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We rate the eight singers from last night

Loved Diana, Marque, Jennifer, and Fantasia; Ashley, Katy, and Matthew, not so much; and just not sure about Erskine sans cornrows, says Nicholas Fonseca

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Randy Jackson
Randy Jackson: Robert Sebree

American Idol

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

We rate the eight singers from last night

Maybe I’m just starved for real talent after the laughable performances I’ve been subjected to in the past few weeks, or maybe I’m on a high from eating too many lime-flavored Tostitos, but I dare say that tonight’s episode of ”American Idol” — the first of four showcasing the final 32 hopefuls — was filled with some extraordinary performances! In fact, I was so pleasantly surprised that I’ll dispense with the lame attempts at humor and just get on with my observations.

”Idol” producers are a smart lot — they hook roughly 30 million of us losers in two, sometimes three, times a week to watch a bunch of kids try to sing Journey and Whitney Houston songs. They proved their savvy again tonight by kicking off the show with two powerhouse performers: Diana DeGarmo and Marque Lynche. And then it was downhill — and uphill, downhill, and uphill again. Let me explain.

Diana DeGarmo
I’m not sure if Diana has exactly what it takes (age, experience, a few personal disasters to wipe that creepy beam from her face, etc.) to reach the final 10, and I’m not sure this whole pink-and-black thing is going to work. (Note to Di: Even Pink eventually dyed her hair a new color.) Still, she poured a heck of a lot of soul into her song for a little white girl? but am I the only one who thinks she looks like a cross between Raven and Leah Remini?

Marque Lynche
What’s there to complain about? Oh, sure, a 23-year-old dancer from New York City wearing a muscle tee and singing ”Wind Beneath My Wings” for his mother may be the most unintentionally gay moment in television history. If you have a problem with my saying that, look no further than Simon’s comments afterward that things were starting to feel a bit like the Miss World Pageant. Hey, he did have a point. And isn’t Marque a blast of fresh air after last season’s decidedly busted male lineup? Ladies and gentlemen, the most handsome contestant in the history of ”American Idol” has arrived!

Ashley Thomas and Katie Webber
I have to lump these two bland, blonde disciples of foundation together. I don’t have any particular beef with either of them, nor do I have anything really positive to say about them. Wait, I take that back: Ashley, who sang ”Crazy,” has a smidgen of Mandy Moore in her. (Is that a beef or a compliment? You decide.) But she’s also one of those perpetually happy people who makes perpetually cranky me just plain annoyed. On a side note, it’s always fun to watch the less-than-stellar schmucks who have to perform after audience faves defensively squirm as they offer explanations for why they chose a particular song, or look, or arrangement. I wonder what it’s like to have to fight back with ”I guess I’m just sweeeeeet!” Guess I’ll never know.

Erskine Walcott
Erskine was virtually unrecognizable without his cornrows, and I’m torn about his decision to take the darn things out in the first place. In some ways, they could have been his ticket to one of those ”oooh, look he’s all ghetto and stuff!” slots in the final 10 (three words, y’all: Lashundra Trenyce Cobbins). But that was exactly the problem: They would have branded him a novelty, rather than the incredibly appealing Everyman he represented last night with his heartfelt performance of Journey’s ”Open Arms.” Another side note: Randy Jackson, you played bass for Journey for exactly one friggin’ year. Stop exploiting your membership with the band that actually inspired a videogame called ”Journey — Escape” and get back to reminding us that you worked with Whitney and Mariah! It’s much more fun that way.

Jennifer Hudson
I worry that Jen might get lost in the mix, which is a shame because I’ve had my eye on her since the very first episodes, when they kept showing a glimpse of she and her teammates practicing choreography in their hotel room and she later asked Simon why he didn’t like her spacesuit, er, outfit. Love, love, loved her performance of ”Imagine” last night, and love, love, love that she reminds me of Angie Stone. That is NEVER a bad thing, Jennifer — and just between us, I voted for you last night.

Matthew Metzger

Fantasia Barrino
Like her sister in over-the-top soul, Fantasia worries me — not because I don’t think she can stand on her own, but because she’s capable of garnering such a Frenchie-like fanaticism that I worry she’ll tucker out quickly. (Sort of like what was supposed to happen to John Kerry after New Hampshire, y’know?) Fantasia sang the crap out of ”Something to Talk About,” honing in on and exploiting its natural sass. She bounced around the stage like she owned it, and she blared out that 10,000-watt smile, the one that’s impossible to hate. Something tells me that if ”American Idol” released the voting tallies on tonight’s show, we’d see Fantasia outpacing the other seven contestants 2-1, easily.