(EW.com) -- Welcome to the live shows! We've got an all-new American Idol set featuring a giant spacecraft-y oval that reminds me a little too much of The X Factor, and some wind-machined amber waves of grain behind Ryan to remind us of how easy breezy beautiful representative of America he is. (Noted.)
It may look different, but the judges are up to the same old crap -- blind praise of mediocre performances and then sudden, weird criticism of some of the better contestants. Their commentary was overwhelmingly positive on the whole, and just stunningly beautiful, as always.
You're just beautiful.
The producers ended up bringing back gentle giant purple people-eater Jermaine Jones for an "incredible second chance" to join the Top 12 Guys last night. After so much hype -- namely, would Americans get to feast their eyes on Johnny Keyser's hot tub abs again? -- the presentation of Jermaine was sort of a non-event if you ask me.
He bellowed Luther Vandross' "Dance With My Father" that was on pitch but might not quite work on Idol, and his loud mom got to come onstage and bounce around a bit.
We learned the answer to "How white is too white, in terms of pants on a giant?" which I know we've all been wondering about. But that was pretty much it. I doubt Jermaine will make it through to next week.
Anyway, Ryan announced the plan for Thursday's (somehow?!) two-hour episode: The five guys and girls who got the highest amount of viewer votes will go through, along with a wild card pick from each judge -- creating a Top 13 heading into next week.
First up: Wisconsin's finest cheese curd Reed Grimm. Apparently Reed spends "every day changing dirty diapers" for his young nieces.
He must have still had poop on the mind because he forgot to delete the s-word in his lounge club version of "Moves Like Jagger." ("I don't give a s---" is typically bleeped out on the radio.) His drum set already seems like a tired old prop, which is sort of sad because drumming is so cool. But no one needs their American Idols to drum, you know?
Also, I'm not sure this guy, Mr. Grimm, has the capacity to stand still. Even when he was hanging out during the judges' glowing comments, he couldn't help lifting up his errant mic pack and showing off its intricate details for the camera. Oh, wow, you're holding a mic pack! Are you on TV or something?
Adam Brock towels off some white chocolate droplets
It was VERY sweet of Steven to name-drop Reed Grimm's band, even if he got the name wrong. He wanted it to be Shoeless Generation, so he could segue seamlessly into one of his more beautiful lines of the season: "Tonight's gonna be a whole new generation watching your ass." BLEEP.
Pittsburgh dad Adam Brock considers himself a "renaissance man" because he can cook and play the piano. He's welcome to come over next week during recappin' time and prove to me that he has a degree from Le Cordon Bleu after he gets voted off on Thursday.
His performance sounded okay but the delivery was corny and unconvincing. So, too, is the notion that there's a black woman trapped in this white man's body. It's like, great, could she come sing in the Top 24 instead?
Randy Jackson got so riled up by the Pittsburgh Steelers towel wagging out of Adam's back pocket (instead of granny's hanky this time) that he awkwardly inserted himself into a perfectly normal conversation Ryan and Steven were having about which type of chocolate Steven fancies.
As I waited on pins and needles for Mr. Tyler's answer, I realized this might have been the most alert and engaged with the show I've been all season. Steven answered "dark," to which the Dawg yelped out, "I LIKE TO CONSIDER MYSELF MILK BUT DARK IS COOL." Randy, sit down! You were not involved in this portion of the program.
The judges' love fest for the contestants continued after Deandre Brackensick's falsetto-saturated rendition of Earth Wind and Fire's "Reasons." I actually found this to be a bold and not terrible (in theory!) song choice for the 18-year-old, but the whole thing just blended together into one high, nasally note for me.
Best in Hair might be better off picking a tune that's not overwhelmingly high so his lovely falsetto can be more of a pleasant surprise. His actual chest voice is really pretty, and almost as chiseled as his statue-aspirational face.
"It's gonna be such an amazing year for you," gushed J. Lo, and Randy called Deandre "one of the most commercial guys I've seen" before comparing him to Maxwell and Phillip Bailey. "And THIS! Is why Deandre Brackensick is on American Idol."
Colton Dixon pulls a Durbin
I liked how Colton Dixon got in a dig at the Skylar who's there instead of Sister Schyler by pointing out that Skylar Laine would probably like to shoot the deer behind his Tennessee home.
