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American Idol Recap: Paul F. Tompkins on the Top Twelve Men

Okay, well, this is going to happen and I am going to write about it. Do you ever think about the choices you make in life, and wonder if they were the right choices? It’s good to do so. This is how we learn.

After the opening graphics show us the heavens shooting a blinding bolt of pure Top 40 into the Earth, Ryan Seacrest yelltones, “To celebrate our tenth season, we’re kicking things into high gear and giving you a 360 experience!” Then we quickly cycle through four different camera angles. Four goes into 360 90 times, so that’s 90 degrees per camera angle. Got it? I don’t. What is he talking about?

No more time for talk! The top twelve guys take the stage! We are told that the contestants could choose any song they wished for tonight’s performance. I don’t know if this is good news or bad news. I’ll figure it out as we go and give you my assessment later. Don’t automatically assume I’m going to say good news!

First up is Clint! He is wearing his round glasses for the occasion and launches into Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” Despite his obvious screaming, Clint is kind of drowned out by the band. I briefly wonder if my television is at fault, but then decide, No. I paid good money for this television. The fault is YOURS, Clint. You and your glasses.

JUDGES: Steven likes it! J.Lo is glad Clint “shook the jitters out.” Randy praises Clint’s performance as much better than karaoke. You’re … welcome?
ME: Clint went for it, lots of vocal runs and all that, very energetic onstage, but it seemed kinda sweaty overall. Like, I AM SINGING LIKE CRAZY UP HERE AND MOVING AROUND A LOT! LIKE, A LOT A LOT! YOU ARE PROBABLY IDOLIZING ME!

In Jovany’s clip package, we see him get into the top 24 and cry, “No more shipyard for me.” There’s absolutely no way that will ever come back to haunt him, right? Jovany sings Edwin McCain’s “I’ll Be,” and as he soft rocks it, we see J.Lo singing along. She’s a fan of the show, too, folks. Never forget. As the song Jovanys on, I am reminded how nuts people watching go for key changes. Did they not think it would work? Like, has anyone ever gone for the key change and forced an aneurysm?

JUDGES: Steven likes it! J. Lo is happy that now people really got to see what Jovany can do. What, sing pleasantly? Randy hates “to be the one to break up the apple cart” (actually, the expression is “upset the apple cart,” but I like this more violent version a lot), but to him it felt like karaoke. Steven and J.Lo must be embarrassed to have been called out on such blatant apple-carting.
ME: Jovany’s a pleasant enough dude with a pleasant enough voice. But he probably won’t go the distance. And now it’s obvious that in Simon’s absence Randy is gonna be the sole guy from the industrious side of the music industry, the guy who’s no fun. He’s the guy who is looking for something to sell, and it better not be apples off of some broken-up cart (sorry, that’s a fairly inside term from the music biz).

Jordan’s next. We see a clip of him declaring that he wants to be a legend. He strides out onto the stage singing Usher’s “Oh My Gosh.” It starts off rough and stays there, then gets a little rougher.

JUDGES: Steven doesn’t like it. J.Lo asks Jordan, “Is that who you wanna be as an artist?” To which Jordan replies, “No, no, no.” What? Why did you — any song you wished! Randy scolds Jordan for not bringing anything of his own to the song, which you must do with a cover. Jordan agrees he did a bad job. Okay, I’m not a hundred percent on what this guy is doing here. Psy-ops? Maybe he’ll win!
ME: All legends include a part where the hero says, “You’re right, I stink.”

Tim sings Rob Thomas’s “Streetcorner Symphony.” He walks around onstage and sings it. It’s called “Streetcorner Symphony” and it’s by Rob Thomas. I am irritated that I have had to look up the last few songs because I have absolutely no awareness of this music at all. Anyway, the song is over and Tim is no longer singing it. The song known as “Streetcorner Symphony.”

JUDGES: Steven didn’t like it. J.Lo wants America to see who Tim really is, and whoever this pathetic impostor turns out to be, it ain’t the real Tim. I’m paraphrasing, of course. Randy tells Tim he’s seen him do better, and Tim replies that it felt good to him. That is some straight-up back-sass. I never thought I’d see the day.
ME: If only people bought music based on how artists felt about performing. We’d all be rich!

Brett makes me nervous. He always seems like he is just barely keeping it together emotionally, and I fear the day that his internal rubber band snaps and he goes spinning off out of control. Anyway, for now he sings the Doors’ “Light My Fire.” For some reason. It’s an odd choice for him, and for anyone. Brett starts of in a low, uncomfortable key, and by the time gets to the second key change, it’s too late.

JUDGES: Steven likes it! J.Lo praises Brett’s hair-tossing and tells him, “I like how you are who you are.” That sounds like a school play compliment to me — “You really looked like you were having fun up there!” Randy says that despite some pitch problems, Brett is “fun and bold.” It all sounds like they’re beginning the “letting Brett down easy” process, which comes to all people in time.
ME: I do think Brett has a unique voice, and I do think that the Doors are boring no matter what.

