‘American Idol’ Recap: The Top 24 Are Ready For Prime Time

Call off the search dogs. Lower our security threat level back down to chartreuse. Our long national nightmare of not knowing the full Top 24 on “American Idol X” finally ended Thursday night (February 24), as Seacrest & Co. spent 14 hours reading 19 names. (Apparently “Idol” was just getting us in the mood for Sunday night’s Oscar telecast.)

When the dust finally settled and the also-rans were told to mind the gap as they boarded the “Idol” Obscurity Train (Erin Kelly, Tiwan Strong, Brittany Mazur and Jimmie Allen, meet your conductors Vanessa Wolfe, Erskine Walcott and Hadas), “Idol” fans were left with a promising batch of 24 hungry young singers. And in an “AI” first, all 24 semi-finalists were profiled over the course of the two “big reveal” episodes. (Although, how could they not be in three hours of televison?!)

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First thing’s first, let’s address the giant Tourettey/Aspergery elephant in the room: James Durbin, whose final audition (and ultimate entry into the Top 24) caused riots on the streets. (And when I say “Caused riots on the streets,” I really mean, “Caused MJ’s Big Blog to crash.”) It was the gasp heard ’round the “Idol” bubble, when Durbin equated his reckless shriek to Adam Lambert’s controlled wail. Then he performed “A Change Is Gonna Come” in the style of Lambert’s season eight finale tour de force. Except Durbin replaced all of Adam’s nuanced restraint and emotional honesty with manic red-faced grandstanding. It was the musical equivalent of Elizbeth Berkley’s infamous caffeine pill meltdown from “Saved By the Bell.” To paraphrase Jessie Spano, “He’s so excited; I’m so scared.”

I’ll spare readers (and James) the lecture because we all know he struggles with a disorder that I imagine clouds self-awareness. (I truly think he intended his Lambert comparison to be a shout-out to one of his inspirations and not an arrogant dismissal of Adam’s otherworldly vocal chops.) Instead, I’ll simply urge Durbin to hone in on his own musical identity, and might suggest he avoid any future songs (or musical notes) that might end up with him being compared to a singer so far out of his league.

With that out of the way, Thursday night’s episode picked up right where Wednesday left off. Jennifer Lopez needed five minutes to sob before continuing the reveal of the Top 24. Each singer had one last chance to perform in front of Randy, J. Lo and Steven, and it was apparent that the contestants took the “sing for your life” message to heart.

J. Lo superfan Karen Rodriguez shrewdly busted out one of Selena’s big ballads for her final showcase, and it was nothing short of breathtaking. During Hollywood Week, we found out she stayed in the J. Lo playbooks, delivering a lounge lizardy spin on her number one hit “If I Had Your Love.” (The new judge went out of her way to remind viewers just in case they don’t remember all the way back to when Lopez was a legit recording star.) Back in her first audition, the judges wanted Karen to step up her personality and chutzpah, and ever since then she has been refining her style (I loved Karen’s new severe bun, pulled so tight her eyes were yanked shut) and stepping up her performances. After hearing the good news that she’ll be able to continue legally stalk J. Lo as an “Idol” contestant, Rodriguez said, “That just motivates me to work 10 times harder. I can’t wait ’til next round.” That’s the spirit! My only fear is that Rodriguez has already exhausted all the good J. Lo music references. She won’t perform “Louboutins,” will she?

Scotty McCreery was also a pleasant surprise. For his final performance, he retired that “Baby Lock Them Doors” song (even if Seacrest kept bringing it up) and chose a different ditty by Josh Turner. This one was called “Long Black Train,” and 17-year-old Scotty rocked the song like a pro who has been performing for decades. For his encore, he charmingly told J. Lo that he was a quarter Puerto Rican. It’s easy to see why the judges chose eager Scotty over the older, dryer John Wayne Schultz. (Raise your hand if you thought John Wayne Schultz’s farewell interview outside the hangar looked like one of those terrifying exit interviews on “The Bachelor.”)

That being said, it’s odd that “Idol” feels like they couldn’t have two country stars on one season, yet they have no qualms giving Stefano and Jovany — two beefy, hunky, ethnic belters — each a slot. (I hope they don’t cancel each other out next week, as I like both of them.)

