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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 02/25/2011

'American Idol' 2011: Top 24 survive the Trail of Tears

By Lisa de Moraes

The contestants sang in Vegas this week -- but would their performances be good enough to get them through to the Top 24? (Fox)

Part Deux of "American Idol" 2011: Final Judgment starts Thursday with a reprisal of judge Jennifer Lopez's bad-news breakdown of Wednesday night, when she had to send home Chris Medina, the nice guy with the wheelchair-bound car-accident victim fiancée.

"Will Jennifer find the strength to go on?" show host Ryan Seacrest asks. Can you spell "rhetorically"?

"But Jennifer knows the show must go on so she composes herself," Ryan says.

And to help her self-compose, the first Idolette up for judgment is one of JLo's fave homegirls, Karen Rodriguez from New York. We see here singing Selena's "No Me Queda Mas" with JLo mouthing the words so we're feeling good about KRo's chances. Seems KRo was playing to JLo all along--she auditioned the first time with the Lopez tune, "If You Had My Love".

(Lisa de Moraes chats about "Idol" and all things TV at 1 p.m.)

So it falls to JLo to deliver the traditional judge-fake: "In the middle of the competition you disappeared. Then you picked back up again...but I have to say you had me at 'If You Had My Love'!"

We're feeling JLo's really going to find the strength to go on with the next no-surprises candidate, 17-year-old Robbie Rosen, the cute -- in a young Al Pacino way -- yet uncannily mature sounding 17-year-old with a childhood disease in his background (cut to childhood snapshot). We see his solo audition: "Sorry Seems To Be the Hardest Word," the Elton John tune.

(See the names and photos of all Top 24 contestants.)

Cut to "Idol" judge and Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler frowning, some kind of pass at suspense, but Tyler quickly lets him know "you were so good right out of the box" and Robbie--did we mention mature?--is too low key to even play along with any suspense fake, he's just beaming. Tyler looks too bored to carry off the fake. "I'm positively sure" he starts, while we imagine the director is giving him the "stretch-it-out" hand signal, moves through the pause and sends Robbie through.

Tatynisa Wilson, 20, is next to walk and cry. Just coming safely down the long walkway - which must be slick with tears from previous Idolettes--in those stiletto heels should qualify her. Reprise her major flop audition during Hollywood week, including flubbing lyrics- now this is a cruel touch, "Idol" producers are flashing subtitles of the nonsense vamping from the singers for those of us who might have thought they were doing just fine. Her final solo song is "Unbreak My Heart" and she's a whole lot smoother and less amnesiac.

Softball question from "Idol" judge Randy Jackson: "Is this something that you REALLY want?" OK, some presidential candidates haven't been able to answer that one, but Tatynisa doesn't miss a beat and yaks on about her "drive" while the camera closes in on her clenched fists. Randy reminds her of her Hollywood Week "nosedive" and she starts to weep so now JLo, who's really recovered, starts lecturing her about how the competition is about bringing it every day. Apparently satisfied that she's squirmed enough, they let her know that she's through.

A couple of good-looking kids are humanely dispatched in a few seconds by Randy and JLo. "Learning experience" and "gotta keep going" are tossed out as soundbites by the departed and we rush on to Tim Halperin.

He's the 23-year-old who flirted with JLo at his audition, asking her how old she is after she'd asked same of him. "I'm young enough for you, don't worry," JLo had responded. He's also the sweet voiced piano player who performed, at Cirque du Product Placement, a duet with lucky charm Julie Zorrilla who the producers have been mighitly signaling to us is a comer. His final audition was an original song and, man he sounded weak. Should've picked a JLo song maybe. Anyway he says he showed them "the artist that I want to be".

"What's with're up, you're down" says Tyler. Tim says he wanted to show the artist who he is and wants to be -- always a good line of counter-attack in "Idol" land. "We're really feeling who you are as an artist, " says JLo but Tyler, following subclause 8 of the judges' contract, is obligated to do at least 6 head fakes in every 4 hour period, starts in with something about how he's sorry. Anyway, next we see Tim walks out one of the top 12 Guydolettes.

Next up Julie Zorrilla and, if your egg timer just went off, now would be a good time to hit the kitchen and pick up with Not That We're Judgmental Judgment Day later because not an episode has gone by that the judges haven't lovingly featured Julie, she of the Colombian immigrant parents, the pleasing pipes and short skirts. "She seemed to be coasting through" on her final audition, says Ryan, which we see briefly and gotta say sounded kinda weak but the producers aren't going to give us much time to judge because it's much more entertaining to watch her strut down the Trail of Tears in her short skirt.

