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American Idol Recap: The Boys With the Thorns in Their Sides

AMERICAN IDOL: Johnny Keyser performs in the Sudden Death Round of AMERICAN IDOL airing Thursday, Feb. 21 (8:00-10:00PM ET/PT) on FOX.

It’s Boys’ Night! Coincidentally, they are putting Boys’ Night on their lower-rated Thursday broadcast! Have they mentioned that they’d like you to choose a lady this year? Because they really would.

In fact, the whole first few minutes of tonight’s show are about last night’s show. Ryan asks Mariah what bowled her over about the girls last night, and she says “their talent.” Except she takes about eleven minutes to get it out. Mariah Carey is shook up by her current predicament. You can feel it.

Paul Jolley is up first. Paul Jolley has what it takes to be the first gay male country star. I don’t know whether he’s actually gay in real life, but my intuition tells me he is and I am rarely wrong about these things, especially when they are this obvious. He does a Keith Urban song I’ve never heard, and it’s a little off-key in some spots and a lot show-tune-y in others, but overall he seems like a perfectly nice guy. Nicki says it wasn’t quite as good as some of his previous performances, and Mariah rebuts her like this: “I feel differently than some other people on this panel.” Ooh! Won’t even call her by name! Shady.

Johnny Keyser is the blandly handsome guy who seemed like a front-runner last year until he fell apart in Hollywood Week. This season he saves his falling apart for Vegas. And it’s a shame; he has the build of a country star and the voice of a pop singer, and there’s nobody in that space at the moment. But as soon as he utters the opening lines of Jason Mraz’s deadly “I Won’t Give Up,” I know his goose is cooked. And once Nicki opens her critique with “Kudos to you for being nicely groomed,” the Sandman might as well come and sweep him off the stage. I look forward to watching you turn into a werewolf on an upcoming episode of Supernatural, Mr. Keyser.

And then we get to JDA. Now, listen: I came out of the closet in the early nineties, back when we had only Doug Savant on Melrose Place to represent all of us, so I’m confused by the new taxonomy. But I believe we want to call JDA genderqueer? Like, there is a dress and lacquered nails and an impressive amount of makeup, but also there is a mustache? JDA is expressing himself in an entirely new way, and doing so boldly; there are no sob stories, no maudlin tales of bullying, there is only JDA. And JDA’s take on “Rumour Has It” is full of passion. Maybe overfull of passion. It’s so overblown that you can’t determine how seriously JDA’s taking it. Is it camp? Is it drama? I can’t tell. But I can absolutely pinpoint Randy Jackson’s level of maturity; he brays with laughter, because WHAT? But JDA takes even that in stride. I like this guy. I also like that the first openly gay contestant to have made it this far is a straight-up gender outlaw.

Anyone following the JDA Show will have a tough time making an impression, and if that person also happens to have chosen Bryan Adams’s wet bowl of generic Corn Flakes that’s been left on the kitchen counter all morning “Everything I Do, I Do It for You,” well then that person is just objectively fucked. Luckily, Keith Harris does a totally mediocre job, so I feel less bad for his timing.

And then we finally answer the question that has bedeviled me since the beginning of Hollywood Week: Who’s the guy with the bedsheet tied around his head? The guy who looks like Jermaine Stewart playing Jimi Hendrix at Knott’s Berry Farm? Turns out that’s Chris Bishop. And it turns out Chris Bishop is not as great a singer as his styling would suggest. His version of “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” is forgettable. Nicki loves him, and is the only one who does. Chris is also super-effeminate. That’s not a complaint; it’s just a fact. This is a very gay season, boy-wise.

Devin Velez is this year’s male Jessica Sanchez: no discernable personality, but a voice that is custom-made for Idol. He sings “Listen” from Dreamgirls, a song that was written solely to get that movie a Best Original Song Oscar, and he does half of it in Spanish, a move he does solely to maximize his fan base. It is Machiavelli on top of Machiavelli. I hate it. He will go far.

Elijah Liu wins tonight’s Adriana Latonio Maybe You Had to Be There award. His version of Bruno Mars’s “Talking to the Moon” is totally unremarkable to me, but Nicki immediately tells him she wants to have his babies. Kids today. But he’s half Chinese and half Mexican (would we call this a Chex Mix?) and he’s cute enough to last until just before the top twelve.

So I can’t tell what’s going on with Charlie Askew, but it’s clear I’m going to have a long time to figure it out. He sings “Rocket Man” and I don’t know if he’s serious but I do know he’s mighty shaky when he isn’t screaming, and I do know there are several better singers than him, and I do know it won’t matter, because he’s a great big weirdo and these judges are dying to make this season interesting. Randy complains that the performance was “a little stagy,” to which Charlie responds “I’m in Vegas, baby,” so the point goes to Charlie.

Okay, so: Nicki says she wants to cradle Charlie in her arms. Ryan tries to make a moment out of the whole thing, as Nicki has already said she wanted to marry one guy’s voice and have babies with another, and as he milks the moment, Mariah stares off in the other direction, as though there were an interesting bird perched on a branch outside a nearby window. The Nicki-versus-Mariah beef is making Mariah look like a big dumb jerk, and she needs to switch up her strategy today.

Anyway, Jimmy Smith looks like a potato and Michelle Pfeiffer at the same time and he sings a Keith Urban song in a flat way and I spend the whole time trying to figure out what is keeping him from being handsome because all the elements are there but the soufflé somehow just isn’t rising. The judges are lukewarm. Have I mentioned that this is a very gay season? My God, this is a very gay season. It’s like the producers are terrified to introduce the show’s young, white, text-vote-promiscuous female fan base to a potential boyfriend, which of course they are.

Last up, Curtis Finch Jr., who I find overly ingratiating. He does Luther Vandross’s version of the Carpenters’ “Superstar,” and it is literally 100 percent vocal tricks. There is not one note that doesn’t come with a curlicue. It is, honestly, totally fucking gross. I want the producers to tie him to a chair and force him to sing the song exactly as it was written, to force him to make an impression by expressing the emotional content of the song, rather than singing every note in the book. Because here’s the thing: I bet he could do that! He could be a great singer, if he weren’t so annoyingly focused on being an acrobatic singer. I want to like you, Curtis Finch Jr! But right now I do not. Obviously the judges do.

So when it comes time for the judges’ decisions, there are no real surprises: Curtis and Elijah are through, Jimmy, Kevin, and JDA are not. And then Ryan announces that there is one deadlock, and it’s over Paul Jolley, except that doesn’t make any sense at all: The judges know they can only send five people through, and after Paul, there are four people left, whose fate the judges have presumably already decided. So it’s a big empty bit of theater, and I don’t know why that upsets me on a shitty singing competition show that’s happening on the stage of “The Beatles LOVE.” Paul is through, so is Charlie and so is Devin, which leaves handsome Johnny and effeminate pirate Chris out in the cold. I should point out that when Paul gets the good news, he does what I can only describe as a Stefon face.

We are going to do this exact same thing next week, and the week after, and then we will vote one person off a week for the twelve weeks after that, and then we will live for a few more years and then we will die. See you next Wednesday!

Photo: Michael Becker/FOX