American Idol: The Top 24 Is Revealed at Last

A few days ago, Ryan Seacrest tweeted that he had just watched the final cut of tonight’s episode and described it as “gut wrenching” and the “most dramatic [he’d] ever seen”. Perhaps Ryno was trying to draw folks away from the Olympics — or at least relegate DVR space to them — in favor of watching the judges whittle the 70-odd contestants down to the highly-anticipated (but previously leaked) Top 24. Yes, the Dirty Double-Dozen was just a Bing away for the last two weeks, but that didn’t stop American Idol from dragging out the official unveiling over an excruciatingly boring three hours.

So with Lindsey Vonn and Shaun White winning gold on another network, Idol stretched across two nights what could have been effectively accomplished in 15 minutes; instead, they made 46 contestants walk to the stage one at a time so the judges could act out a tired fake-out (“You know there were a lot of talented singers this year, and we only had room for 24…”) before letting them through, often delivered with Simon’s little wink, the subtlest in all of show business. The only entertaining twist on this charade was Ellen’s, who lampooned the whole thing by talking at length about how cruel it was to keep contestants’ fates a mystery by talking at length.

Whatever anguish Ryan was tweeting about didn’t amount to much. Most likely, he was referring to two or three hopefuls who came this close to making the cut and cried like the Mississippi when the judges crushed their dreams and destroyed their lives forever. Okay, admittedly, the Angela Martin cut was sad. Angela has had a rough go of it — her father was killed, her daughter has a disability, and she’s already made two runs at American Idol, last time having to pull out to serve six days in jail on a traffic rap (she couldn’t pull together the money to pay the fine). So the judges tried to let her down easy although, strangely, Kara made Angela sit on the armrest to receive the devastating news.

I didn’t feel quite as bad for Jessica “You Have No Idea!” Furney, who yelled and begged shamelessly, saying, “I have got this!” over and over. Or Thaddeus Johnson, the obese mama’s boy, who claimed that the wait in the Holding Room was “complete and total agony”. Please. Bad Thad fell apart after Simon gave it to him straight, and his mother — seen earlier wiping thick rivers of sweat off of her son with her bare hand — followed a bawling Thaddeus into the toilet stall, as, of course, did the camera. Other close-call goodbyes: Hope Johnson (cute, but weak), Shelby Dressell (everyone was rooting for her, but she wasn’t quite singer enough), Lloyd Thomas (the dock worker, remember), and Jermaine Purifoy. But the Top 24 are set — here’s who made it:

1. Casey James. It’s easy to imagine this guy winning the competition, if only because, as Kara has made obvious, the chicks are going to dig him, and they make up the bulk of AI’s voters. He’s a long-haired, guitar-playing, country-blues guy from a town called Cool — he’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

2. Jermaine Sellers. He’s a lanky R&B singer full of natural ability but with a tendency to jump to stratospheric squeals in an attempt to show off his range; it’s the kind of oversinging — cue applause — that AI has been known for, but it might prove to be a liability. Also an issue: He might be a jerk; he’s the one, remember, who pointed out the band’s mistake during the final audition.

3. Siobhan Magnus. She’s a 19-year-old glassblowing apprentice from Cape Cod. It’s going to fun to watch her — she’s a real belter who contorts as if she’s exorcizing demons when she sings. Her version of Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City” flashed enough power and personality to get her into a few rounds. The girls’ field is crowded with talent, however.

4. Crystal Bowersox. Speaking of talent, Crystal has to be a favorite at this point. Her brawny version of Sheryl Crow’s “If It Makes You Happy” proved that she is a formidable singer, and her just-chill demeanor during all of the audition drama was an endearing respite from the others. Will voters agree with her words that “mainstream music right now needs a pick-me-up and needs to get back to the roots of real music”?

5. Alex Lambert. He’s a ukulele-strumming Jason Mraz type, chosen as much for his unobjectionable nice-boy looks as for his nondescript singing voice. It’ll be tough for him to stand out as an entertainer although you can never underestimate the fangirl support once it catches fire. Will this be another Year of Lambert?

6. Michael Lynche. Big Mike was the first one into the Top 24, and he might be the first one out, if the reports hold true. We’ll see. If he is out fast, it won’t be due to his singing ability; he’s certainly among the best three or four of the boys. It’s baloney anyway — his dad blabbed, but so did plenty of others since leaked lists on the internet turned out to be spot on.

7. Todrick Hall. I’ve said from the beginning that Hall is the best male vocalist in the competition, and someone will have to step up big time to prove that notion wrong. He relies a bit too much on melismatic runs for my taste, but he sounds like a singer who’ll be able to nail anything they throw at him. If he as a weakness, it might be in proving that he has the charisma and presence of a real star.

8. Aaron Kelly. He’s a, well, unassuming little guy. He’s shy and slight and has seemingly zero star potential, but this show can provide surprising makeovers for guys like this, if they can really bring the house down vocally. In fact, David Archuletta and Clay Aitken were both dweebs, but they both finished second overall. There’s little indication, however, that Kelly is that kind of powerhouse on the microphone.

9. Ashley Rodriguez. She’ll be tough to beat if she can establish a fanbase. She might have more to prove vocally because she lacks the kind of niche appeal that Crystal Bowersox and Haeley Vaughn have going for them. But, with her Aaliyah looks, she already moves on stage with the poise of a pro, and if Jordin Sparks can win this thing, Rodriguez ought to have a reasonable chance.

