It's sad, but true: Only a few of the Top 10 guys impress, while one nearly has a meltdown

Charlie Askew
Credit: Fox

As we hit the snooze button after a generally lackluster Top 10 Guys night in Vegas, let us go ahead and crown Ryan Seacrest the winner of American Idol. The host’s composure and instantly supportive words in the face of what seemed like an inevitable on-stage meltdown from Charlie Askew will go down in the books. All those history textbooks, with entire chapters about American Idol. We must never underestimate our often-bumbling, always-amusing host’s role in ever so gently guiding these boyz II manhood.

Elijah Liu: Rihanna’s “Stay” — I’m really surprised the producers stuck this Mexican-Chinese Bieber type first. Despite a lack of early-season promotion, he’s seemed like their pet for the past two weeks. But the unfortunate placement may have helped endear me to his performance, which was, looking back, possibly the most current song choice and delivery of the night.

I still think his voice is too soft, but it worked in this intimate setting, at least when the thunderous drum rolls weren’t drowning Elijah out. Nicki Minaj can see Elijah’s face on blankets, like “NKOTB-type ish from back in the days.” So basically he is set for life.

“It hit me in the heart and that’s what I wanna do,” Elijah told Ryan re: the song choice. Cheesy, but sincere. He should stop identifying as a ladies’ man on-camera and wait to charm people during random moments like that.

Cortez Shaw: Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out of Heaven” — It’s too much. The “sexy pelvic thrusts,” the fancy footwork, the self-impressed vocal gymnastics. Just too much flourish, too much going on and none of it was quite right. The judges commented that he should have gone a key or two lower, which is probably true, but I wouldn’t even want to see him attempt it. No one wants to see the hardest-trying singer in the karaoke bar turn up on the after-hours playlist to do a bad, bad thing all over again.

“And a jean vest?” wondered Clown Bangs, dumbfounded. Best critique of the night?

Charlie Askew: Genesis’ “Mama” — This was off-putting from the start and it had nothing to do with the kid’s singing. But no one could possibly focus on Charlie’s vocal performance as he flailed around with his dangly earring, tank top, skinny ghost arms, “awkward turtles” necklace, and a gradually ballooning sense that maybe this charade was not carrying out onstage as well as it had in Charlie’s head.

Nicki, who used to be Charlie’s mom, complained “I feel like someone stole my kid” after her ex-son’s angry-seeming antics. “Now it’s like a darker thing — I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m upset.”

Keith noted the “varied” expressions of the audience members (a euphemism for “they looked totally freaked out”) and told Charlie something felt “not truly genuine” about his performance. I think it was genuine for Charlie, but — as he alluded to later — the caution-to-the-wind classic rock god persona does not reflect what he’s truly feeling inside. Music is his escape, and when he realized the judges weren’t going to indulge him this time, Charlie’s inner world and physical demeanor began to crumble. And then he confided in Ryan, on the verge of tears: “A lot of people think I’m a happy, buoyant person all of the time, and the only reason I smile so much is because I feel like I have to.”

Heartbreaking! And so very uncomfortable. I hope Charlie doesn’t get enough votes, because he can’t handle this situation. A live-televised pity party is the last thing he needs. Continued support via sympathetic fans, a good month’s sleep, and a complete absence of spotlights in his life would be a good start. This boy is not well. If he sticks around, the show will seem very irresponsible.

NEXT: When everything’s made to be Boddington (weak!) Nick Boddington: Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris” — He had hair, once! That’s the most important thing. Ryan Seacrest kept the Ultimate Confidant streak alive during his Cokeside Chat with Nick, who admitted “the 20s” had caught up with him and now he was bald. Did he mean the Roaring Twenties? His feathered fedora — a good look on him — said yes.

I liked the way Nick tweaked “Iris” with a bunch of upward-lilting understa-a-ands and random falsettos at the end. The judges weren’t into it, namely Clown Bangs, who wanted to hear the original melody on one of her favorite songs. I need to keep a running list of Nicki’s Unlikely Favorite Songs because some of them are hilarious.

It wasn’t the most current song choice, of course, but I respect how Nick made it his own with the “Ryan Tedder thing” (said Randy). Still, as pretty as Nick’s vocal can be, this was not the most compelling performance. He seemed physically dwarfed and aurally overwhelmed by the expansive stage and the band.

Burnell Taylor: “I’m Here” from The Color Purple — Honestly, I would’ve preferred to hear something new instead of Burnell’s audition song for a second time, but I did appreciate his explanation (that he had to go over twice!) that the editing on America’s first glimpse of him was so chopped-up that he wanted to re-deliver his fave song to completion. That’s fine, I suppose. His rich vocals are unique enough and, like Randy said (I CANNOT BELIEVE HOW OFTEN I’M AGREEING WITH RANDY), there’s an urgency in Burnell’s very first notes of each performance that draw you in and make you feel involved in whatever he’s doing…which is mostly casting a spell on the crowd with his magical (annoying?) arm and hand movements.

