The "American Idol" ladies got the performance season off to a mixed start on Tuesday night.
There were a few strong performances, but there were many more mediocre and poor turns, a concern given the clear sense that the women were stronger than the men this season.
How will the Top 12 Men respond on Wednesday (Feb. 24) night?
And will Ellen DeGeneres actually add something on Wednesday, after an uninspiring live judging debut?
Click through for all of the "American Idol" action...
Singer: Todrick Hall
Song: "Since You've Been Gone"
My Take: The judges love gender-bending performances, so expect enthusiasm for this version of the Kelly Clarkson hit. Who does this arrangement come from? It's pretty funky. It's not a great showcase for Todrick's voice, but it allows him to display some impressive stage work. He's a performer and that's instantly evidence. Finally, there's very little evidence of singing her, but it's entertaining and never boring. I like never-boring, because I'm gonna bet we get a lot of boring later on. [Note: Todrick says this arrangement was all him. He also said he'd give small children roles in his traveling musical. The first impresses me a little. The second? Not so much.]
Ellen, Randy, Kara and Simon Say: Ellen didn't love the chorus, but she thought it was well performed, that he took a chance. Randy's a fan of Todrick, thinks he's "mad talented." Randy's annoyed that he didn't recognize the song. Yes, this is the same judge who complained about sound-alike covers. Mmm... Glad to get the judging hypocrisy going early tonight. Kara also thinks he changed the arrangement too much. This from a judge who loved Adam Lambert last year? Hmmm... Simon calls it "a crazy arrangement," one that completely murders the original song and "verging on stupid." Don't get me wrong. Todrick wasn't necessarily good enough as a singer to pull off what he attempted, but boy would I like to see more people attempt things.
Singer: Aaron Kelly
Song: "Here Comes Good-Bye"
My Take: Aaron Kelly looks like the missing sibling from "Malcolm in the Middle." He's pretty much unformed and pre-pubescent and his presence is negligible. He is, however, doing a simple and solid karaoke version of a mediocre song, so this may be what the judges are listening for tonight. He sings completely out of his nose and I'm going to forget this performance within seconds, which means the young ladies are gonna LOVE Aaron Kelly. That also means he's better than Kevin Covais, who I may need to compare Aaron to for a couple months, because this kid isn't going anywhere any time soon.
Ellen, Randy, Kara and Simon Say: Simon calls it "quite a good performance," clearly grading on a curve. He says Aaron looks embarrassed to be there and that he needs more confidence. Aaron is Kelly's favorite kind of contestant, because he doesn't know how talented he is. She recommends Aaron goes down this pop-country road. Randy at least notices that Aaron didn't hit all of the notes on the chorus, but he's a big fan. Ellen loves how 'umble Aaron is, raving about his potential for growth.
Singer: Jermaine Sellers
Song: "You Can Reach Me"
My Take: You know what expression I don't hear enough? "I looked like Boo Boo the Fool." Oh, Jermaine. There are notes in this song. They form a melody. Prove you can hit *one* of them before fiddling around with every single one. This is like drown cats, especially when he moves into the falsetto toward the end. It's shrill, frequently sharp and shows almost no vocal maturity. He has no idea what he's singing about, how to sell the material. Blech.
Ellen, Randy, Kara and Simon Say: Ellen is a huge fan of Jermaine and of that song, but she thought he wasn't feeling it, he was pushing too much, trying too hard. Randy also loves the song. Good to know. Randy wanted Jermaine to be more contemporary. "The melody is good. The melody actually works," Randy says, aptly. Kara says that performing is about more than just doing runs. "It actually sounded as if you were screaming," Simon says, predicting that Jermaine totally blew his opportunity. Randy and Ellen jump in to defend Jermaine. Why? That was the worst performance of the season by a wide margin. Horribly awkward moment with Jermaine and Michael From the Band.
Singer: Tim Urban
My Take: If this were 1976, Tim Urban would be the man to beat in this competition. He's like the popular kid from the old "Hardy Boys" series. Early in the song, when it's all the same note, he isn't too too bad, but his falsetto is AWFUL. Like "Who the heck would tell you you were capable of doing that?" bad. Like "Worse than Matt Giraud's horrible falsetto" bad. So either the teenage girls are gonna swoon over this guy, or he's done. That made Jermaine look good. That was brutally bad.
Ellen, Randy, Kara and Simon Say: Simon congratulates Tim for coming back, but tells Tim that they made the right decision in booting him in the first place. Simon says he looks good, but he'll only make it through because people feel sorry for him. Kara says the music overpowered him, but that he's "likable, cute and current." Kara hopes he goes forward. Randy points out that Tim doesn't have the falsetto he tried, but that it was all wrong. Ellen says he's adorable and that people will vote for him because he's adorable. Tim looks as chagrined as I've ever seen an "Idol" contestant know. Ryan asks Tim to defend himself. Tim protests that the song was a last-minute switch and that it was probably the wrong song.
