Tonight, the men's contingent of the Top 24 on the seventh season of American Idol will perform for viewer votes (and some of them will introduce themselves to us for the first time).
Ryan Seacrest asks the judges about the season thus far. Randy Jackson says that in the auditions, he saw "more originality in these dudes up here, you know." Paula Abdul calls him out for getting three dudes and two mans into that short answer, which is pretty pithy for Ms. P. Simon Cowell says he's looking for "personality, originality, and honestly, you've got to sing well."
Montage of "how we got here," including some never-before-seen footage of several of the contestants.
Tonight's songs are all from the 1960s, so we've got a theme working this week.
David Hernandez of Glendale, Ariz., is first. He sings "The Midnight Hour." He's pretty comfortable on stage and starts strong, considering his opening has no backing from the band or backup singers whatsoever. Last run is a little iffy, but overall, he gives a good opening performance. Randy says he liked the gospel vibe of the opening and that he remembered him from the auditions and that he can really "blow" (in a good way). Paula says, "It was really cool, really cool, good job." Simon says the beginning was great and then ragged in the middle and fell apart at the end, but that "it was better than he thought it was going to be," though he didn't hear anything "distinct" in his voice.
Chikezie of Inglewood, Calif., comes out next. He's apparently dropped his last name since Hollywood. He made it to Hollywood last season, but not to the finals, and feels like he stepped it up. He hits the stage in this pumpkin-colored suit and sings "More Today Than Yesterday." He starts out pretty shaky and weak, like it's too low for him, but he gets better when it gets higher. Randy says that since he's an old-fashioned singer, he needs to make songs his own, especially during theme weeks like this one. He deems it "a'ight." Paula says he's come a long way and says he's "a great throwback to R&B." Simon: "Here's my problem, Jacuzzi, Chikezie. ... The suit is hideous." Chekezie calls him out for only wearing black, gray and white. Simon goes on, "The wink was hideous, the woo was hideous. ... It was all old-fashioned, corny, cheesy, and to be honest with you, this could have been something we filmed 30 years ago, 40 years ago." Chikezie says he was trying to take a '60s song of one genre and take it into another genre. I don't think back-talking the judges, even Simon, is going to build much goodwill among the audience. But I could be wrong.
Rocker David Cook is the next performer. But first, in the red room, Ryan introduces Colton Berry, who wants everyone to know that from certain angles, he looks like Ellen DeGeneres. Well, okie dokie. Back to David, who is a bartender and musician from Blue Springs, Mo. His song of the night is "Happy Together." He gets better and stronger when the song speeds up and gets rockier. Randy: "It started and it was a little weird for me, but you worked it out and made a rock joint out of 'Happy Together'!" Paula says he "rocked it and made something original" (unlike her sentiments, which are basically exactly what Randy said). Simon says he thought it was good, but that he shouted some in the middle, and that he "almost made it believable."
Jason Yeager from Grand Prairie, Texas, auditioned in Dallas in front of his young son, who thought it was the coolest thing ever. For his performance, he sits atop a stool and sings "Moon River." He stands up and really launches into it, but it's still kind of cheesy, which isn't that helpful for him since this is the first screentime he's gotten all season. Randy says he did a pretty good job with the song, even though it's hard to sing because of its simplicity. He suggests he never lose his concentration while singing a song like that. Paula agrees and says the song means a lot to her since she did her first ballet recital to it. Jason says he dedicates it to his grandmother who taught it to him. Simon says it was very "cruise-ship, the whole performance. And I think there are going to be a lot of young people at home watching that performance with a big question mark over their heads." He says it was very middle-of-the-road and then compares him to a "dependable old dog." Jason says he knew he was taking a risk of being too old-fashioned and he gave it his best shot.
After the break, it's time for Robbie Carrico. He's from Melbourne, Fla., and says he was in a boy-girl band a few years back (Boyz N Girlz United) that toured with Britney Spears in 2000, but he really wanted to do rock. He sings "One" by Three Dog Night, and he's at home on stage as he gives a straight-forward performance. Randy: "Nice one, Robbie." He says it's one of his favorite songs and that he did a nice version of it. Paula says he's authentic and stays true to himself and his vocals weren't over the top. Simon: "I would say it's the only performance we've seen tonight that has any semblance of making sense. It's the only current performance. ... I'm struggling a little bit with what Paula said about authenticity." Robbie says, "No, I am definitely not a pop singer. I can sing anything, but I really like rock."
David Archuleta, who is from Murray, Utah, says it was fun when he auditioned in San Diego and Randy sang along with him. He sings "Shop Around," and he closes with a big ole note that gets the crowd excited. Randy says he's a big fan, and "that was really brilliant." He says David sang it very maturely for his age (17). Paula says it was a brave and bold choice and that he comes out on stage as an "unbelievably confident older soul." Simon: "When you've got it, you've got it, and that was, by a comfortable mile, the best performance of the night so far." David had it together during his performance, but then he's totally shocked and shaken afterward by their praise. He can't stop nervously laughing.
