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American Idol Recap: Never Rework a Hit Song, No Matter What the Judges Tell You

The top twelve male finalists took the stage on last night’s American Idol, attempting to disprove the judges’ decree that the ladies shall inherit this season. Overall, the menfolk turned in fair performances, but in true Idol fashion, those savvy hopefuls who actually listened the night before to what the judges had claimed they wanted to hear were roundly chided for their attempts at individuality. Even though the judging panel repeated their “make a familiar song your own” mantra on Tuesday, they seemed flabbergasted and annoyed when Todrick Hall and Andrew Garcia actually did so, offering quirky, unexpected recastings of popular songs. Big mistake, guys: You actually think Randy and Kara remember what they said the night before? And incidentally, when Simon exhorts you to find your voice, he means your ready-to-shrink-wrap-and-sell-at–Best Buy voice.

Todrick opened the show with a fascinating version of “Since U Been Gone,” turning the fist-pumping anthem into a slow moving synth-funk jam. It was an arresting rearrangement of a familiar tune, and it complemented his vocal strengths perfectly; he doesn’t have a huge range, so he did well to choose a funky number that emphasizes style over ability.

And in spite of this and everything he harped on 24 hours earlier, Randy scolded Todrick for altering the song, informing him that the Kelly Clarkson tune “was a hit because it already sounded good.” Simon — who probably would have warned Elvis against mixing country with R&B if he had been at Sun Records in the fifties — went even further, calling the listenable arrangement “crazy” and “stupid.” “Where did you hear that version of the song?” Simon testily asked him. “In my head,” Todrick replied with fortitude under fire. Uh-oh … you don't want to be bringing up individualistic expression around the man who thinks Leona Lewis is the future of music.

Andrew Garcia, the vaguely outta Compton daddy who provided us with that fabulous acoustic version of Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up” during Hollywood week, offered a slow, strummy version of Fall Out Boy’s “Sugar, We’re Goin Down.” While it wasn’t the wisest choice — it lacked energy and emphasized the slight whine in his voice when he goes high — it was hardly as disappointing as the judges declared it to be. You could tell Andrew poured himself into the performance, and that authenticity, coupled with the lingering brilliance of his “Straight Up” cover, should be enough to get him through to the next week. Nevertheless, the judges made sure he didn’t get away without a warning to not be so … weird … the next time around.

Other notables:

• Though he at times looked like he was about to flee the stage in tears, Alex Lambert impressed and shocked America by not completely choking. Plus, Ellen is right: You have to respect him for refusing to give up on his mullet despite all common sense.

• Tim Urban only made the top 24 because another dude was disqualified. He kindly demonstrated why the judges cut him in the first place.

• Michael Lynche, whose wife gave birth during Hollywood week, sang Maroon 5’s “This Love.” He comes across more equipped to sing the backup hook on a hit single than to actually have one credited solely to his name.

• Tyler Grady got dressed down for dressing up like a seventies rock star. In a shocking display of being “in touch,” Kara suggested he try singing something more current, like Phoenix’s “1901.” Okay, fine, even your mom might label Phoenix passé at this point, but considering Simon told NME last December that he hadn’t even listened to the latest Animal Collective release, any indication the judges are aware of a greater musical universe is welcome.

Of course, Kara might have just been name-dropping an “in” band to impress her onetime shirtless beau Casey James. In spite of the fact that he performed a Bryan Adams song, he actually gave the most satisfying and cohesive performance of the night. But when it came time to evaluate his performance, Randy, Simon, Ellen, and Kara fell over themselves trying to mine the moment for comedy by making “Kara and Casey sitting in a tree” jokes. You can see the stilted, forced hilarity below.

And tonight, tune in (or, more sensibly, just check online) to see which four contestants get the ax this week. Fingers crossed Haeley makes it through.

Other Recaps:
Television Without Pity's Jacob noticed that "'pushed' is quickly becoming [Ellen's] 'pitchy.'"
The A.V. Club's Leonard Pierce found his "person I hate for no immediately explicable reason" in Lee DeWyze. "He's a sort of overly self-impressed MOR douchebag."
Entertainment Weekly's Michael Slezak advised Archuleta 2.0 contestant Aaron Kelly to "obliterate his rock-back-and-forth stance that resembles a four-year-old in need of a potty."

Photo: Michael Becker/FOX