Steven Tyler with his American Idol sign
At the top of the show, host Ryan Seacrest interviewed each of the judges in turn, and Steven Tyler revealed he'd been given a sign to use to cover his mouth in case he should swear. Thanks to a seven-second delay, the word could be beeped from the telecast. This, of course, was a way of having fun with the fact that Steven's language was often colorful during the audition process. This first round of performances, however, was not live but recorded ahead of time.
For this first round, the contestants could choose any song, which led to a range of contemporary songs and pop classics.
First to take the stage was Clint Jun Gamboa, a karaoke king, who sang a fairly mild version of the Stevie Wonder song "Superstitious." He was back to wearing his round glasses and was also clad in black pants, a black jacket with leather lapels, and red shoes. He danced around while singing, with lots of sustained notes, but it was not as good as some of his audition pieces. Steven Tyler liked it, saying, "You started out strong; you ended strong." Jennifer Lopez could tell he had the jitters, "but it didn't affect your performance." Randy Jackson loved it, adding, "There's no karaoke singer in the world that's got that kind of vocal talent." [Clint's performance]
After his performance, Ryan announced the voting options, which for the first time included the ability to vote on AmericanIdol.com
Next up was ship-builder Jovany Barreto, who delivered a tepid ballad, "I'll Be" by Edward McCain, wearing a forgettable outfit of gray dress pants and vest with a white button-down shirt. Most of the performance was kind of tuneless, but after the key change, it sounded much better. I think that might be his true range. If so, he should have sung more of the song in that range. Steven exclaimed, "Holy shipyards. You brought it again. That was beautiful." J. Lo declared, "I'm happy right now, because people got to see you for the first time... You did it." Randy dissented: "I hate to be the one to break up the apple cart a little bit, but... I didn't really get it." He said it felt very karaoke, that he has to bring something more to the song. [Jovany's performance]
Jordan Dorsey went with a hip-hop song, "OMG" by Usher, wearing black pants, a purple T-shirt, and a jacket, which he removed when the song got rolling. He seemed to be trying to be a modern pop singer, concentrating more on dancing around than on the vocals. The audience loved it, but he was a little pitchy on his sustained notes. Steven told him, "You had the moves, but it wasn't my favorite performance." J. Lo wasn't sure that was who he really is as an artist: "For me you're Nat King Cole... I don't want you to be anyone else but you." Randy advised him that "if you're going to sing anybody else's song, bring something else to it." [Jordan's performance]
Wearing a gray shirt with ruffles, black jacket, and dark jeans, Tim Halperin sang "Streetcorner Symphony (Come on Over)" by Rob Thomas. Breezy and innocuous, it sounded very much like a '70s radio song. The melody was a little difficult for him, I think. He sounded sort of wobbly. I also thought his vocals were mixed a little low. Definitely not his best, based on what we've seen of him in the audition process. Steven said he wasn't sure "that song did you any justice. I've heard you sing so much better." J. Lo agreed: "I just don't think that's your strength." She asserted that Tim has "one of the most beautiful voices I've ever heard." Randy agreed: "You've done much better before." [Tim's performance]
One of the youngest contestants, Brett Loewenstern, sang the Doors song "Light My Fire," wearing a teal T-shirt with a vest and jeans, and lots of necklaces and bracelets. He started out kind of breathy and seemed unsure what to do on stage, shaking his hair around. If you closed your eyes, he sounded like a female soul singer. I like the unique quality of his voice. Steven praised him: "You did it again. You brought it home. You were on fire." J. Lo joked the performance had "more hair tossing than me and Beyonce put together in the last 10 years." However, "I like that you are who you are." Randy felt the vocals had some pitch problems in the beginning but he got it together near the end. "You're definitely fun and bold." [Brett's performance]
James Durbin was in full rocker mode, belting out the Judas Priest song "You Got Another Thing Comin'" in a gray T-shirt, jeans, a purple three-quarter-length button down with yellow and black cuffs, and a rag/tail hanging off the back of his jeans. The sound guys helped him out with lots of echo, but when he went for a big note, he sounded like a veteran rocker. He even did a big jump at the end. Steven covered his mouth to exclaim, "That was (bleeping) crazy good." He added, "I love it that you're over the top." J. Lo enthused, "I love the way you perform. Everything comes from something inside." Randy raved, "This is how you do it." He asked him about the significance with the tail, and James told him you've got to have something that makes you stand out, other than the voice. [James's performance]
