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'American Idol' recap: The top 24 are chosen

February 25, 2011 | 10:02 am


Somewhere either before or after getting the good news that she was in the top 24, "American Idol" contestant Julie Zorrilla, who has arguably made it as far as she has in large part due to her extremely admirable style sense, appearing in a parade of picture- and stage-perfect dresses and shoes, told Jennifer Lopez how dazzling she is to look at.

I know what Julie means. Except, for me, it's not Jennifer's beauty I find stunning, it's the way she responds to the music: swaying, raising her hands, smiling blissfully, showing off her goosebumps, twisting her face into an appreciative "oooh" when someone hits just the right note, sometimes even mouthing the words like a schoolgirl at the concert of her favorite superstar.

No poker-faced judge she.

Which is funny because top-24 reveal episodes are set up to be all about the poker face, the bait and switch, the tease. And neither Lopez nor Steven Tyler, nor frankly, Randy Jackson, are all that good at keeping their cards close to their chests. 

That made Thursday night's show a little awkward in spots, as the judges seemed truly to be fighting against their own kinder natures as they drew things out and taunted the contestants with whiffs of failure before suddenly flinging the sweet-smelling news their way. In a few cases, contestants seemed to have a hard time catching the drift. But ultimately, thank goodness, we emerged with a top 24 that, I have to say, was not too shabby. Most of my favorites – and the vast majority of the people whose stories we've been tracking -- made it through, along with a few we'll just have to trust the judges on.

Here are the 19 contestants who walked the looooong dramatically lighted plank on Thursday night's show to be rescued by the revelation that –- phew! –- they'll join Naima Adedapo, Haley Reinhart, Ashton Jones, Clint Jun Gamboa and Paul McDonald for a triple dose of "Idol" next week:

Karen Rodriguez: Ryan Seacrest reminds us she's one of Lopez's biggest fans; she's performed several of Lopez's hits during her "Idol" run thus far. Rodriguez tells us she's happy with the work she's done on the show and has "no regrets." ("I think I did good," she says, proving that her love of Lopez extends beyond paying tribute in song and to mimicking her grammar as well.) Anyway, the fandom, it turns out, is mutual. "You had me at 'If You Had My Love," Lopez tells her.) Rodriguez is sent through and pledges to "work 10 times harder."

Robbie Rosen: Remember how this talented, talented Long Island teen struggled with a childhood illness that confined him to a wheelchair for a time? Yeah, I'd forgotten too. His back story was totally eclipsed by his talent. The judges send him through with decidedly unguarded comments like, "Robbie, man, so good, right out of the box." As a relieved Robbie walks out, Jackson says, "You know what I love about him -- he's so unassuming, you wouldn't even know he's a genius."

Tatynisa Wilson: "Is this something you really, really want?" the judges ask her. They then warn her that she's not really entitled to having a bad day and send her through. "So good, so sweet," they say as she retreats. Since she hasn't made much of an impression so far, I'll be curious to see how the potential the judges have spotted in her plays out.

Tim Halperin: This is the guy who flirted so ably with Lopez during his initial audition. His duet with Julie Zorrilla during Beatles night put him squarely on the radar. And he'll stay on it for a while, he's made it through.

Julie Zorrilla: Even though Seacrest overly dramatically informs us that Zorrilla's parents made "the ultimate sacrifice" by leaving Colombia to move to the United States, the impeccably dressed Zorrilla survives this round in the competition. The judges express valid concerns about how her performances lack emotion, telling her her singing should come from the heart, not the head. "Feel, don't think," says Jackson, echoing Lopez. But whatever, looks like we'll get to see a few more of her dresses while she maybe works out that emotional connection thing. We'd rather not see her try to pick up Seacrest again, though. Or wait, actually, maybe we would.

Scotty McCreery: What an up and down competition so far for this country crooner, eh? From triumphant audition to a –- let's face it -– disastrous turn in Hollywood, to redemption, apparently, as he returns to his country comfort zone for his pre-judgment performance. "You make a Bronx girl love country," Lopez says. And he tells her he's a quarter Puerto Rican. See? We're all the same. The judges give him a pep talk about what a good guy he is and send him through. (Meaning a "no" for the competition's other country guy, John Wayne Schultz.) "You know, there's good people who stand up for what's right and then make mistakes and go back and do the right thing. He's a good boy," Lopez says of McCreery as he goes.

