'American Idol' Recap: Do or Die for Half the Guys
'American Idol' Recap: Do or Die for Half the Guys
Bill King
Bill King
Contributing Writer, BuddyTV
Half of the remaining American Idol girls took the stage for the brand spankin' new sudden death round in Las Vegas Wednesday, and now it's the guys' turn. And while there were some shocking eliminations (Shubha Vedula and Isabelle, in particular), I don't even think that's possible for the boys. The field is that wide open (or if you prefer, mediocre). Outside of Curtis Finch, Jr,, who has yet to falter, everyone is vulnerable.

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One thing we don't have to worry about that came up with the girls is factoring in someone we've never heard before. We saw two of the ladies for the very first time in Las Vegas, and a third we hadn't heard a solo from. Some of these guys have gotten more screen time than others, but at least we have a basic idea of what each one of them sounds like. I have expectations for each, so there won't be any guys at the bottom of the rankings who suddenly make a huge jump.

This is the first time they are singing in front of a live audience, and just like Wednesday, 10 will enter and five will leave. The cuts are harsh, and Idol is once again using the slogan "One Song, One Shot, No Mercy." It still leaves a bit of a sour taste in my mouth that the judges are solely responsible for deciding who advances. I don't mind that they narrow down the field, but once we're doing these solo performances, I think America needs a vote. But maybe I just miss Shubha and Isabelle. 

The boys can pick any song in any genre and can play an instrument if they so choose, and Mariah Carey reminds them that the ladies have the better talent this season. I personally think that's true, but I can't help but wonder if they're really trying to push the girls on us to make sure one wins for the first time in years. Who will survive? Who will fall apart? Who will pick a song that makes you shake your head and wonder "What the hell was that dude thinking?" Let's find out!

Paul Jolley Kicks It Off

He of uncalmable nerves and a vast collection of white pants (not wearing them tonight though), Paul Jolley is first up. He made the extremely ballsy choice of picking Keith Urban's "Tonight I Want to Cry," I guess because he wanted to do whatever he could to be remembered in the easy-to-forget first spot. Much like in his other anxiety-racked pre-song jittery moments, his confidence returns once he opens his mouth. He turns in a solid performance with some big on-key notes. It's not his best performance to date, but it should be enough based on the competition.

Keith appreciates and is honored and touched that Paul would pick his song, and he advises him to trust in his talent and not overcompensate by trying to plan overly big moments. Nicki Minaj wants his eyes to be less theatrical and thinks his notes were sweeter this time (and not in a good way). Randy Jackson says Paul has endless opportunity vocally and is excited for his potential. Mariah, commenting last again, thinks the first half was an intimate performance between just her and Paul. So more or less a split decision from the judges.

Johnny Keyser Brings the Love

Pretty boy Johnny Keyser is a returning Idol contestant who was cut in Vegas last season. He's been spotty so far, with highs and lows, and has advanced mostly on potential. He's singing Jason Mraz' "I Won't Give Up." The first part is entirely too low for his register and sounds borderline horrible, but it picks up once he raises the Key(ser). Then it's quite pretty, but I don't know if it'll be enough to overcome the rough start.

Keith says it was good, but he stumbles through his commentary, so I don't know if I buy it. He says it was Johnny's best so far and that it seemed effortless. Nicki says he looks sexy and once again asks if he has a girlfriend. She gives him kudos for his look, but says he doesn't have the greatest vocals in the world. Randy likes him, but doesn't think he has the best voice either. It was just okay for the Dawg. Mariah says he brings the masculinity, particularly in the beginning when he was employing his sexy (off-key) growl.

J'DA Brings Diva to Another Level

We haven't really seen J'DA much outside of the group round, so it'll be interesting to see what he brings to a solo performance. He's singing Adele's "Rumor Has It," and he's got sparkly heels, a huge broach and more glitter than a strip club (on ALL the strippers, collectively). He's definitely got stage presence and personality, and his voice is probably the best we've heard of the three so far. This guy puts on a SHOW, for sure, and the judges are eating it up. 

Keith appreciates the spectacle and originality, but he felt like J'DA over-choreographed the number and could see him counting steps. There's no chance in hell Nicki isn't in love with J'DA, and she tells him to "work it, girl." She thinks he's a superstar performer and praises him for his acknowledgment of the crowd. The only thing she didn't like was his vocals. Randy points out the vocals were lacking only because of the showmanship, but found a lack of originality in the dance moves. Mariah thought the vocals were spot on. Four people who watched the same thing and saw four different performances. 

