Kicking the show off was Toddrick Hall, who had done an original song for his audition. He decided to continue the creativity by doing a funked-up version of Kelly Clarkson's "Since You've Been Gone," wearing a black-and-white leather jacket, black jeans, a gray T-shirt, and a couple necklaces, including a whistle on a chain and a cross. He had a lot of energy and confidence but engaged in excessive pointing. The performance was lots of fun, but the song was almost unrecognizable. If you just listen to it, you'll notice how weak the performance really was. [VIDEO OF TODDRICK]
Ellen DeGeneres called him "such a great performer" but said the "chorus was a little rough." Randy Jackson proclaimed himself "a fan of yours" but warned him against taking such liberties with an arrangement, saying you "don't want to take a song and completely obliterate it." Kara DioGuardi told him he's a "strong enough singer that you don't have to change the arrangement that much. But it's undeniable that you are a performer and you took a risk." Simon Cowell, as usual, summed it up, telling Toddrick he "came over as a dancer trying to sing, not a singer who can also dance." He continued, "What you did was completely murder the original song," a tactic Simon called "verging on stupid."
Sixteen-year-old Aaron Kelly was up next, wearing a blue-and-white checked flannel shirt and jeans as he performed the Rascal Flats song, "Here Comes Goodbye." Throughout, he was closing his eyes a lot, and he toned down the country nature of the song. Overall, it was somewhat bland but showed he can sing. [VIDEO OF AARON]
Simon said, "Bearing in mind it's your first live show, it was quite a good performance." He observed, though, that it looked "as if you're embarrassed to be there." He urged Aaron "to take control of the song." Kara said he was her favorite kind of contestant, because he has "no idea how much raw natural talent" he has. She said she liked "the pop country lane for you." Randy said he's got a huge voice, even though there were "a couple pitchy moments." He advised Aaron to "believe in yourself; you can definitely do it." Ellen predicted, "I think you're going to be here a long time, and you're going to do very well. You're just going to get better and better and better."
By far my least favorite of the Top 12 guys, church singer Jermaine Sellers, went next. In his video, he talked about how he'd thrown the band under the bus during his last performance at Hollywood week, blaming them for his weak ending. "I looked like Boo-boo the Fool." Now, he promised that if he messed up, "I'm not going to throw anyone under the bus." That's OK. I don't expect him to be around long enough for it to become an issue. He did a lackluster version of "Get Here," clad in a black river boat shirt, gray blazer with tails and a black rose pin, a black fedora, and brown pants. One of the first things I noticed was his tendency to take audible breaths into the mike. The opening was weak, and it just got worse from there. His high note was really pinched and very flat. I still don't know why this guy made it! [VIDEO OF JERMAINE]
Ellen called herself a "huge fan of yours." She loved his look and loved that song but noted he'd been "pushing a little too much" and that "there were times when you went off." Randy also loved the song but called it a weird choice. He sees Jermaine more as a Maxwell or a Neo. He also said Jermaine was "trying to do too much vocally." Kara guessed that Jermaine chose the song because he wanted to show everybody what he could do, from "the bottom of your range to the top." She told him that when he does runs, he needs to make them meaningful. Also, "You're young and it felt a little old to me." Simon also criticized the song choice: "It's the kind of song, if you're playing piano in a cocktail bar, someone in their '50s is going to ask for a request." In the middle, he said it "sounded like you were screaming." He concluded, "I think you've totally blown your opportunity with that."
At the end, host Ryan Seacrest asked Jermaine if he'd made up with band member Michael, and at first Jermaine didn't know who he was talking about. Then Ryan brought the band member up on stage for an awkward hug.
