It's nearly time for the American People to take over on "American Idol." But "nearly" means "not quite yet" and "not quite yet" means we still have four hours of "Idol" ahead of us this week.

Up first? A trip to Las Vegas, as Wednesday's (February 23) "American Idol" recap kicks off after the break...

8:00 p.m. "What they don't know is that this is no vacation," Ryan Seacrest observes. Really, Ryan? I'm guessing they know this is no vacation. Or they have an inkling. Some of these kids seem kinda clever.  That parts a lie. None of them seem clever. But I'm sure they know there's no such thing as a free trip to Vegas.

8:01 p.m. This episode isn't just Las Vegas, though. It's also the beginning of the phase some of us know as The Chair and others know as The Green Mile. Begining tonight, we're going to learn the identities of at least a few members of our Top 20-ish.

8:02 p.m. We're taking 61 people to Las Vegas. In buses. Oh that sucks. I hope they don't hit traffic. Surely the show that paid to fly 320+ mediocre singers to Los Angeles could have flown 61 to Las Vegas? They've already divided themselves into duos and trios, as they head to the Mirage, where they're starting to rehearse their Beatles songs.

8:03 p.m. Denise Jackson, Scott McCreery and Lauren Alaina seem like a power trio, but Lauren is feeling the pressure. She doesn't want to disgrace the Beatles, or herself.

8:04 p.m. Vocal coach Debra Byrd is getting a lot of screentime. As is Peggy, who has earned a nickname, The Vocal Coach From Hell. She just wants people to stop molesting the finer works of the Beatles. Is that so evil? "Guess what, you're gonna die in front of all those people," she cackles to Denise/Scott/Alaina.

8:06 p.m. Lots of these contestants don't know The Beatles. You know why that is? Because they're YOUNG. And you, dear readers, are OLD! Finally, we bring in Jimmy Iovine and his Interscope team. They're there to do some early analysis and coaching. They begin by telling Scotty, Lauren and Denise to go find a new song. This doesn't make Lauren's crying any better.

8:08 p.m. Jimmy has mocking words and leads several of the other singers to collapse in corners. This, I believe, is what we call "mentoring."

8:09 p.m. But everything is improved with a trip to promote "Love." But the next day? More crying.

8:10 p.m. "For many, what happened in Vegas... will stay there." Ugh, Ryan. That's just really bad writing. I mean, it clearly won't stay there. I'm watching it on TV.

8:13 p.m. The Mirage is a nice hotel. Someday I'd like to be able to afford to stay there, instead of just eating at the Buffet and going back to The Trop for $5 blackjack.

8:13 p.m. Ryan promises us "a spectacle like we've never seen before." Carrot Top? He's performing over at the Luxor!

8:14 p.m. James Durbin and Stefano Langone. They tackle "Get Back" and do a pretty fair job with it. James does a little wailing, but resists letting loose his full barbaric yawl. Tyler says he "went up into the way-outosphere." The praise for Stefano is a bit more tempered.

8:15 p.m. Pia Toscano and Karen Rodriguez are buddies. They went to high school together. And now they're sitting with Ryan in a hastily tossed together Coke Red Room. Pia and Karen both sing well on the solo parts of the song. I don't much care for the duet part. Pia's better than Karen. Jennifer Lopez says that Karen and Pia get what it means to be an entertainer. For Steven it "built" well. He may just be saying that Pia is well built.

8:17 p.m. Jacob Lusk, who was accused (CORRECTLY) of over-singing by Jimmy Iovine, is teaming with Haley Reinhart and Naima Adedapo. For the sake of this performance, it's Haley who's over-singing. Well, Jacob is over-singing as well. Really, Naima's the only piece of this "Long and Winding Road" trio who *isn't* trying to show how many pointless runs she can do. And their harmonies are all off. J-Lo loved it. She whips out a "if you're a singer, you can sing anything." Even the phone booth? Tyler calls it stupendous. Randy Jackson tells Jacob to never hold back. Oy. I don't think that's going to be a problem for Jacob. I like that Jacob says he didn't want to "take it all the way to Ebenezer Baptist." Though it concerns me to think of how many different levels of "church" he may have that we haven't even seen yet.

8:21 p.m. Rachel Zevita is another over-singer, but it works on "Eleanor Rigby." In contrast, Lauren Turner doesn't need to show off. She just tears into "Let It Be." 

8:21 p.m. Who the heck is Tim Halperin? He matches Julie Zorrilla on a dueling piano version of "Something." Have we seen Tim before? Julie was already one of my favorites, but this is a really terrific duet they're doing. 

8:25 p.m. Our most emotional elimination ever? I'm really not sure if I can handle that.

8:27 p.m. I want to go to Vegas.

8:27 p.m. Jerome Bell, bar mitzvah singer extraordinaire, is singing with two singers I don't think we've ever spotter before. Tatynisa Wilson and Lakeisha Lewis? Lakesha is very good. Their harmonies are kinda off. I blame Jerome, who I haven't liked since his audition. Randy says that Jerome wasn't amazing, but he liked the girls. J-Lo tells Lakeisha she needs to let loose and warns Tatynisa that this wasn't her day. Tyler, however, though that they nailed it.

