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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 03/ 2/2011

'American Idol' 2011: Top 12 guys perform

By Lisa de Moraes
Casey Abrams performs. (Fox)

The guys sing for viewer votes for the first time Tuesday night on "American Idol."
Clint "June Bug" Gamboa kicks things off. And, though the show's been around for years, the producers still have not figured out how to keep the band and backup singers from drowning out the competitors we're trying to hear. But June Bug puts up a good fight. What with his teeth, and those glasses, and his oversize red shoes, he looks like Bugs Bunny's smarter brother, which is not who you expect to see singing "Superstition" on "Idol." The judges like it. "No karaoke singer in the world has got that kind of vocal talent," raves Randy Jackson.

Jovany "No More Shipyard for Me" Baretto picks the oft-"Idol"-ized "I'll Be" to perform. Wait a minute, was his last job that of shipyard worker or cruise ship entertainer? Because we could see this guy delivering that number at night, then posing by the pool, with those shoulders, for the edification of the female passengers.

"Holy Shipyards, you brought it again," judge Steven Tyler raves. "I'm happy right now," adds Jennifer Lopez. Randy, who is the New Simon in His Mind, says he has to "break up the apple cart a little bit" - whatever that means - because "for me it felt very karaoke." "Idol" singers fall into two categories for Randy this season: karaoke, and non-karaoke.

Jordan Dorsey mangles Usher's already dippy tune "OMG" - as in, "OMG what am I doing here? He's bluffing and looks as though he knows it, though when he removes his jacket the little girls in the audience squeal with delight. He caves immediately when JLo asks: "Is that who you want to be as an artist?"

"No! No! No!" Jordan says.

Randy notes it's "not a singer's song." Whose song is it then? Is he saying Usher is not a singer? This needs looking into. "I'm not a jumpy singer," Jordan assures show host Ryan Seacrest, in re his stab at Usher's steps. But, Jordan promises, "you're gonna see a whole lot better from me." We hope not.

Seabiscuit asks Tim Halperin about how the press is making so much of the caliber of performers on the show this season on the show. Tim can't explain it, but announces that with him, what you see is what you get. What we get is Tim as miscast as Rob Thomas as Jordan was as Usher. Tim's performance of Thomas's "Streetcorner Symphony" is just meh -- a cup of warm milk looking for brandy. The judges tell him too that he isn't the artist they thinks he is.

Jacob Lusk performs. (Fox)

"It didn't show America who you really are as an artist," says JLo, who would have us believe Tim has "one of the most beautiful voices I have ever heard," so she has no credibility. Seabiscuit asks Tim what he takes away and Tim plays the "Idol" maneuver of ignoring advice, which has worked so well for previous contestants (though usually they were far more talented contestants) and tells Seabiscuit he thought it went really well.

Brett Lowenstern has, tragically, chosen the Doors' "Light My Fire" as his first performance on the "Idol" stage. Here's a novel interpretation of that classic: singing like a guy who isn't in heat but really just needs a light. Brett's voice isn't sexy, just thin, like it's coming out of the speaker box in the drive-thru lane at Jack in the Box. But the judges have already decided he's good, so they focus on his flaming red hair which he shook around to great effect during the tune. Or, it distracted us, anyway. The judges equate this with "being who you are." JLo notes there was "more hair tossing than me and Beyonce put together, the last ten years!" Her credibility is restored. Randy counted 14 shakes of Brett's hair in that number, adding, "you're definitely bold and fun."

Then James Durbin performs "You've Got Another Thing Coming" and his is the only voice so far this evening that can win the death match with the backup band. Durbin is right on the money with the kind of artist he is - pushing it hard, walking into traffic. He rocks it credibly with this Judas Priest tune, and the judges lavish praise on him. Tyler: "That was [Idol Logo Flash Card] crazy good!"

James Durbin performs. (Fox)

Robbie Rosen wobbles his way through "Angel" -- aka around my house: "In the Arms of the Angel"-- the despairing Sarah McLachlan song. And Robbie has reason to despair. We do too, because he reminds us of Adrien Brody singing in the weird beer commercial, which we don't like either. Anyway, the judges love him, Tyler calling it a "beautiful thing" and JLo gushing that "you made choices I love better [than McLachlan's]." It's left to Randy to say it: "Really never quite settled in."

We keep trying to get excited about Scotty McCreery, who has a mature voice for a 17-year-old that will certainly serve him well through a long country-music career while his skin weathers. If only his voice wasn't so generic-country. Does that provoke the judges to say he's got to bring something different to his singing? No, just the opposite. Randy compliments him for not trying to be cross-over country but straight ahead, don't bring nuthin' different country.

Stefano Langone's Competent Pop version of Bruno Mars' "Just the Way You Are," is okay for any other "Idol" season, but he's outclassed this year. But he's more than okay for the judges: "This kid could be on radio right now, a real star that can compete right now," raves Randy.

Brett Loewenstern performs in front of the judges. (Fox)

Paul McDonald has that light-grade sandpaper voice, so performing the Rod Stewart number "Maggie May" is typecasting, but Paul puts his own veneer on it and he's a comfortable performer on stage -- a likeable guy all around. "That McDonald got a real character about your voice and I love that," says Tyler. "I like the possibility that 'Idol' can embrace this kind of singer that's really so quirky and different," adds Randy.

And then, Jacob Lusk takes on the ghost of Luther Vandross with "A House Is Not a Home" and wins. His voice fills the hall; he takes Vandrossian runs with ease. He commands the attention of the entire crowd like no other performer we've seen tonight. The judges are reverential. "I'm honored to be in your presence," gushes Tyler. "You make me cry when you sing. I don't know where you get it." Lusk points heavenward.