When it was time for Tim Urban, 20, we finally got to see the video of him getting cut from the final 24 and then receiving a call from the producer, asking him if he wanted to come back (this because of the Chris Golightly contract dispute that rendered him inelligible). He had kept the news from his parents so that they would be as surprised as the rest of America when he made it through. For his live debut, he chose "Apologize" by One Republic, wearing a black polo shirt, dove gray leather jacket with a banded collar, jeans, and tennis shoes. He straight up engaged in one of my pet peeves: popping his "p's". (Don't they teach them mike technique?) The chorus was too high for him, and the song overall was weak. Plus, the boy needs a haircut. [VIDEO OF TIME]
Simon congratulated him for coming back, then went on, "Having said that, we absolutely made the right decision the first time around by not putting you through, based on that performance." He said it was weak and he just didn't "think your voice is good enough." He predicted he might get through "just because people feel sorry for you." Kara agreed: "The music overpowers you; it kind of swallowed you up." Still, she told him, "You're likeable, you're cute and you're current." Randy felt it was the wrong song, because Tim doesn't do well with falsetto. "None of it worked." Ellen felt that he'd picked the song because it's popular and, while it was "smart to choose a song people like and know," he couldn't hit those high notes. But she said, "You're adorable" and might get a lot of votes based on that. For the future, she advised him to choose the right songs and step it up.
Joe Munoz, 20, has been shafted so far by the producers, who have shown barely a hint of him during the audition episodes. They did show a few clips of him in his video package, including him failing to play the guitar and a couple seconds of him singing "Man in the Mirror." For his performance, he went with "You and I" by Jason Mraz, wearing a black satin shirt, a scarf, and black pants. He started out sitting on a stool, getting off it when the chorus kicked in. Maybe sitting is the key to his singing, because the intro was stronger than the chorus, which lacked energy despite him smiling relentlessly. He did make up for it somewhat with a stronger ending. [VIDEO OF JOE]
Ellen felt he had "great stage presence" and "sounded really good." Randy said it was "not quite the perfect song choice" but that Joe has a "great voice." Kara liked that he'd picked "a song I never would have thought you would sing." Still, when he got to the chorus, she said he'd "had a few issues." Even so, she felt he was "the best so far," though she wasn't saying it's great, just the most consistent. Simon reminded everyone that this show can produce people who can sell records all over the world, but "based on that performance," he didn't "believe you're that type of artist." He described the performance as safe, summing up that it was "all a bit limp, a bit forgettable, rather like our host." Ryan, to his credit, for once didn't take the bait. Again, I suspect someone is riding herd on them this year, making sure they don't waste too much air time and prevent all the singers from getting their allotted time.
Seventies throwback Tyler Grady went with "American Woman" by the Guess Who. He wore a purple tie-dyed button down, along with a matching purple silk scarf. The opening, which was acoustic, was just forgettable. Then, for the chorus, he started walking with the mike stand and singing. At this point, he got a little shouty, not really singing the rest of the song as much as howling it. As my husband said, very karaoke. [VIDEO OF TYLER]
Simon said that, on the plus side, "people are going to remember that." On the down side, "partly for the wrong reasons." He said Tyler reminded him of someone who's gone to "Pretend to be a Rock Star School." He reminded him that it's a singing competition and he needs to spend time working on his vocals. Kara referred to Tyler's "obsession with the '70s," saying he needs to add something original. She suggested he do a song like the Phoenix tune "1901." Randy said it was definitely a matter of "style over substance." Ellen got inside Tyler's head a little bit, saying that his idols, like Jim Morrison, have so much stage presence and charisma. "You've got the poses but you're lacking the excitement." She urged him to work on the singing and get into the performance. [Phoenix's "1901"]
Lee Dewyze, 23, who also did not get much exposure during the audition shows, changed up the Snow Patrol song "Chasing Cars." He performed with his guitar, looking very '90s grunge in a black message T-shirt over a long-sleeved olive shirt and jeans ripped out in the knee. He had a weak opening and went flat on the chorus, which made me type "Ouch." Maybe it's just because I happen to like Snow Patrol that I wasn't loving it; he can't capture lead vocalist Gary Lightbody's lilting vocals. By contrast, his version is just too rough. I think there's some potential there, but this was the wrong song to showcase it. [VIDEO OF LEE, Snow Patrol's version of "Chasing Cars"]
Ellen thought it was a really good song choice, "except when you started screaming it a bit too much." She liked his tone and felt he had a distinctive sound. She added that she hoped people vote for him, "because I think you should stay here." Randy didn't like the song, since it was a pop rock song and "You're more of a rocker." Kara said that "this song has a really small range" and that his efforts to change it up "almost made the song unrecognizable." She advised him to choose a song like Bad Company, a "soul, blues rock" song. Simon completely disagreed with Randy and Kara, saying, "This was the best performance." He added that "this guy is a naturally good singer" and that he'd "fought for you to be here."
