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Posted at 06:00 AM ET, 02/23/2012

‘American Idol’ 2012: First semifinalists revealed


Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson on “Idol.” (Michael Becker - Fox)

“This is the Final Judgment,” “American Idol” host Ryan Seacrest intones, and may god have mercy on the souls of about half the 42 contestants who will get eliminated this week by the judges – because it looks like the eliminees will be cast into a watery hell swirling around the island stage where the judges are seated.

Turns out the “Idol” produces got a deal for daytime use of the watery set for a Cirque du Soleil production in Vegas. “Le Reve,” Seacrest says is the name of the show, which roughly translated, means “permanent press cycle.”

Last year, Final Judgment was too much for judge Jennifer Lopez, we’re reminded in a taped bit showing her breaking down from too much judgment. This year, what with the divorce and everything, we have high hopes that she’ll really be on the edge.

So the deal is the contestants have to walk a long way to get reach the Island of the Judges, then sit in a chair opposite the three of them to hear The Judgment. First to talk the walk is Jen Hirsh, 25-year-old winery worker with a powerful bluesy voice and professional phrasing. The judges gave her a Standing O for her rendition of “Georgia.” So Jen’s looking good but the judges are gonna toy with her.

Judge Randy Jackson raises doubts about a more recent performance by Jen. Judge Steven Tyler talks about how hard it is to choose. Then Randy grows into a pregnant pause.

Now those of us who have been watching “Idol” loosely for the last 11 seasons know that this is the time to start counting: one thousand one, one thousand two. Because we well know the 10-Second Pregnant Pause Rule which states that if a pregnant pause goes on for more than 10 seconds it, in fact, crosses over from doubt to absolutely no doubt that the contestant WILL go through.

Twelve seconds of silence later, Randy says, “You made it, baby! One of the best singers this year!” We think 12 seconds is a bit flagrant.

Bring on Creighton Fraker, a self-described “starving artist” who performs on the street in furry ears and Elton John glasses but turned out to have a door-busting voice, most recently on “New York State of Mind”. So, here’s a back-story moment: Creighton was adopted and never knew till a few years ago that his father was the lead singer of the 80s heavy metal band Flotsam and Jetsam. Suddenly his lifelong attraction to rock and roll makes sense. And there’s his dad Flotsam who turns up for Creighton’s performances. Jen the Merciful takes just seven seconds to tell Creighton he’s through and we’re glad because he seems like a genuinely nice guy.

Bookend story. Lauren Gray is also the daughter of an ex-rocker. “Dad has been trying to do this but he never did make it big,” she says, unlike, say, Flotsam and Jetsam. Lauren memorably was the victim of Singing Coach from Hell Peggi Blu who memorably told there “there is no crying in singing” after she broke down in a rehearsal. Anyway, Lauren’s performances have been mostly good, but uneven say the judges, and they cut her after trying to convince her that it’s somehow her fault for not believing in herself. “I say to you, believe in yourself, work and come back,” Randy says. “I’ll consider it,” Lauren says. Props to her for walking out with dignity.

Joshua Ledet is a real talent, big voice, big range, gospel feel, not in any real danger. Randy makes a feeble effort to build suspense where there is none: “Sometimes the better singers don’t make it.” But, in the end, Randy only takes a four-second pause to give Joshua the good news.

Next, two pretty girls get rejected, Blaie Sieber and Naomi Gilies. But, “Idol” has got such a deep bench, they can send out a third, even prettier girl, Haley Johnsen, one of the few who managed to turn her group sing into a star turn on Vegas Night with “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes.” She’s No Lauren Gray, and yet, she’s through in 5 seconds.

Surprise, Neco Starr, with his pop star voice and pop star looks, gets the hook. Ditto Clayton, someone named River, and Caleb -- who blew his final solo performance in a big way.

Elise Testone, another strong-voiced bluesy singer – lot of those for the ladies this year – comes on to Judges’ Island laughing nervously but recovers to submit to a decent Judges Interview in which she says that in her singing “I’m trying to convey every emotion that I have” which indicates she believes in herself, so good answer! Randy throws it to JLo to give Elise the news and, not only is JLo not weeping this year on Judgment Day but she let’s10 seconds pass before telling Elise she’s through. Guess JLo’s believing in herself.

Reed Grimm, the goofy guy who gave an impromptu audition of “Georgia” in Vegas when producers wouldn’t let him perform his chosen song, is one of the few this year who can not only sing but is a memorable personality. Tyler puts him through with no pauses at all. We don’t think he’s “American Idol” material, but he’s got our vote.

