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American Idol: The Top 24

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Tuesday night we got our first look at the boys. At least I think they were the boys. Half of them are prettier than the girls.

As opposed to last season, these kids are far better singers and wow, are their teeth white! They can sing, they can bleach -- there's just no end to their talents.

Ryan began by introducing them as "your top 12." Mine?? I'm seeing half of these guys for the first time. To be honest, with all the 17-year-olds, it looked like the roll call for New Mouseketeers.

The theme was '60s night but to be accurate they should have called it "Mimic Peabo Bryson night". Who knew every song from the '60s could sound like Beauty and the Beast?

Simon was in mid-season form, offering brutally honest critiques and questioning Paula's sanity. At one point he pressed her to explain some daffy thing she said and she had to go to Randy for help. She should admit to being on drugs. We would have more respect for her.

First up was David Hernandez. Picture a young John Tarturro. He showed us how Peabo Bryson would sing "In the Midnight Hour." But he's got a big voice and will likely stick around.

Then we had Chekezie or Parcheesi, or Jacuzzi, I dunno. Usually before performers go by only one name they wait until they become major stars, or at least make it through to the second week. I think he sang "More Today than Yesterday" but as I remember that song, it had a melody. Chekezie could soon be Outthedoorskie.

There's always one contestant who has never heard of shampoo. This year's grooming nightmare is David Cook. He's the deranged outlaw that John Wayne killed in the first five minutes of every western he appeared in. David gave the Peabo Bryson interpretation of "Happy Together." And he has the distinction of being the first contestant to pick up the mic stand. Please consider that when you're voting.

Jason Yeager was next. Who??? If these people are too boring to be shown in either the auditions or Hollywood week (we're talking 100 hours of airtime here) then you know they won't be around long. He sang "Moon River".

Moon River, wider than a mile, a tale as old as time, a song as old as rhyme, my huckleberry friend...

You get the idea.

Then came Jason Castro. Imagine Lisa Edelstein with dreadlocks. Here's the only time I disagreed with Simon. He loved his rendition of "Daydream." I thought it was weak. Paula couldn't keep her hands on the table.

Colton Berry must think he's in Flock of Seagulls. What's with the blond hair swept way to the side? He looked like he was attacked by a leaf blower.

This year's token rocker is Robbie Carrico. The judges were fawning over him because he's so "authentic." They completely missed that he's a Bret Michaels clone.

They also loved loved loved David Archuleta. The fact that they were so excited about a 17 year-old who could easily pass for 9 creeps me out more than a little. Still, he's a good singer and four million middle school girls had their first orgasm Tuesday night.

Luke Menard. Again, who???? Much weaker voice than the others but looks like Hugh Jackman. Will be around long into the competition.

Danny Noriega is an 18-year-old who looks like Jane Fonda in Klute. He sang "Jailhouse Rock" (an Elvis song from the '50s, not '60s) with all the soul of, well...Jane Fonda in Klute.

The cute girls continue with Garrett Haley. Ryan says he looks like Peter Frampton or Leif Garrett. If you ask me, he's Heather Graham with a schnoz. He sang "Breaking Up is Hard to Do" through his nose. Next to this guy Neil Sedaka is Springsteen.

The best was saved for last. Michael Johns. Great voice and charisma. Sang "Light My Fire" as a rock song, not the theme from Aladdin. Should wind up in the top two if he's not disqualified for getting Paula pregnant.

Wednesday was girls night. They're cute, they belt, they have sob stories, and they're all going to end up in the touring company of Mamma Mia. But for now their hopes and cheeks are high.

We were told over and over that some of them had the flu. But showing the same grit and fortitude they had when they attended their senior proms despite breaking a nail, they hung in there and gave courageous performances of '60s bubblegum hits.

First up was Kristy Lee Cook. She sold her horse to fly from Portland to Philadelphia to audition for the show. There were also auditions in San Diego, which is closer. She could have just sold her cat. Kristy was one of the flu victims. What will her excuse next week be for being boring?

Joanne Borgella was next. She's the "plus size model" filling the LaKisha/Jennifer Hudson role this season. Simon said to take a risk and she did. She wore jeans.

Alaina Whittaker followed. She's 16, blond, and has that Lauren Hutton space between her two front teeth that make her seem wise beyond her years. Alaina sang "More Today Than Yesterday" -- the same song that Chipote (or whatever the hell his name is) sang the night before. There aren't a gazillion songs in the '60s? They had to repeat the same four?

Finally! Something that Paula knows! The group that had the hit with "More Today Than Yesterday" (Spiral Staircase). Amazingly, Simon had never heard of that tune. Obviously he doesn't listen to oldies radio. They play it eight times an hour. Along with...

"Happy Together", which Brooke White sang (and David Cook mangled the night before). Brooke is a dead ringer for the young Susan Anspach. She labels herself as "the good girl." A couple of weeks in the bottom three and she'll be wearing leather and going down on the mic.

Amanda Overmyer, the cool rocker chick who looks like an owl, scatted through "Baby Please Don't Go." Again, Simon had never heard of it. He can tell you every Lulu tune but is unfamiliar with Van Morrison. Amanda is a breath of fresh air. And even if she had the flu, who cares because she sounds like she has the flu anyway.

Amy Davis is gorgeous. I'd vote for her if she coughed up phlegm for three minutes. She sang one of Simon's favorite kick-ass songs from the '60s - "Where the Boys Are."

Then it was Alexandrea Lushington (which would be the perfect name for Elaine Stritch). Randy and Paula loved her. Simon did not. I agree with Simon. Just another boring belter. Next!

Kady Malloy is this year's Carrie Underwood wannabe. Big voice. Did a slow sexy rendition of "We've Got a Groovy Kind of Love." Why? It's an innocent teenybopper song. Why not just do a smoldering blues version of "My Boy Lollipop"?

Kady was followed by Asia'h Epperson. I'm still trying to tell all these people apart. I have in my notes for Asia'h: "dead dad girl." Sang "Piece of My Heart." Won't make anyone forget Janis Joplin. Or even Amanda Overmyer.

One of my favorites was next. Ramiele Mulubay. Little girl. Big pipes. Irene Cara without all the lawsuits.

The goofy names continued with Syesha Mercado. (Notice all the cheerleader types are named Kristy and Amy and Brooke?) Will somebody tell her the Diana Ross look is not becoming? The only thing missing was plastic surgery and a cape. Another boring belter.

And finally, there was Carly Smithson -- the girl with the sensational voice, scary tattoos, and Hannibal Lector smile. American Idol has taken a lot of heat lately for not disclosing that Carly is a professional singer who even signed a million dollar recording contract once. So to avoid looting in the streets and rioting, this "secret" was revealed on the program. Carly should be in the top two...if she wears long sleeves every week.

All in all, a good group. But certainly not a great group. Maybe the third touring company of Mamma Mia.

You can read more from Ken at kenlevine.blogspot.com