The choices in last week's mens' rounds were far less clear than in the womens', with no real standouts and lots of mediocrities. And with so many "who cares" choices, it's not surprising that the judges and I were less in accord. There were four singers I thought deserved to move forward; only 2 did (Burnell and Curtis; Bryant and Mathenee went home, with Bryant's ouster being particularly undeserved). Of the seven who I thought should have been booted, three are still with us (Paul, Elijah, and Lazaro).
It's hard to imagine that these guys will produce anything as good as the second half of last night's show, which was one of Idol's best hours ever. But maybe it won't suck too badly. Cross your fingers, boys and girls.
Elijah, "Stay" -- There are good things here. He's got a wide range, and he moves smoothly from loud to quiet. And occasionally, when the sound opens up, you hear the marvelous singer he could be. But more often, the sound is pinched and tense, and you can see that tension in the giant knot between his eyebrows. He needs another year or two with a good vocal coach.
Cortez, "Locked Out of Heaven" -- Big improvement from last week; this actually had some life and personality in it. Nothing particularly original about the performance, but solidly done.
Charlie, "Mama" -- He needs to work on microphone technique. Especially in the quieter opening section, every breath sounds like a hurricane and the closing consonants are popping way too loud. The high notes he's going for are unpleasantly shrieky. And yet, there is something strangely fascinating about this; he's intensely committed to what he's doing, and the singing is often quite good. But it's so damn weird and dark and uncomfortable that I can't imagine voters responding positively to it. (There will, however, be some sympathy votes after that moment of vague confession with Ryan after the judges' comments.)
Nick, "Iris" -- The hushed intimacy of the opening verse is lovely, but when we hit the chorus and he starts going for power, the pitch gets iffy. He's got a strong falsetto, though, and if he can learn to control his belt better, he could be a real force.
Burnell, "I'm Here" -- The lyrics are an awful mess of meandering feel-good pablum, and I want to strap his hands down to stop him from constantly waving them about, but his voice is marvelous, and he sings with absolute sincerity. It's simple, straightforward, and powerful. By far the best performance of what has been a mediocre night.
Paul, "Just a Fool" -- He's working very hard and not getting much for his effort. It's such a dull performance that I've already forgotten it.
Lazaro, "Feeling Good" -- The song is a better fit for him than the country song he did last week. But the approach leans unpleasantly toward the lounge lizard, and the combination of his accent and his sloppiness makes it an impenetrable bowl of sound soup. There may be words floating around in there somewhere, but damn if I can pick any of them out.
Curtis, "I Believe I Can Fly" -- I have largely the same reaction as last week, which is that this is not a style that does much for me, but he does it extremely well. And those high falsetto notes in the middle were absolutely killer. He comes across as a bit smug, though; I'm not sure anyone is quite so impressed by Curtis as Curtis is.
Devin, "It's Impossible" -- I don't speak Spanish, so I don't know what he's saying for the second half of the song, but it has much more energy and commitment than the English-language first half, which is bland by comparison. The arrangement's rather old-fashioned, and doesn't do enough to bring the song into the modern era. Might be enough to get him through on a very mediocre night.
Vincent, "End of the Road" -- Very nice. A significant deduction, though, for the way he cheats that very high falsetto note; he turns away from the mike to be sure the note's in tune, and doesn't let us hear it until he's sure it is.
So, what are the judges to do? There are only three who I would send forward with any enthusiasm -- Burnell, Curtis, and Vincent -- and Burnell is the only one who I think is at a level to compete with the top four women. At the bottom end, Elijah, Lazaro, and Paul deserve to be sent home. I have no terribly strong feelings about the other four, and won't be particularly surprised by whatever happens to any of them. I'd probably keep Devin and Cortez over Nick and Charlie, but with no excitement about the choice.