Kevin Harris Slows It Down

Kevin Harris is another guy we didn't hear much of outside the group round, but I was impressed with what we did see. He's taking on Bryan Adams' "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" ballad "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You." It starts off great, and I'm hopeful we're about too a goose-bump moment. But then he hits some bad notes, and I'm feeling like his throat is really dry. But unlike certain Republican senators, he doesn't have a tiny water bottle nearby.

Keith loves the song choice and Kevin's range, but he had mixed feelings about the arrangement. Overall, he thought it was good. Nicki says "every single musical choice you made tonight was perfection," but she worries he doesn't have an outgoing enough personality. Randy disagrees 100 percent and was bored, calling it karaoke. Mariah says he's one of her favorites, but she wanted a better and more powerful song. Maybe the Keith-Nicki side the of judges' table has different acoustics than the Randy-Mariah side, because the judges are once again split. 

Chris Watson Storms the Stage

Chris Watson has show-stopper potential, even though the only thing we saw of him was his terrible group round performance. He was still the one who brought the energy, though, and I'm looking for him to really get the crowd into it. He always seems so happy, and he chooses Otis Redding's "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay." I love the upbeat tempo and the dance moves, but THIS is karaoke. Nothing about his voice powers through, and it's hard to stand out that way. 

Keith says that Idol is as much a connection competition as a singing competition, and even though he didn't like the vocals or the song choice, he still thinks Chris has a lot to offer. Nicki calls him the most beautiful man she has ever seen ever, and she wants to marry his vibrato. Randy disagrees with everyone and is still longing for someone to show him something vocally. He wants to see someone go out and prove that they're better than everyone else, and we haven't seen that. Mariah also likes his charisma, but wasn't a fan of the performance. I don't know if Keith and Nicki are trying to be nice, or if they're really hearing different things than me, Randy and Mariah. 

Devin Velez Pulls an Amber

At just 18, Devin Velez has a great voice and a long way to go. For me, he has always lacked control when going after the big notes. Beyonce's "Listen" is an odd choice, and like some of the others, he struggles a bit with the lower opening. There are parts that are really good, but some of his runs are all over the place (as usual). It's one of the better performances, but probably just because at this point, we are craving a mind-blowing moment.

Keith calls him a pure singer and really felt the connection, and Nicki thinks he was amazing. She thinks it was a smart choice to sing part of the song in Spanish, because it increases his marketability, but I think it's a bit early to cue in on being bilingual. Randy loved it and compliments Devin on the arrangement and for taking his time. Mariah felt like he was critiquing himself while singing. Much like with Amber Holcomb on Wednesday, I thought it was good, but don't agree with the judges on just how great it was. 

Elijah Liu and His Doppleganger

Elijah Liu has a Bruno Mars quality to him, and he's a self-proclaimed ladies man. Appropriately, he takes on Bruno's "Talking to the Moon." I think it's a dangerous choice to pick the guy you sound the most like, because it really stands out if you're even slightly below that level. It's like if Phillip Phillips only sang Dave Matthews Band in the beginning, but didn't sound QUITE like Dave Matthews. . 

Keith thought it was the perfect song choice, but calls the performance shaky. Nicki doesn't care about the song, because Elijah is a super super star and she wants to have his babies. He is her new favorite boy, and she is obsessed with him. He comments, "You're amassing quite a collection," and I like him more now. Nicki continues to gush like they told her to fill 30 extra seconds of time. Randy doesn't think it was a great vocal and lacked "moments," while Mariah thought there were two distinct "moments." They all think he's marketable, and Mariah loves that he's Mexican and Chinese. Okay. So...He's like General Tso's Chalupa?

Charlie Askew Gets Weird

First, we have to dissect Charlie Askew's outfit, which includes a golf club and a flamboyant belt recommended by J'DA. Every time he's about to perform, Idol reminds us that he's socially awkward, only this time we also learn he sings for birds. Sir Elton John's "Rocket Man" could go either way, and I'm nervous for him. He hasn't been the strongest vocally anyway, and he needs to nail it. His high notes are a highlight, but everything else is barely audible. It's a shame, cause I like the guy, but it's not great. Love his reaction to the crowd though.

