‘American Idol’ Recap: Top 12 Men Start Slow, End Hot

On their marks! Get set! Go! [Cue the sound of a stalled car.]

America got its first official glimpse at the Top 12 men of season 10 Tuesday night (March 1) and things were as psychotically bipolar as a certain sitcom star currently making the rounds. (I’m looking at you, Emmanuel Lewis!)

For every exhilarating Casey Abrams, there was a soul-crushing disappointment of Sundance Head proportions. (Oh the humanity, Tim Halperin!) Still, a trio of final performances (and a couple others) kept the momentum of “Idol X: Lauren Alaina or Bust” going strong.

Before I start shamelessly plugging my brand new weekly live show, “Idol Party Live,” premiering this Thursday night at 10pm ET on MTV.com (featuring fans, celebs and a grand karaoke finale), let’s take a closer look at each of the first official performances of season 10. (Seriously though, don’t miss “Idol Party Live.” In a lovely sign of “Idol” blogger solidarity, Entertainment Weekly‘s whip-smart recapping superstar Annie Barrett will be my gut-busting co-host this week. More goodies to be announced!)

Clint Jun Gamboa
Song: Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”
Verdict: Almost Wonderful
It’s not a surprise that producers asked Jun-bug to kick off the proceedings on the brand new “Idol” stage that’s part Thunderdome, part Space Mountain, part Jedi High Council Chamber. “Superstition” is one of those foolproof ditties that makes you boogie on your couch, even if the dude singing it is a near-sighted karaoke host whose claim to fame is making a 15-year-old cry. The judges dug Clint’s presence and voice (both Randy and Steven called it “brilliant,” causing the word “brilliant” to dye its hair, unlist its phone number and move to a new town). While I don’t agree, I appreciated Jun-bug’s hunger. But does his deadly opening placement in a semi-final show squash him? (See Season eight’s Jackie Tohn, Rudy Cardenas from season six or the first season’s Suzy Valaca for evidence.)

Jovany Barreto
Song: Edwin McCain’s “I’ll Be”
Verdict: Ship Him Back
Poor Barreto was the first soul of season 10 to get “Matt Girauditis,” wherein a talented singer somehow loses all charisma the second he steps foot in front of 30 million people. Maybe the “Idol” stylist didn’t have a chance to pick up his outfit at “Big & Buff Male,” making his replacement gray vest and polka dot shirt too tight. Maybe he got confused and thought this week’s theme was “wink while half-heartedly singing.” Or maybe he picked a song that was done to death in the early “Idol” seasons, which made his offering feel small, inconsequential and low-budget. Sadly, I don’t think he’ll be around long enough to find out if “a long way from the shipyard” will be this year’s “paint salesman.”

Jordan Dorsey
Song: Usher’s “OMG”
Verdict: LMAO
The smooth-crooning music teacher who once gave J.Lo “goosepimples” has been slowly morphing into a young Bobby Brown. Everything from his Hollywood Week attitude to his over-the-top lothario act on Tuesday’s Top 12 show suggests that by the end of this “Idol” season, he’ll have his own incoherent Bravo reality series where he goes camping and shopping with his bonkers diva wife.

To his credit, Dorsey’s “OMG” sounded better than Usher’s TV performances of the same tune. Apparently Jordan attempted to dance because that’s what Usher does, meaning if “Idol” ever features the Iggy Pop songbook, we’ll watch Dorsey roll around in broken glass. After the judges rightfully pointed out that this wasn’t really his style, Dorsey frustratingly agreed. So why did he sing it in the first place?! To quote the great Whitney Houston, “I’m not doing this with him todaaaaaay.”

Tim Halperin
Song: Rob Thomas’ “Streetcorner Symphony”
Verdict: Meh-tchbox Twenty
And now, a Public Service Announcement.

