It’s Final Judgement day on Idol, even though the 51 hungry teens singing for scraps before a live audience of swaybots and their moms will continue to be judged for weeks. High above the commoners, Keith, Jenny and Harry perch themselves in huge white chaises that look like the fancy recliners at dine-in theaters. We must give the stars their space! Hold the calories, though. This is always a riveting episode, as the contestants must walk the longest and least glamorous runway in the world to receive a verdict on whether they’re camera-ready enough for the big time. They call it The Green Mile, but it’s black and blue and strewn with tears all over. No bare feet, please. At the end of the plank, on a much higher level, is Chaise Island, where the judges strain to let ‘em down easy and dole out career advice left and right. Never shush a crowd of strangers who are dumb enough to come see you, J. Lo scolds the too-cute 16-year-old Lee Jean. And she’s really not kidding about the shoes. “DO NOT TAKE OFF THOSE HEELS,” she snarls at Stephany Negrete, who must not have realized that her ability to walk in them is what cinched her spot in the Top 24. “No, that’s right, STRUGGLE back,” Stephany’s mentor cackles as she teeters away. “LEARN.” For the most part, the judges hold back on the esteemed Idol tradition of brutally fucking with people before revealing that they’re actually safe. This time J. Lo keeps her fake-outs short and sweet so that her heart doesn’t have to “kind of hurt a little bit”. Keith Urban gently toys with the kids, but just enough so that it’s worth it for him to stay awake. But Harry Connick Jr. never got the Don’t Be Weird memo and just can’t help himself. His most spectacular fake-out failure deserves to be canonized in full: “Sometimes I think about the crossroads we’re at. The people going home. Thousands upon thousands that audition to make it to that chair — it’s quite an accomplishment. But that doesn’t negate the fact… that more than half of those people out there are going home. And you are going…. …..[KEITH NODS OFF]….. …to the top 24.”
Out in the holding pen, fallen idols bid new friends farewell as the remaining hopefuls calculate who else in the room bombed once or twice during Hollywood Week and how badly it’ll cost them. But it’s not all icy glares and silent death wishes. Everyone’s family now, and our up-for-anything host is no exception. Upon hearing good news, a triumphant contestant, a hug-hungry dad, and a military mom all rush to manhandle little Ryan Seacrest and lift him up where he belongs: O-facing in slow-motion like a dazed Cirque du Soleil acrobat. Finally it’s time for a tradition too insidious to die: the most arbitrary pairings imaginable of girls and guys, one of each of whom will be eliminated just for the drama! On the guys’ side, there’s Michael Bolton wannabe Jordan Sasser (decidedly not better than anyone) vs. Kacye Haynes, a former addict who covers “Hold On, We’re Going Home” in a wicked but exceedingly well-sung flash of foreshadowing. Boom, Kacye’s out with zero explanation. For the ladies, it’s Kosovo native Lindita (or “the swagger”) vs. single mom La’Porsha Renae (“the soul”). Lindita lost 150 pounds to be here — but thankfully “still sings like a big girl,” according to J. Lo during her audition in a sports bra — while La’Porsha escaped domestic abuse with her baby girl to go live in a shelter. Those are both some damn fine obstacles to have overcome, so this will be tough. Let’s look to Lindita’s live showcase song selection for clues… Damnit. It’s “Mama Knows Best”. She slayed the performance, but she’s not a mom. Off with her head. Lindita’s elimination is infuriating, but the most criminal cut of the night has to be Jessica Cabral, whom I considered the best vocal powerhouse of the season and a shoo-in for the Top 12. No way did Jessica or Lindita deserve to go home before some of the generic teens (Gianna Isabella, Tristan McIntosh, Emily Brooke). The worst part is there’s no proof that Jessica did poorly! I smell conspiracy here. Nothing says “We just didn’t think you were hot enough” or “We decided your backstory sucks” like a refusal to show any clips of her solos. (I haven’t decided which conspiracy.) Other contestants sail through despite being nothing special. Emo teen Thomas Stringfellow’s pompadour-to-body fat ratio is simply off the charts, so obviously he’s a must. Harry sure could take in a ball game or two with a guy like Manny Torres. And I’m fairly certain they kept Trent Harmon — the country guy with a giant turquoise ring and undesirable ability to stretch the word “linen” into eight syllables — because he’s the one who’s been suffering from mono the whole time. What could be quirkier than an infectious disease? It goes without saying that quirkiness is the key to screen time. Avalon Young, a 21-year-old tomboy who enjoys half-rapping songs while wearing Cosby sweaters, brings something different to the table: a niche. “Is that something we NEED on American Idol?” wonders Keith on his way out of a sleep-stupor. Dalton Rapattoni, 19, is teen angst personified. “I have never had lower self-esteem than I have right now,” he shares with his very first televised live audience before completely distorting an *NSYNC song. But quirky beyond words — and any GPS for that matter — is 15-year-old Jeneve Rose Mitchell, the wide-eyed doily with a side-braid whom Idol tapped from “off the grid” somewhere in the Rockies. Her overwrought emoting is far too much for me, even if the girl can carry a tune. It’s bad enough to remove the beat from “Ring of Fire” — but to somehow transmute the warbling result into a dramatic monologue onstage? No thanks. “I’m gonna be the first Mountain Girl to win American Idol,” Jeneve lisps to the camera. Pretty sure that’s not a thing. The Top 24, grouped for your pleasure! CANNON FODDER Gianna Isabella Tristan McIntosh Former Voice contestant Shelbie Z Jordan Sasser C.J. Johnson
HOT CANNON FODDER
Stephany Negrete COUNTRY Emily Brooke Jenna Renae
QUIRKY COUNTRY Amelia Eisenhauer Trent Harmon QUIRKY, PERIOD Jeneve Rose Mitchell Avalon Young Olivia Rox Jenn Blosil QUIRKY SENSITIVE MALE Dalton Rapattoni OTHER SENSITIVE MALES Thomas Stringfellow MacKenzie Bourg Lee Jean Manny Torres VOCAL POWERHOUSES Sonika Vaid La’Porsha Renae WHO? Kory Wheeler Adam Lasher James VII Next week: Solos and duets with Former! American! IDOLS! Get ready for Fantasia, y’all!