The top 12 guys get one shot to justify their Idoldome existence

By Annie Barrett
Updated March 02, 2011 at 10:23 AM EST
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Credit: Frank Micelotta/Fox

Ryan Seacrest stood patiently in a brand new galaxy, dwarfed by possibility, surrounded by stars. He strode confidently forward to find himself flanked by six stoic men on each side. Aliens? Not so fast. Ryan grew taller, rising in rank, until the real rulers of the planet emerged: two sassy runway models and Randy Jackson, with their leather and lace and empty offerings of peace. These were the real aliens, the ones with the power and the earrings. And “THIS! is American Idol.” It’s your top 12 guys, America. Everyone clap for how pretty J. Lo is!

Clint Jun Gamboa‘s energetic rendition of “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder reminded me of how much I do not enjoy watching people who take karaoke way too seriously sing karaoke. (I know, I know. Spoiler alert: I quit!) Seriously, though, the best performances on Idol make you forget you’re watching a singing competition and trick you into thinking you’re watching a real concert. So how did the karaoke host expect to do this with one of the most often-sung karaoke tunes ever?! As this was the first performance, I spent much of Clint’s airtime mesmerized by the crazy new set. There was a whole color blocking thing going on behind him that looked like that child’s game in which you have to keep moving around the pieces to fill a void — but there’s always a void, and even if you “win,” it’s still a little disappointing because there’s that void. Life, you know? It’s so awful. It’ll get better.

Jovany Barreto had arrived in the Idoldome directly from the shipyard. He just kept on strolling, like Jeff Probst from island to studio in the Survivor finales. Good for him. Understandably, though, such a long journey can make even a burly shipbuilder very tired. Jovany sleepily swayed his way through “I’ll Be” by Edwin McCain and, as Randy pointed out, basically mimicked the original without bringing in anything unique. J. Lo and S. Ty liked it, or were at least enjoying themselves. Steven continued to call Jovany “Giovanni” and took the opportunity to exclaim “Holy shipyards!” J. Lo, who had been feelin’ it during Jovany’s longest, highest note, said “I’m so happy right now.” Oh, good. We were all hoping.

Jordan Dorsey failed miserably pretty much right away in his copycat cover of “OMG” by Usher. He was trying to be Usher, which is impossible, especially if Usher is not even who you wanna be. Oof, this was bad, though I did enjoy the way he plopped right down into a cheerleader’s sitting position at the end. Jordan doesn’t strike me as a musician as much as a person who’s used to excelling at things. Lookin’ good, bein’ hot, gettin’ attention, etc. Singin’. But it’s like Peter Gallagher (TV’s Sandy Cohen) reminded his new crop of ballet students at the beginning of Center Stage: It’s easy to be the best in your class if no one in your class is that good. I’m paraphrasing, obviously, but the point of all of this is that “THIS!” is the American Ballet Academy and Jordan Dorsey’s turnout leaves much to be desired. Once he settles in back at home, he should consider “releasing” an album of aggressively delusional motivational speeches about success.

NEXT: Tim and Brett choose weird songs; James Durbin goes heavy metalThe producers had high hopes for Tim Halperin, which might explain why he was chosen to engage in a bubbly Coca-cola heart-to-heart with Ryan. Tim called the other 11 guys his “brothers,” and they clapped politely while hating him deep down inside for having scored the extra screen time. Tim’s jumpy suit-jacket cover of “Streetcorner Symphony (Come On Over)” by Rob Thomas was so disappointing considering how brilliant he was on the piano in his Beatles duet last week. Even dancing queen J. Lo could only bring herself to grimly nod along with clenched teeth, afraid to look bored. All three judges questioned Tim’s bizarre song choice with various versions of ye olde “Why weren’t you you?” critique. My favorite part of Tim’s segment was when he started to give a huge thumbs up but immediately had to break it because Ryan had offered his meaty Ryan paw for a handshake. I liked where Tim was going with that.

Brett Loewenstern. Oh, dawg. My precious, primped, persimmon poodle — the red apple in the green abyss that is my lazy, narrowed eye. You’re a wiry redhead, not a sex god on drugs. PUT THAT FINGER AWAY, SON. The Doors’ “Light My Fire” was a heinous song choice for the sweet, soulful teen who tried too hard to “fill” the overwhelming stage. The poor sap who does Randy’s homework for him counted 14 snappy hair tosses in Brett’s performance. These were both tremendous and tragic, like a “before” lady in an early ’90s hair product commercial. It’s so unmanageable…but she’s so sassy about it! Shake it out, shake it out. Brett insisted he wasn’t aware he was even doing this, which would have been funny had it been sarcastic. But the real takeaway from Brett’s segment was that it gave J. Lo the perfect chance to compare herself to Beyoncé.

James Durbin went out on a limb with “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’” — he is now the only person to ever attempt Judas Priest on the Idol stage. Mark it down, world. I liked James’ actual performance here — he showed remarkable control, only screamed at the end, and boy, can he jump! I’m just trying not to get too annoyed by the rest of his over-the-top persona (insisting he needed a cloth tail to “stand out,” calling out “THE BEST AUDIENCE IN THE WORLD”) because it’s clear the judges love this guy and he might be around for awhile. “That was f—ing crazy good,” said Steven from behind the shield of his new Antiswear Popsicle. “It’s insane. IT’S INSANE!” screamed a giddy Jennifer. “Show Ryan the tail,” offered Randy. Ewww, Randy.

