'American Idol': Top 8 guys perform

We're back for more semifinal performances on American Idol. The Top 8 guys are performing tonight.

My first thought as the camera scans across them: WHAT have they done to Sanjaya's hair? Step away from the flatiron, stylists! This week, they've asked all the contestants to reveal something we don't know about them already. (Better than last week's dedications that led to awkwardness -- a la Jared dedicating "Let's Get It On" to his parents -- and cheesiness -- e.g., Brandon's performance of "True Colors.)


Blake Lewis is up first. He loves improv, acting and Halloween. He pretends to be a character named "Jimmy Walker Blue." He's singing 311's "All Mixed Up." It's fun, but to my ear, a tad flat here and there. He incorporates a little beatboxing here and there, which works with the song. Randy loved it because it was so current. He also says he didn't recognize the song at all, which explains why he thought this 1995 song was so "current." Paula says she didn't know the song either, but that she was interested. Simon says he didn't understand a word he sang, but that he stands out in the crowd and he is "making it current" and "will 100 percent be here next week." Blake tells Ryan he picked the song because 311 is his favorite band.

Sanjaya Malakar is up next. Ryan says he's going to do some John Mayer. If he is singing "Your Body Is a Wonderland," I am telling you now that I will be fast-forwarding through the entire thing. He tells Ryan he was shocked to be there. His big secret is that he knows how to hula dance. And oh, thank heavens, he is singing "Waiting on the World to Change." This is much better than the past two weeks, although he is still too quiet, and a little off-pitch here and there, especially at the end. Randy says, "To say it was a little bit better than last week is really funny because ..." He says a lot incomprehensibly in the middle and then eventually says that they saw something special at his initial audition that they really haven't seen since then. Paula says the older guys are pushing him to do better and to keep trying and that he should raise his game. Simon says it wasn't as ghastly as last week, but that it wasn't very good. (He does manage to call it "Paula hair" in the middle.)


Sundance Head says the surprising thing about him is that he is thin in real life and just wears the fat suit on TV so he can not be recognized in his regular life. I thought Chris Sligh was the comedian! He is, improbably, singing "Jeremy" by Pearl Jam. Perhaps he is trying to position himself as the rocker or show his versatility? I don't know. It's not a bad performance, but the song choice just seems so out of nowhere. Randy says he had some pitchy spots, but that he liked that he put his Southern rock feel on the Pearl Jam song. Paula says that halfway through, "You really kicked in to your Sundance groove, and that's your unique quality." He is a special, special snowflake. "You did really, really well." Simon says he lost his charm and went from being really good to "generic bar singer." He also calls the choice "indulgent" and that he was shouting the entire time.

Chris Richardson is next. But first, Travis Tritt is in the audience. (Ryan shockingly does not say "in the house.") They talk about how Randy is producing his new album. OK, then. Chris says America would be surprised to know he used to play football and was 40 pounds heavier. He sings "Tonight I Wanna Cry" by Keith Urban. I know a lot of people love this guy, but he still sounds really generic to me -- I don't think I will remember this performance after the next person sings. Randy says "every week you put the boys on blast" and "this kid is in it to win it." Paula says it was a good choice because his intonation adapted well to the song. Simon says it was good, but cutesy, and his voice was a little nasally, a little timid and safe, but that he thinks they still haven't seen what he is capable of. Ryan asks Chris how he lost the weight, and Simon and Randy admonish him to stick to questions about singing. Chris says he just ate better.

Jared Cotter is going to sing some Stevie. First, he tells us he played Division II college basketball. He sings "If You Really Love Me." He sounds pretty good during the parts when he's belting, but the chorus parts of "If you really love me," when he has to harmonize, aren't fantastic. Randy says his usual thing about how he was nervous about him tackling a Stevie Wonder song, but that he did a good job. Paula says he needs to work on "coloring up the way you sing." Simon ... Simon looks like this:

She goes on about wanting to see more emotions in his performance. Despite the face he made, Simon says he actually kind of understands what she is saying, that it wasn't very original, that they have heard a lot of performances like this. He says he is slightly disappointed because they haven't really hard the wow factor this evening. The three judges, upon being questioned by Ryan, say Jared deserves to be in the Top 8 guys, but that he needs to raise his game.

Brandon Rogers is a classical piano player and has been playing since he was 9. He sings "I Just Want to Celebrate." I think this might be a message to the voters about how happy he is to still be in the competition. Randy says it was a good song, but he got a little messed up at the end during the run, but it was a solid performance. Paula says it was pretty phenomenal and proved himself. Simon says he hasn't represented himself well so far in the competition and that he should have picked more of a memorable song, and that he is nervous for him because it lacked a hook. Brandon says he had a great time and that he hopes people at home had fun with him.

Phil Stacey says it might be surprising that he hasn't always been bald. (Har-dee-har.) He calls himself "the bald guy on American Idol," but I think that title is going to go to Daughtry, Chris Daughtry, for a while. He sings LeAnn Rimes' "I Need You" and starts out sounding like he is doing an impression or something. But as usual, after a couple of bars, he is past the weirdness (though he screams some of the high notes oddly). Randy says it was an "interesting" song choice. He says he reminds him of Steve Perry of Journey, but that his lower register is weird. (Yes, exactly.) Paula says it's "chancy" when he starts but improves, but the song choice was "odd." Simon says he didn't get it, with the hat and "the big eyes" and the whole thing. Simon says it has been a disappointing evening, and "that wasn't good enough, sorry."

Chris Sligh tells us that he shaved his head bald in May 2005 and then grew out his hair to see what it was like, and discovered his "lush curls." He sings DC Talk's "Wanna Be Loved." He brings it in his performance, though I can't help but think he is picking his songs to make a slight joke -- "Typical" in the first week, which that definitely wasn't; and who among the finalists doesn't want to be loved? Randy says he's not sure that was his favorite song choice, but "the good thing for me tonight for you," bringing back his trademarked, much-hated-by-me "for me for you" phrasing, is that he gets the vocal prize for the night. Paula says it wasn't her favorite performance and that he needs to keep rising above and that this was middle of the road. Chris asks if vocally it was better than last week, because he is trying to build and get better. She says she liked last week more. Simon says the beginning was really good, but then he shouted and struggled in the middle, but that it's not a great, "hooky" song, but that he is popular enough to not have to worry. Chris says it's one of his favorite songs, and he thinks the sentiment is universal and he apologizes for "not bringing it like I should have," which amuses me since I actually said he did "bring it." Shows what I know!

Ryan asks how many guys really deserve to be in the Top 12. Randy and Paula say four, Simon goes with "three and a half." In the recap of all the performances, it really was clear how boring of an evening it was. Sorry, guys.