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'American Idol' recap: 12 talented men take the stage

MB1_7696 Oh, America, how will you choose? The degree of talent on display among the top 12 men on "American Idol" on Tuesday night was considerable. No matter which five male contestants "Idol" voters tap to go through, along with the judges' wild-card pick, there will be singers left behind who would arguably have been able to sing circles around last year's winner, Lee DeWyze. (Remember him?)

But although judges Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler can just slather the praise on each and every contestant at will, offering only the faintest whiff of disapproval here and there for a song choice that has failed to show a singer's true genius, as they see it, voters must choose only five men to join five of the top 12 women, who will sing Wednesday night. The judges will then add their wild-card picks; the results will be aired on Thursday night.

And we have to make our selections without the imperious input of heretofore unmissed judge Simon Cowell. On Tuesday night, judge Randy Jackson reintroduced the word "pitchy" into the "Idol" lexicon, halting a welcome hiatus in the term's use, and he seemed a little confused at finding himself not only in Cowell's old chair but in his role as mean judge -– breaking with the other judges to carp about a performance or song choice, getting booed by the audience.

But after a few halfhearted efforts at tough love, Randy seemed to give in to the kinder, gentler vibe at this year's judges table, the "we're your biggest fans; let's see what America has to say" approach favored by Jennifer and Steven. That leaves none other than us -- you, me and all the other "Idol" watchers out there -- to fill the mean-judge vacuum left by Simon this year, deciding who should go through and whose dreams must get ditched in the dust; which contestants are the true stars and which, if we're being honest, are too "karaoke"; which former favorites we will abruptly -– mercurially, nastily -- turn on.

But wait -– must we roll our eyes and smirk? Will we display our displeasure by gazing disinterestedly into our corporate-sponsored cup or making eyes at our girlfriend off camera? Will we suddenly start wearing low-cut shirts that expose our tufty chest hair? Will we -– Please! No! -– suddenly sprout tufty chest hair?

Perish the thought! But choose we must, and so here, based primarily on Tuesday night's performances, are my top five picks. Yours?

1. Casey Abrams: I was worried about Casey when I heard he'd been rushed to the hospital with some mysterious stomach illness last week. But (a la Crystal Bowersox) he was back to compete on Tuesday night, and he displayed more Seth Rogan-y charm than ever, putting a spell on us with "I Put a Spell on You." Not only is Casey musically gifted -– in ways that go way beyond his singing -– he is riveting to watch onstage (and funny!). Completely unpredictable. Love him. I worry that he's too quirky for America. Please, America, embrace the quirk.

2. Paul McDonald: Jennifer praised his moves and his smile, which she said lighted up the room. Honestly, I find his teeth distractingly white. (Is that too niggling a complaint? So be it.) But I really enjoy the soft grit in his voice, like veeeery fine sandpaper, and his jumpy, oddball delivery. And he picked just the right song: Rod Stewart's "Maggie May."  

3. Jacob Lusk: Steven said it was "divine intervention" that brought this singer to "Idol," that he was "honored" to be in Lusk's presence, and that Lusk's singing makes him cry. Jennifer welcomed him as the second coming of Luther Vandross, whose "A House is Not a Home" Lusk sang. Randy praised him for his "crazy crystal-clear high notes" and gushed that "Idol" (or the world?) was "so lucky" to have him. I thought his performance, while not as showily spectacular as his transcendent "God Bless the Child" during Hollywood Week, was top-notch. Will America concur?

4. Stefano Langone: Maybe I'm a little dazzled by his big brown eyes and puppy-cute looks (though I hadn't noticed the bulging vein on his forehead until Steven pointed it out), but I thought his rendition of "Just the Way You Are" was his best performance on "Idol" to date (amazing, just the way it was?) and worthy of getting him through to the next round. I expect a lot of you to disagree with me on this one. Am I right?

5. Scotty McCreery or James Durbin: Both of these guys gave solid performances on Tuesday night's show, and they could not have been more different from each other. I'm including both here to allow for taste variation -– we'll call one of them my "wild-card pick." McCreery sang a serene, polished rendition of John Michael Montgomery's "Letters From Home," crooning the lines while perched on a stool and gazing calmly into the camera. I confess that, in the past, on his go-to "baby, lock them doors" refrain, he has occasionally sounded (to me) like he was burping out the words. (I know, gross image.) But here, he sounded smooth and vocally supported.

Durban, meanwhile, cranked up the energy with Judas Priest's "You've Got Another Thing Comin'," giving the song a soul I had no idea it had. His vocals were spot-on -– and his rock-star moves were confident and compelling and, OK, maybe a little cliche, but somehow not cheesy. Plus, I don't know, I have a soft spot for the guy, what with the Tourette's and the sad dad story, and the pretty wife and baby at home. I agree with the judges that his singing comes from a special, tender sort of place. Will Adam Lambert fans block his progress or begin to embrace him?  We'll soon find out.

Have I left out your favorite and included someone you feel is unworthy? Are you a die-hard Robbie Rosen fan? A Brett Loewenstern lover? A keeper of the Clint Jun Gamboa flame? Let me -– and the world -- know in the comments section.

