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American Idol Recap: Men of a Certain Range

Last night’s American Idol delivered an actual surprise at the outset of the show: Girls’ night was postponed until tomorrow because Crystal Bowersox (the dreadlocked mommy who forthrightly admitted that she was only in Idol to make money for her son) had been hospitalized and was under doctor’s orders not to perform that day. It’s rumored the sudden trip had to do with her diabetes, but Seacrest was mum on the subject. (Mysterious insiders tell the L.A. Times that she’ll be back for tomorrow.) In the women's stead, the menfolk sang a day early, hoping to demonstrate that they could improve on their unmemorable performances from last week just as much in six days as they could have in seven.

The night kicked off with Michael Lynche attempting to disprove Simon’s prior assertion that he was nothing more than opening-act material by tackling James Brown’s R&B vocal workout “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.” Lynche certainly fulfilled his promise, demonstrating depth, charisma, and stage presence that were only hinted at before. Couple that with the fact that America saw him become a first-time father during Hollywood week, and he is probably the male to beat this season. Check out Big Mike tearing it apart below.

It was odd, however, that only Ellen ribbed him about the song’s outdated gender role fetishization while the rest of the judges gave him a pass ... yet they went on to decry Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It” as an outdated, irrelevant song choice when Todrick sang (an awful version of) it later. They must have a handbook of “in” and “out” pop songs written by Pat Robertson.

Former front-runner Andrew Garcia continued his slow descent into mediocrity last night. He ignored the judges’ advice from last week, and ditched his guitar to drone a snoozy James Morrison song. Kara correctly informed him that we liked him as a rhythmic singer and he better dazzle us again soon or that lingering goodwill is going to fade away.

Casey James, on the other hand, jumped out of his acoustic mold, plugged in his gee-tar, and shredded the hell out of a Gavin DeGraw song (well, as much as one can shred the hell out of a Gavin DeGraw song). His singing was admittedly worse than last week, but the addition of those crunchy licks to a typically rock-free zone should put him through to next week. Randy, once a bassist for latter-day Journey, fell all over himself giving props to Casey, but Kara took an oddly negative stance toward her former shirtless beau. Her speech about how he “just took two steps backward” sounded far too well worded for her, and the whole thing came across as pre-scripted. Perhaps this was a clumsily coded apology to a husband who was jealous after all.

Jermaine Sellers continued to explore what it means to be a church boy and a prima donna at the same time, ejecting a cheese-tastic take on “What’s Going On” that was ready to be sent out to America's fast-food restaurants to use as background music immediately. When Simon expressed doubt that we’ll see him next week, Jermaine’s eyes bugged out and he testily (and repeatedly) assured us that “I know God!” It must have been hard for Jermaine to later learn that Tim Urban and God were also in talks to win this thing. (God, of course, is the guy in the sky who makes repeated calls to Idol from different phones in order to vote for the contestant who name-drops Him the most to win.) Before leaving the stage, Sellers indulged in some theatrical posing that Danny Kaye would have told him to tone down.

Lee DeWyze gave another radio-ready but art-free performance this week with Hinder’s “Lips of an Angel.” The best part of his song was when he pulled up his slouching jeans while lumbering around the stage; in all seriousness, it was a much-needed touch of humanity to contrast with his MOR singing and stage presence.

Those bracing themselves to endure another wildly off-key tune from Tim Urban were surprisingly spared. Before taking the stage, Tim acknowledged his deplorable performance last week with a rarely seen straightforwardness. He didn’t make excuses or boast about how he could still lick the competition: He simply said he was going to strap back on his guitar and return to his comfort zone. Last week it was hard to believe that he was in the top 24, but his bright-eyed charm has its appeal. His amiable run-through of “Come On Get Higher” wasn’t the kind of performance you will remember, per se, but at the same time it was one of the more enjoyable segments of the night.

It’s refreshing to watch an Idol contestant who wants success without needing it. No matter how likable some of the others are, there’s something discomforting about watching people who are so desperately convinced that this TV show can change, make, or save their lives. Urban’s polite nonchalance is a relief, and, shockingly, it was Simon who gave him props after the other three told him he’s just a good lookin’ boy who can hum a few bars.

Tomorrow night the ladies reclaim the stage and hopefully the Alanis and Etheridge–loving Crystal Bowersox will rejoin their numbers.

Other Recaps:
The AV Club's Claire Zulkey pointed out that when Randy "pleaded with Todrick to 'just take a nice song and sing it,' it sounded like something my nonexistent grandma would say."
Entertainment Weekly's Michael Slezak found Alex Lambert's "vocal tone is impossibly lovely: It's like listening to Joe Cocker, only smoothed out with a sheet of super-fine sandpaper."

Photo: Frank Micelotta/FOX