It's only the first night in Hollywood for this season of ''American Idol,'' but some contestants have already given award-worthy performances

By Michael Slezak
Updated July 02, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT
AMERICAN IDOL: Ray Mickshaw/FOX

American Idol

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”American Idol”: The competition gets serious

It’s hard not to feel a surge of excitement watching ”Hollywood week” on American Idol. Not only does it signify sweet relief from having to watch cherished pop hits get brutalized by deluded Carrie Underwood wannabes, but it’s also a chance to start determining which singers you’ll be supporting via speed dial and text message for the next umpteen weeks.

Still, whether they ultimately sink or swim in Hollywood, you’ve got to hand it to the 175 contestants who earned their golden tickets in the initial auditions this year. For all but 24 of ’em, their moment of Idol glory will be heartbreakingly short. They deserve at least some small parting gift. Why not an awkwardly worded award and an invisible statuette from EW.com, along with some of your scary/zealous praise/criticism in the message boards below? Let the ceremony begin….

The Go Directly to the Final 12, Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200 Prize She may have set the bar awfully high for herself with that Greensboro, N.C., audition of ”Take Five,” but Paris Bennett’s first impression on the Hollywood stage — a soulful interpretation of the not terribly soulful ”Can’t Fight the Moonlight” — confirmed what we already knew, whether or not she goes far in the competition: The girl is a superstar.

That Other Teenage Front-Runner Award Paris Bennett detractors will probably prefer this season’s other youthful power vocalist, Lisa Tucker. But while she didn’t miss a note on ”Hopelessly Devoted,” I’m a little worried Tucker is a triumph of crisp technical proficiency over any kind of actual soul. In other words, when she sings, I’m just not feeling it.

The Contestant I Should Be Emotionally Connecting With but Can’t Award Dozens of EW.com readers have been posting about Kellie Pickler ever since the plucky blonde delivered a tart ”Since U Been Gone” during her Greensboro audition. Call me a cynic, but it made me feel funny hearing her spill her hard-luck tale of being abandoned by her mom, and missing her imprisoned dad, before I’d heard a single note pass her lips. And tonight, as her ”Hopelessly Devoted” wobbled like Jell-O, I suspect some of her fan support did the same.

The Pluck Be a Lady Prize I have no idea whether Megan Zieger actually has the pipes to hang with some of this season’s front-running divas, but only a real Grinch could’ve said no to her firm but respectful plea for a vote of confidence in spite of her untimely bout of laryngitis.

Sayonara, Sucker! Apparently, Ronnie ”R.J.” Norman (”I’m gonna be the first guy to rock it!”) has never seen American Idol. Otherwise he’d know the show’s producers use Hollywood week to treat overinflated egos like holiday piñatas. Hey, dude, have fun trying to pick up chicks at karaoke night, especially after crying on national television.

Most Worthy of His Own Reality Series Okay, now that we’ve heard Garet Layne Johnson’s ”Can’t Fight the Moonlight,” it’s clear he’s never going to win this whole thing. But with a little voice training…hmmm. Let’s say an enterprising network decided to build a series following this adorable teen as he tries to transition from a four-person town in Wyoming to the scary world of the Los Angeles music scene. You know it’d be one of the biggest hits on TV. ”I’m gonna be the crying cowboy,” Johnson sobbed while viewing the ocean for the first time. Don’t worry, kiddo, you brought the rest of us to tears, too.

The Pride Goeth Before a Fall Trophy Watching footage of the Brittenum twins trashing Carrie Underwood, when it’s been widely reported that the far-from-extraordinary brothers have been booted from the show for criminal activity? Priceless.

Hey, Let’s Hear a Little More of… Gina Glocksen, whose snippet of ”If I Ever Fall in Love” gave me a newfound appreciation for the treacly ballad, and whose foxy alterna-girl exterior made me think of another Gina, namely Gina Gershon.

Paula, Beware In the wake of canoodling accusations from season 2 contestant Corey Clark, you’d think Ms. Abdul would avoid making goo-goo eyes at Tim McGraw look-alike Matthew Buckstein and Backstreet castoff Brett ”Ace” Young. The whole thing was downright blush-worthy!

Unlikeliest Sex Symbols Gray-haired Taylor Hicks, who delivered a wicked ”First Cut Is the Deepest,” may look like he’s about to seize when he sings, but I’ve got a notion he’ll end up inspiring his fair share of Google image searchers. Likewise for Mandisa Hundley, whose ”Dim All the Lights” is the kind of performance that could give zaftig girls a much-needed PR boost.

The Who Says Season 5 Is All About the Women? Award In three of the first four seasons of Idol, I’ve rooted for a female contestant, but after hearing Chris Daughtry reinvent ”The First Cut Is the Deepest,” I’m putting him at the top of my season 5 standings. Hey, Simon, is this the dude you voted against in the Denver auditions? Guess you’re not always right after all.

What do you think? Who deserves an award for his or her performance so far? And did any acceptances or rejections strike you as particularly misguided?

Episode Recaps

American Idol

Ryan Seacrest hosts as Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan guide aspiring singers on their way to superstardom.
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