8:30 p.m. Paul McDonald? Who? I think we've seen Kendra Chantelle a couple times. They're doing "Blackbird." Paul is kinda freaky to look at, but his voice is tremendous. I don't know that I want to see much more of his twitching and contorting, but I would definitely listen to more of him. Kendra's also fine. J-Lo loves them both, particularly Paul, who also gets praise from Steven.

8:32 p.m. A montage of people being themselves, conspicuously without naming any of them. The trio on "Little Help" seemed like the standout. 

8:33 p.m. Time for a crazy Ashley Sullivan featurette. Apparently Ashley has decided that she's getting married tonight and she's shopping for a wedding outfit. She wants it to be white, but the style is open for interpretation. "We're getting married at the same place Britney Spears got married and she's my hero," Ashley says, shortly before vowing to kill her husband-to-be if he gets cold feet.  Dave the Camera Guy gets screen time!!! He's the witness. Ashley is just REALLY desperate to make the most of this 15 minutes.

8:40 p.m. It's one day later, if that matters to you. 

8:40 p.m. Remember The Vocal Coach From Hell? Well, she's in the audience for Melinda Ademi and Thia Megia's performance of "Here Comes the Sun." Will they die on stage? Melinda comes close and drags the previously reliable Thia down with her. Randy calls it "very, very interesting," somewhat praising Thia. J-Lo dubs it "cute." Steve accuses Melinda of being "behind on their phrasing." Suddenly the judges are doubting Thia's specialness. But... but... they SURVIVED. Isn't that something?

8:42 p.m. The newly married Ashley gets more exposure in the Coke Red Room. She's sitting next to somebody else, but she keeps talking to make sure that nobody other than Ashley gets on-screen. The other person is Sophia Shorai, who we spotted briefly on Group Day. They do a weirdly aggressive and hostile version of "We Can Work It Out." Tyler says he liked Ashley, but he wasn't sure she sang this well. Randy agrees that it was not hot today. J-Lo just says she's sorry.

8:44 p.m. Denise, Scotty and Lauren are up next. Did they change songs? Yes. They're doing "Hello, Goodbye." It's nice to see that Scotty has a little bit of upper range. But the performance is... silly. It's supposed to be humorous and J-Lo laughs as they play with the stage props. But it's not warm laughter. J-Lo liked the harmony, but she wanted more from Denise and Lauren. "The song didn't fit you guys," Tyler says, comparing the silliness to the Marx Brothers. It's less Marx Brothers and more Benny Hill with that phone booth business. They should have performed a "Yakety Sax"-set Beatles cover.

8:47 p.m. It's time for Carson Higgins to go. He's awful. 

8:47 p.m. Casey Abrams and Chris Medina also got in on the clowning for "Hard Day's Night." Tyler calls them "freaks." From what we saw, there was some musicality to whatever they were doing and Casey is terrified to face a "No."

8:53 p.m. Why is Robbie Rosen performing in front of an illuminated cross? Is "American Idol" crucifying him? He's with Aaron Sanders, who sings with one black glove. Interesting. The group also includes the fickle Jordan Dorsey. I still don't get the cross. And Robbie Rosen really probably shouldn't be dancing unless it's the hora. Randy was impressed. The other two judges echo the praise.

8:56 p.m. Brutal cuts are coming... But first, lights and a fog machine...

8:56 p.m. Thia, Scotty, Jordan, Robbie, Lauren and Ashthon are called forward. They're all safe, as is somebody whose name I didn't write down. Good for them.

8:58 p.m. But we're saying farewell to Carson Higgins and a couple other people, including White House intern Molly DeWolf. Farewell also to Ashley Sullivan, Melinda Ademi and Denise Jackson. Remarkably, Ashley takes the news without tears. She correctly figures she got about as much exposure as any one person with moderate talent and a questionable emotional makeup could hope for.

9:00 p.m. Everybody else? Back to LA with you!

9:04 p.m. Wow. This year, instead of holding The Green Mile/The Chair in a hotel/theater somewhere, they appear to be in a vast aircraft hanger somewhere. Oh! This is where the "Idol" judges were when they didn't make it to the FOX TCA party last month.

9:05 p.m. I'm confused. Credits? Again? Does this mean FOX will get to claim that this is two separate episodes, meaning that "American Idol" will get to be the Top 3 shows on TV for the week?

9:06 p.m. That really is a looooong walk. That's not to be confused with Richard Bachman's "The Long Walk." Great book. Strongly recommend for "Hunger Games" fans.

