We knew it was coming, it was just a matter of taking a deep breath and getting through it: the tedious chapter in every American Idol season where they skimp on the performances and go through an unceremonious roll call of who has made it to the top 24. The first half of last night’s two-hour episode found the remaining 71 contestants — who “had their lives on the line” according to Ryan Seacrest, with no hyperbole at all, no way no how — splitting into three separate rooms. As usual the, “Are tonight’s losers behind door No. 1, 2, or 3?” segment of the show was as suspenseful as a cliffhanger from a Flash Gordon serial. Will the most talented and likable contestants make it out alive, or will it be the room notable only for its absence of compelling stories?
To keep some semblance of suspense for what would prove correctly to be the loser room, the producers kept focusing on Mary Powers, the single-mom rocker who ripped into her own group last week. Yes, she was a familiar face, and yes, she was a talented singer, but you knew her fate was sealed when she was thrown in the room with the worship pastor who looks like Parker Posey and the baker’s dozen of dudes who sang “Man in the Mirror.”
So after a commercial break (where Idol’s familiar techno jingle was replaced by an ominous metallic sound straight out of Terminator), Mary and Room No. 2 were gone and we were left with 46 hopefuls. In spite of Randy’s déjà vu assurances that “we’ve seen some of our best talent ever this season” (but this time, he assured, he really means it), the truth is the judges have plenty of forgettable faces left to cut before they decide the top 24 by the end of Wednesday’s episode.
But for now, here are the seven we know have made it:
Michael “Big Mike” Lynche: The guy whose wife gave birth while he was auditioning in Hollywood has, as Seacrest keeps emphasizing, another reason to celebrate, and another reason to pick up every person he encounters.
Didi Benami: The tear-prone waitress who performed a song written by Kara a few episodes ago. DioGuardi got all John Wayne sentimental and told her, “You done me proud, girl.”
Katelyn Epperly: A good contender for early elimination. Her voice is nothing to be ashamed of, but nothing to be excited about.
Casey James: Turns out this shirtless stud from the Denver auditions hails from a Texas town called Cool, all the more reason for the producers to pretend it was 1986 and cue Yello’s “Oh Yeah.” In spite of the Bueller jam’s ridiculousness, for once they’re not manufacturing chemistry: Kara truly devours this guy with her eyes, and when she gave him a congratulatory hug, she coquettishly lifted a leg. Bikini Girl never got that kind of treatment.
Todrick Hall: He auditioned with an original song and has performed with Fantasia in The Color Purple on Broadway. Sweet guy, sweet voice: an easy in.
Lee DeWyze: He assured the judges he’s confident enough to take the prize, but when he was told he made it through, his flushed face, shivering, and stammering indicated otherwise.
Aaron Kelly: After offering up a plenitude of “yes, ma’ams” that would make June Cleaver tell him to knock it off, Kelly learned he’s in the top 24. The 16-year-old forgot to thank David Archuleta for demonstrating the burgeoning appeal of clean-cut teen-boy singers.
The episode ended with the elimination of Jessica Furney, who was like an insistent dust bunny clinging to the broom when you’re trying to clean house. After being cut last year in Hollywood, she wasn’t going anywhere without some whining. “It sounds pathetic to beg up here,” she acknowledged before doing just that. Astonishingly, she even snapped at Ellen when the rookie Idol judge offered her the advice, “This is not the end of the road of your career.” Furney’s response? “How do you know that? You don’t know that.” Well, Jessica, it looks like you just proved Ellen wrong.
Entertainment Weekly’s Michael Slezak worries that with Aaron Kelly, the “judges have prematurely sent a potential stick-ball prodigy to the Major Leagues for the aw-shucks irresistibility of seeing him swim around in a big ‘ole uniform.”
Neon Limelight’s TJ reminds us why Katelyn made it through: “Adorable, sweet, good voice — i.e. MARKETABLE!”
The AV Club’s Claire Zulkey found it “interesting how many singers chose that Jason Mraz song and how out of favor tunes made famous by people like Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston are right now.”