Boring White Guy Syndrome (BWGS) can affect all white males. Trust me, I speak from experience. Sometimes I’ll be in a midtown Duane Reade when a Goo Goo Dolls song will play over the sound system. “Hmm, maybe ‘Slide’ wasn’t all that bad,” I’ll think to myself. Tim Halperin clearly suffers from BWGS. Symptom A: Choosing a Rob Thomas song. Symptom B: Referring to his competition as “brothers.” Symptom C: Not looking comfortable on stage unless he’s playing piano. Symptom D: Having a friend who looks like Peter Jackson. Symptom E: Rob. Effing. Thomas. Song.

Pray for him, America. With your help maybe he will remember that he was once charming and overcome BWGS once and for all.

Brett Loewenstern
Song: The Doors’ “Light My Fire”
Verdict: Hairy Apple
Brett, a self-described “red apple in a pile of green apples,” removed the sexy core from the Doors’ “Light My Fire” and tossed it in the garbage. If you closed your eyes, you heard a decent smokey vocal (not unlike season nine’s fruit comparison, Alex Lambert) that finally warmed up a third of the way through. If you opened your eyes, you saw a fidgety amateur with a nervous “hair toss” tic. (The judges counted 14 hair tosses! That’s a hair toss every seven seconds!) Even the microphone stand said, “I just can’t” and mysteriously collapsed on its own halfway through the performance. “I like that you are who you are,” giggled J. Lo. (Ke$ha responded to Lopez’s accidental “We R Who We R” shout-out by wiping puke off her chin and giggling like an infant.) I like Brett’s personality, too. I just think this apple needs a little bit of a polish before I fully sink my teeth into him.

James Durbin
Song: Judas Priest’s “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’”
Verdict: Screaming For Vengeance
Durbin’s rockin’ performance had more reverb than Phil Collins’ entire 1980s discography. No wonder I finally thought his hair metal vocals were on key! If Simon were there, he would have pointed out that this was when the episode truly began. Was I surprised at how much I enjoyed James tonight? You betcha. Do I think he deserves a spot in the Top 10 and finally get what the judges’ fuss was about? Indeed! Do I want to yank that tail out of the back of his pants, tie him to a chair with it and yell at him until he agrees to stop attempting his Fail Wail every week? [Bleeping] A.

Robbie Rosen
Song: Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel”
Verdict: Animal Abuse
Seacrest presented Robbie as “The Pride of Long Island.” (Dina Lohan is now suing “Idol” for overlooking Lindsay.) After Robbie’s shaky, off-tempo, unwieldy cover of a song I associate with animals in cages, I can’t imagine the Strong Island pride extending past the Rosen property line. Did anyone else instantly think of a howling wolf when producers placed a full moon graphic behind him on stage?

The new judges heard a different version entirely. J. Lo said Robbie made choices that she “loved better” than the original version. This just in: Sarah McLachlan rushed to the hospital for third degree burns inflicted from a sassy Bronx diva.

Scotty McCreery
Song: John Michael Montgomery’s “Letters From Home”
Verdict: Baby Lock Them Doors, ‘Cause I’m Writing A Letter
Scotty seems to have aged 15 years since they taped the last episode. Does he have that Robin Williams “Jack” disease?

Perhaps I’m responding to Scotty’s effortlessly old-school country baritone, which makes him sound decades older than his Little League status suggests. Furthermore, his song choice mentioned guns and soldiers, he wore a crucifix and he put shoe polish in his hair. Is he pandering to the audience a la Kristy Lee Cook’s “God Bless the USA” stunt back in season seven? Heck no. He is the NASCAR audience, making McCreery the best authentic male country contestant in “Idol” history. I’m no fan of twang, but f— a duck, I ate up every second of Scotty’s story time. He might deserve the “Idol” crown just for commanding attention and having swagger while simply sitting on a stool. That’s talent, y’all.

Stefano Langone
Song: Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are”
Verdict: Better Brunette
There was a moment when Stefano Langone hit a goose-egg of a note while belting “Just the Way You Are,” and a telling judges’ reaction shot revealed every single one of their personalities. Steven, eyes closed, instantly woke up and pointed at the foul musical note lingering in front of his face, like a kid popping an invisible bubble. J. Lo cocked her head like the RCA dog and visibly winced. Randy wasn’t even looking at the stage and just continued to bop along like all was honky dory. This … is “American Idol X: Only Two of Us Are Earning Our Paychecks.”

