American Idol: Week #1, Top 12 Boys

After what was generally perceived as a lackluster performance from the girls on Tuesday, the Top 12 boys took the stage last night in hopes of infusing American Idol’s ninth season with some excitement and energy going forward. Unfortunately, at least half of these guys bombed. However, a few came out firing, with the kinds of song selections and lively performances that suggest high stakes and last chances, a marked difference from the girls the night before. The boys’ stories were already tangled with drama, given the plot twists associated with Mike Lynche (reportedly kicked off, but apparently not), Tim Urban (a last-second replacement for Chris Golightly, who was kicked off for (allegedly) lying on his application about a recording contract), and Todrick Hall (criticized last week for (allegedly) abandoning his childrens theatre company, leaving several kids and parents with unrefunded fees). Simon was in a particularly nasty mood last night, thank god, and he unloaded ruthlessly on almost all of these guys, but there were sings of life in this particular minefield. The awards:

Best Performance: Cay-Jay! Should we just give him this thing now? Andrew Garcia may have been the frontrunner going into the evening, but Casey James‘s breezy version of Bryan Adams’ “Heaven” made him the early man to beat. His performance was nothing earth-shaking—what might have been nerves translated into uncontrollable smiling—but James has a clean, pure tenor, and he corners a market like no one else on the show. Much has been made of Kara’s crush on Casey, and certainly James’s looks aren’t going to hurt him at the polls, although that Lady-and-the-Tramp hairstyle was a tad rigorous last night.

Biggest Flop: Tim Urban was terrible, but no one expected much from him in the first place. So the biggest letdown was Tyler Grady, the retro-rocker, who performed “American Woman” like he didn’t know they were filming the actual show. Grady’s face might look great on the radio, but he’s not going to get by on looking cool on stage, especially since he has no powerful rock voice, either. If voters don’t cut him loose, it’s going to be uncomfortable watching this guy trying to grab beyond his reach.

Best Heinous Neck Tattoo: Jermaine Seller’s mystery splotch. (Runner-up: Andrew Garcia’s illegible rendering of “Caeland”, his son’s name.)

Most Misjudged: Simon has been dead-on the last two days, even when bordering on malice. But last night’s praise of the profoundly uninteresting Lee Dewyze was the night’s most perplexing moment. Dewyze looked like he had just woken up in the dorm after a bong and burrito bender, and his version of Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars” went badly out of tune at least twice. Dewyze can execute an edgy rasp, but one far short of, say, David Cook’s, and Simon’s effusive acclaim calls his ear for intonation into serious question.

Darkhorse: Joe Munoz. This little Latin lad might get some traction under him since he’s one of the few guys in the competition who doesn’t make you nervous when he sings. Simon called his night forgettable; maybe so, but Munoz is an assured, controlled vocalist who deserves to be around after a good handful of these boys have been sloughed off.

Best Kids-Table Contestant: Aaron Kelly’s vocals could ship gold, if embroidered with modern-country studio-sheen and some good saccharine Nashville songwriting. But he looks like he still wears feeted pajamas. Can we put him in touch with Mark McGwire’s people?

Best Liza Minelli haircut circa 1983: Alex Lambert.

Who Should Get Voted Off: Tim Urban, obviously. I’d make a cute joke about his song choice, “Apologize”, if you hadn’t already made it while you were watching. Ellen kept calling him “adorable”, and enough people might agree to keep him around, but his Rubber Soul haircut won’t sustain him for long. And again, Tyler Grady can’t hang in a competition with real singers.

Who Will Get Voted Off: The judges obliterated Urban, so he may be gone, but the cute-boy factor could spare him, at least another week. I’ll bet instead that fewer calls come in for Jermaine Sellers. Sellers is talented, but his reliance on that shrill scream is a turnoff (and wakes up the baby). The other cut? John Park is a competent singer, but he’s stiff and unexciting—his heavy, melismatic “God Bless the Child” brought the show to a screeching halt.

Next: Tonight, the show cuts two girls and two boys. Good news: It’s only an hour-long episode. This blog will resume after the performances next week.