With two predictable eliminations and two debatable ones, the dozen finalists are about to hit the big stage

”American Idol” recap: The final 12

Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together one last time for the self-proclaimed second-rate Whitney Houston, the first-rate Britney Spears impersonator, the obnoxious(ish) teenager who generated more (intentional) laughs than the rest of the top 24 combined, and some dude who’s been whining incessantly on my TV screen for the last three weeks.

Were they the right ones to go home? In two instances, the answer is a clear-cut and resounding ”Oh, hell, yeah!” In fact, the case could be made that Kady Malloy and Luke Menard both lasted a week or two beyond where their talent levels should’ve carried them.

Still, poor Kady! During last week’s elimination show, she looked completely stunned to have outlasted hysterically sobbing comrade Alaina Whitaker. And after a Wednesday-night performance in which she only hit maybe 50 percent of the notes on Queen’s ”Who Wants to Live Forever,” you pretty much knew that tonight Kady would be playing the role of American Idol‘s Marie Antoinette, making that somber march to the guillotine in her kicky, Jackson Pollack-inspired dress.

The weird thing is, though, while I don’t think in any way she earned a place in the top 12, I couldn’t help feeling a little bad for the Texas teenager. Maybe it’s because I keep forgetting she’s only 18 years old, or maybe because her sole purpose the last three weeks seemed to be serving as a punching bag for the judges, for Idol fans, and for Idol prognosticators (like me). Adieu to you, Kady! If it’s any consolation, I get the giggles every time I think about your imitation of ”I’m a Slave 4 U.”

On the other hand, I have no such feelings of remorse for heaping piles of enthusiastic criticism on Luke, not after he committed another crime against ”Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” Wham!, and every fond memory I have about coming of age in the ’80s during his exit performance tonight. He was the only one of the final eight men who didn’t step up at any point during the last three weeks and make a decent case that he belonged in this season’s finals. (Although a reader named Kristen posted on our message board the interesting suggestion that Luke should’ve ”busted out the shorts and white gloves” to make his performance this week less forgettable.)

Someone by the name of Cranky, meanwhile, predicted that ”Baron von Acapella is a goner this week. The only thing he has going for him is the fact that he’s pretty, but even that is in a ‘ran Orlando Bloom through the copier a few times, then Photoshopped him with a grainy security-cam photo of Luke Perry’ kinda way.”

This week’s two other eliminations, on the other hand, weren’t quite as cut-and-dried. It was pretty clear after Tuesday’s performance show that either Chikezie or Danny Noriega would be joining Luke on the long journey back to obscurity, and not surprisingly, they were the last men left standing on the stage last night, looking longingly at the 12th silver space-age chair and praying for sweet relief from Ryan Seacrest’s interminable stalling.

In the end, though, America voted for pure vocal talent over showmanship and saucy interview skills. And while I’d be lying if I said a part of me won’t miss Danny’s jaunty ”ish”es, knowing ”mmm-hmm”s, and ability to get Simon to crack a smile, I also gained a newfound respect for Chikezie tonight. The way the uni-monikered belter embraced Danny and squeezed him — almost as if he were trying to wring any surplus anguish and tears out of the kid before he had to grab the mike and sing ”Tainted Love” — was perhaps the sweetest moment we’ve seen in 19 Idol episodes this season.

And with that result, the season’s most polarizing contestant to date said goodbye. A reader named Sister Maureen wrote that was rooting for Danny to last one more week, and eventually replace Paula on the judges’ panel (not a bad idea) ”or even give Elisabeth the boot from The View!”

Kelika, on the other hand, admitted that ”Danny is kind of funny, but he reminds me too much of a kid that thinks he deserves something; too snotty for my taste. The fact that he doesn’t appear to be humbled bothers me because there were others out there that didn’t make the cut that I think would have at least appeared to be more thankful.”

