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Idol Watch: My Top Five Guys (Or So)

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American Idol entered the semifinals last night, as the twelve remaining guys battled for five (non-wild-card) spots in the final and the new judging panel strutted its stuff for a primetime voting audience for the first time this season. After the jump, my top five picks (based only on last night’s performances) and one wild card—plus some snap judgment of the judges:

James Durbin
“You’ve Got Another Thing Coming”
This year, we’ve seen a lot of guys on Idol who could be described as “Adam Lambert but ____.” Metalhead James is Adam Lambert with the pipes but without the irony, and he killed it here, with perhaps the night’s best song choice.

Casey Abrams
“I Put a Spell on You”
Someone tell Seth Rogen and Zach Galifianakis that their son is an adorable young man. The multitalented Casey delivered another throaty, in-command performance. And honestly, I never realized this song was so creepy; I liked his stalker-y read on it, which was impressively menacing for a guy who looks like he should be making organic frozen yogurt in Vermont.

Scotty McCreery
“Letters from Home”
Wow, that 42 year old man hidden under Scotty’s shirt can sing like hell. Granted, I feel like already I’ve heard every performance he will ever sing. But the flip side of that is, he’s really consistent, and I’m not sure he ever sings an off-note. Plus, if you don’t vote for him after this, you pretty much hate the troops.

Jacob Lusk
“A House Is Not a Home”
Not quite Tamyra Gray, but he has some real pipes, and he knows how to bring the drama, in a manner that guy singers rarely do on Idol. The dude is a diva, and I mean that in the best way.

Paul McDonald
“Maggie May”
I like the guy’s distinctive, raspy delivery and ’70s vibe. The only thing that keeps him off my main list was his vocal itself, which was technically good but essentially a Rod Stewart imitation/impression. (Mitigated, maybe, by the fact that his voice simply sounds totally like Rod Stewart, but that shouldn’t keep him from interpreting the song.) Still, he’s shown enough originality and style in the past that I’d keep him around.

And my wild card: Brett Loewenstern. I love Brett’s singing generally, but this was an off night; I didn’t love his read of “Light My Fire” or this lounge-y arrangement. And though he needs a move besides whipping his hair—we get it! you have a lush, lustrous mane!—he has real stage presence and leaves me curious as to what he’ll do next. (I should note, though, that Robbie Rosen is probably a good bet to knock out one of my choices.)

As for the judges, I was pretty impressed with Steven Tyler, even if I thought he went too easy on some of the singers that I didn’t list above. No shrinking violet live, he made ample use of the bleep sign/button and was willing to stick to his guns when the audience booed his criticism.

As for Jennifer Lopez, I have the beginnings of concern. She doesn’t come across as quite the pushover that Ellen was, but I see a similar pattern in which she is unwilling to be the first person to say something critical. (And she often deflected her criticism to the safe ground of song choice; i.e., that was good but “it wasn’t you.”) This so far leaves Randy in the position of being the enforcer, giving permission for the panel to go negative. (And while he may have made “pitchy” a cliché over the years, he was the judge with the most musically specific criticisms.)

I must admit, there were moments I missed Simon, like a phantom limb. He would have been willing to tell Jovany Barreto that he looked like he was singing at his sister’s wedding reception.

Tonight, we do it all again with the women. In the meantime—your choices?

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