Erika Van Pelt, the mobile DJ with the husky mid-range voice did well on her first number in Vegas but then had to suffer through JLo saying out loud mid-performance “I don’t like that song for her” so some suspense here. We start counting: one thousand one, one thousand-two --- but they cut to one of “Idol’s” famous long commercial breaks with no resolution, and we’re not counting to a hundred, no siree.

And, what do you know – after the break, Erika is put through, so we’re sensing a new trend: the Cut To Commercial Save.

“Next up, two country girls fighting for their place,” says Seacrest. That would be Chelsea Sorrell and Baylie Brown. “Idol” does well with country female vocalists so it’s looking good for them -- and they’re both through, though the country female vocalist world is so competitive neither is going to be the next Carrie Underwood.

And speaking of country, and believing in yourself, here’s Richie Law, the arrogant cowboy who trash talked all his partners (while also glad-handing them) through auditions, then concluded his run by giving a bad Johnny Cash imitation on “Ring of Fire.” He’s not looking so sure of himself now, sitting on Judge’s Island as the camera dwells on his face. He’s a goner, though the judges are too nice to him, apparently because he’s 19 and therefore not of responsible age yet. He has a great future as a state senator somewhere.

Next up Heejun Han, the droll contestant who butted heads with Richie as a group-mate and who we are just praying makes it through because he seems to be the one and only contestant with a sense of humor about himself and the show. Example: Seacrest interviews him in the Coke Label Red Room about why he’s nervous to face the judges. “What are you sweating?” Seacrest asks. “Mostly water,” Heejun shoots back.

And it turns out Heejun is a stand-up guy, working with special needs kids to give something back after having difficulties of his own. If the judges send him through he “will immediately hug and kiss” JLo, he vows. “Thats every Asian man’s dream…That’s the American dream right there,” he explains. We like Heejun.

Heejun looks at himself on the screen above the island and says “ugly.” “He’s one ugly great singer, like myself,” Tyler replies. Heejun says, creepily, that when he sings he feels like someone else is entering his body and when it’s done “it’s back to normal.”

“You’re a better star than you are a singer so we’re going to put you through,” Tyler says. Heejun cries, hugs the judges, and forgets to kiss JLo.

“We’re all bozos on the bus till we find some way to express ourselves,” Tyler tells him post-hug.

Jessica Sanchez, a real contender for this season, only 16, but great range and a gorgeous voice, goes through, no surprise, after a 6-second pause from JLo.

And Phil Phillips, who had some rocky auditions, has saved himself by performing as a Scruffy Guy With a Guitar – aka “American Idol” voting viewer catnip. He’s declared a member of the elite top 24 just 100 seconds later, on a Cut to Commercial Save.

Colton Dixon makes it through this round after getting cut on the same day in the competition last year. You remember Colton: raccoon hair, angry because his sister and fellow auditioner got cut? He wasn’t going to even audition this year to give his sister a clear shot, but the judges invited him in to the audition room and now he’s through, and she’s gone. We think his best-yet back-story got him through even though his final performance was rough.

Another returnee, Brielle Von Hugel, and her over-bearing stage mother Camille, have also made it this far. Brielle shows a lot of “moxie” as Ryan says, performing “Killing Me Softly” as a ballsy power ballad, which has got to be a first. She goes through, though she doesn’t ultimately seem likeable enough to be a winner. On her way off stage, she does a hip swing in short leather shorts. “Do the Pants Dance!” Tyler says approvingly.

Hmmm. Here’s a decision that will strain the wisdom of the judges. Adam Brock, big voice, looks like a doughy accountant, gave some great, some uneven performances. But what makes it really tough is his superb back story: heartbreakingly beautiful little baby daughter at home, carrying his grandfather’s hankie for luck, etc.

“I have to sing. It’s how I know god blessed me, “he weeps from his Judgment Chair.

“Our decision is definitely not unanimous but it is what it is,” says Randy. “So this is it, the moment of truth.”

And, with that, the episode ends.

But, if you add up all the commercial seconds until “Idol” Judgment Day, part 2 on Thursday, we’d say Adam is most definitely through.

On the other hand, Seacrest warns, “One shocking elimination leads to a dramatic turn of events!”

By  |  06:00 AM ET, 02/23/2012

Categories:  American Idol

 
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