Singer: Joe Muñoz
Song: "You and I Both"
My Take: So this is Joe. Nothing we see in the clip package shows why he's here. Can he prove himself? Joe is cold. And he's being attacked by his scarf. But vocally? He's better than Jermaine and Tim! A little! Or at least he's better when he's sitting on the stool. when he stands up, he starts bouncing and a hiccup comes into his voice, as if his tapping feet are singing for him. If you can't sing when you're standing up, you probably aren't long for this competition. I say "this competition," though and looking around at Joe's actual available competition and he seems innocuous.
Ellen, Randy, Kara and Simon Say: Ellen likes his stage presence and his vocal. Yo. Randy thinks Joe has a great voice and that he worked it. Kara liked that he sang a song that they wouldn't have expected. Kara says that Joe was the most consistent vocalist of the night. But you loved Aaron, Kara!!! Simon doesn't believe Joe is a star, but that it was "an OK, safe, forgettable performance." Simon also calls it "limp" and "forgettable" and adds "Kind of like our host." Joe gives a shout-out to his family in Mexico.
Singer: Tyler Grady
Song: "American Woman"
My Take: Saying that Tyler Grady is "lantern-jawed" would be doing him a disservice. He's got an aggressive chin. Anywho... It's a predictable, but not unwelcome song choice for Tyler. It may be from Tyler's favorite decade, but he's inexplicably doing the Lenny Kravitz version. I think he's probably much better suited to the Guess Who original. [Canada represent.] That didn't rock nearly as hard as I'd have wanted it to and there was none of the vocal authority that that song demands. I like his lilac blouse-and-scarf ensemble and his moves. Tyler is definitely being himself, assuming "himself" is "every poseur rock-wannabe from 40 years ago." Tyler ain't Chris Daughtry and he ain't Bo Bice.
Ellen, Randy, Kara and Simon Say: Simon calls it memorable, but suggests that people will remember it for the wrong reasons. He says it's cliched and from Pretend to be a Rock Star School, urging him to start changing things up. Kara thinks he's staying too true to his '70s influences, but it's schtick. Even Randy thinks it was style over substance, also urging him to change it up. Ellen says that Tyler is copying the poses, but he lacks the charisma and the excitement. Tyler doesn't really agree with the criticisms, doing a bit of muttering and eye-rolling.
Singer: Lee Dewyze
Song: "Chasing Cars"
My Take: You know, I've made fun of Lee Dewyze, but after watching the first half of tonight's male performances, I'm appreciating his Gavin DeGraw-iness a good deal more. He's playing an instrument. He's hitting many of the notes, with a raspy tone that sometimes gives the illusion of emotion. He's no better or worse than several thousand boozy guitarists performing at college town bands around the country. But he's better than nearly everybody we've been forced to listen to tonight. I'd have guessed Lee would be out after Week One, but he doesn't deserve to be.
Ellen, Randy, Kara and Simon Say: Ellen loves the tone of his voice, even though he started screaming. "Pushed" is Ellen's lone criticism. It's the only negative word she knows. With the men this season, she's going to need to learn a few more. Randy didn't like the song and he disagrees with "E." He wanted something harder, more rock-y. Kara wanted him to do something more blues-y, more rock-y. Simon calls it the best performance of the night. "This guy is a naturally good singer," Simon raves. He urges Lee to follow the David Cook path. Lee comes across as humble and happy-to-be-there.
Singer: John Park
Song: "God Bless the Child"
My Take: Oooh, this is a ballsy choice. And probably not a good choice. I mean, if you're going to do "God Bless the Child," it helps if you're Lakisha Jones. I'm intrigued by John's range, even if his lower register isn't exactly on point. I'm still grading on a curve, so his vocals aren't so bad. Definitely in the top half of tonight's singers, singing-wise. But "Idol" isn't all about singing, as you may have heard. John's stage presence is sleepy and his enunciation is really poor, which is a problem when you're singing a standard like this. There isn't very much noticeable emotion to what he's doing either. I'm willing to forgive and I'd certainly give John another week. I fear voters won't.
Ellen, Randy, Kara and Simon Say: Simon says you have to have an incredible voice to sing the song and John hasn't. The audience mishears and starts to cheer. Simon has to correct them. Kara agrees with Simon, that there was no connection and that it was lounge-y and sleepy. She reassures him that he can sing. Ellen thinks the song choice won't help with young girls, but she liked the performance and thought he sounded great.