John Park, who had been one of my favorites from the audition weeks, tried to commit Idol suicide by performing a jazz standard, "God Bless the Child." Wow. Jazz AND religion in one song? Have you ever watched the show? He looked good in a violet T-shirt with a black blazer and black pants. In addition to the questionable song choice, the song was too low for his range, and he relied a little too much on vibrato. That's good for choral singing but not for pop vocals. On the bridge he opened up a little more and seemed more comfortable. Still, I fear for him. [VIDEO OF JOHN]
Simon said, "You have got to have an incredible voice to take on that song, and you haven't." He felt the performance came over as very flat, with zero emotion and was "kind of a pointless performance." Kara agreed: "You have a really big voice, but there wasn't a connection." She said it got "a little lounge-y at times, a little sleepy, and almost indulgent." She concluded, "But you can sing." Randy said, "When you hit the bridge and started doing your runs, then the John I loved Hollywood week came back into my mind." He questioned the song choice, which "made you feel old and all out of sorts." Ellen also didn't know why he chose that song, since it's "not going to get a lot of young girls to pick up the phone and vote for you." She liked the performance, though, and said, "I want you to be in this competition."
Ryan asked him why he chose the song, and John replied that "it means something to me because of my parents." Maybe next time he should choose a song that reminds him of a younger relative.
Before his performance, "Big Mike" Lynche's video package reminded us of his wife giving birth while he was auditioning in Hollywood. He performed "This Love" by Maroon 5, with a guitar strapped on, although he didn't play it very much except to strum occasionally. He wore a gray and white plaid shirt. I liked his soul version of it, but he should ditch the guitar and focus on the singing. I also liked his energy. [VIDEO OF MIKE]
Ellen said, "You have so much personality it is just bursting out of you." She thought it was a great song choice and downplayed his "few pitch problems." Randy liked him but complained that when he'd picked the judges up after making the Top 24, he hurt him and Ellen. Randy even had to go to the chiropractor. Mike just shrugged this off, like he did any of the negative criticism (a habit that could cost him over time). Kara said it "was a little depressing in here until he got up there and did his thing." She did note, though, that "If we'd had a lot of great performances, we would have been more critical of this performance." She advised him to "challenge yourself more." Simon said, "What they're really saying in a roundabout way is that you were like the support act before the main act." He said he's a big guy with a big heart, "but delivered so little." He called it "a vague, jazzy version" and remarked that he's "heard performances like that 10, 20,000 times."
Alex Lambert, who had been part of the troubled group including Mary Powers during Hollywood Week. He did "Wonderful World" by James Morrison, wearing faded jeans, gray hightops, a gray blazer, and a dark blue button down. The intro was really off, although he got a little more comfortable on the chorus. He also made the amateurish move of pointing up when he sang the words "the sky." If he'd stayed on pitch, it would have been better; his voice is interesting. Maybe it was just a combination of the song choice and moving around too much. [VIDEO OF ALEX]
Simon said, "I don't know who was happier for that to end: you or me." He called it the "most uncomfortable performance of the night." He told him, "You've got a good voice, but if you can't get your nerves together, this is never going to work for you. If it's uncomfortable for you, it's uncomfortable for people watching." Kara wanted to give him a hug. She said he sounds a lot like James Morrison. She added, "It's all there; it's just not completely together." She felt he has great potential and is adorable. Randy praised his "great tone" but urged him to "try to pull it all together." Ellen liked that "you're holding onto the mullet." She thought he was adorable and has a great voice. Then she pulled out a great metaphor: "I love bananas, and sometimes a banana is just not quite ripe. And you're like, 'Oh, I wish that banana was riper. I want to eat it right now'." She said, "You need that confidence... You need to ripen."
