Tonight, twelve semi-finalists got a second chance at fame and fortune on the American Idol wild card show. Or rather, eight of the twelve got a chance. Before anyone got to sing in Tuesday night’s 90-minute extravaganza, four of the contenders were cut from the mix. In light of the fact that these performers have been practicing all week for the show, this had to be particularly painful for those who were axed. To be offered another chance, to go through workshop and rehearsal, only to have the rug pulled out from under you at the last minute live on national television–how incredibly brutal. Of course, such a situation creates exactly the sort of hand wringing and emoting that the show’s producers love.
It was rather like a firing squad, each contestant called up before the panel to be either selected or summarily dismissed.
Lisa Leuschner was first up and first gone. Despite her third-place finish in Group 2, the judges weren’t willing to temper their earlier critiques, which is a shame, as her voice is both strong and unique. They commented again on her potential, but waved her off without a second thought.
Marque Lynch never got a chance to repent for choosing The Wind Beneath My Wings for his first appearance, as he was the next to go. The judges had him pegged correctly as a good stage singer, but not a pop star by any means.
Tiara Purifoy didn’t get a chance either. The judges didn’t seem to have any particularly scathing critiques, but they couldn’t also think of much good to say about her. When you’re in a competition like this, an average performance like the one she gave last week doesn’t cut it, so away she went.
Eric Yoder was the last reject, dashing his hopes of becoming the next Clay Aiken. He hadn’t managed to give the judges or the audience any reason to vote him on. Since he didn’t stand out, the judges likely felt completely justified in passing on him tonight.
With these four shunted from the stage into the audience, the remaining eight were ushered through the cattle call to get one more shot at the finals. While in the previous semi-final rounds the judges were there only to offer their “expert” opinions, they do get a vote this time around. Of the four remaining finalist slots, one will be decided by the voters, and each judge will also get one pick. So, while the performers only had to worry about pleasing the masses in their previous efforts, they had to play to the audience and the judges both tonight.
First to perform was Jon Peter Lewis, who surprised everyone by belting out an almost note-perfect A Little Less Conversation. While his vocals certainly did justice to The King, his moves recalled an epileptic fit. Yes, the boy can sing, but it’s the whole package we’re looking for here. Is America ready for an Idol who dances like he’s got an atomic wedgie? And what exactly was he wearing? Did he just roll out of bed and stumble into the studio? Randy and Paula liked the performance despite his dancing disaster, but Simon thought it missed the mark completely. While it was scads better than his Tiny Dancer the first time around, it’s doubtful this performance will land him anywhere near the Top 12.
Elizabeth LeTendre, who delivered an entirely adequate version of The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, was up next. While all three judges thought she did a good job, she again managed to do nothing to make herself stand out. It’s hard to imagine voters putting her through on the strength of this performance, and all three judges have other favorites that they’ll go for. She could still slide in, but it’s doubtful.
Katie Webber didn’t disappoint her fans (all pre-pubescent boys) by showing up in her best slutty outfit–low-cut black top and electric-blue miniskirt. Her performance of I Get So Emotional was forgettable, but no one is voting for her on the strength of her voice anyway. Simon correctly predicted that she will get the most votes from the male audience tonight, though she did her best to look confused through his comments. Also, it remains an open question how many men actually watch the show, much less vote. Nonetheless, the Top 12 needs a blond bimbo, and at this point, it’s between Katie and Elizabeth.
George Huff sang his heart out with a star-making rendition of Lean On Me. Despite the fact that he looks too old to be in this competition and smiles way too much, people do want him to do well. While he started out shaky, as he’s done in his previous performances, he got into the groove quickly and stuck with it through the end of the song. His odd vocal exercises not withstanding, it will be shocking if he doesn’t make it further in the competition.
Suzy Vulaca pulled off arguably the best performance of the night with a spot on version of I Will Survive. As difficult as this song is to sing, she nailed it. By taming her hair back, laying off the eye shadow, and picking a great outfit that fit the song and her personality, she was firing on all cylinders tonight. Her giddy reaction to Simon’s praise was endearing, as was her sprint back to the red room to bask in additional praise. She’s unique enough that adding her to the mix could shake up the finals quite a bit.
Matt Metzger has certainly got the looks. Despite his abnormally large forehead, gusts of wind likely caused a hurricane somewhere on the other side of the world tonight as ten-thousand pre-teen girls sighed simultaneously when he came onstage. But this isn’t a beauty pageant, and his rendition of When I See You Smile fell completely flat. There’s an outside chance that he could be the voters’ choice, but it’s clear the judges don’t see him as finalist material.
Leah LaBelle wore a dress and blue jeans tonight, which was odd enough. The flower in her hair was even more curious–perhaps she’s hoping some of Jasmine Trias‘ magic rubs off on her. Her Let’s Stay Together was good, but certainly not great. Like Elizabeth, she just tends to get lost in the mix. With less than five minutes devoted to each singer any given night, they have to make an effort to stand out in order to be remembered by the viewers. After two such chances, the only thing most of the audience remembers Leah for was tearing up after not making it into the finals on her first try. She’ll get another shot to show us the waterworks tomorrow night when she doesn’t make it for a second time.
Jennifer Hudson capped the evening with an excellent performance of I Believe In You and Me, much better than her previous choice of a reworked version of John Lennon’s Imagine. Despite the good-natured ribbing about her outfit, which was apparently made by a friend, the judges were clearly just as impressed with her tonight as they were during her first appearance. Randy even mentioned he thought it was the best performance of the night. While some may argue with that assessment, it’s clear she’s got a good shot to make it into the Top 12.
So who will make it through? Prior to the performances, I predicted that George, Katie, Jennifer, and Lisa would be the four to rise above the rest.
I’m sticking with my first three picks going into the results show.
Whatever questions we may have had about George prior to tonight were washed away. He had the audience–and, likely most of the viewers–in the palm of his hand.
As for Katie, the producers know they need at least one little white blond girl in the finals. It’s either Elizabeth or Katie at this point, and I think Katie’s, um, assets give her the edge.
Jennifer is clearly a favorite of the judges and the audience. It was by the slightest chance she didn’t make it into the finals already, but that mistake should be corrected soon.
Unfortunately, Lisa Leuschner didn’t get a chance to sing tonight. In her place, I’m guessing quirky Suzy Vulaca will be the final wild card to make it through.
Then again, both the judges and the audience have pulled off suprises before. Wednesday night, it could be anyone’s game.