Chikezie, on the other hand, may have gained extra votes from viewers who were turned off by Simon’s overzealous critique of the R&B crooner. Keiren63 declared Simon was ”downright cruel to Chikezie — telling him that because the song was originally covered by Whitney meant that it was useless for him to have sung it (completely ignoring Luther [Vandross’ version]?).” And Kath agreed, saying she hoped Chikezie made the top 12 ”if only for absolutely owning Simon (on musical knowledge.) This is how it’s done, kiddies. *cough* Danny *cough* Making faces at the judges just makes you look like a dumb 12-year-old. Proving you know your stuff earns mad respect. If there is justice in the world, Luke and Danny will go.”

NEXT: The cursed song strikes again!

The award for the night’s most controversial elimination, however, must go to onetime women’s front-runner Asia’h Epperson, and frankly, I should’ve seen it coming, considering the impossibly pretty teenager sang one of the most cursed songs in Idol history. Indeed, I’m guessing the names Jennifer Fuentes and Elizabeth Letendre probably don’t mean much to you (I had to look ’em up myself), but they’re previous semifinalists who got booted immediately after covering Whitney Houston’s utterly dated song about seeking a boogie partner.

Personally, I’d have preferred to see roboblonde Kristy Lee Cook get the boot, but somehow, her flat ‘n’ tangy rendition of Journey’s ”Faithfully” and tales of drinking out of a dog bowl were enough to pull her ahead of the woman who wore a bizarre pair of high-waisted pants and was happy to be called a ”second-rate Whitney” by Simon Cowell.

I’ll miss Asia’h’s runaway enthusiasm during group performances (oh, how I loved to distract myself from the horror of those medleys by trying to see the bubbly beauty score some added screen time), but one thing I will not miss: adding a second apostrophe to her name every time I had to use it in the possessive form. And also: the bizarre blouse she wore for tonight’s results show, which looked like it was made from the exact same fabric as the floppy handbag my mother always brings with her when she takes a beach vacation. Let’s just say the floral pattern looks better when it’s stuffed with sunscreen and spare change than an actual human being.

Of course, maybe it wasn’t just poor song selection and fashion-code violations that did Asia’h in. A reader by the name of All I Have to Say Is… insisted that ”Asia’h ‘Permanent Frog in Her Throat’ Epperson needs to GO!!!” And, not surprisingly, the frequent commenter Asia’hhhhhh huffed that ”I wish someone would teach Asia’h how to pronounce her hhhhhhhh’s.”

With the ouster of the former cheerleader, we have this final 12: Amanda ”Smiles With Frown” Overmyer, Brooke ”Hearts and Flowers” White, Carly ”Big Note, Bigger Pint” Smithson, Chikezie (”Not Eze”), David ”Save the Idol, Save the World” Archuleta, David ”Cut My Hair, Please!” Cook, David ”Got Singles?” Hernandez, Jason ”Flawless Complexion” Castro, Kristy Lee ”Wide Stance” Cook, Michael ”Sweaty Forehead” Johns, Ramiele ”Grannie Sweater” Malubay, and Syesha ”ALL CAPS!” Mercado.

In other words, we have a couple questionable ”talents” who, more likely than not, will be fueling message-board tirades for the next several weeks, some very solid singers who need to go from B-pluses to A’s if they want to go further than a ninth-place finish, and three or four definite front-runners who officially have massive targets on their backs.

Speaking of targets, I leave you with my favorite comment of the week, a zinger directed at me by a reader named Ummm, What the …?, who wrote the following: ”Slezak! You just lost all respect for me there, buddy, with that ‘we’ll be remembering Jason Castro’s performance for years to come.’ Someone’s asleep at the wheel… where’s Jesus when you need him?” Oh, snap!

On that note, what do you think of season 7’s final 12? How does it compare to the season 6 posse, and the now legendary crew from season 5? And if you could have spared any of tonight’s four eliminated contestants, who would it have been — and who would you have cut to make room?

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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