9:06 p.m. Up first in The Chair is Naima Adedapo. We've seen no reason to think she doesn't belong in the Semifinals. She has a small, well-dressed daughter and another wee child. She gave a good finale performance and I kinda love her personal style. She's wearing a blue gown with a blue flower in her hair and blue earrings. The judges don't rave about Naima's consistency, but they like her story and they like her voice. Naima Adedapo is the first person through. She cries buckets of Ashley Sullivans... errr... tears. Naima wins my support by telling J-Lo that she wanted to be a Fly Girl when she was young.

9:10 p.m. But not everyone can make it. Who won't? Well, we'll find out in a few minutes. That will be followed by the dramatic breakdown nobody could have predicted. That sounds like a challenge to me...

9:15 p.m. Emotions are running high. But things are even more intense for Hollie Cavanagh. You remember her as the girl who cried at her audition, got a second chance and got a ticket to Hollywood. We're told that J-Lo supported Hollie, but will that be enough? I like how when she's nervous, Hollie suddenly has an accent. J-Lo initially takes credit for Hollie's success, but then shifts responsibility to Hollie, who says she's grown through the whole thing. "That's sweet, Hollie... Unfortunately..." Hollie's the first person eliminated on The Chair. J-Lo wants to make it clear that *she* wanted Hollie in the Top 24, telling her to keep growing and to come back and win the whole thing. Boys are meanies. 

9:19 p.m. Bye, Lakeisha Lewis, who we didn't meet before today. Bye, Alex Ryan, whoever you are. Lakeisha's sad to go, but vows that we haven't seen the last of her.

9:21 p.m. Jacee's Tormenter Clint Jun Gamboa is up next. He gets a talking-head to protest that kicking Jacee out had nothing to do with his talent and everything to do with how they wanted the group to go. Yes. We know. His "vibe." Randy makes sure to bring Jacee up in The Chair. "It wasn't anything personal," Clint just keeps saying, adding that Jacee shined more in the group he was in. Oh. Bullied for his own good! Gotcha! Clint Jun Gamboa is the second person in our Top 24. He's... pleased.

9:29 p.m. Haley Reinhart remains very cute. But I don't think she's actually all that good. Certainly she wasn't very good with her Beatles performance or with her Group performance. We see her last solo performance, which is a little sexy and a lot hammy. Is that a new flavor of Campbell's Soup? Hammy and Sexy? This is Haley's second time making it through to Hollywood and she says she's gotten more experience and she's had the chance to define who she is as a singer. Haley Reinhart is in our Top 24.

9:29 p.m. We spotted DeAndre Brackensick, who we only saw as part of The Minors. Nothing in his final solo performance gives any indication we should be seeing more of this spectacularly coifed young man. The judges didn't feel like DeAndre was consistent enough. Randy urges him to continue and come back. J-Lo assures him that she sees potential in him. "Next year I'm gonna bring it," DeAndre vows.

9:41 p.m. No, Ryan, *we* didn't first meet Paul McDonald in Nashville. You may have, but the "Idol" producers didn't show him to us until tonight. From what we saw, I like him. Apparently he actually sang an original song for his final solo. Oh right! Remember that they were singing original songs in Hollywood? I guess that wasn't worth mentioning any time previously. Paul's original song isn't bad. His suit is. J-Lo's concern is that unique people may not be well suited for "Idol." Paul McDonald is in the Top 24. "I've gotta do what I've gotta do," Paul laughs.

9:44 p.m. But what of Ashthon Jones? We met her on Group Day and then saw her again doing a "Dreamgirls" showstopper for a solo. So far, I've liked Ashthon, even if her superfluous "h" confuses my already easily confused fingers. J-Lo raves about Ashthon's consistency, but worries about her ability to face the pressure. Ashthon Jones is in the Top 24.

9:48 p.m. Up next is Chris Medina, which is sure to be suspenseful, assuming TMZ didn't already ruin things for you. 

9:52 p.m. Like I said... Chris Medina. He's feeling scared, though he admits he did more than he expected to. Chris did a very emotional version of "Fix You" for his final solo. Some of the notes are off, but you can't doubt the sincerity. Chris says that his fiance thinks of meeting the "Idol" judges as one of the best times of her life. Oy. This is sad. J-Lo praises Chris as a man, but her voice is cracking. But then she transitions and says that this is about singing. Since when? "I don't want to draw this out..." J-Lo says, drawing things out and reminding Chris that they only have 24 slots. Chris Medina, who many people were ready to crown the next American Idol after his audition, is going home. He's a good sport, as J-Lo holds back tears. She waits til he leaves to break down. 

9:57 p.m. Ryan is sad that Chris didn't make it. But forget about Chris. Let's go back to J-Lo crying, because this was really hard for her. "I just don't feel like I told him in the right way," J-Lo says.

9:58 p.m. Chris vows to go home and make a miracle happen.

9:59 p.m. "I don't want to do this anymore..." J-Lo says.

10:00 p.m. TO BE CONTINUED? Seriously? Are they making J-Lo's involvement into a cliffhanger? I'm gonna go with "Yes."

 

What'd you think of our early results? Are you glad to see Naima, Clint, Haley, Paul and Ashthon make it through?