While giving us a tutorial on how to make it look like there's an animal living on top of your head, Colton said "One dab is never enough for me," and I can just tell that is the sentence I will remember most from him all season. It could apply to things beyond hair products.
Melted chocolate, maybe. Anyway, yeah, I think he'll be around all season. "Decode" was a crafty song choice -- teens love Paramore -- and Colton went full-on James Durbin with a surprisingly over-the-top performance. There he was, executing a shaky Running Man atop his piano with his skinny rocker legs. They're so skinny! He's totally in.
The whole thing was such a spectacle that I was reminded of Tiah Tolliver's Top 12 performance of "Sweet Dreams" on The X Factor -- when I got a glimpse what it might be like to drop acid and tiptoe through a haunted forest presided over by the sistah version of a mashup between The Craft and a promo for ABC's Once Upon a Time.
Which is to say, Colton did a lot more with this song than he needed to. But he sounded fine, and it ended up being memorable and fun because no one else bothered to do much in the way of "action sequences" at all.
"You truly are a relevant artist today," said Steven. "Keep doing it. Keep rocking." I really just wasn't buying a word out of the judges' mouths last night. "It's about time we had our own indie alt rocker singing," Randy chimed in. What?! Idol's had a bunch of those! They all got kicked off.
Jeremy Rosado showed us his "softer side," according to Ryan. I'm pretty sure this lovable guy is altogether void of edges, but sure, Ryan. That's something to say. At this point, Jeremy's rendition of Sara Bareilles' "Gravity" was my favorite performance so far.
Not only was he on pitch, but I never got the feeling he was putting on any sort of front. The two most dominant words on a poster near the front row were "NICE BOY," so that was helpful should we have lost track of his gist.
"America, meet Jeremy. Jeremy, meet America," boomed Randy, driving home how unfamiliar we all are with Jeremy as compared to how much we know about other contestants. I'm not terribly hopeful America will vote for this big softie (they just met!) but I'd love to see him move on. Everyone could use a NICE BOY to have around, even if his nickname is Jer-Bear.
At this point, Steven Tyler, "confused as a baby in a topless bar," decided to reveal his nipple on camera just like Jennifer Lopez did NOT do during Sunday's Oscars telecast. "There was no nipple!" she eventually screamed, to everyone's delight.
So poor Aaron Marcellus -- waiting onstage to sing -- was completely overshadowed by J. Lo's nipple. Aren't we all, at some point in our lives? This was just his time.
The voice teacher who likes to take dance lessons did the Jackson 5's "Never Can Say Goodbye," and it sounded great -- good voice, on pitch, massive high note at the end -- but looking back, his performance may have been too overall muted for a contestant America has barely seen. Tragedy!
He seemed like a professional artist and almost futuristic with his gray leather jacket with shiny vinyl elbow stripes. I LOVE the future. I'm just guessing he won't have one here.
Creighton Fraker goes over-the-top rainbow
"Here's my bike." Here we have Chase Likens, who enjoys the heck out of his theater major at Marshall U. and can whistle. Wait, he can whistle?!? Stop everything; put him through. The pretty-faced, non-awful cowboy strolled over to the scary arm-waving sections right away to do some serious hand-touching on the first lines of Hunter Hayes' "Storm Warning." I wanted to like him.
I even wrote down "he's kind of magnetic" even though my best friend (my computer) and I both knew that what I really wanted to type was "he's not that magnetic." I did appreciate when he hit a big high note, then whipped his leg around -- inches from the masses of waving arms -- and didn't lose his balance. One of the biggest moments in the episode, for sure.
True. It's probably Brendan Fraser, slumming it. EW.com investigates!
"I've always been me," promised Creighton Fraker, so we can rule out robot. The NYC starving artist chose Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors" along with a fringed vest and a jazzy orchestra in silhouette at the top of a wall that was basically a giant rainbow. Is Creighton trying to tell us he's gay? It might be against the unwritten Idol laws, but he should just go ahead and say it. Gays love Idol! Why not reciprocate?
Steven had his melty "I'm lovin' it" face on throughout Creighton's performance, but Randy and Jennifer cast an uncalled-for doomsday pallor over the rainbow with the implication that Creighton would be sent home. Both of them chose this time to remind the audience that they'd be losing half of these guys after tonight.