My Long Island brother Robbie Rosen sang his ass tushula off on “Sorry Seems To Be the Hardest Word.” Did you catch that Randy Jackson loves how “unassuming” Robbie is? That means all that pre-season promo talk of only looking for singers with instant star quality was just a load of hooey.

Hot mama (though I don’t think she has actually given birth) Tatynisa Wilson’s segment was one of the oddest contestant intros I can ever remember. Producers replayed her gibberish-filled Hollywood week “I Hope You Dance” (remember that one that was so incoherent, people forwarded the clip around and laughed until an incorrect rumor started that she had a stroke live on the air. Oh wait, that was CBS reporter Serene Branson. But if you closed your eyes, same difference.) Then they showed Tatynisa’s final performance of a broken “Unbreak My Heart.” Add Randy Jackson calling her “Idol” trajectory a “nose dive” and J. Lo saying, “On this show, it’s not about having a bad day,” (which prompted Daniel Powter to emerge from the cardboard box he’s currently living in to say, “Girl, give me my royalty check!”) and you’re left with 30 million viewers asking, “Wait, they cut Jackie Wilson for this mess?”

Similarly, Jordan Dorsey’s Hollywood Week is remembered more for his bitching than his singing. (Oh, the irony of J. Lo calling him out for being a diva.) I’ve always been convinced that Hollywood Week is an elaborate way to find out who is difficult to work with before it’s too late, so I was surprised to see him join the ranks next to fan favorites like Casey Abrams and Naima Adedapo. They must have really liked his final take on John Legend’s “So High,” which is incidentally Charlie Sheen’s favorite jam.

Based on the final performances from Kendra Chantelle, Pia Toscano and Lauren Turner, these three talented (if not generic) singers each have their work cut out for them if they want to survive next week’s semi-final bloodbath. Kendra lost me by choosing one of the most over-performed songs on “Idol” in “Fallin’.” Fail. Lauren Turner was upstaged by her boyfriend’s fainting spell fake-out (Tyra Banks showed up to say, “Girl, give me my royalty check!”). And while the gorgeous Pia nailed “Doesn’t Mean Anything,” I think Julie Zorrilla has a slight leg up in the personality department and can serve the role of “hot girl” just as easily.

Showing personality has never been a problem for our next Top 24er, Lauren Alaina, who showed up in a dress even Ke$ha would put back on the rack. You know how Disney World offers princess makeovers at the Magic Kingdom’s Bippity Boppity Boutique? Well, Lauren Alaina apparently went to Dollywood for the “Hoedown Lowdown” treatment at the “Best Little Hairhouse in Texas.” Even more problematic than her Fluorescent Cowgirl Barbie outfit was her “Are you guys s—-ing me?!” puss when the judges led her to believe she was going home. I don’t fault her for a swollen ego after the ass-kissing she has received from the “Idol” machine early on. She did, after all, only recently turn sweet 16. (“Imagine that,” purred Steven Tyler. “Imagine Megan’s Law,” purred Chris Hansen.) Here’s hoping this close call scared Lauren Alaina straight. “Idol” voters don’t take kindly to entitled white girls (am I right, Ayla Brown?), and her final “Unchained Melody” was too good to go to waste.

The judges have two new favorites. First up was church-goer Jacob Lusk. Y’all know I have a soft spot for Lusk’s hysterical histrionics, both vocally and behaviorally, but even a Lusk Fan Club President like myself choked on a pretzel, Bush-style, when Randy Jackson called his Hollywood Week “God [Grunt] Bless [Hiccup] the [Moan] Ch-Ch-Ch-Chi-Chi-Yi-Yi-Yild” the “single best performance on ‘Idol’ ever ever!” What in the “Summertime” are you smoking there, Randy? I’m not mad at Jacob, though. Even if his vocal acrobatics make you cringe, you have to admit that his reaction to making the Top 24 was A+ television. Wouldn’t you endure more hairball holy spirit vocals if it meant more chances for Seacrest to get out-sprinted by a Gospel Queen?

