back to Idaho and, um, sell away!

The dreaded duo of Elizabeth LeTendre and Katie Webber came next, and I was all set to start firing rounds at my office television set when Elizabeth announced that she’d be singing one of my all-time favorite love songs: Roberta Flack’s ”The First Time (Ever I Saw Your Face).” Unless you don’t have a pulse, this song should send chills running up and down your spine. Which is exactly what Elizabeth’s version did? only they were the wrong kind of chills! Oh, yeah, she’s got a decent voice, but might I ask who produced that horrendous arrangement? It sounded like the piano was tinkling!

As for Katie Webber, well? when even Paula doesn’t know quite how to find the right words to let you down gently, it’s probably time to move on to a new endeavor. She’s got stage presence, all right, but what Katie doesn’t have is a strong voice (note pitch problems last night) or, for crying out loud, a decent stylist (skirt! skirt! skirt!).

The competition, by the way, has been so dominated by women this year that I’d started to lose faith in my fellow XYs. That’s why Matthew Metzger, with his freaky, Guarini-like smile and overly drippy heartthrob status, doesn’t hold much appeal for me. I mean, is anybody else besides myself noticing that he sings the most predictable, vanilla power ballads on the market when he performs? ”Walking in Memphis”? ”When I See You Smile”?!

Suddenly I’m standing in the Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium at my high school, wondering what life will hold for me after graduation. Plus, I think Metzger, who admitted on last night’s show that he’s got ”a natural need to look for approval,” singlehandedly earned the record for holding the World’s Cheesiest Smile Intact as Ryan read his number last night. Did you see that? Were you disturbed? Are you afraid of what will happen if he’s not voted through tonight? I know I am.

George Huff, thankfully, came right back with a powerful version of ”Lean On Me,” though that slo-mo Running Man move at the start did give me pause. Thankfully George, who’s got an infectious personality and — do I say it? — a voice not unlike 2003 ”Idol” victor Ruben Studdard, really announced his presence last night in a way that I failed to notice in previous weeks. It would be really nice to see at least one more guy make his way into the final group — right now, we’ve got Matt Rogers and John Stevens, and that’s just saaaad — so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the Deacon (as George shall heretofore be known) can eke his way through.

Another surprise last night: Suzy Valaca, who came roaring back with a pretty winning rendition of ”I Will Survive.” I say ”pretty winning” because, well, no performance of the world’s most overplayed song this side of ”Y.M.C.A.” is ever going to get me dancing in my chair. That said, wasn’t Suzy another contestant who’d vastly improved from her last appearance? From the less-frizzy hair to the more upbeat song choice, I thought she acquitted herself quite well from last week’s near-miss.

Leah Labelle wasn’t quite as lucky — I’m still wondering where in the world she gets her clothing (was that a maternity shirt?), and I’m also wondering why her Bulgarian pop star mother hasn’t taught her how to move around the stage properly. Mom sure looks like a spitfire, so I wonder why daughter is such a stiff when she gets onstage. Ah, well, who am I to talk? As Leah so tartly reminded us last night, ”Americans have their own opinions.” Well, here’s mine, honey: You were just OK.

Producers wisely saved their best for last — as always — by holding the apparently hysterical Jennifer Hudson hostage in the Coca-Cola Room so that she could finish off the night with her wondrous version of ”I Believe in You and Me.” I’ve been a Jennifer supporter from the very beginning, when she first beamed her way onto my airwaves in that spacesuit-inspired outfit. Jennifer, I believe in you, too, but I still have one major issue to address. Last night, you said that a vocal coach had pleaded with you to get rid of the ”gospel jaw.”

Well, you’re going to have to get rid of that ”gospel behavior” sometime soon too. Now, before you all flame me and accuse me of being anti-God, hear me out: It’s highly doubtful that God is upstairs flipping on Fox at 8 p.m. on Tuesday evenings. (He’s probably not watching TV at all? and if he is, it’s probably, like, PAX or reruns of ”7th Heaven,” don’t you think?)

Anyhow, Jennifer, you’re going to have to learn to contain your emotions, because if you keep crying and wailing on about how blessed you are to be on ”American Idol” (and again, I just don’t think God’s busy jamming the phone lines in your honor), you’re going to lose your focus! And girl, you have got what it takes to make it far in this competition — hot pink muumuu notwithstanding. So say your prayers, bite your tongue, sing your music, and make me proud that I noticed your incredible spark way back when, okay?