Stefano stood out head and shoulders above his direct competition (the other cute, muscle-bound brunette with a vowel-y name Jovany). Sure, the wheels came off by the end of Langone’s “just for the ladies” tribute (whereas Jovany had a consistent on-key dull roar), but Stefano’s stage presence was strong enough to inspire J. Lo. “There’s nothing awkward about you,” she said. “I know I’m gonna have my hands in the air.” Truth! Except for every now and then when we have our fingers in our ears.

Paul McDonald
Song: Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May”
Verdict: Mumford & Fun
“I’m ready to take the stage and rock America,” said Paul McDonald in his pre-performance package. Cue the mandolin! That juxtaposition was only the first of many oddball beats in Paul’s breakout performance. How is it that a twitchy dude in head-to-toe black croaking through a singing competition like a long lost Mumford Son brought so much unbridled joy over the “Idol” studio audience? Easy! From his “What’s up TV Land?” greeting to his final quiet notes, he never stopped flashing a winning Cheshire Cat grin, which lit the stage far brighter than any incongruous laser graphic behind him could dare to try. Lopez called out his “smiling while he sings” skills. So for those of you keeping score at home, “sminging” is the new “smizing.” Jennifer Lopez, 1. Tyra Banks, 0.

Jacob Lusk
Song: Luther Vandross’ version of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “A House Is Not a Home”
Verdict: Fantasia 2.0
“Understated” is a relative term when you’re talking about Jacob Lusk. To the uninitiated, his trill-filled, range-sliding, mug-enhanced “A House Is Not a Home” was campier than a “RuPaul’s Drag Race” marathon. Compared to his previous foot stompers, however, this was a controlled, restrained and nuanced rendition that deserved the Luther Vandross comparison it earned.

I love the way Lusk flirts with viewers in side-eye, and how he’s always this close to shoving the microphone inside his mouth. I love the way he defies expectations by taking his show-offy runs to his lower register. I love how when a visibly swooning Steven Tyler asked Lusk where he “gets it,” someone in Jacob’s entourage screamed “Jesus!” without any delay. Most of all, I love that Jacob doesn’t have to go to 11 every week in order to have me singing his praises. Once he gets his pitch on point, he’ll be unstoppable. Can I get an amen?

Casey Abrams
Song: Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell On You”
Verdict: Spellbinding
There was nothing understated about Casey Abrams ferocious Screamin’ Jay Hawkins homage. Creepy unflinching gaze? Check. Acting like he wanted to simultaneously beat up and make love to the front row? Check. Guttural, blood-curdling howls? You better believe it. He had me at “grrrrr” (what can I say, I like Tom Waits), but officially won me over with his final two notes, which were as tender as his first hundred were vicious. “You’re miiiiine,” he crooned like Chet Baker in a Fozzy Bear costume.

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It may have started off with a shrug, but once the also-rans are weeded out, we’re in for one of the quirkiest “Idol” seasons ever. Then again, last year most of the intriguing oddballs were ceremoniously cut in the semi-finals. (We’ll always have February 2010, Lily Scott, Katelyn Epperly, Alex Lambert and Todrick Hall.) Here’s hoping voters grew wise to the fact that “Idol” needs more than one paint color to make it as addictive as possible.

What did you think? Did you snicker when Seacrest promised “a double-header from Tim and Brett” after the break? (In your dreams, Ryan!) Which ending are you going to pick for J. Lo’s “Get Right” video? (How about the one where she helps defeat an anaconda?) Did you design your own “American Idol” Coca-Cola cup? (I did. Mine has Paula Abdul’s face on it.) And did you also have a personal crisis when you found yourself agreeing with Randy most of the night? Leave a comment below.

And be sure to tune into “Idol Party Live” this Thursday night (March 3) at 10 p.m. Eastern on MTV.com! We’ll be sharing some of our favorite viewers’ Tweets live on the air, so send us your best “Idol” material in 140 characters or less all week long using the hash tag #idolparty to either @mtvnews or directly to my Twitter account @jambajim.