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'American Idol' recap: From Vegas to L.A., the final 24 begin to emerge

February 24, 2011 |  7:54 am

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If we've learned one thing from "American Idol" this season, it's that Jennifer Lopez is a really nice person. That niceness was on major display in Wednesday night's double dose of "Idol," which took us to Las Vegas for a round of Beatles numbers that helped the judges winnow the contestants from 61 to 40, and then back to Los Angeles for the beginning of the judges' personal meetings with contestants to let them know whether they'd been selected for the final 24.

Facing the contestants she's clearly come to care about, and in some cases, depriving them of their dreams, proved to be almost too much for Lopez. To drive that point home, the producers repeatedly showed us a clip of the musical/movie superstar breaking down and declaring that telling people they hadn't made it felt horrible and that she didn't want to do it anymore. "I didn't want to tell him no … I felt so bad," she mumbled of one contestant through tears -- a tissue pressed to her eyes, face turned away from the camera.

Meanwhile, fellow judges Steven Tyler and Randy Jackson spoke to her in soothing tones, telling her it was OK, that she pried those dreams away just right, that she was handling things well. "You did it in the best way possible," they told her. "So honest and truthful."

They were right. If I had to choose someone to smush my long-held dreams under her high-heeled shoe, it would be Jennifer Lopez.

After she broke the end-of-the-line news to 17-year-old Hollie Cavanagh, who almost blew her initial audition due to nerves before Lopez saved her by giving her one more chance, Lopez told Hollie that she had fought for her because she believes she had "one of the best voices" they'd heard and believed she belonged in the top 24. Lopez said she was ultimately swayed by Jackson, who said that, given time, Hollie could come back and win the whole thing. Hollie's "Idol" dreams this year may have been crushed, but she was immediately handed a new goal: Come back and win.

"Make sure you come back, OK?" said Jackson, gently. Even Jackson's feeling the J.Lo glow and showing his sweeter, realer, more emotional side this year. When was the last time he shook his head, chuckled and called someone "Dawg"?

And to Chris Medina, the contestant whose ouster prompted J.Lo's emotional breakdown, Lopez said, she had "so much respect" for him, that she was so happy to have met him, that his story had touched her, and that he should keep on making his music. She gave him a hug. All three judges gave him a hug. And Tyler asked him to give his fiancé, Juliana, whom Medina has been caring for since an accident left her seriously injured, a kiss for him.

Um, Jennifer, can you pass the tissues?

Sniff, blow, sniff. OK, so who has made it through to the top 24 so far?

Women:

Naima Adedapo: She's gone from cleaning toilets at a large concert venue in Milwaukee to having her long-dreamed-of shot at performing on that concert stage. As the judges point out, she's got a great voice, she's emotionally accessible, and it's hard to take your eyes off her. "You're a flower," Tyler tells her. "Now bloom."

Haley Reinhart: A returning contestant from last year who has shown she's got some vocal chops.

Ashton Jones: I first noticed her during solo night in Hollywood, when she sang "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" from "Dreamgirls." Lopez tells her they've been looking for a contestant who has "the whole package," someone who can sing and dance and has presence and confidence onstage. "And I have to say we feel we found that in you," Lopez says. "Congratulations."

Men:

Clint Jun Gamboa: After making him go back over, yet again, his role in casting out Jacee Badeaux during group night, the bespectacled karaoke bar host is informed he's made it through to the next round. The judges have forgiven him for his heartlessness (or fierce determination, depending on your perspective), but will America?

Paul McDonald: I'm not sure I even noticed Paul McDonald until the Las Vegas/Beatles round, but I definitely noticed him then, as he dueted with Kendra Chantelle on "Blackbird" (video below). As Lopez noted, his voice has a soft, compelling tone. "Is he 'American Idol' material?" the judges wondered as they contemplated his fate. America will have a chance to decide.
 

So that's where things stand: Which nine women and 10 men will round out the top 24? (Which do you think should?) And will Lopez be there to let them know? Guess we'll find out tonight.

-- Amy Reiter

Photo: Contestants perform Beatles songs on the Cirque du Soleil LOVE stage for the Wednesday "American Idol." Credit: Ray Mickshaw / FOX

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