Danny Noriega from Azusa, Calif., says he wasn't being himself last season when he tried out. He says that won't be the case this time. He swaggers down the stairs and sings "Jailhouse Rock." Randy says he knows how to have a good time no matter what's going on. He says it was pretty good, but the vocals were only "OK," but he loved the performance, which was "kinda hot." Paula says it was "kinda warm, almost scalding." She says this was a safer song that let him really perform. Simon says the "performance was verging on grotesque. If you're going to take on Elvis, at least do it well. ... It was awful." (There's also a lot of back and forth with Paula about something she said about him having lots of colors of Danny.) Randy says it was good because he wasn't trying to be Elvis. Danny tells Ryan maybe his song choice went wrong, that he picked it because he thought it would be fun, but "some people" (with a hilarious look at Simon, who cracks up) didn't think so.
Luke Menard, who we haven't seen much before, is from Crawfordville, Ind. He auditioned in season six, and it didn't work out at all, so he worked really hard to improve. He sings "Everybody's Talkin'," and it starts out as nondescript as his hoodie and doesn't get much more interesting after that. Randy says it was pitchy the whole song, and acknowledges that he and Paula say that a lot, but that it seemed like it was sharp the entire way through. Paula agrees that it wasn't the best song choice for him, and that she's grateful to have heard his other, better auditions. (Too bad for the rest of us.) Simon says that whether it was pitchy or not, "it was forgettable." Luke tells Ryan that people will remember it because he was comfortable and content on stage. We'll see.
Colton Berry, of Staunton, Va., is the guy who was the last one to find out he was through. He says this is his "biggest dream and all I've ever wanted." He sings "Suspicious Minds" wearing some remarkably royal blue pants and jumps at the end. Randy says he did a pretty good job on the song after he started finding his way with it. Paula says it was nice to see a different side of him instead of all the ballads (none of which we have seen). Simon says it was "OK and not as bad as the other Elvis song." He says he didn't get anything from the performance, that it didn't show any relevance to becoming a recording artist. "It was a complete waste of time." He says he wishes people would spend more time on their voices than their hair, to which Ryan replies: "It's called hopeless, that box cut you've got." A surprisingly good-natured Simon cracks up, yet again. What is going on?
Garrett Haley talks with Ryan about how he has liked the show since he was 9 or 10 (OMG, I am 754 years old) and that he, too, looks like Ellen DeGeneres. Not really. Ryan says more like Leif Garrett. He's from Elida, Ohio, and had a great time during auditions. He sings "Breaking Up is Hard to Do," and I really wish one of the stylists had told him to shave his upper lip before he went on HDTV. His performance is OK, kind of boring. Randy says: "You didn't do anything with it. Don't be afraid to make a song your own. ... It was just kind of boring." Word, Randy. Paula says when you have a song like this, it's all right to talk to the bandleader about readjusting the song. Simon says it was boring, he sounded whiny and he looked terrified. "You look like you've been shut up in your bedroom for a month," he adds. Paula drops her head on the table because she can't believe it.
Jason Castro is from Rockwall, Texas, and auditioned in Dallas. He says his whole life, he's kind of stayed in the back, "so tonight is the biggest performance of my life." He takes up the producers on their offer to let the contestants play instruments. He plays guitar as he sings "Daydream," and mixes it up a little. He also shows more personality than he did in his interview segments, in which he was pretty reserved. Randy says he liked the guitar vibe and that he tried to do some interesting things vocally and that it was sharp at times, but OK. Paula says he was joyful and exemplified "less is more." Simon says it "was in the top two performances of the night. You, like David, have got it. ... You made it sound current and made my point, it doesn't matter how old the song is." Jason tells Ryan it's scary up there, and he seems to be in shock.
Michael Johns (you know, the Australian rocker who blew them away with "Bohemian Rhapsody" on Hollywood Week) is the closing singer. He sings the Doors' "Light My Fire" to a backdrop of digital flames, natch. He has fun on stage, but in the middle part goes a little flat. But he has a strong finish, which is always helpful. Randy: "What a way to end a great night. You throw caution to the wind. ... You're like a Michael Hutchence, it was great!" Paula agrees and says he's a great part of the show. Simon says he's the most consistent of their contestants, though he didn't like it as much as "Rhapsody." "You've got it," he adds, which is the line of the night. I guess no one else thought he had a few little pitch problems, though I still thought it was pretty great.
So who are you rooting for? Who do you think is in danger? I think Luke Menard, who I had already forgotten about until they reviewed the performances with the phone numbers, Garrett Haley and Jason Yeager are in danger (and I think they were not helped by having no back story whatsoever).
(Photo of the AI Top 24 by Timothy White / Fox)