05/02/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Idol Season 9: Top 20 -- The Men

RATINGS COVERAGE: With the Olympics out of the way, American Idol scored 23.4 million viewers, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Though the format was different last season (with semi-finalists put in groups of 12), that's a modest 3-4% drop from last season's performance show on March 3, when the show scored 24.3 million viewers. Idol beats the closing ceremonies of the Olympics to be #1 this week, but next week belongs to the Oscars. After that, it's smooth sailing to the season finale when Idol will retain its crown as the #1 show on TV for the sixth straight year, the first to do so in the history of television.

SHOW COVERAGE: A good improvement for a number of men this week on American Idol...but then, so many of them had so much room for improvement.

MICHAEL LYNCHE -- Sang James Brown's iconic #8 hit "It's A Man's Man's Man's World," which hit the Top 40 the week I was born. Lynche benefited from doing exactly what Simon said: command the stage. Instead of being amiable, he was forceful and strong. Yes, when he got soulful, he garbled some lyrics. But for the first time, he seems like a contender. Solid.

JOHN PARK -- Sang John Mayer's "Gravity." He started off rough, then when the song got slower, he was worse, and it all felt a bit interminable. But it wasn't as bad as last week. Better, but not good. Will being cute keep him safe for another few weeks?

CASEY JAMES -- Sang Gavin DeGraw's lone Top 10 hit, "I Don't Want To Be," which has been performed a gazillion times on Idol. James apparently doesn't have a TV but once he realized how often it's been done, he should have picked something else. His guitar playing was fun but it's not good when the vocals seem like an afterthought. On the chorus, which sort of meanders down, he really struggled and faded out at the end of lines. But the show loves him; he got a flashy low-camera intro and lots of active cutting to jazz it up.

ALEX LAMBERT -- Sang John Legend's "Everybody Knows." I love that Lambert invented his own language and he almost certainly won the sympathy vote with his stories of nervousness and throwing up before sporting events, much less Idol. (Don't knock the sympathy vote; anything to stay alive!) Yes, he was very improved but since he had so far to come that's not saying much. Lambert did sound pretty forceful at the moments where he dug in. But he was still very nervous and shaking and what an awful last note. Still a long ways to go and the judges overreacted with their praise. (Lose the mullet.)

TODRICK HALL -- Sang Tina Turner's career-defining, sole #1 hit "What's Love Got To Do With It." Last week he did Kelly Clarkson, so I thought, cool, he's gonna keep taking songs made famous by women until he gets it right. But he took a song that's already pretty slow (though in a deceptive way; Turner keeps it jaunty) and made it even slower. When he started to move it got a little better but then he had a horrible finale. And how can the judges say Tina Turner's song isn't relevant? It's a classic! Not good but not disastrous.

JERMAINE SELLERS -- Sang Marvin Gaye's brilliant #2 hit "What's Going On." I thought Simon was going to nail him when he started to describe the song as a great...pop song. Almost, but not quite. Here's the problem: Sellers sang one of the greatest protest songs of all time as if it were a love song. Maybe he thought he was singing "Let's Get It On?" Seriously, did he even pay the slightest attention to the lyrics? "There's far too many of you dying.... War is not the answer..." and so on. But watch him perform and you'd swear he was romancing you. Sellers was smiling and even winking at one point, I think. When a singer is that completely divorced from the lyrics, nothing good can happen artistically. If he wanted to bring passionate gospel fervor, this could have been the perfect time to take it to church. Instead, he took it to the bedroom.

ANDREW GARCIA -- Sang James Morrison's debut single "You Give Me Something." (Morrison's sure getting performed a lot for a guy who's never had a Top 40 hit in the US.) He was weak, especially on the chorus and kept moving his arms robotically. It was so-so, not awful but sometimes that's worse since memorably bad is at least memorable.

AARON KELLY -- Sang the first #1 hit of The Temptations, "My Girl." I knew Aaron was going to break out or flame out when he did the whole, head-shaking thing. (You know, that back and forth sort of Egyptian-ish thing.) Now here's where it gets confusing. A lot of times I criticize singers for riffing all over the place and singing their asses off a la Mariah Carey when they've barely even sung the melody. But you can do anything you want if it works. And for me, Kelly's runs and pretty convincing growl on "my girl" and his massive amount of vibrato all worked for me. He was really quite good, although like almost everyone he ended weakly. But even if he'd been terrible, I would take issue with the judges, who all insisted the song was too old-fashioned, not contemporary, not relevant. Huh? It's a pop classic. It's not like he was doing some Tin Pan Alley number or John Park's disastrous take on Billie Holiday's "God Bless The Child." It's a timeless pop classic and people can sing it from now until doomsday as long as they do it well. Kelly did it pretty well. Ryan asking him if he liked Justin Bieber made me laugh. There's no good answer to that one, Ryan. Saying no annoys the girls who like him and Bieber as well; saying yes makes him look uncool.

TIM URBAN -- Sang Matt Nathanson's hit "Come On Get Higher," which sold a million copies. Leagues better than last week, though he set the bar so low that's not saying much. In fact, he wasn't bad and I agree with Simon. Kind of hit a groove in the middle, though again he hit a very very rough last note. Ellen's comment that he should act -- despite having no stage presence -- made no sense. Yes, it's nice when a cute actor can also sing, sort of, but it's even better when they can really sing. (And the cast of Glee can really sing.) And if you have no stage presence as a singer you'll probably have no stage presence as an actor.

LEE DEWYZE -- Sang Hinder's #3 hit "Lips Of An Angel." It's easy to see the producers are rooting for him. He got wildly dramatic lighting, with the theater darkened during his first moments for the total rock star effect. But the audience started squealing during the first few lines (talent show Nashville Star loves it when that happens!) and I thought he looked very confident, hitching up his pants when he wanted to and smiling when girls screamed but digging into the lyrics. Some of the lyrics got mumbled when he was getting "passionate," but overall I thought he was quite effective. Too bad for him Kara stepped over Simon's big line that Lee may be the one to beat.

Too many ready for home to pick two. I'll just say that Lee Dewze and Casey James and Michael Lynche and Aaron Kelly are safe. Who did you like this week? And who's going home?

Thanks for reading. Visit Michael Giltz at his website and his daily blog. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his weekly music radio show at Popsurfing and enjoy the weekly pop culture podcast he co-hosts at Showbiz Sandbox. Both available for free on iTunes. Link to him on Netflix and gain access to thousands of ratings and reviews.