James and his scarf-tail prowl the stage and screech Judas Priest’s “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'” for James’s empty-bellied, half-nude baby. Maybe diaper the baby in tail-scarves and then you can just concentrate on procuring food. The judges rock out during James’s performance. I do not rock out at home.
JUDGES: Steven likes it! J. Lo loves the way James performs! Randy decrees, “This right here is how you do it!”
ME: This is how you do it, all right. This is how you make me actively root against you. Not you reading this. Although if you are a scarf-tailed screamsinger, than yes — you, too.

Robbie, the “probably anti-Palestinian” contestant (you know what I mean) sings Sarah McLachlan’s “In the Arms of the Angels.” It’s not great, his vocals are uneven, and I keep picturing lots of crusty-eyed dogs and greasy cats in cages.

JUDGES: Steven likes it! J.Lo admits the notes weren’t perfect, but adds that Robbie is a very special singer. Randy disagrees with his “co-harts” (I assume that’s Cockney rhyming burn related to “apple carts”) and wants Robbie to admit he didn’t feel comfortable. Robbie says he had a lot of fun.
ME: Is “fun” the best word to use when describing singing “In the Arms of the Angels”? Am I the only one who sees stray pets?

Scotty is up! Will he “You-Know-Who Lock Them You-Know-Whats?” No! He sings John Michael Montgomery’s “Letters From Home.” I must confess, I’m oddly disappointed. I figured he’d sing a different song, of course, he had to, but still. I … I think I wanted to hear the other one.

JUDGES: Steven likes it! J.Lo says Scotty was born to sing country music and Randy gushes, “You’re like a throwback country guy, not tryin’ to be a crossover,” which sounds like, “So you will not be here much longer.”
ME: It dawns on me while Scotty is singing that there’s something intangibly, unnervingly George W. Bushian about him.

Stefano sings “Just The Way You Are” (Bruno Mars, not Billy Joel) and has some problems staying on key. Why are these guys singing songs that are bad keys for them? “You can sing any song you want, provided it’s a song you’ve never sung before and isn’t quite in your range.”

JUDGES: Steven liked it! J.Lo looks for something nice to say, but soon calls off the search. Randy points out that the singing part of the song didn’t go so well.
ME: Yeah, the guy had problems. Not least of which happens after the song, when Ryan asks Stefano, “I think a lot of people here in the studio and watching at home would like to know: is there anyone you’re singing that song to?” Stefano replies, “No, that song definitely was for all the ladies out there.” It’s not entirely convincing.

Paul is introduced with a package that makes him seem “WEIRD!” He sings Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May,” and it’s not great, but unlike most of the guys tonight, he genuinely seems to be having a lot of fun. But still. It’s not a fun-having competition.

JUDGES: Steven likes it! J.Lo likes Paul’s smile. Randy tells Paul, “You’re so unique and different … I like the possibility that Idol can embrace this kind of singer that’s really quirky and different.”
ME: Look, the guy is not that quirky. He’s not exactly Crispin Glover out there. He likes clothes that you probably won’t find at Banana Republic, that’s it.

Remembering Randy’s advice to Always Be Oversinging, Jacob chews up Luther Vandross’s “A House Is Not a Home.” Jacob is like an explosive that doesn’t kill people but destroys Houses that Aren’t Homes.

JUDGES: Steven likes it! J.Lo is touched, as Luther Vandross was her favorite singer. Randy opines that Luther himself would have been proud.
ME: Jacob’s performance did not have the emotional headiness of his mind-shattering rendition of “God Bless the Child” from a couple weeks back, but was pretty good nonetheless. He really can sing. I look forward to seeing the eventual clip of his performance of the national anthem at whatever huge sporting event I won’t care about.

Finally, here’s Casey Abrams. He launches into “I Put a Spell on You” and is really going for it. His is the most assured performance of the evening; he and Jacob seem like the only guys who are comfortable in front of an audience, and between the two, Casey’s so at ease he makes Jacob look like George VI from The King’s Speech (KA-POW, that is a timely reference!). After Casey’s rousing performance, they cut away to his family, four people who all seem to be the same age. We also see his fellow contestants applauding, and Jacob claps in a “You are a worthy adversary” fashion. I will be surprised if it doesn’t end up being a showdown between these two guys for being the final guy. I am already surprised to be in any way invested enough to have a thought on the subject.

JUDGES: Steven likes it! J.Lo calls Casey sexy, and I know she doesn’t mean it, she’s just being nice. Randy cries, literally, “More, more, more!”
ME: I like this kid. He’s got a fun-loving, positive vibe and he’s talented. He’s also got some sort of weird secret thing going on that required him to be rushed to the hospital recently. It is obliquely addressed on the show tonight, but Ryan is no hard-hitting David Gregory, and we are never told what Casey’s mystery ailment was. I am assuming he consumed his melodica. That was the deal they made: “Get me this far, old friend, and you will be a part of me … FOREVER.”

Tomorrow night: LADIES NIGHT!

Oh, and I think allowing the contestants to pick their own songs turned out to be bad news.

Photo: Michael Becker/FOX