Jovany Barreto: The handsome shipbuilder, who shows admirable confidence and manners as he shakes the judges' hands on the way in, tells us that, despite capturing attention for his incredible abs and pecs during his audition, he's in it to win it based on his talent. We'll get to see more of that talent.

Rachel Zevita: This returning contestant – the one whom Lopez remembered from watching the show several seasons ago –- showed up in a fantastically retro outfit ("Is that feather so you can fly, baby?" Tyler says flirtily of Zevita's fancy feathered shoes). She also brought along her adorably vintage 83-year-old Grandma. Would she disappoint Grandma by not making it through? Nope, she made Grandma happy, though perhaps not happy enough to take Seacrest up on his offer to get together later.

Kendra Chantelle: She made an impression during her Beatles-night "Blackbird" duet with Paul McDonald. She says she hopes the judges saw the way she'd progressed since her initial auditions, saying she expects her growth to continue. We'll have a chance to find out.

Jordan Dorsey: The exacting piano teacher showed his perfectionism by auditioning (and perhaps insulting) several other contestants during the group competition. But he showed that perfectionism in his performances, too. He was kind of a shoo-in.

Lauren Turner: She cleaned toilets as a housecleaner for a living. Now she'll get her chance at a musical career. Note to her (former?) clients: You might want to ask around about a new referral or grab the toilet brush and cleanser yourself.

Lauren Alaina: Was there really any doubt that this judge favorite would make it through? She seemed to know she was going places, giving each judge a hug on the way in. And wearing a fluffy pink outfit -- what did Seacrest call it? Barbie cowgirl? –- that commanded comment. Tyler, the object of her ongoing affection, gave her the news, "I'm just not sure how you're going to be able to handle it in the big time," he said, "since you're going through, girl." "You're mean," she said, giving him a hug. But could she really have been worried? On her way out, Lopez said she reminded her of Dolly Parton. I can see that.

Stefano Langone: He survived an accident, despite the odds, and also defied the odds to make it into the top 24. He was one of several contestants to perform an original song of his own for his final pre-judgment number. The song was not good, but his singing was. I'm happy he'll make it through -– if only because now the guy can maybe get some sleep.

Jacob Lusk: Jackson declares that his "God Bless the Child" was the single best performance on "Idol" ever, ever, ever. It was pretty amazing. As is Lusk's seriously enthusiastic response to the good news. Very cute.

Pia Toscano: The judges -– finally -– make it "short and sweet." She's going through, which will maybe give us a chance to remember who she is.

James Durbin: Oft-compared to Adam Lambert, even by himself –- and much to the apparent ire of the Lambert faithful –- the contestant who finds relief from his Tourette syndrome symptoms also found relief from the judges. Tyler tells him he'll climb as high in his career as he sings.

Thia Megia: During Beatles night, it was clear that Lopez was seriously smitten. So what the producers felt they had to gain by making poor seven-time also-ran Jennifer Cunningham truck in to get her bad news while Megia got her good news –- on  Cunningham's 25th birthday –- I do not know. Cunningham was upset, flipping off "Idol" with both middle fingers for ruining her birthday. I have to say I got a good chuckle about her telling us we probably weren't even seeing her gesture because there were "American Idol" logos over her hands. Clearly, you learn a thing or two when you audition seven times.

Casey Abrams: How could he not make it through, after charming all of us with his singing and his stand-up bass playing and his self-deprecating humor? Jackson says he's probably the most talented musician who's ever been on the show. "When I hear you sing, it's like three people in one," he says. I don't know what that means, but I know Abrams always surprises and delights when he gets up there. He's kind of my fave.

Brett Loewenstern: He got the good news at the same time Jacee Badeaux and Colton Dixon got the old heave-ho. That was kind of mean all around. But the judges really, really want Badeaux and Dixon to come back. That would be nice.

Next week, don't forget, three –- count 'em, three –- full nights of "Idol."

But first, what do you think of the final 24? Did the right people make it through? Were the right people robbed? Are you raging at the results or thrilled by them? Please share your thoughts. I, for one, am curious to hear.

-- Amy Reiter

Photo: Contestants performed Beatles songs on the Cirque du Soleil LOVE stage for an "American Idol" that aired Wednesday. Credit: Ray Mickshaw / Fox