To save time and space, we're going to just give every third phrase: "Long road...connection with listeners...want people to feel something...decision we had to're in the top 24!" Randy uses up extra words telling her to "feel, not think" which is odd because she sure looks like a feeler not a thinker strutting back down the Trail of Tears, out the door, and lifting Ryan up bodily by his waist, before crumbling to the ground. If she' thrown Ryan against the wall, she would have won a place in our hearts forever, but anyway...

Coming up, promos Ryan, two country singers go head to head for one of the 12 slots, and this is not looking good for one of them, that's for sure, due to the subclause 21 of the "Idol" Playbook -- the Dang-It Exclusion -- which clearly states that only one country guy can ever get pushed through the competition. "You think there's a spot for two country singers like you guys," Ryan asks deep-voiced country singers Scotty McCreery and John Wayne Schulz as they sit in the Coca-Cola Red All Over Room. They seem to be saying positive things but our hearing doesn't cover those lower ranges so well.

Scotty take the walk as we're reminded about how "his character was tested" when he stood by while young Jacee Badeaux was ousted from a singing group during Hollywood Week. The the guy who actually booted Jacee was Clint Jun Gamboa, who went through last night, so we're not gonna be taken in by the notion that Scotty lost points over that one. Then we see him auditioning while those unfair subtitles point out how he was faking his way through the lyrics including the rather brilliant line "nuts of wonder" and "nang da wonger un your jeans" which frankly ought to be a country song if it isn't. Anyway, this creativity is supposed to be a bad thing, and a suspense builder, blah, blah, blah.

Scotty's solo audition is Josh Turner's spiritual "Long Black Train" which is a very professional country rendition, if not out and out typecasting, and plainly Scotty's on his way through unless the Dang-It Rule grows a new subclause or something. He lays it on thick after, by telling JLo "I know you cain't tell, but I am a quarter Puerto Rican," and that rings her chimes.

Scotty is only 17, it's hard to remember, but Randy does and lets him know he's forgiven for the whole Jacee incident: "that authenticity of the that you want to be...we love, we're big fans." And Scotty's in.

So next up is JWayne, and well, you know the rest. "Don't let this set you back even one little second" says JLo, who's really recovered her strength and found a reason to go on, or maybe it's in her contract.

Jovany Barreto, the ripped shipyard worker who stripped off his shirt to give JLo a peek at his pecs is up next. In his final audition, he was still playing to Jen, slipping in and out of Spanish on Jon Secada's "Angel." But he's got a nice clear voice and looks sharp, so he deserves a shot on his merits, too. Jen says "well we've been agonizing over this know that there's only 24 spots" and some will have to go home, "but luckily that doesn't matter for you because you're in the top 24". We think she gave the minimum seconds required for a head fake under the contract but we'll leave that for the lawyers to argue over. Loved his exit line coming off the walkway: "No more shipyard for me baby. No more shipyard for me!" because deep down we're suckers for any shipyard-to-riches story on "Idol".

And speaking of mopping the floor with the your-big-chance story line, here comes Lauren Turner, a house cleaner from New Orleans. "Let's Steal Away", the bluesy Etta James number is her audition piece and she sounds good. "Hollywood Week was up and down for you," says Randy, determined to run through the old Ups-And-Downs speech contractually required to remind us of the inherent drama of it all. This to a girl who we just saw in a video clip cleaning a toilet, so let's get some perspective there, RJack. Heavy sighing by Randy, followed by "congratulations!"

More humane dispatching of some fresh-faced kids by Tyler and JLo.

Rachel Zevita has brought her mom and her grandma from New York so she's playing high stakes. "I'd feel horrible" if she had to come out and face her relatives as a failure, she says. She's an interesting singer with her own quirky fashion sense, sorta 1930s taxi dancer maybe? She's also a repeat "Idol" auditioner, so we're feeling lucky for Rachel. Big speech from the judges to Be Herself, the timeless Idol truism. "Really sorry to have to say that you're coming through" fakes Tyler. Rachel weeps her way out. And we get to see her mom and grandma hear the news. "God bless you, Ryan," says Grandma in the hall with a hug around Seabiscuit's waist, like he did something great.

Now only 10 of the 24 places remain. Smoky voiced Kendra Chantelle is up - sings Alicia Keys's "Falling in and Out of Love" smokily.

"We're a little concerned" says Tyler. "It's amazing" to get this far, says Randy. We don't see the verdict - she comes out to the hall and fakes out Seabiscuit, making it sound like she got cut. But she didn't. Slick move. But better if she would also have lifted him up and thrown him against the wall.

Jordan Dorsey, who was annoyingly picky when we first saw him casting his singing group in Hollywood Week, made a mediocre showing in Vegas but gives his final audition with John Legend's "So High" to the judge's obvious delight. Randy wants to go over the whole Jordan Turns Into Hollywood Week Casting Diva incident. "We wanted top quality in our group" Jordan says un-apologetically, though Randy is fishing for humility. JLo delivers the un-fake. Her timing is actually accelerating.

