‘American Idol’ Recap: Male Pattern Oddness

Wednesday night’s (February 24) “American Idol” was bad. Really bad. Like, makes-you-question-the-meaning-of-life-bad. The debut of season nine’s Top 12 boys (no men here) did the impossible: It out-sucked the girls’ tepid outing from Tuesday. By a lot. Let’s just get to the carnage.

Todrick Hall
Song: “Since U Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson
Verdict: The Wizard of Odd
Todrick opened the show on an offbeat note by putting Kelly Clarkson’s signature anthem in a blender with fuzzed out synths, jangly African guitars, Morris Day R&B, atonal background singers, gospel vocal inflections and a dollop of a spoken word. It was as close to a Dirty Projectors song as we’ll ever get on “American Idol.” It may have left the judges scratching their heads (Randy used the word “obliterated”), but Pitchfork would give it an 9.2. Personally, I dug it. He may have been trying too hard, but I thought his vocals were far better than he was given credit for. Furthermore, Tuesday night the panel criticized the girls for not taking risks. A day later, Hall takes a risk and he gets blasted. The judge’s inconsistency is far more baffling than Todrick’s arrangement.

Aaron Kelly
Song: “Here Comes Goodbye” by Rascal Flatts
Verdict: Here Comes the Judge’s Pimping
Aaron seems like a nice young man. I wish him well. I also wish him a stylist, because the gray plaid and jeans getup (combined with the “mature” Rascal Flatts song) made him look like he had just been stopped in a mall and asked to perform by a sketchy talent scout. (Perhaps a friend of Todrick’s!) Kelly’s nerves were undeniable, but the judges gave him a free pass. You’ll notice I’ve retired my “Countryleta” nickname for Aaron. Until he impresses me with his vocals again, it feels weird to associate him with David Archuleta. Also weird? Seacrest made no mention of season six finalist Chris Sligh, who co-wrote “Here Comes Goodbye.” Why the snub? That seems like a perfectly good and appropriate opportunity to let “Idol” pat itself on the back. I guess you have to win an Oscar before “Idol” claims an also-ran as one of its own.

Jermaine Sellers
Song: “Get Here” by Oleta Adams
Verdict: Get The Eff Out
In film school, a wise professor once told me to watch “bad” movies as often as possible because learning what not to do can be just as valuable as studying a classic. If I applied that philosophy to “American Idol” performances, Jermaine Sellers’ insane offering was a master class. Creepy whispery voice? Check. Constipated high notes? Check. Pointless runs? Check. Ugly faces that made him look like he was having a stroke? Check. The only thing missing was an awkward interview … but wait! We got that, too! In his post-judging chat, Seacrest asked Sellers if he ever apologized to “Michael” for his Hollywood Week diva tantrum. A confused Jermaine responded with, “Who’s Michael?” even though Michael is Michael Orland, the “Idol” pianist/arranger/associate musical director who Seacrest dragged on stage! At the very least, Jermaine taught us a new maneuver when deflecting nasty comments from Simon Cowell: Do the stanky leg!

Tim Urban
Song: “Apologize” by OneRepublic
Verdict: Falsetto Fail = Failsetto
Tim Urban must have got up Wednesday morning thinking it was opposite day. How else to explain the logic behind picking OneRepublic’s hit? “I have no falsetto, so I’m going to sing a song that’s 75 percent high notes I can’t hit if my life depended on it.” It reminded me of that one time I attempted a Robyn song at karaoke. I was all cocky, thinking, “I got this.” And then the chorus came and I sounded like Winston the Cat. If I were Tim, I’m not sure which judge’s critique would sadden me more. Was it Simon’s “We absolutely made the right decision not to put you in the first time?” Or Ellen essentially saying, “I want to watch you muted because you’re hot but your voice sucks?” If Tim does make it through to the Top 20, let’s all pray that he realizes his weakness is high notes. Otherwise, we’re in for a dreadful rendition of Jeff Buckley’s “Corpus Christi Carol” next week.

Joe Munoz
Song: “You and I Both” by Jason Mraz
Verdict: Pleased To Meet You
Joe Munoz’s good-but-not-great Mraz cover benefited from following three dreadful performances in the show rundown. To hear a contestant stay on key for more than three notes at a time and look comfortable on camera was a total “Eureka!” I agree with Simon that it’s not going to get him out of the “Idol bubble,” but at least the guy was in the bubble. Jermaine and Tim weren’t even in the soapy water you need to make a bubble. But I’m calling Simon out for describing Joe’s performance as “forgettable” and “limp” ten minutes after he gushed over Aaron Kelly’s forgettable and limp performance.

Tyler Grady
Song: “American Woman” by The Guess Who?
Verdict: Jim Bore-ison
Poor Tyler Grady. Just a week ago, the judges kissed his skinny butt for copying the rock star posturing of Jim Morrison, Roger Daltry and Robert Plant. Now the same judges are reaming him for copying the rock star posturing of Jim Morrison, Roger Daltry and Robert Plant! I understand what they mean. They hoped he would add a Mick Jagger swagger to a contemporary song instead of just doing an empty classic rock cover. But they might have to be a little more explicit with the young lad, who strikes me as a tad flighty. Exhibit D: His plan of attack to address the judge’s “all style/no substance” criticisms? “I guess I’ll have to go to the mall.” Yep! That’ll solve that problem!