NEXT: Robbie Rosen proudly presents the Lilith FairAfter Robbie Rosen sang Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel,” J. Lo gushed that all of the choices he’d made to change the song made her love the song even more. I disagree with that entirely, but to each sparkle fiend her own. Like Tim, Robbie would have benefited from his trusty piano here — instead, he overcompensated with an awkward, uncertain tempo and hyper-extended monosyllabic words. And pitch problems! Randy’s favorite. This was the happiest version of “Angel” I’ve ever heard, which was particularly jarring because when most people hear “Angel” they think of sadness and/or animal cruelty. Imagine the sympathy votes if the Idoldome Omnimax Theater had shown this commercial behind Robbie instead of a stupid crescent moon. Instant game-changer.

Scotty McCreery went old-school country with John Michael Montgomery’s “Letters From Home.” It’s what he was born to do, J. Lo reminded him. Randy liked that he wasn’t interested in becoming a crossover country artist. Excuse me, he loved it. “Gotta love it,” said Randy. Indeed, Scotty’s authentic performance was great for week 1 and I’m glad his voice is so distinctive. I just wonder how this sly eyebrow-raiser will cope once he has to deal with theme weeks. (Side note: That last sentence is so absurd if you try and apply it to the typical recording artist’s career.) Oh, snap out of it, Barrett — this is TV and the terrible beast must be fed!

Stefano Langone is one smart cookie. He also looks like a cookie! He looks like a smiling cartoon cookie in my mind and that’s amazing just the way it is. Bruno Mars’ “Just The Way You Are” was an ingenious song choice for Stefano because WOMEN LOVE THIS SONG. Ask any of us. This song is one giant, lilting, smiley, chocolate-flavored compliment and we cannot slurp it up fast enough. Our lady hearts swelled along with Stefano’s tender man vocals. I liked the way Stefano ended his lines without fanfare and a case of the runs — he was on-key, consistent, comfortable, and current. “You’re a beast,” said J. Lo, and really this is the highest compliment one could ever hope for. Jennifer Lopez called you a beast? Stop even trying. You’ve already won.

NEXT: Casey puts a spell on J. Lo, who finally sees the light“What’s up, TV land?” wondered Paul McDonald. Dude, wrong channel. You’re a FOX. Paul reprised his audition song, Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May,” delivering the same soft and raspy vocals we marveled at during Beatles night. But what really made his performance stand out was the way he didn’t seem quite able to stand up at all. On purpose! It’s an aesthetic. I’m wondering if Paul will ever not look like he’s about to fall over. I hope not. I love worrying that I’m drunk right before writing a 2000-word recap. Keeps it interesting. The whole time during what Steven called “the McDonald Two-Step,” Paul seemed to be “conducting” a tiny symphony on the floor with one hand — or maybe he was “walking” an imaginary pet turtle that’s, like, not hindered by the conventions of gravity, man. Basically, he’s making something happen, and only he knows what that something is. Will it float? We shall see.

Jacob Lusk is very sly, but also not subtle at all. He is the most dramatic sly person I’ve ever witnessed, with the possible exception of Alan Cumming. Right away in his rendition of “A House is Not a Home,” Jacob took on an air of theatrical haughtiness and began toying with the camera using only his eyes. On the one hand, Jacob is gentlemanly and proper and always wears ties; on the other, he’s so breathless and excited all the time that he seems like a child. It’s a lot to take, to be honest, all these sides of him, but what I like about Jacob is that he’s really committed to singing and singing well. All of his affectations would be meaningless and annoying if he couldn’t sing, but because he can, those extras end up contributing to and supporting the vocal instead of detracting from it. (For now.) I do wonder if the producers had drawn either a series of crosses or “Mention the Lord!” in fun bubble letters on Steven’s yellow piece of paper. “It was divine intervention that brought you here,” raved the judge. All of Jacob’s critiques were extremely over-the-top, but I admit I got goose bumps when J. Lo said that though Luther Vandross was gone, “now we have you.” I felt lame, but in the end, I was glad — goose bumps can really make you feel alive for a few seconds. I need to get out more. This is getting absurd.

I’ve been hot for Casey Abrams for weeks now, but he turned me on anew with the angriest yet oddly sexiest version of “I Put a Spell On You” I’ve ever seen. This was literally what he was doing, manipulating adoring females into loving him despite — or because of — the fact that he was growling at them with crazy eyes. He’s like a huge, grizzly, energetic nag whom you want to befriend and then immediately bed. Did anyone notice what could be construed as a crotch grab during his final “I put a spell on you”? It was probably more like a light pet, a graze really, but we cannot be sure due to the angle. J. Lo confirmed it: “You’re sexy, Casey…the fire, you took it, you ate it.” And J. Lo was so turned on that she proceeded to do the [GOBBLE GOBBLE] voice/hand gestures we’ve all done around the Thanksgiving table in a desperate, inexplicable, always doomed attempt to sound like a turkey.

“Yes! Yes! Yes!” yelled Randy, bringing us all back on track.

Exactly.

Who did you love last night? Tell me who lit your fires in the comments below, and I’ll see you tomorrow morning to discuss the Top 12 Girls.

Follow Annie on Twitter: @EWAnnieBarrett

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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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