Casey Abrams is such a puzzle, with the shaggy face and the jazzy performance. He's like the punch line to a joke that starts, "So Grizzly Adams walks into the Blue Note club..." Tonight he's doing Screamin' Jay Hawkins "I Put A Spell On You," with screamin' like a man who just cut off one of his finger tips. It's safe to say "Idol" has never seen anything like it. Just for giggles, Casey ends it on a little lilting blue note.

"Casey -- you're sexy.... Casey wants it bad...You ate it all up. I love it," JLo says flirtatiously. The American Idol Decency Police can't believe their ears. "Scream' Jay is somewhere jumping up and down, really proud," weighs in Randy.

By Lisa de Moraes  | March 2, 2011; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  "American Idol"  
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I don't know who will "win" AI this year, but Jacob Lusk will definitely have the most successful singing career. Way better than the rest.If he's lucky, he'll get voted off quickly, so he can get started on his CD sooner.
"Tourette Butler" can be a credible rock singer.

Posted by: cjbass55 | March 2, 2011 8:15 AM | Report abuse

OK, my favorites were Abrams (not Adams), Lusk & Durbin -- the latter being a change for me, that's the first I've liked him.

But I really don't get those who say McDonald's performance last night was good. Perhaps if you closed your eyes, but no one singing those lyrics should ever look that ecstatically *happy*. You'd think he was finding it just adorable how Maggie Mae was always forgetting to tuck in her shirt.

Posted by: reader178 | March 2, 2011 8:50 AM | Report abuse

Lusk needs a curl, about 100lbs and we've got ourselves a new Luther! McDonald has a folk singer's voice and was completely out of his element. Casey is sexy? I think JLo has seen one to many Seth Rogen movies... Clint was good, Stefano was good, Durbin was great, the rest were so so. Still, I think that Rosen will be the first to go even though Dorsey gave the worst performance of the night.

Posted by: ozpunk | March 2, 2011 9:57 AM | Report abuse

Jacob Lusk is kinda drag queeny, dontcha think?

Posted by: motogp46 | March 2, 2011 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Jacob Lusk is the one to beat from the guys side.

Rumor out there that Jordan Dorsey didn't pick the song he sang.

I thought the microphone was turned off for some of the singers; that's how much the band was drowning them out.

These do seem to be better quality singers than in the past few years. I wonder how many of them have previous professional experience?

Posted by: Iceman_63 | March 2, 2011 10:20 AM | Report abuse

top 3 (in no particular order)
James Durbin
Jacob Lusk
Casey Adams

next 2
Scotty McCreery
Paul McDonald

Clint Gamboa was decent.

Jovany Baretto and Stefano Langone were disappointing, particularly Stefano.

bottom 3
Brett Lowenstern
Jordan Dorsey
Robbie Rosen

Totally agree with Lisa that the band was too loud and overwelmed the singers.

The judging was a big disappointment. Too many high marks for bad performances. How many good reviews did Tyler and Lopez give? Nine or ten? Poor Tim Halperin, he was one of the few that was negatively reviewed (and justifiably) when there plenty more mediocre performances that weren't. Robbie Rosen was just awful, what planet were the judges on. Robbie wins this weeks Lee Dewyze award for unmerited praise of a medicore/awful performance. Lowenstern is the Lee Dwyze runner up. This was the first time this season I missed Simon. He would have had a field day on Lowenstern.

Lastly, Seacrest is so good during tryout season and so annoying during the top 24. The whole bantering with the judges during the beginning of the show has to got to go. In fact, the whole start sequence needs revamped. Must the judges walk out on stage? The uncomfortable questions after a candidate performance. I presume that is his job?

Posted by: niceshoes1 | March 2, 2011 10:35 AM | Report abuse

I didn't like Jovany, Jordan, Brett or Robbie very much last night. That being said, this is going to be a great season. I like some of the different songs that were sung last night, ones I hadn't heard before. I like Scotty, Stefano, Jacob and Casey, though Casey came off a little psycho I thought. Looking forward to the girls tonight.

Posted by: MILWI | March 2, 2011 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Where the heck did they find Jacob Lusk??!! He's like a cross between Luther Vandross and Mahalia Jackson! Yes, he has a certain drag queen air about him, but it WORKS!! If he wants to channel Pearl Bailey while belting out runs like that, he might just go down as the best find AI has ever made! S. Tyler was right that there is no one out there like him right now-- no one doing what he does-- but that doesn't mean that there isn't a big market for it. Totally amazing.

Scotty McCreery is going to have a long country music career no matter what happens. Labels in Nashville (and, more likely, LA) have to be just waiting for him to get voted off so that they can pounce. He's only 17-- he'll get better.

Casey was still surprising and very, very good and James was a great rock singer. I'm not sure how Scotty, James or Paul will do when they have to branch out to other genres. They all seem pretty locked into the one they've shown so far. I feel for Stefano and Clint, because any other year they would be fine, but they aren't going to make it this year.

Posted by: inkydog | March 2, 2011 12:23 PM | Report abuse

I've realized a trend: the more the judges rave about how terrific someone is, the more I respond "Huh?"
Case in point: Brett "Carrot-top" Loewenstern. I absolutely cringed at his vocals and visuals and was floored when they gushed.
At this point, I'm pulling for Casey - I like his sense of humor, something that's needed to survive all the drama.

Posted by: Weaglette | March 2, 2011 12:35 PM | Report abuse

Lusk is RuPaul sans makeup, and I could totally see him crooning out "work, work it girl...".

Posted by: ozpunk | March 2, 2011 12:53 PM | Report abuse

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