Singer: Michael Lynche
Song: "This Love"
My Take: The thing I love here is that this may be the biggest physical gap between original singer and "Idol" cover-artist in show history, insofar as Michael could fit Adam Levine of Maroon 5 in his front pocket. Or Michael could floss his teeth with Adam Levine. For a large dude, Michael is very high energy and bouncy and his performance is similarly spirited and high energy. Vocally? Meh. Maybe not even "meh." There's no singing, but he barks out the words, keeps the audience engaged and brings a smile to my face. Hey, so am I the only one beginning to feel like Todrick Hall got a really raw deal in retrospect?
Ellen, Randy, Kara and Simon Say: Ellen loves Michael's personality and she doesn't care about pitch problems. Because Ellen is useless. Randy raves about Michael's gregarious character. Kara thinks Michael rescued the night from being too depressing, but she makes the great point that one a different, better night, they'd be more critical. Simon says Michael was "like the support act before the mail act." Simon adds that Michael will look back and regret this performance.
Singer: Alex Lambert
Song: "Wonderful World"
My Take: Mary Powers' whipping boy is doing a song I don't know. Is he trying to be robotic? Is that the joke? Can he not move his shoulders or turn his head and that's an intentional thing he's doing? Like when David Byrne wearing a suit that doesn't fit and he knows that it doesn't fit, but he's being ironic or over-sized? And is he staring dead-eyed into the camera for a reason? Is he blinking "Get Me Out Of Here" in Morse Code? Alex's awful through the verse, but when he gets to the chorus, three odd things happen: 1) I recognize the song. 2) He loosens up considerable and starts at least rocking up and down, bending his knees and 3) He starts sounding good. By the end, Alex managed to pull himself safely out of my Bottom Two for the night. Miraculous!
Ellen, Randy, Kara and Simon Say: "I don't know who was happier for that to end, you or me," Simon says, calling it the evening's most uncomfortable performance. Simon actually clarifies that Alex's voice isn't the problem, it's his nerves. Kara raves that Alex sounds so much like James Morrison, which she means as a compliment. Yes, Kara insulted multiple girls last night for sounding too much like successful recording stars. It's Randy's favorite tone of voice. Randy likes him. Randy mentions nothing about this performance. Ellen loves Alex's mullet and she compares him to an unripe banana. This is Ellen's best comment of the night.
Singer: Casey James
My Take: Ladies Love Casey James. I mean, they get weak at the knees watching him brush his hair. And he plays into every bit of it, strumming his guitar, with his shirt half-unbuttoned, Simon-style. He's much too amused by the swooning and his vocals are thin and uninspiring. But who cares when he's winking at the camera through his flaxen locks? My boy Casey is gettin' laid tonight, but you'd better keep Kara far, far away.
Ellen, Randy, Kara and Simon Say: The judges get far away from Kara and let her start. "Casey, I don't recognize you with your shirt on," Kara says. Amazingly, Kara noticed that Casey was pitching. "I could feel Kara undressing you with her eyes," Ellen cracks. Randy delivers his advice "from one dude to another," and says he likes him also "but not in that way." "You are eye candy, but you're also ear candy," Kara says, trying desperately to retain her dignity. Simon thinks it was the right song and came across as honest and sincere. Simon adds, "Obviously the cougar here likes you." Ryan's already joking about making Kara's HR meeting a "two-hour live event." It's so cute that "Idol" can joke about sex scandals between judges and contestants. Because that could never possibly happen.
Singer: Andrew Garcia
Song: "Sugar We're Going Down"
My Take: It's an amusingly rearranged cover of the song, putting it right into Andrew's wheelhouse. He takes the fun out of fun songs and makes them all strummy! It's his thing! His upper register is a bit nasally and there's a sense that he's doing to this song what he does to everything song. But who cares? Put Andrew up against any other male who performed tonight and he takes each and every one of them to school even on his most so-so night.
Ellen, Randy, Kara and Simon Say: It was too serious, too indulgent and not original enough for Simon. Seriously? Kara thought the rendition was strange and that it "wasn't meant to be played acoustically." Do the judges need to be strapped down and forced to relisten to tonight's performances leading up to this? Randy and Ellen both repeat the same thing about how his performance of "Straight Up" will keep him around for a while.
TONIGHT'S BEST: That was horrible, y'all. Andrew was the night's best and he wasn't even good. I'd try to praise anybody else, but I'd have to put a caveat after every word of praise. Like I'd praise Todrick for doing something stupid and original before I'd get truly enthusiastic about somebody like Aaron or Lee.
IN DANGER: This is a tough one, because there was so much badness to choose from. If I had my way, I'd boot Jermaine, Tyler and Tim together and I'd put Joe, Alex, John and Todrick on immediate notice. And yet if I had to guess? I might predict that John and Jermaine are going home.