After last week's unbearably cheesy '50s-themed Vegas episode was mistaken by many Fox viewers for a junior-college production of Jersey Boys, this Wednesday the final 42 "American Idol" hopefuls thankfully had the opportunity to sing songs of their own choosing, in a last-gasp attempt to impress the judges. By the end of the two-hour episode--and the show's infamous long and winding "Green Mile" walk--only 24 of them remained standing, with 14 of them being dramatically announced this evening.
Among the most shocking early Green Mile cuts was Lauren Gray, whose final Vegas performance of Etta James's "I'd Rather Go Blind" was stunning, and who'd been compared to Carrie Underwood and Lauren Alaina after her first audition in St. Louis. (Sadly, despite the judges' encouraging her to try out again, Lauren tearfully revealed that she has no plans to do so.) Another disappointing elimination was charismatic R&B/pop singer Neco Starr, who could have been "Idol's" Bruno Mars. Much less disappointing, however, was the judges' decision to cut psychotic cowboy Richie Law, whose obnoxious type-A ways during the Group Rounds probably had "Idol" producers thinking he'd be a lot more trouble than he was worth.
Lauren Gray is sent home
But among the 14 confirmed semifinalists were a few real standouts. I do think so far, this season's boys are a much stronger bunch than the girls--which indicates that "Idol" may end up with a FIFTH consecutive male winner this year. Still, there were thankfully a few ladies in the mix that kept me feeling the girl power. So without further ado, listed in order of my "ones to watch" personal preference, are Season 11's official semifinalists so far. (The remaining 10 will be revealed Thursday night.)
Heejun Han - Heejun came across as a joke at the beginning, with his deadpan personality and tendency to waggle his arms like one of those used-car-lot inflatable dolls whenever he got nervous. But who's laughing now? I guess the joke's on anyone who ever doubted Heejun, because he is through to the live shows! However, Heejun proved he has a serious, sensitive side this week, when he broke into sobs upon making it through to the top 24. I cannot wait to see Heejun bring the comedy--and the Bolton-esque vocals, and maybe some tears--to the stage next week.
Creighton Fraker - Along with Heejun and (see below) Reed Grimm, this eccentric street busker is Season 11's maverick, the one that viewers will be eyeing to see what he'll do (and sing) next. In a cast filled with conservative contestants who'll probably cover the usual done-to-death Jason Mraz and Edwin McCain songs, Creighton will definitely keep things interesting. AND HIS DAD WAS IN FLOTSAM & JETSAM! Creighton should win based on that alone. Even James Durbin couldn't claim that sort of awesome metal pedigree.
Reed Grimm - He entertained with his "Family Matters" and "Willy Wonka" theme songs earlier this season, but proved his versatility and credibility--and earned flattering comparisons to last season's multi-instrumentalist Casey Abrams--when he pulled a Phil Collins/Don Henley and played live drums during his later performances. Reed is a showbiz natural, and immensely likable. And just think how awesome it'd be if he broke out a little "Facts Of Life" or "The Love Boat" on the live shows! Come to think of it, Fox should just give Reed his own sitcom.
Colton Dixon - Colton was totally robbed last season, when he made it to the top 40 before getting cut. This year, he supposedly only attended the Season 11 auditions to give his (now-eliminated) younger sister Schyler moral support. Yeah, right. We all know that scenario was as staged as Magic Cyclops' audition. We all know what really happened is the producers saw the huge error of their Season 10 ways and called Colton back to the show. Wise decision, "Idol"! Colton is the kind of boy that girls will block-vote for, and he already seems destined to at least make the top four.
Colton Dixon with sister Schyler
Phillip Phillips - P-Squared (who apparently is just "Phil" now) almost seems like he was created in an "Idol" lab by mad 19 Entertainment scientists trying to build the perfect "Idol" beast. He plays rocked-out Michael Jackson covers, like David Cook; he wears a lot of plaid, like Kris Allen; he has a regular-guy working-class job, like ex-paint salesman Lee DeWyze; and he's a Southern gentleman, like Scotty McCreery. He's also cute enough to grab the girly vote and Dave Matthews-esque enough to please the dudes. Really, Phillip's victory already seems like a done deal.
Phillip "Phil" Phillips
Joshua Ledet - This soul showboater, the son of a preacherman, is already garnering comparisons to last year's similarly initialed scenery-chewer Jacob Lusk. This may or may not be a good thing. (Jacob was a powerful gospel belter, but also very polarizing.) I actually think Joshua seems a little hipper and fresher than ol' Lusky. "Idol" hasn't spawned a major male R&B star since, well, Ruben Studdard, really...can Joshua break the R&B male "Idol" curse?