Lauren Alaina, 16, is wearing an outfit Ryan accurately describes as Barbie Cowgirl. She was one of the girls who flirted her way through a hair-mussing group number with Steven as the muss-ee, but went to pieces in Vegas and ended up sobbing on the ladies room floor while an "Idol" camera crew stood by without so much as throwing her a hankie. Her solo redemption number was a slow-moving and stylish "Unchained Melody, the old Righteous Brothers tune. So she's got some style and some chops so what's not to like? But the judges run through their You're So Young routine, or as Tyler says, "Not sure how you're going to handle it in the big time...since you're going through girl." More advice from Tyler is forthcoming but she cuts if off with a vacant look and "I'm going to pass out."

Stefano Langone, the guy who survived a motorcycle accident," took a risk (says Ryan) in his final performance by singing a song he composed. Seems to be a ballad written to give him maximum riffing opportunity. "You can imagine how hard it was for us to choose" JLo says. "Unfortunately somebody has to go home and we hate it but at the end of the day we really feel like we'd love to have you in our top 24." This is getting a bit hypnotic, and you know it's so predictable, it's kind of comforting in a way like being rocked gently in a hammock. Zzzzzzzzzzzz......

Jackie Wilson's final performance looks pretty weak and she may have flubbed the words but since there's no subtitle busting her, it's hard for us to tell. Guess the producers got tired of that gag. Anyway, she's taken the walk. JLo speaks and "unfortunately" is coming out at the start instead of the end so this is not running true to pattern, and bad for Jackie. She "lost her confidence" is Randy's analysis, JLo is apologetic, Steven strangely silent. "I deserve for America to say 'yes' or 'no' but it is what it is" we hear Jackie say in voice-over as she walks Gusher Alley - dry-eyed in her case.

Big-voiced Jacob Lusk has "coasted" through auditions on his vocal pyrotechnics - he really is an old-timey showman on "God Bless the Child," really selling it in an audition number. He's pitchy in his final audition and loud doesn't cover it. But the guy is pretty unique among the contestants from what we've seen so he's got a good shot.

Randy: The "single best performance on 'Idol' was your 'God Bless the Child'," so he's through. Jacob let's out piercing note and heads for his own version of the Ryan Squeeze and Lift - it's looking good for a fling to the wall, but no, disappointed again.

It's now 9 p.m. on Final Judgment Day and we're down to a few, including Pia Toscano. She's the one who reunited with her performing arts high school bud Karen Rodriguez for a solid Vegas audition on "Money Can't Buy Me Love." Her final audition was "Doesn't Mean Anything," the Alicia Keys tune and she seemed to nail it though we don't see much. She's crying even before she sits down in the judgment seat.

"It's been a long day...we're going to keep this short and sweet" says JLo. "You made it into the top 24." So that's the 11th spot for the ladies.

James Durbin - bear with us we're going to shorthand a lot of history here: Tourettes/Asperger/Adam Lambert Lite. OK, we review his Hills/Valleys which have been steep. His final audition is a soulful, bluesy if ear splitting "A Change is Gonna Come" -- the Sam Cooke classic. Well, he is entertaining and has one of the most potent back stories, so he's a good bet.

"You nailed're so're going to go on to great heights, as high as you can sing," Tyler confirms. James takes it calmly while Ryan says to viewers at home -- a little ominously and out of the moment , "We now turn James over to you."

It's 9:30, and there's only a handful of Idolettes in the waiting room now, looking like they're at the DMV. Casey Abrams, who memorably accompanied himself on a bass fiddle, then used a bed as a prop on Cirque du Product Placement night, came back with the bass for his final audition. "I'm here to prove that people like me can be sexy" he says. Which he's accomplished -- if you find teddy bears sexy.

Casey launches into very slow and bluesy/jazzy version of "Why Don't You Do Right," in the style of Jessica Rabbit. We sure do like Casey, though he hasn't a prayer of winning this competition. "I don't' think I've ever seen in my life, on this show, a musician as talented as you," says Randy. Casey is up on his feet with a glancing blow to the chair that sends it flying from the stage. Thanks, Casey for some variety!

Now two ladies must go in to Judgment Room together because NOW the producers are suddenly concerned about pacing. Fifteen-year-old Thia Megia survived "Vocal Coach from Hell" in Vegas and, for her final audition, sang Josh Groban's "You Raise Me Up" and showed that she really has the sweet-girl pop thing going on and should be a contender.

Well, this is a study in contrasts because the other chick is rocker Jessica Cunningham, wearing a "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" short-short leather skirt while Thia is dressed in a doll-like pink chiffon thinggummy. Arm in arm they walk and Jessica immediately announces that today is her 25th birthday and "it will make me feel worse if you cut me."