-- Amy Reiter

Photo: Casey Abrams performs on "American Idol" Tuesday. Credit: Michael Becker / Fox

Comments () | Archives (12)

I'm in complete agreement with you on your picks, although I would put Jacob Lusk ahead of Paul McDonald, and would probably have picked Durbin over Scotty. But, given the voter demographics of idol, I expect that some of the young pop guys will be picked over the quirky and old school ones. I also worry that Paul McDonald has a limited range that won't survive well when they push the contestants into all those different styles and themes. I guess it's down to whether he can give those songs his own spin and fit them to his voice, rather than fit his voice to the songs.

I actually preferred Lusk's performance to his 'God Bless the Child' because I found some of his vocal mannerisms and scatting a bit affected, and his take last night avoided those.

I like Robbie Rosen and am sad that he will probably go. He has a great voice. He isn't my favorite, Casey is, but I wish he had done better.

After I lost count of how many tries I had made to call in and cast a vote for Scotty (who is not my first pick - but I just had a feeling he connected with many of my Midwestern home viewers) - I gave up on the continuous busy signals and figured he didn't really need my measly vote anyway. So I kept my fingers busy voting for James, Casey and Jacob. I don't think there is one of the current 12 that I don't like - but those 3 (and Scotty) just screamed "This is the total package here." What an amazing line up Idol has this year! And I'm getting such a charge out of Ms. Lopez and Mr. Tyler, that I think the judges' panel is the best it's ever been. Randy is even coming across with more and better on-the-mark comments, sitting, as he is, in 1st Chair. Hope the Ladies fare as well tonite.

Hey Amy -- In large part I agree with your evaluation, except that I would not include the highly overpraised Paul, who is not needed because Casey does quirky 15 times better. I would replace in your list by including both James and Scotty. I would like to find room for Clint, but I think he was clearly out-rocked and out-screamed by James.

I agree with most of what you said, but my five are: Scotty, James Durbin, Casey, Jacob and Paul. Stefano was just okay to me...sounded "karaoke" as Randy would put it. And he truly messed up that high note. I was surprised J-Lo didn't say anything because I saw her cringe when it happened.

I really really love this season. The judges are great. The little changes that they have made have been good changes. Never thought I would say it, but I really don't even miss Simon.


Come on people...don't fall for it...don't support James...he's trying to copy Adam Lambert, he's not original. This year lets vote for someone unique and different , who have their own style...Casey or Jacob are just that. No one can compare to Adam Lambert so lets not get caught in the trap. Last years Idol was horrible...went to the concert...it was terrible, the area wasn't even half full...much different than the year before with Adam...it was sold out. This is because along with Adam..they actually had people who could sing and entertain. Vote for originality!!!


Stefano, really? Agreed, he has the looks to attract the teenage girl population but his vocals were just okay compared to the others you mentioned in your post. James Durbin may be "no Adam Lambert"- as a previous comment stated. However, one cannot deny the young man is blessed with incredible talent. Durbin just may appeal to a broader fan base than Adam, simply because he is less theatrical and more of a rocker than "Glam" rock inspired. James has a similar range to Adam but I think as the weeks roll by, we will see some nice surprises from him. As for Casey, I think this guy is genius and hope he doesn't get axed because the aforementioned simpering teenage girl population texts WAY past their bedtime non-stop for one of the more aesthetically pleasing but not as talented young men. While I'm not a fan of country music, it is evident that Scotty indeed has a promising future ahead of him - regardless of the outcome of the show. There is no denying that Jacob has an amazing voice but I fear his vocal style is outdated and not likely to resurrect itself anytime soon. Paul should round out the top five for this week but I believe he will fall short in the next few weeks. As for the judging, with the exception of Steven Tyler, they seem faily interchangable to me. Anyone could be up there and be the "sensitive and nuturing" one and the other "quasi-critical and at times mean spitited Simon-esque" one. I watch the show because I enjoy being an arm-chair critic and witnessing the growth of new artists that I might never have had the opportunity otherwise get to know.

Casey, James Durbin, Jacob Lusk, Paul McDonald, and Scotty Mcreery.
FYI Casey is the Fing man!!!

Put Brett on the list instead of James and I'll be happy. I don't get what the big deal is with James, he's not that interesting or uniquely talented in any way. Just another sob story...

james durbin is not mono-rock music talented but a multi-singing style musical talent. locally he starred in many musicals-ex. leads in 'beauty & the beast', 'grease', 'singing in the rain' to name a few. further he is often asked to perform at local 'white ensemble' - beatle concert appearances. james is no sob story & i don't believe he's ever made it out to be but the media appreciates a good story & it's an honest one. i was close w/his dad & family (daddy lived at my place 2.5 years & loved his family & james & his 2 sisters were hear over every weekend. but life's emotions were hard on his dad. further, james certainly doesn't attempt to be adam lambert. james is worthy to be on that stage & to win the whole kit & kaboodle because of his own talent! i tear up & feel so proud & lucky to hear him perform because of his talent. ps i also appreciate casey & jake's talent.

The guys rock!!! They brought it. We should be voting on the top 10, not even boys and girls…. There are atleast 7 guys, and only 3 woman.


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