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'American Idol' recap: 14 of the top 24 ... revealed

February 23, 2012 |  7:41 am

'American Idol'

The "final judgment" round of "American Idol," in which the top 40 (or in this year's case, 42) contestants parade before the judges to learn whether they have been selected to compete for America's votes as part of the top 24, may be its most brutal.

At this point, we may feel we've really gotten to know and care about some of the "Idol" hopefuls. (The judges clearly feel that way too: Remember all that weeping from Jennifer Lopez last year when she had to cut devoted fiance Chris Medina?) It can be difficult to see season favorites head home so soon. And then, inevitably, there are also other contestants we may feel we've barely glimpsed. Who is that? We say to ourselves, casting around for a memory.

This year was no different, though the show had thoughtfully added the element of water (the eliminations took place onstage in the "aqua theater in the round" in which the Las Vegas production of "La Reve -– The Dream" is playing) as the contestants walked the plank to discover whether the judges would throw them back into the river of humdrum workaday life.

The moat circled and sparkled and coolly, cruelly beckoned -– its deceptive allure enhanced by Lopez's aquamarine sequined dress -- as, one by one, the contestants filed in to learn their fates. Several were cast off in Wednesday night's episode -– most sadly, Lauren Gray, whose smoky voice made such an impression during the St. Louis auditions. Tearfully, the wedding singer with the devoted dad admitted she probably wouldn't audition again next year, but held out hope she'd make it in music some other way. Irritating cowboy Richie Lawson (who'd characteristically redubbed himself Richie Law) mercifully was also tossed off the island. (Alas, not literally.)

Others, however, had managed to sing and charm their way into the cloistered "Idol" castle. Fourteen of the contestants sat across from Lopez, Randy Jackson and Steven Tyler and -– after the judges strung them along or outright confused them with long pauses and false disappointment -- got good news.  (We will find out the remainder of the top 24 Thursday night.)

They were …

 Jen Hirsch, whose passionate Hollywood Week solo performance of "Georgia on My Mind" brought us all to our feet.

Creighton Fraker, the New York street singer who, we learned Wednesday night, was adopted as a baby and grew up as a preacher's kid, singing church music, only later to discover that the rock-n-roll he felt within him had an explanation: His birth father, who was on hand for a hug after Fraker learned his happy "Idol" fate, was the lead singer of an '80s metal band called Flotsam and Jetsam.

Joshua Ledet, another Hollywood Week solo standout, who winningly launched into song when he heard he'd made it to the top 24, prompting Lopez to comment, "That kid's special."

Haley Johnsen, a pretty blond college student I vaguely remember singing well in the Vegas group round.

Elise Testone, who also shined in Vegas. She turned out to be right when she said, walking in to face the judges, "This is my time. I just feel it in my heart."

Reed Grimm, the quirky musical genius who accompanied himself on drums back in Hollywood and has proved he can scat to pretty much anything. The judges have compared him to last year's Casey Abrams, and as Grimm danced over the moat and out, Jackson gushed, "That kid is so mad-talented, dude. Oh my god, I can't even believe it, dude …"

Erika Van Pelt, the earthy-voiced mobile DJ, who got through despite making a Vegas-solo song choice that didn't impress the judges.

Chelsea Sorrell, a small-town girl with big country-music dreams to whom the judges apparently gave a second chance during Hollywood Week.

Baylie Brown, the Barbie-beautiful Season 6 returnee.

Heejun Han, whom anyone with a sense of humor (when Ryan Seacrest asked him what he was sweating, he replied, "mostly water"), a heart (he works with special needs kids) and a pair of ears (he has a surprisingly buttery voice) is probably completely enamored with at this point. When he walked out weeping tears of joy? Well, he wasn't the only one with wet eyes.

Jessica Sanchez, who captured attention with her firecracker energy and powerful pipes during the Vegas group round.

Phillip Phillips, who's cute way with a song and a guitar and generally adorable demeanor will make him a natural favorite for "Idol's" young female voters.

Colton Dixon, who was cut at this very stage of the competition last year, and who dedicated his final Vegas performance to the little sister who unwittingly brought him back to compete this year, but who was herself eliminated following the Vegas group round.

Brielle Von Hugel, whose sassiness is outshone only by her mom's delicious frankness and Staten Island accent: "I love all a youse," she magnanimously tells the other contestants after her daughter makes it through.

Hanging in the balance is new dad Adam Brock's fate, which we will learn Thursday night.

What do you think of the final 24 so far?


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-- Amy Reiter

Photo: The judges consider fates on "American Idol" on Wednesday. Credit: Michael Becker / Fox