Randy goes into his "you can always come back" patter but Jessica cuts him off: "This is my seventh time" - wait, that wasn't in Randy's notes --"so I don't know if I can handle" coming back again, she says.We're sensing this is not going according to the script. Anyway, last minute heart-tugging done, Thia is through and Jessica out, though she goes out fighting. "They ruined my birthday" she says in a post Judgment Room interview, flashing a double flip-off that producers conceal with "Idol" logo graphics. "You guys deserve it...You ruined my birthday."

Three guys are now left. Brett "Carrot Top" Loewenstern, 15-year-old Jacee Badeaux, and piano man Colton Dixon. They will compete for one spot, though Brett insists to Ryan there are two spots left and Ryan insists back there is one. Brett looks like he's about to shake to bits. Brett saved Jacee, we are reminded, from his Little Lost Penguin night during group competitions at Hollywood Week. This story is taking on Biblical proportions for all the times the "Idol" producers retell it.

Brett gave his final audition with a song of his own writing, which sounds pretty professional. Colton Dixon gave a very strong final audition on a grand piano, from the few bars we see. This is going to be a genuinely tough choice. "You're all so talented and unique", says Jessica. "You're so young, you could come back as many times as you want," she adds. Brett goes through.

Jacee gets a motherly hug from JLo. "You've got magic in that voice," she tells him. Out in the lobby, hugs all around. "We're all shining stars...we got to give ourselves applause," says Brett who, as an ex-bullying victim, seems genuinely filled with empathy or at least is well launched on showbiz luv-ya-babe career -- but for now, we're going with "empathy."

And that, says Seabiscuit, who looks as haggard as we feel, "is the Final Judgment."

By Lisa de Moraes  | February 25, 2011; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  "American Idol"  
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Next: 'American Idol' introduces Top 24


Lisa, after spending 40 years in the music business, I can't stand to watch this drivel any longer. However, It's like an accident, you just have to look. So, you save me countless minutes of complete boredom and stupifying dumbdown by explaining in great detail what I missed. Thank you, your takes are right on target!

Posted by: Jsa66 | February 25, 2011 8:41 AM | Report abuse

Predictable and boring top 24 with the exception of crazy bass player and RuPaul Jr. Ok, so I guess I can understand putting the asian princess through to meet quotas instead of another more talented raven haired beauty, since half of the girl's spots are designated blonde only, but how in the heck does Carrot Top get in over Justin Blubber?! Grandmothers everywhere were dying to call in their votes using the payphone down in the lobby of the retirement home and imagine pinching his chubby cheeks and giving him a Werther's Original, but apparently American Idol hates the elderly!

Posted by: ozpunk | February 25, 2011 10:03 AM | Report abuse

I'm glad they showed all of the top 24. Too many times in the past there have been contestants we simply hadn't seen yet.

That said the judges' speeches & fake-outs were too repetitive. They didn't have enough time to show too many of the cut people so there wasn't much actual drama.

Next year I'd recommend just focusing on the top 24. Lose the fake-outs. Show more of their "journey" and more of their final performance, and spend less time on the judges and the contestants squirming in their chairs.

That said, Jsa66 is on crack. I think there's a ton of talent in the top 24, and more in some of the folks who were cut. I'm really looking forward to the live shows.

By the way, Jacob Lusk is going to fall victim to "Garcia Syndrome" and won't last. Last year, Andrew Garcia performed a cool acoustic version of "Straight Up" and every performance after that was a let-down to the judges and they let him and the audience know. Jacob peaked too early. He'll never match his Hollywood performance.

Watch Tim Halperin. He has a good chance of being this year's "third-or-fourth-place-contestant who ends up winning because he inherits the second-place contestant when they get cut".

Posted by: Duodenum | February 25, 2011 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Who do you think is really picking the finalists, the "judges" or the producers behind the scenes? This is after all a TV show. Does anyone even think that Tyler could even possibly remember half these kids?

Posted by: skins_fan_22 | February 25, 2011 10:32 AM | Report abuse

Your column made me laugh so hard I was crying, mascara dripping into my tissue. HAHAHAHAHAHA. I can tell this is one of my can't stop laughing on and off all day moods. Thanks, Lisa!

Posted by: MILWI | February 25, 2011 11:39 AM | Report abuse

OK PULEEZE tell me the commercial of J "CAN'T SING" LO promoting her own song was an SNL joke????OMG...she can't stand CAN'T SING Britney coming back and need to compete hahahaha J Lo call Diddy to help you launch another pointless career. Get ready GaGa for the "duet" call hahahaha

Posted by: MDlady2 | February 25, 2011 12:51 PM | Report abuse

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