The Husband:

On Tuesday, I turned to my wife and said I had no idea how to continue writing about American Idol now that it was going into the voting stages. There are no actual stories, no characters and no real motivation other than sing well and get people to vote for you, so I’d be reduced to saying what was good and what wasn’t. I consider this boring.

But as Tuesday’s episode started and I saw the 12 contestants lined up on the stairs, I got nostalgic chills for the first few seasons of this show, and I realized that I was more into this season, for better or worse, than at least the last three. Knowing that nine of these 12 would be eliminated brought some real drama to the proceedings, and my mind was brought back to s3, when I was living in a little apartment cove in Santa Monica, by myself, my fiancée was 90 miles away (so inaccessible except for the occasional weekend), and I was feeling a little disillusioned about my film production major. At that time, I had finally declared my minor in English and was focusing more on bringing that up to speed, as well as focusing on my new position as the arts & entertainment editor at my university’s newspaper. It was this season that I really became the amateur Idol guru and really got into the trends and predictions, and applied those thoughts to the newspaper every once in a while. After a particularly dramatic write-up – about the cries of racism inherent in the week that Jennifer Hudson, in the bottom three with Fantasia Barrino and La Toya London during Barry Manilow week, was let go from the show – somebody a year above me, a mild acquaintance, thought the entire article was satire and that I was making a joke. Nope, darling, it was for real.

So that’s what one image brought back into my head. All my weird emotional mood swings of the 2003-2004 school year, my changing interests and my realization that not everybody is going to get me, and that’s okay.

And you know what? Not everybody is going to get these contestants either.

What went down this week? Well, thank God that they opened up the list of songs a contestant could sing, so instead of producers saddling them with pieces of musical completely unrelated to their voice and their style, the contestants could make their own damn mistakes. And oh man, there were many mistakes this first week.

I’m not going to list the contestants instance-by-instance, but instead will just talk about the standouts.

The Good (in no particular order)

  • Alexis Grace (“Never Loved A Man”): She looks great, and while the voice may not have the power necessary to sing Aretha Franklin (that’s a tough thing to do for anybody to do), she gave a great performance first and foremost. She might have given off a little bit too much of a Duffy vibe, but this is somebody who knows how to become emotionally invested in the song itself, and not just sing the notes.
  • Ricky Braddy (“A Song For You”): For some reason I always tend to gravitate toward Caucasian guys who are very into singing R&B, even when it doesn’t really match their look, and was very surprised by this fellow, who I don’t remember at all from the previous weeks. He could gain a very strong female following, along with the male audience members who appreciate a good white boy singing with soul (e.g. Elliott Yamin). He needs to fix his damn hair, though. Simon called him “A nice, shy guy with a very good voice,” and you know what? I’m good with that description.
  • Anoop Desai (“Angel Of Mine”): He could have done better with this completely awesome 90s song (fuck off, judges, that song is brilliant) and given it a little more oomph, but I thought it was a very impressive performance and justified my earlier thoughts that he would become this year’s resident crooner.
  • Danny Gokey (“Hero”): Okay. He’s a good singer with a good story, and I usually like sappy, but he is definitely overhyped now, and dead wife or not that was an extremely sappy version of it. My wife is right. He could have really made the orchestrations work for him with a good deal of tweaking, but he seemed to just be fine with singing this song, which just so happens to be a death song for Idol contestants in the semi-finals. It’s still very good, but just not great. Simon agrees with me.

Surprisingly Good

  • Tatiana Del Toro (“I’m Saving All My Love For You”): I try to relate to the contestants on their own terms and am usually very savvy as to who is actually a problematic personality and who is just being edited that way, but Tatiana is crazy. We can all see it in her eyes. So it’s a shame that she’s actually good, because there was no way people were going to vote her through. Even with the ill-informed encouragement from the judges to go extra-crazy, I just can’t put my finger on Tatiana, and that’s a bad thing this far into the competition.