The second judge’s pet was the likeable chair-thrower Casey Abrams. “I’m here to prove that people like me can be sexy,” said Abrams before crooning Jessica Rabbit’s signature tune “Why Don’t You Do Right?” Gritting one’s teeth, squinting one’s eyes shut and refusing to shower is not the most conventional way to be sexy, but getting into the Top 24 well definitely improve upright bass player’s chances with the ladies. Randy, again with the over-praise, gushed over Abrams mutli-instrumentalist streak. “I don’t think we’ve ever had a musician as talented as yourself … It’s like three musicians in one!” (Actually, Randy, “three musicians in one” sounds more like a porno title than anything.)

One of the neat additions to “AI: X” was letting the contestants perform an original ditty in their final “Sing For Your Life” segment.

Season 10 winner (I’m calling it) Tim Halperin performed his ode to post coitus. (Sample lyric: “When it’s over, I go numb and lose the feeling for awhile.”) From his first shaky audition to his stellar Vegas “Somewhere,” Halperin is on the way up, and the judges dig his low-key piano man persona. But don’t try any funny business, Seacrest. Halperin has a rape whistle and he’s not afraid to use it.

Stefano Langone also rocked a self-penned number. His song featured the Grammy-winning lyrics, “Come home baby, come home, no just come home.” We don’t know the title of his original, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s called “Come Home (2004).” A wordsmith he is not, but by golly his deliberately-paced, emotional ballad gave me flashbacks to last year’s shoulda-been-a-contender Katelyn Epperly. Except, you know, he’s a dude with brown hair, muscles and scars and she’s a blond ladywaif.

From the little snippets we saw, I think Julie Zorrilla wins the original song contest. The stylish cutie (who should be cast on “Glee” as the older, hotter sister Rachel never knew she had) sang a jaunty number about being stuck in reverse. (Chris Martin instantly flew in on a private jet to say, “Give me my royalty check!”) Compared to her male counterparts, Julie seemed to understand that songs should have more than one chord. In all honestly, I have no idea if Julie Zorrilla’s song was a cover or not. I did an exhaustive lyrics search to no avail. It could just be a song by an artist that nobody cares about (which means it was probably written by Kara DioGuardi).

By the end of the grueling episode, we were down to one spot for three boys. Cherubic fave Jacee Badeaux (who looked like he was going to vomit during his final performance), Colton Dixon (who popped up out of nowhere last week) and curly-haired ginger Brett Loewenstern (who adorably wanted to hold hands with his colleagues during the mile long hangar walk). I’ve been into Brett the Moonchild since the beginning, but after watching the one-two punch of Colton Dixon’s exciting Daughtry and Paramore covers, I was Team Dix 100 percent. “Maybe they’ll round up to a Top 25?” I thought. “Maybe Brett Loewenstern was right when he counted two spots for the three of them?” I theorized. “Maybe the producers don’t know a good thing when they see it.”

Turns out it was the latter. Brett earned the coveted spot (despite his cringe-worthy “Bulletproof” anti-bullying song), while Colton was sent packing. Hey “Idol,” did you hear about that idiot who sold a Jackson Pollock painting for five bucks at a yard sale because she didn’t know what she had in her possession?

Haley Williams has already tweeted for Colton to give her a buzz when he returns to Nashville. Here’s hoping she’s looking to give him an opportunity and not calling for a royalty check.

Are you as stoked as I am for this year’s Top 24 (The Colton Decision being the only exception)? Do you think of “Amelia Bedelia” when you hear Thia Megia’s name? Did you giggle every time Steven Tyler botched the “bad news” fakeout with the contestants? (Even Paula was able to do that convincingly!) Is there any way we can swap out Rachel Zevita for her horny grandma in the Top 24? (Do we want another Siobhan? No. Do we want an 83-year-old zebra print wearing sass machine? As Jacob Lusk might shriek, “YES! YES! YES! YES! YES!”) Now that Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” has been used as Julie Zorrilla’s victory music, does that mean the song is now an anthem for stylish first-generation Columbian refugees everywhere? Leave a comment below, and make sure to follow me on Twitter @jambajim for more “Idol” ramblings.