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'American Idol': Top 12 guys perform

Tonight, for two hours, the Top 12 male semifinalists perform on American Idol. Well, two hours total. Probably a lot of filler in there.

Yep, we're starting with a montage of "how they got here." This doesn't necessarily constitute filler, seeing as how some of these guys haven't had any screen time yet.

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Rudy Cardenas is a "professional musician," but there isn't any elaboration. We see that Simon wasn't impressed by him in his initial audition. He comes out to sing "Free Ride," which calls to mind some car commercial or another. (I hope not one of the corporate sponsors, because that would be a new low in ... uh, synergy?) Randy says he started the season off and got the party started, but that it was really corny. Paula and her bangs say he started off "fantastic," and that no one has started out a season so lively and uptempo. ("We have, actually," says Simon.) Simon says the performance proves why he hasn't been enthusiastic about Rudy -- that he hasn't seen anything unique from him. Rudy tells Ryan he hopes to change Simon's mind.

Ryan talks with the guys in the red room. Chris Sligh says the buzz tonight has been about all the guys "looking pretty."

Brandon Rogers is a 29-year-old background singer. He says he felt like he was on the bubble in Hollywood and that he gathered himself for his final performance there. He sings "Rock With You." Randy says it was a little pitchy and that he doesn't need to do so much with the song. Paula seconds Randy. Simon says he's a good performer, but that this was a safe song, and that he has to come out and "make an impact." "What I'm basically saying is, you're better than that," Simon closes. He tells Ryan he knew he would be nervous, so he chose a song he felt comfortable with, no matter how shaky he got.

Sundance Head has a great name, and he had a fantastic initial audition. He's a 28-year-old machine-shop worker. He says he thinks the only reason he is through is because he had a great first audition because he doesn't think he did a very good job during Hollywood week. He sings "Nights in White Satin." It seems like a lot of the guys are having trouble figuring how much to play to the camera and when to play to the audience. Eh, they will figure it out soon enough. Randy says he loved him initially because of his bluesy thing, which he seems to have abandoned. He says he doesn't think he was on pitch the whole song. Wow, Randy is more harsh this season. Even Paula says he was all over the place and picked the wrong song. Simon says tonight, he was like "dad at a wedding." Ryan asks Sundance what he would do differently with his arms if he had it to do over again. Paula says she knows and rubs her hands all over her chest (uh, above the area where it would have been problematic). It really seems like she is making an inside joke about something during auditions, but undoubtedly this will be interpreted as her craziness. (Not that she hasn't been extra-zany in the past. But I digress.)

Paul Kim impressed the judges at his first audition. He's 25 and from California and says he was surprised during the auditions because it seemed like Simon didn't like him, but he gave him a yes anyway. He is the guy who is always barefoot on stage. He sings "Careless Whisper." Randy says the song started pitchy and weird, but then it got a lot better, except for the falsetto because he missed the note. (Hey, that's exactly what I was thinking.) He says he still likes his potential. Paula asks him if he is a little nervous. She says he oversang the song, but she hopes he still gets through. Simon says Paula was rude. Simon tells Paul he should put on his shoes, that it's too much, that it's a "singing competition." He says it was an ordinary copy of George Michael and that he didn't wow them.

Simon says he thinks the competitors tried harder earlier in the auditions and that now they are playing it safe.

Chris Richardson is 22 and from Chesapeake, Va. He performed in New York and was compared to Justin Timberlake. He says his dad gets to live the rock n roll dream vicariously through him. He sings "I Don't Wanna Be." It starts way, way, way cheesy, and he is clearly terrified. It gets a little better. Randy says he feels like the show just started -- he says it wasn't perfect, but he had fun and made it his own. (Hilariously, he calls it an Edwin McCain song, and Simon corrects him that it's a Gavin DeGraw song. Whoops!) Paula says she liked the arrangement and that it was fun watching his  dad dance on the upbeat while he danced on the downbeat. Simon: "I'm sorry to sound negative tonight ... I thought your voice sounded very small in that song, I thought it was a bad vocal, although I like you, and I think the girls are going to vote for you." I'm with Simon.

Nick Pedro is next. He's the guy who made it to Hollywood last year and bowed out after losing his lyrics. He sings "Now and Forever" by Richard Marx. Yawn. Randy asks how his nerves are. He says it was better. Randy says it wasn't good, that it was boring and pitchy. Paula says they didn't feel the magic from his first audition. Simon says he didn't think it was that bad, actually. He says he's nervous and lost his spark a little bit, but that he didn't think his voice sounded that bad. Ryan busts out a "Vote for Pedro" joke, but at least acknowledges that Nick's probably heard that one before.