I definitely anticipate bigger and better performances from Burnell. And I know the kiddies will be getting their official wardrobe consultants starting next week, but Burnell’s Fresh Prince of Bel Air/Blossom hybrid was so fascinatingly awful that I hope they leave him alone. I eventually want to see him wander out onstage in the style of The X Factor‘s Beatrice Miller — virtually indistinguishable from a pile of scarves and garbage. His vocal will shine through! You know it will.

NEXT: Paul Jolley’s a Slave 4 You Paul Jolley: Christina Aguilera and Blake Shelton’s “I’m Just a Fool” — I think what Keith was getting at in his wordy but vague criticism of Paul was that he’s simply too theatrical and needs to tone it down in order to be relevant as a “pop country” artist. “I feel like you keep underestimating the quality of your voice,” he said. It seemed weird that Paul received such wandering, non-committal critiques from the whole group after what was arguably one of the better vocals of the night. He was on-pitch, he looked alive, and he wore a sleek black shirt with tiny ruffles — what more could you really ask for in this tepid group of guys on such a lackluster night?

I like Paul better when he’s singing than when he’s speaking, sad to say. (Ideally I’d want to enjoy both Pauls equally and be Jolley all the time.) I cringed so, so hard when he told Keith he wanted to be the guy version of Taylor Swift and then gestured desperately to the audience…”If everyone else wants me to be!” Ugh, gross. So hammy. And it’s exactly what Keith and Jimmy Iovine want him to avoid — the blind people-pleasing without a better understanding of his abilities. Sounds like they want him to sing as simply as possible. But I’m sure they’ll give him hell for trying that, too. This is one very cute white male they’ve got on their hands, and he will not get off that easily.

Lazaro Arbos: Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” — I can’t say Lazaro wowed me compared to anyone else, but in a way I was bowled over by his performance because I expected so much worse from him. Last week I thought he was off-pitch and could barely understand his lyrics; this week was much better.

“Feeling Good” is way overdone on Idol and Lazaro does not have the chops to distinguish himself vocally. But what he did do was solidify his place in the Top 10 with his endearing intro video, continued effort to “think pink,” and that triumphant, dramatic camera sweep of his sassy and genuinely happy final line of this song. Who doesn’t like feeling good? And who doesn’t want poor Lazaro to feel good right now? You’d have to be some sort of monster!

Curtis Finch, Jr.: R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” — Did the judges attend some sort of off-camera religious revival while Curtis was up there singing? Their praise-the-Lord antics — “We just had a sermon in Vegas, baby!” were WAY overblown and so obviously orchestrated ahead of time. Curtis can sing, yes. If you look away, you will enjoy listening to him. And maybe you like to look, too! I still find him fake as heck (God is watching) and while I can appreciate an on-pitch vocal and a high-energy presentation, I can’t get behind the “You just ooze everything good and light and godly and whole and positive” type of critique. This is another tired, played-out Idol song that a contestant sang very well. End of story.

“That was just what I needed in this moment of my life right now…. There’s so much bad energy, for no reason, at times!” cried Mariah (this was maybe five percent of her total word salad aimed at Curtis). What?! Talk about desperate to create a moment. Nicki had the right idea directly following Curtis’ final note, when — in the midst of a full house Standing O behind the judges’ table, she appeared to be waving away an exquisitely pungent fart.

NEXT: ‘You wasn’t sittin’ on it right tonight’ Devin Velez: Perry Como’s “Somos Novios (It’s Impossible)” — Devin sang in Spanish again, and he did so beautifully. I’m not sure I’ll remember anything more about his actual song from this week, but he should be all set to advance based on that voice alone. “It’s like turning on a faucet — this kid is effortless,” said Randy. Whoa, exactly. I too have used a faucet before, and Mr. Jackson is right — it is so, so easy. (These were my actual notes on the segment. I’ve officially been dumbed down. There’s no turning back now. My Randy Appreciation Quotient for the night is out of control.)

Devin’s banshee-screaming mom could turn out to be a major character this season — I liked how her most visceral connection to the judges’ critiques was when Nicki said her son was “lookin’ like a little Spanish Ken doll.” All their lives, they have worked for this.

Vincent Powell: Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road” — Whoa! Not a good call for final singer tonight. Vincent tried to throw in way too many vocal tricks, including a section at the end that I believe was deliberately off-key just for variety’s sake. “You wasn’t sittin’ on it right tonight,” Nicki sputtered out of one side of her mouth as the rest of it ferociously sucked on another damn lollipop.

Vincent’s reaction was so tragic — he really thought he had this in the bag, what with the pimp spot and all. I really liked his performance last week, so I’m torn on whether I want him to advance. I think he’s trying too hard, but I know his pure vocal makes him deserving….

Oof, I wish I had more enthusiasm for these guys tonight. Did you love anyone?

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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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