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Keith calls him Freddie Mercury's love child and is a fan of the originality and fearlessness. He asked "What the hell is this guy doing?" when it came to the song choice, and he says it's up to America now. But it's not, it's up to YOU, Keith. Nicki gushes about how much she loves him, but doesn't say anything about the performance. Randy finally steps up and calls it "stage school," adding he has no idea what he just watched. Mariah "lives" for the song choice, which is weird because she has babies, but she preferred when he sang Nat King Cole.

Jimmy Smith Goes Country (Because That's All He's Got)

Jimmy Smith has, by far, the best country twang of any guy this season, which will certainly pose a problem with a few of the themes during the finals if he makes it that far. He's pretty like Johnny Keyser, but not quite as pretty AS Johnny Keyser. He also makes the ballsy choice of picking a Keith Urban song, but his rendition of "Raining on Sunday" doesn't offer the same end result as Paul Jolley's performance. None of these guy's voices are popping today, and it just sounds pedestrian. 

Keith points out that it's hard to critique someone who just sang your song, so he just says "good job." Nicki and Randy were bored. Mariah has been fighting for Jimmy, but probably won't be after this. 

Curtis Finch, Jr., Brings It Home

So the guy who I have ranked as the one to beat this season also gets the pimp spot? No way Curtis Finch, Jr., doesn't bring it, particularly because he's singing Luther Vandross. "Superstar" is technically flawless, but I'm finding it a bit boring until he really opens it up with some big notes. It's easily the best of the night, but I didn't feel it was a "moment" for him. It wasn't as good as his "Jar of Hearts" in Hollywood, but it's certainly serviceable. 

Keith thought it was beautiful but found parts of it over-performed. Nicki says he raises the bar and takes it to another level, telling him he's well on his way. Randy calls him one of the best in the whole thing, but cautions him against getting too old fashioned. Mariah was moved to tears, but she wants him to loosen up his tie and relax a bit. She doesn't want him to focus as much on "performing," because with his voice, he doesn't need to. 

Let's Pick Some Finalists

I only see six potential guys who could advance, with Curtis Finch, Jr., being the only lock. The judges have one split decision, so they wake up Jimmy Iovine to cast the tie-breaking vote. They needed to include him just so he'll come back next week. 

Curtis is up first, and Nicki tells him to drop the nervous act because he knows damn well he's going through. 

Ryan Seacrest calls out Jimmy Smith, and it's the end of the line for the pretty boy with the country swagger. That was another easy call. 

Kevin Harris is next to learn his fate, and Mariah breaks the news that he is also heading home.

Elijah Liu joins Curtis in the finals, but J'DA is sent packing. That's a surprise, because I thought he had the third best performance.

Paul Jolley is the judges split decision, so it goes to Jimmy, who thinks Paul is a good singer who chose the wrong song. He says it was like Paul was singing a Keith Urban song while auditioning for "Phantom of the Opera." Despite what he called oversinging, Jimmy is recommending that Paul move on so that he has a chance to make better use of his instrument. It sounds really dirty. And does that mean someone else is gone? How does this split decision thing work? I expected it would've go down to two people, and then Jimmy would pick. 

With four guys left and only two spots, orchestrated drama would seem to spell bad news for whoever they call next. It's Chris Watson, and I think he knew as soon as they said his name that he was gone.

Charlie Askew is up, and the guy I ranked last is shockingly moving on to the finals. I am speechless. No idea what these judges are thinking. 

It all comes down to Devin Velez and Johnny Keyser. Ryan asks Johnny if he thought he did enough to move on, and a visibly deflated Keyser lies and says yes, almost with a question mark. In the end, Devin is in the finals, and Johnny is sent packing in the same spot two years in a row. 

So half of the top 20 is set, with the other 10 to be decided next week. I didn't think any of the eliminations were that shocking for the guys, but rather the inclusion of Charlie Askew being the biggest surprise. What do you think of Charlie? Did he deserve to move on? Were any of your favorites eliminated? And do you think any of these guys, particularly anyone other than Curtis, can hold his own against the ladies? 

You can watch American Idol every Wednesday and Thursday at 8pm on FOX.

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