10. Lee Dwyze. Not sure about this guy. He showed barely enough (I guess) to squeeze into the mix, although his inclusion reflects as much on the relatively weak talent pool among the boys as anything. He’s a patchouli-scented, guitar-plunking semi-growler, who seems wholly derivative as a bland undergrad, over-emoting, white-boy mumbler.

11. Joe Munoz. He’s a pleasant Latin kid with a warm, rich voice. His version of “Man in the Mirror” — a song worn to shreds by the end of the show — was solid but unimaginative, which might sum up Munoz’s overall appeal. Hard to imagine him breaking away from the pack unless he develops a more unique style.

12. Haeley Vaughn. She’s going to be a contender. She’s terribly sweet, sports a fresh and funky sartorial style, and has a tough and rangy voice. But that lisp! It’s not going away, and I don’t think she can turn it into an endearing trademark. The black country hook, however, isn’t going to hurt — she’s different and appealing enough to be exciting.

13. Janell Wheeler. She’s pretty and blonde enough to remind people of Carrie Underwood, but the more we’ve seen of her, the more apparent it is that Wheeler can’t yet sing with the likes of Carrie. Some of her auditions have been decidedly shaky, and she won’t be around long unless she gets a lot better. Fast.

14. Lilly Scott. After getting the nod from the judges, this eccentric, silver-haired girl announced her intention to go all the way. Based on her uniformly solid auditions, she could be right. Falling somewhere between Courtney Love and Ann Jillian, Scott can sing a wide range of material (wearing a variety of far-out leggings).

15. Didi Benami. Despite a propensity for bursting into debilitating tears, I’m going to declare Benami my favorite among the girls at this point. She has a charming vocal delivery, and she crosses boundaries — she can do the strummy folk-girl thing, but she might be able to sing gentle ballads more effectively than Bowersox, say, which gives her better overall odds than most of the others.

16. Katelyn Epperly. Her stock has been steadily rising since her first audition, as she has added personal flourishes to both her singing style and her wardrobe. With her sun-drenched personality (and curls), the camera will love her, which wouldn’t matter much without her impressive vocal command. I’m putting her in the Top Five girls.

17. Tyler Grady. The show needs a rocker every season — either classic (Bo Bice, Constantine Maroulis) or modern (Justin Cook, Chris Daughtry), and this year’s only entry appears to be Grady, a shaggy, mule-faced shouter. He’s definitely not the best singer in the male division, but he might be the best entertainer, with his Daltrey-esque stage moves. Might work for awhile. A knock against him: His sad-mugged fake-out after making the cut was one of the night’s most annoying moments.

18. Lacey Brown. We saw less of Lacey than most of the others, but she’s one who narrowly missed the cut a year ago, so it’s obvious that she has the vocal talent to compete with the best of them here. Her jazzy version of “What a Wonderful World” was a little precious, but she appears to be among the show’s most versatile vocalists and won’t be rattled on either Carole King Night or Def Leppard Night (or whatever).

19. Katie Stevens. She steps up and brings it with an unadorned but rousing alto, which she can maneuver with control. Note: It’s okay if they stop talking about her grandmother now. The girls are far more impressive than the boys, so she has an uphill climb. She can flat-out sing, but does she have the stage command of a star?

20. Paige Miles. Who? Miles was virtually absent from the audition shows, so we have very little to go on here. One must suppose that producers could find no compelling history of overcoming a heart-tugging adversity, or we’d have gotten some hometown footage of her by now. Instead, we saw mere seconds of Simon saying, “You’re a really, really good singer”. Perhaps, but Miles is at an undeniable disadvantage with voters next week since home viewers have already started to form alliances with their faves, who’ve gotten much more screen time. It’ll be up to the judges to lay on the praise to influence votes (if Miles earns it).

21. Michelle Delamor. Who? Like Paige Miles, she’ll have to show us what she has next week with little lead-in help from audition footage. Delamor looks like she’s 35, which makes her a more formidable presence. Aaron Kelly isn’t likely to convince us that he’s been there and done that, for instance, so if Delamor can nail a couple of high notes with fierce alacrity, she might make up some ground.

22. John Park. He had a memorable first audition — Shania Twain couldn’t stop with the double entendres, remember — but we’ve hardly heard a note from him since. He sings in a straight, choir-trained baritone, so he’ll have to work hard to avoid being boring. He demonstrated in the traditional montage that shows the Top 24 dancing that he’s not much of a mover (few of the guys are), so if he remains this wooden, he won’t be around long.

23. Tim Urban. He was severely inconsistent throughout the auditions, so his making the cut was a bit of a surprise. He’s marketable, with his flopsy hair and ruddy earnestness, but that Disney Channel congeniality could go either way with voters. As it looks going in, he’s going to be outsung by a few of the boys and all of the girls.

24. Andrew Garcia. The bespectacled, hat-wearing, neck-tattooed, guitar-playing young father is probably, alongside Casey James, at the top of the male class. As consistently good as anyone throughout the auditions, Garcia is unlikely to screw things up vocally; however, he may prove to be a less-than-magnetic stage presence.

Two final notes. Good riddance: Mary Powers. Screwed: Tori Kelly — see you next year.

Next week: Live!