The Not So Good

  • Brent Keith (“Hicktown”): It’s not that I don’t get country. I just don’t get shitkickin’ country. There are plenty of beautiful Southern songs he could have picked, or triumphant ones that have actual melody, but nope, now I’m fucking bored. It wasn’t singing. It was posturing.
  • Jackie Tohn (“A Little Less Conversation”): I like this Lizzy Caplan lookalike, but that was absolutely embarrassing. Spirit is one thing. Making an ass of yourself is another. “Ungainly” is right, Simon. What a shame.
  • Stevie Wright (“You Belong With Me”) & Casey Carlson (“Every Little Thing She Does It Magic”): Both uninspired and flat, both are complete wastes of time. Stevie forgot to pick something in her actual range and her actual style, while Casey tried to get by on cuteness and gave us a rhythmic and melodic mess. And they both paid the price. The dawg was lost, yo.

All the rest were somewhere in the middle, so imagine my surprise when, on Wednesday, Michael Sarver got through to the Top 12 on a mediocre and unspirited rendering of Gavin DeGraw’s “I Don’t Want To Be.” It’s rough, and there’s absolutely nothing special about it. But along with Alexis Grace and Danny Gokey (the only person I voted for in my Top 4 that had a busy signal), Michael is through. And I’m confused as all hell about his inclusion.

I was hoping for maybe a bit of Ricky underdog action, but was very sad to find that Anoop did not make it to the Top 12. Don’t worry. I have faith that we can Clay Aiken him (no, that does not mean fisting) during the wild card round, because his voice is definitely good enough to make it. And if he doesn’t get the votes, maybe he can still be the judges’ pick.

Save Noop-dog!

Save Noop-dog! I bet he knows more about good ol' American BBQ than Michael Sarver does!

The Wife:

In an effort to not repeat my husband’s critiques, let me just say that I cannot wait until the Top 12 get some stylists. I have faith that my dear Anoop Desai, he of the liquid chocolate eyes that I am drowning in, can get some Wildcard love and get back into the competition, at which point someone needs to style his hair well and get him some clothes that fit him. The only person so far who seems to have his look figured out is Danny “Widower” Gokey, whose signature is having, like, a bajillion different pairs of glasses. (So far, I’ve counted 5. I will keep track of these for those who give a shit.)

I’m pleased with Alexis “Veronica Mars” Grace’s inclusion in the Top 12, as she was really the only girl who was any good on Tuesday night, and that’s not counting the indeed good Tatiana “Crazy Face” Del Toro, because that girl has crazy written all over her face. Thanks to her completely unprofessional display at being rejected from Idol by America, I am now afraid that she might go on a killing spree, or, at the very least, harm herself. Seriously, the lady isn’t mentally stable. But for however good Alexis is, I’m not sure she’s got her new “dirty” look quite figured out yet. She’s cute and looks like Kristen Bell, and those are both good things, but it was really odd to see her go from performing her Aretha number on Tuesday night in a slip and hooker heels like she was in a production of a Kander & Ebb show to seeing her perform a Jason Mraz song dressed as, um, Jason Mraz. Seriously, she had his hat and everything.

Please figure out a style identity, you tiny adorable creature!

Please figure out a style identity, you tiny adorable creature!

Overall, though, I’m hoping that the next group of 12 semi-finalists do a hell of a lot better at picking songs that are less disastrous and not making themselves look like Katy Perry regurgitated Ann Margaret’s outfits in Viva Las Vegas (I’m talking to you, Jackie Tohn). Right now, I’m worried that no one knows how to market themselves and that’s not a good sign.

The Husband:

My wife just reminded me of a talking point I had forgotten until she mentioned it, and that was Tatiana’s response to not being voted through to the Top 12. I could be wrong, but I think that’s the first time an ousted contestant has ever actually hid from the camera, putting hair over their face and turning around. Even the most depressed contestant has the professionalism to face the camera and accept their fate, so I am so in shock that Tatiana couldn’t even get past herself and be thankful she was on the show in the first place. Oy vey.