Lee Dewyze
Song: “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol
Verdict: A Bumpy Ride
On paper, Lee Dewyze has the makings of a “dark horse” contestant. He didn’t get a lot of pre-season screen time, he has pre-”Idol” music that fans will geek out over and he’s an intensely serious rocker, not exactly the kind of artist you think of when you hear “American Idol.” (Unless, you know, you’ve heard of David Cook.) So if Dewyze’s journey will be that of the “dark horse” this year, our champ is off to a bumpy, uneven ride. The good: He replaced the ethereal atmosphere of Snow Patrol’s recording with a plucky coffeehouse guitar riff. That shows creativity. The bad: His singing voice, which is like an amalgam of every douche-rocker that’s topped the charts from John Mayer to Darius Rucker to Chad Kroeger to Dave Matthews to Scott Stapp. The judges were equally conflicted. Kara wanted him to do Bad Company (huh?!), Randy wanted him to go harder (what?!), Ellen wanted him to stop shouting (thanks!) and Simon thought it was the best performance by a mile. (Simon clearly forgot what the words “best” and “mile” meant.) I’m pulling for Lee. In my “Idol” crystal ball I see potential superstar moments from the guy. He just needs to learn how to tame that beastly voice first.

John Park
Song: “God Bless the Child” by Billie Holliday
Verdict: God Bless the Fast Forward Button
John Park followed up the funniest pre-performance interview packages (where he professed his love for, and proposed to, Shania Twain) with one of the most depressing performances of the night. Looking like a deer in headlights, sounding like a suffering cow, his song choice made even less sense than Kara’s blouse (silver studs and strings of cubic zirconium). Make up your mind, people! You can’t be the class clown one second and then dedicate a 69-year-old song to your parents the next. Speaking of parents, Papa Park’s “bitch, please!” face after Simon ripped his son a new one was delicious. When I get elected President, my first order of business will be to put it on our currency.

Michael Lynche
Song: “This Love” by Maroon 5
Verdict: Muscle and Flow
“Ladies and Gentleman, tonight the role of John Mayer will be played by Michael Clark Duncan.” Big Mike’s offering was an indifferent shrug on a night of “hell to the no’s” so it was a small victory. But I jumped off the Big Mike bandwagon as soon as I realized the only thing larger than his biceps is his ego. Simmer down, dude. There’s no reason to shout random phrases at the judges and flex your guns like you’re James Brown on PCP. You’re freaking me out.

Alex Lambert
Song: “Wonderful World” by James Morrison
Verdict: Nervous Nervous Nervous
Alex Lambert has a serious problem. (And I’m not talking about his penchant for wearing sunglasses indoors.) He likes to sing, but he gets crippling stage fright. What’s a mullet to do? Why, audition for “American Idol!” For the entirety of the song (the longest 90 seconds in TV history), Lambert stared at the camera like a six-year-old in an electronics store who saw himself on TV for the first time. Occasionally he would bop to a beat. (Not the song’s beat, mind you.) At the very least, Lambert picked the perfect ditty, given these lyrics. “People look at me and they know/ They can tell something is wrong/ Like I don’t belong.” You hit the nail on the head! The only thing more awkward than the performance? The judging! Simon, Randy and Kara were stumped as to how to offer the guy constructive criticism without making him cry. Luckily, Ellen lightened up the mood by making a long, rambling analogy about ripe bananas.

Casey James
Song: “Heaven” by Bryan Adams
Verdict: Kara Is The Worst
Casey James’ should be relishing in the glory of delivering the night’s best performance. The stripped down beginning of “Heaven” was the closest we got to an “A-ha!” moment Wednesday night. Unfortunately, Kara DioGuardi (and producers) felt the need to shove this “Kara Wants To Jump Casey’s Bones” plotline down America’s throat by cutting to DioGahhhhh blushing and drooling throughout James’ song. (You know if they had a split screen graphic handy, they totally would have used it.) Isn’t it weird that just a few years ago the show was almost derailed by the Paula Abdul/Corey Clark controversy, and now producers are basically encouraging that situation? I’m proud of Ellen for apologizing to Casey for the judges’ immature behavior but the damage was done. Cougar Kara is here to stay. I’d talk more about Casey’s performance, but as Ellen noted, “It doesn’t really matter.” Side note: I’m not the target audience, but is Casey really that attractive? He looks like a chubbier version of Bucky Covington to me. I don’t get it.

Andrew Garcia
Song: “Sugar We’re Going Down” by Fall Out Boy
Verdict: The Golden Boy Falls Down
Andrew Garcia’s Fall Out Boy cover was one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen on “American Idol.” (That includes Nicole Tranquillo’s Chaka Kahn impression, mind you.) It almost felt like an avant-garde performance art piece. Like, some kind of Warholian comment on his role on the show. It was risky yet safe at the same time. On one hand, he taught America what Patrick Stump was really singing these past five years. On the other hand, Garcia’s been playing the unplugged fratboy card for weeks now. We learned nothing new about the stay-at-home-dad Wednesday night. (Even his pre-performance package used recycled footage of his wife and baby!) It was intense, joyless and ultimately pointless. Let the Garcia backlash commence!

What did you think of the Top 12 boys? Do you think Todrick would have gotten better reviews if he came later in the show? (I do!) Did anyone inspire you to vote? Do you think Simon would ever be allowed to leer over a female contestant the way Kara fawns over Casey? How much do you miss Season 8? Leave a comment below! And make sure you follow me on Twitter for more “Idol” ramblings. I’ll see everyone Friday with the season premiere of “American Idol in 60 Seconds!”