But perhaps the strongest evidence that the producers aren't gunning for Creighton: Ryan said he'd talked to Creighton's dad, but they never showed it. Meanwhile, we got an actual liiiiiiiive Ryan-on-dad interview in honor of....
Phillip Phillips! I'll say it: I'm loving Phillip and I'm loving his dad, Phillip, even though it's hard to tell them apart. I'm one of those nerds who LOVES a Phil Collins song on American Idol, so his "In the Air Tonight" song choice endeared me to Philphil right away.
I don't really care at this point if he's copying Dave Matthews' style -- he's a young kid with his own voice and his own face and neither are unpleasant to take in. I loved the tranquil watery background that matched the gentle waves of his growling. I admire anyone who can growl into a high note (like Haley!), so it was almost like I'd been waiting for this moment for all my life.
By the way, what do we all think of this big ol' OVAL on the new Idol set?
I'm not LOVING it, though it looked the best here during Philphil's number. @snarkychicks suggests: "It looks like the huge screen that Dr. Evil used to communicate his demands to the world," while @jennmilazzo went a bit geekier: "It's like the eye of Sauron; forcing us to not change the channel." I honestly thought it looked like a condom at one point, but I'm gross.
Oh, Eben, you beautiful, beautiful dolt
Why on earth would Eben Franckewitz choose Adele's "Set Fire to the Rain" as a 15-year-old boy with a voice I might generously describe as "weakly pretty"? Aggggh! Aw, he's so young. He was probably like "We can sing anything? Ooh, I love THIS song the best, so I'll sing that!"
And I get it, you know? We all sing that song -- in the shower, in the car, in the elevator... in bed. But little one, you should not sing that on the American Idol stage. You are simply too small in every possible way.
The judges, who had to have been horrified on the inside, cheerfully read from their NigelNotes on the outside. "It wasn't all perfect but at the end you really brought it home." "You're aware of what you're doing." "You got a really true, straight, beautiful voice."
Steven threw in something off-script at the end: "Listen to some old blues records -- try to shake it out." That's good advice. It's a good suggestion in general. Maybe I'll pretend I'm Eben Franckewitz and do that myself right now. But I don't have a stiff crimson blazer.
Heejun Han introduced his dancing mom to America -- a good move. She's fun. "She loves to dance, sing. But she's not good at all," Heejun told the camera crew in secret. "You're not gonna air that, are you?" Ha. In an effort to prove that Asians can do more than outscore you on the SATs -- they can "also sing and melt their hearts... the females, of course" -- Heejun sang Robbie Williams' "Angels."
He smiled slyly at all the right moments and I notched that Heejun doesn't have to be really demonstrative or even move around at all in order to engage the audience. His voice sounded better than I was expecting, even though he seems to abandon the ends of certain words as he does when he's speaking.
The judges all criticized his song choice, which I found bizarre. (NigelNotes!) Steven started singing "Hey Jude" and I wish he would have continued.....
But not for too long, because next up was my second-fave of the night, Joshua Ledet, whom some fans have apparently nicknamed "Mantasia." I will probably not be doing that. I love a man who can make a smoothie, so I was sold on Mantasia (oh crap) even before he started in on Jennifer Hudson's "You Pulled Me Through."
He was wild yet eerily controlled with his "ya-ya-yas" and ecstatic high notes. J. Lo was so thrilled with Joshua that she decided she wanted to punch him. I found one of her more decipherable comments, delivered with bedroom eyes, to have a bit of a sexual tinge -- "You can do whatever you want up there, all season" -- so I guess we can conclude that J. Lo likes to punch people in bed? No, but maybe.
I just love Joshua, though. He's so unassuming and gentle but not in an annoying way where he pretends he doesn't know he's got talent. I never know which is worse with some of these reality contestants: obnoxious showboating or playing dumb.
In conclusion: "THIS WAS A HOT NIGHT, RYAN!" Always great to hear from you, Randy.
I have much higher hopes for the girls tonight. Who are your top 5? I'm going with Phillip, Joshua, Colton, Heejun, and Creighton -- with Jeremy Rosado as the wild card.
See you tonight!
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