The first round of sudden-death competition in Las Vegas sent five women to the top 20 and five others back to their day jobs (or high school classes). Last night, the men got their turn. After the performances the women delivered (and Idol's obvious and burning desire to crown a female winner), Mariah Carey warned the men that they needed to step up. Over the course of the evening, the first group of 10 men was slashed to five, and Nicki Minaj announced that she wanted marry Chris Watson's vibrato, have Elijah Liu's baby and cradle Charlie Askew like her slightly strange little brother.
The judges struggled to find common ground last night. Each performer seemed to elicit completely divergent and strong reactions from the panel. For example when the last note of Kevin Harris' version of "Everything I Do I Do It For You" drifted up to the rafters, Nicki declared she loved it, while Randy Jackson felt bored and thought it sounded like "karaoke." Despite Nicki's support, Kevin was cut. The only contestant all four judges agreed on was Curtis Finch Jr., who performed Luther Vandross' "Superstar." "Every time you step on stage you raise the bar," said Nicki. Randy readily agreed, "You're one of the best singers in this whole thing." Curtis was quickly ushered through to the next round of competition with very little ado.
That was not the case for Paul Jolley. With four judges on the panel, a tie or two is inevitable, which is why Jimmy Iovine had to sit through two nights of performances to weigh in if necessary. For some reason Paul opted to sing one of Keith Urban's songs ("Tonight I Wanna Cry") back to him. Randy thought Paul could be the male Carrie Underwood, in a good way, but Nicki was underwhelmed. It was a tie, so it came down to Jimmy, who recommended Paul go on despite sounding like he was "singing a Keith Urban song while auditioning for Phantom of the Opera."
Here are some of the other highlights from last night's American Idol:
Johnny Keyser, who was cut in the Vegas round last year, is now two for two, having been cut in the Vegas round again this year. His cheesy cover of Jason Mraz's "I Won't Give Up" elicited almost no response from the panel, with Keith managing to stammer only, "That was good?" with the end rising like it was a question.
Despite having a confidence level that Mariah deemed "major" and giving one of the few truly memorable performances of the competition thus far, JDA was sent packing. Perhaps the judges were bewildered by someone delivering an off off-the-Vegas-Strip rendition of "Rumor Has It" complete with floor routine in sparkly size-12 shoes with head-to-toe body glitter. "You are a superstar performer," said Nicki, but Randy pointed out that "this is a singing competition," not a cabaret.
Watson delivered a saucy rendition of Otis Reddings' "Dock of the Bay" that got Nicki head-bobbing along before declaring him "the prettiest man she's seen in her life" and announcing, "I want to marry your vibrato." Randy disagreed, though, and must have won the backstage arm wrestle, because Chris was cut.
Devin Velez's confidence on stage belied his tender age of 18. His performance outshone the five men who performed before him and Mariah glowed as she told him that she "can't wait to see what a producer would do with him in a studio." Devin moved on to the next round.
Jimmy Smith delivered a fairly mild version of "Raining on Sunday," a song popularized by Keith, which made it difficult for him to judge. So Nicki baby-talked, "I was a little bit bored," a sentiment that Randy echoed. The nays had it and Jimmy was sent home.
Liu's performance of Bruno Mars' "Talking to the Moon" was the most easily marketable of the evening, but it wasn't overwhelmingly great, either. The judges once again split on the performance, but all agreed that Elijah had charisma. Nicki, who is "obsessed" with the 18-year old and wants to have his babies (she said it, not me), would sign him today. While Idol didn't sign him (and as far as we know he didn't impregnate Nicki) he did make it through to the next round.
Nicki was on her feet clapping for Askew as he ended Elton John's "Rocket Man" on a high note. Keith put it bluntly, "Tackling that song was like, what the hell are you doing? But somehow you made it work." Adding, "It's like if Freddie Mercury had a lovechild out of Woodstock." While Idol continues to claim they're all about the vocals, they kept Charlie anyway.
Most Mariah Moment: After Curtis Finch Jr.'s performance, Mariah sighed, "I wouldn't even begin to critique you" – and then she critiqued him anyway.
Most Nicki Moment: Telling an 18-year-old that she wanted to have his babies.
Best Reason to Come Back Next Week: The sudden-death rounds continue on the slow march back to Hollywood and a talented top 20.
Previously: Sudden Death Begins in Las Vegas