Teen singer Robbie Rosen wore a simple white T-shirt, black jacket, and black pants as he sang a ballad, "Arms of an Angel" by Sarah McLachlan. The song wasn't the best choice for him, and his vocal acrobatics were wild and frequently off key. Steven liked it. J. Lo told him, "When you sing songs, you have to tell a story, and you do. You feel every single word." She called him a "very, very special singer." Randy dissented again. "You've been one of my favorites [but I] don't think it all quite worked." He noted some pitch problems and said he'd "never quite settled in." [Robbie's performance]
No surprise: Scotty McCreery picked a country ballad, "Letters from Home" by John Michael Montgomery. He wore a black checked shirt, jeans, and a black leather jacket and crooned deeply while sitting on a stool. With that voice, he could find himself a career in country pretty easily. Steven predicted, "You'll be getting a lot of letters from home... I don't think you could have picked a better song. That was so beautiful." J. Lo reminded him that he'd been uncertain why they kept him. "That's why. You're born to sing country music." Randy called him "a throwback country guy. You love country." Randy loves his low voice. [Scotty's performance]
Wearing a red V-neck T-shirt and a back jacket, Stefano Langone sang the Bruno Mars song "Just the Way You Are." He started out really strong but had some trouble with the high note later. He didn't let it throw him off but kept pushing through to the end. Steven loved "the way your voice cut through the air in this room." J. Lo praised him for being consistent. "There's nothing awkward about you." Randy noted he'd had trouble with a couple of notes but "it doesn't matter. You had us rocking." He thought "This could be on the radio right now." Afterward, Ryan asked him who he'd been singing to? "All the ladies out there," Stefano said, slickly. [Stefano's performance]
Paul McDonald confirmed my previous assertion that he sounds like Rod Stewart by selecting the Rod Stewart classic "Maggie Mae." Truly, he sounded just like him, which might be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your view of Rod Stewart. He opted against a quirky look this time, going with a black shirt and black pants. I'm not sure who advised him to go this route, but both the song choice and the drab clothes, combined with a lack of previous airtime in the audition shows, might spell trouble for him. Steven liked his jacket, and "that voice ain't bad either." He liked the character in his voice. J. Lo liked his uniqueness and his smile that "lights up the whole place." She thought he has the capability to bring joy to the world. Randy felt he was different from anything they'd had on the show and liked that idea of embracing a different type of singer. [Paul's performance]
In previous performances, Jacob Lusk had been prone to oversinging. This time, wearing a dark suit with a pink checked tie and a pocket square, Jacob delivered a controlled version of the Luther Vandross song "A House is Not a Home." I loved the way he dipped down for his notes and, even though it was a precise performance, he imbued it with a lot of emotion, soaring at the end. Steven suggested that it was "divine intervention that brought you here... I am honored to be in your presence." J. Lo says that Luther Vandross is her favorite singer from all time and "This is what's so exciting, because he's gone, but now we have you." Randy said, "I think Luther would be so proud of you." [Jacob's performance]
The final contestant of the evening was film camp counselor Casey Abrams, who did the Screaming Jay Hawkins song "I Put a Spell on You," wearing a dark suit, a white T-shirt, and a gray button-down. He interacted a lot with the audience but not so much with the camera and was howling, a reflection of the angry vocals. Some might find that mere histrionics, but I loved it, especially the way he ended sweetly on the last words, "You're mine." The audience gave him a standing ovation. Steven said, "You are in your mind good and out of your mind unreal." He had the girls in the audience cheer for Casey and then praised him melodic sensibility. "That was as good as it gets." J. Lo told him, "You're sexy, Casey." She added, "You came out with the hunger and fire and took it, ate it all up." Randy loved "how you transformed yourself into the spirit of that song." He wanted "more, more, more." [Casey's performance]
Kudos to Jacob, Casey, and James, with a nod to Brett and Paul. I predict the five going through on viewer votes will be Casey, Jacob and James, with some combination of Brett, Scotty, Paul or Tim completing the Top 5 guys.
For their wild-card selection, the judges are likely to select any of the above names who failed to make the top five, or possibly Clint or Stefano, since the judges seem to love them. The outlook is darkest for Jovany and Jordan, who failed to impress the judges.
Tonight, the girls take the stage, and Thursday we learn who's going to make it to the finals.
Regardless of what we saw during the auditions, it's time for contestants to prove themselves.