As last night's American Idol -- featuring the 12 male semifinalists -- opened, I was struck by one thing. The recap of the previous evening's performances spun Becky O'Donahue's feedback as positive. Let's see, let me refer back to my notes, where I see that Simon said to her her voice was a 6.5 out of 10 and that "a little good isn't good enough anymore." Maybe they are setting her up as the one to "shockingly" be in the bottom two kicked off tonight? We'll see. On to the guys ...
Patrick Hall: He sang "Come to My Window," trying to "separate [himself] from the Clay comparison," but the judges told him to go back to what he does best -- that'd be ballads -- and noted his nerves.
David Radford: He's been mentioned as "the crooner," but it's all seemed really affected and fake to me, and that was totally magnified when he attempted "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" last night. Even Randy said he thought it was terrible. Paula said he "carried on who you are," whatever the heck that means (this will be a theme of the evening). Simon gave him the best advice: "Take yourself a bit more seriously." I think it might be too late for that; I predict he goes home tonight.
Bucky Covington: He was growly and off key throughout his performance of Skynrd's "Simple Man." (However, shows how much I know. I scribbled down that I thought he was flat, but Randy said he was sharp. At least I recognized it as wrong!) Paula said something incomprehensible about a "whole journey"; Simon was more on point, saying he was better performing with the band and sounded very raw, but that he wasn't anything you couldn't hear in "thousands of bars across America." Then Ryan got into it and said Bucky was unfaffected and real: "There's nothing Hollywood about this guy. [Beat.] We'll see how you change -- soon your hair will be spiked." Ha! (Though frankly, a shower and a shave alone would do wonders.)
Will Makar: Bounced all over the stage for a rendition of "I Want You Back." Randy (another theme of the evening) said told him "you did your thing" and that he was entertained. Paula compared him to Bobby Brady and said he was very vintage, whatever that means, while Simon said he was nice-looking, pleasant and enthusiastic, but vocally "completely and totally average." Paula asked the girls (in the "Kitty Pound"; pardon me while I barf) what they thought, and they obliged with screams and meows. I thought Simon was pretty spot on, at least with this song; I think he's done better in the past clips we've seen.
Sway: Presented "Reasons" by Earth, Wind & Fire, almost entirely in falsetto, which impressed the heck out of Randy and Paula for its technical difficulty, but Simon was put off by it. I am not usually in Simon's corner quite this much, really, but I was with him -- I much preferred the deeper notes that showed off Sway's tone.
Chris Daughtry: The judges uniformly liked his rendition of "Wanted, Dead or Alive," though Simon pointed out he needs to keep working on his charisma. But he and Randy agreed Chris has a "great recording voice."
Kevin Covais: This kid (the youngest in the competition) impresses me with his total maturity, seeming inflappability and sense of humor. Unfortunately, I wasn't totally sold on his voice. He sang "One Last Cry" by Brian McKnight, introducing it by saying, "I know it's a strong and powerful ballad, and I'm not a very strong and powerful-looking fellow," but he hoped to show another side to the judges (yet another theme for the evening/week). Randy thought it was "the bomb," Paula said he makes her beam and feel proud, and Simon: "I like you, but vocally, it was verging on excruciating." Kevin seemed totally unfazed, and at Ryan's urging, ran down to the "Kitty Pound" (urgh) to let all the "girls" pinch his cheeks.
Gedeon McKinney: Threw down "Shout" with a ton of energy, but, as Randy said, "no flashes of vocal brilliance." Paula said something about his soul, said it was marvelous, and then yelled at Simon when he compared it to a "warmup for the Chippendales." He went on to answer the boos in the audience by saying he was "trying to use an analogy." Trying is right. I appreciate that he doesn't use the same phrases again and again as much as the other judges, but it would help if his analogies weren't so outlandish. His feedback is actually pretty constructive sometimes, but the bizarre nature of his analogies lets people blow it off more easily.
Elliott Yamin: This guy sang a clear rendition of "If You Really Loved Me" by Stevie Wonder and out of nowhere got named potentially the best male vocalist of all five seasons ... by Simon. Really? I mean, I thought he was good, but not that good. Randy declared him "another hot one," and Paula said it looked "effortless." He didn't seem nervous at all, but I was still surprised by the expansiveness of the positive comments.
Bobby Bennett: Oh, dear. Bobby growled his way through "Copacabana," a song I could barely handle all the way through when Mr. Manilow performed it himself a couple of weeks ago on Dancing With the Stars. Randy said it was "just all right," Paula tried to talk up the entertainment value, but, again Simon had it right when he called it a complete nightmare. I predict he's out, too.
Ace Young: Sang George Michael's "Father Figure" right into the camera a little too much for my tastes, but I know there are a lot of folks who will disagree. All three judges lurved his performance.
Taylor Hicks: Sang Elton John/Bernie Taupin's "Levon" to much acclaim from the judges, the only down side being that it didn't show enough of his vocal range. Simon went as far as to say that, regarding his comment that Taylor would never make it to the finals: "I was wrong." He said Taylor is interesting and "you are just into the singing," as if it's totally bizarre that he's not into fame or being a star. (I guess that is kind of shocking on this show, actually.)
One last thing. Both people I thought would get in trouble for mentioning where they'd sung before -- Chris Daughtry for saying he had played "Wanted" on the bar scene a lot and Elliott for saying he gets requests for "If You Really Love Me" at karaoke -- actually did a good enough job to avoid the obvious punchline from Simon. Well done!