In the video package for Casey James, they played up the fact that people have been saying Kara has a thing for him. He did an acoustic version of "Heaven" by Bryan Adams, sitting on a stool and playing guitar, wearing a white button-down shirt with black patterns, and jeans. His long hair was down around his shoulders. The song opened with just him and his guitar, and then the band came in on the chorus. A cutaway showed Kara dancing at the judges' table. I love this song, and his version of it stands up. One of the best performances of the night. One minor note: he needs to watch the way he tightens his lips when he does chord changes. [VIDEO OF CASEY]
Randy suggested that Kara start. Kara, referring to the fact that she and Victoria Beckham had urged him to take his shirt off during his audition, said, "Casey, I don't recognize you with your shirt on." She felt he got "a little pitchy" during the chorus, and she tossed it to Ellen, who said she'd been distracted because she "could feel Kara undressing you with her eyes." She told him, "You sounded great" and apologized for all the silliness at the judges' table during his performance. Randy joked, "I know we're both models." He really likes him and felt it was a great song choice. "I like the whole swagger you got. I like you, too." Then he quickly added, "Not in that way." Kara added, "Seriously, you are eye candy, but you're also ear candy. You can play and you can sing; you've got a heart and soul." Simon joined in the fun: "One thing I do understand; we both were cursed with good looks. Somehow, you have to manage the talent thing, as well." He felt he'd chosen the right song and "came over as very honest, very sincere." What's more, he thought it was his best performance since he's been in the competition.
Ryan joked, that, looking ahead, tomorrow were the results, and "Friday is Kara's HR meeting. It will be a two-hour live event." Good one, Ryan!
In the pimp spot was Andrew Garcia, who performed an acoustic version of "Sugar We're Going Down" by Fallout Boy, wearing a black button-down over a white T-shirt and jeans. He accompanied himself on guitar. It was kind of an interesting song. I really liked the chorus. His performance was easy and smooth. He reminds me of someone, but I can't put my finger on it. Maybe Dave Matthews? I think there's something similar about the way he delivers a line: using his voice as an instrument, almost like a trumpet. [VIDEO OF ANDREW, "Crash" by Dave Matthews]
Simon said he'd been "looking forward to hearing you more than anybody else, but I was disappointed with that." He found the performance "too serious, too indulgent and not original enough" and "unfortunately, a bit forgettable." Kara thought it was "a really strange rendition of that song," which she felt was "not meant to be played acoustically." Nevertheless, she really likes him and hopes "we see you again for many, many, many weeks." Randy agreed the arrangement was strange. "I'm a fan of you. Go back to being you." Ellen said that he won himself a lot of fans during Hollywood week with his acoustic version of the Paula Abdul song, "Straight Up," "and I'm one of the fans." She observed that he'd opened up when he'd turned and looked at his "girlfriend or wife" in the audience and that he needs to bring that sort of openness onto the stage.
For their first live performance, kudos to Casey James and Andrew Garcia, with a nod to Mike Lynche.
Of the rest, the ones in the most danger are Jermaine Sellers, Tim Urban, and much as it pains me to admit it, John Park. Joe Munoz could also find himself in danger, especially because his performance was sort of forgettable (the kiss of death, since voters tend to vote more heavily for those they really like and for those who messed up but seem to deserve another chance).
ETA: If the above performance videos are unavailable, try checking the official American Idol site. Go to the "Videos" tab and pull it down to "Performances.
Dance moves and stage presence is not nearly as important as focusing on the vocals.