Blake Lewis, the beatboxer, is next. He's 25 and from Seattle. He says he knows it's a singing show and that being in the Top 24 feels "amazing, exclamation point." He sings Keane's "Somewhere Only We Know." His parents (I think) very cutely are singing along in the front row. Randy says he is shocked he came out with a Keane song but that he dug it, despite some pitchy problems. Paula says she is proud of him because his choice was unexpected and that his vocals were spot-on with no pitchiness (I'm going go with Randy on this one), and, "you were cool." Simon says it wasn't the best vocal he's ever heard in his life, but that he was the first person who came out and sounded like he was from 2007, and that he was 100 percent right to come out and not beatbox and that he was by far the best performance this evening.

Sanjaya Malakar is next. He is 17 and from Seattle. He talks about being sad his sister was cut during Hollywood week, but that he wants to win it for her. He sings "Knocks Me Off of My Feet." Randy says it was tough for him to tackle a Stevie song and that it was "really bad." Paula says she wished more personality came through. Simon says it's ironic that the most repeated line was "I don't want to bore this with you" and that it was dull. He says he appreciates his honesty and that he knows he can do better.

Chris Sligh is the funny dude who told them in his first audition that he wanted to win to make David Hasselhoff cry. Oh yeah, and he can sing. He is 28 from Greenville, S.C., and auditioned in Birmingham. He says his strengths are strategy and song choice, and that he likes everyone, but in reality only one of them is going to be left at the end singing "Do I Make You Proud." Heh. He sings a song called "Typical." Randy says he was rushing a little bit, but it was all good because his voice was on point. Paula says he had a great time and everyone else did. Simon agrees his humor has gotten him this far. He says he is a fantastic personality, but he felt like he was at some "student gig," that he really is struggling tonight to figure things out, that he doesn't think it was an incredible vocal performance. Chris takes a dig at Simon, saying Simon doesn't like him just because he doesn't sing like Il Divo or the Teletubbies, and things get weird for a minute.

Jared Cotter is next. He tells Ryan he can handle it downstairs on stage because he is tough and from New York. He's 25 and a former waiter. He (rightly) says that America hasn't seen him much as of yet, and he is (smartly and completely non-bitterly) looking at it as a clean slate. He sings "Back at One." Randy says it was pretty good, but he didn't like the ending. Paula says he likes him better with more uptempo songs. Simon says it was unadventurous and that he sounded a bit nasal (which I said during the performance to my husband, so I disagree with the boos that comment brought on). He adds that he needs to take a few more risks.

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AJ Tabaldo is 22 and from Santa Maria, Calif. This is his fifth attempt trying out for the show. He sings "Never Too Much." Randy says he looked like he was having a blast and that vocally it was pretty good. Paula says, "You can definitely sing," and that he needs to go for it a little more. Simon says, "It was good, nothing great, nothing terrible," but he calls it "a little bit theme park." He says to be a little more daring, and that maybe he's better than he originally thought.

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Phil Stacey is last to sing. He is 29, from Florida, and an active-duty sailor (and he didn't try out in his uniform! Good show!). He missed the birth of his daughter when his wife went into labor early, the night before auditions. He says he worked really hard between the initial audition and Hollywood to improve. He sings "I Could Not Ask for More." Just like in his first audition, his start is baaaaaaaaaaaad. But he gets better in the chorus. Thankfully. Randy says it started badly, but that he gets the best vocal of the night. Paula says he opened up in the chorus. Simon says the beginning was monstrous and that it got better after that, but not the best of the evening. Phil says he 100 percent agrees with Simon and that he knows he has a lot of work to do.

Ryan asks Simon why he is being so negative. He says he is being honest and he doesn't believe in patronizing the audience and that he isn't going to lie to people.

Tomorrow, it's the women's turn.

Overall, I think that was a little rough. It was the first live show, so you have to cut people some slack, but ... it seems like it's been better in the semis before. I think Simon was right on when he said people were trying to play it safe with their song choices. For all the guff Ryan was giving Randy at the beginning about being harsh, I found him to be a lot more on the mark, which is more helpful to the viewers and the contestants than Paula's gushing. What do you think?

P.S. Thanks to the people who have corrected my song titles. Since the show doesn't bother to tell us what they are singing, I try to do a lyrics search and make my best guess, but it looks like I didn't do that great of a job last night. Sorry about that!

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