American Idol Recap: Meet the Top 24! (Or, Um, at Least 14 of Them!)

jen hirsh idolJennifer Lopez showed her true colors on Wednesday’s “final judgment” episode of American Idol — a shimmeringly hypnotic hue of emerald green, to be exact.

Indeed, the Gigli star’s sequined dress was so shiny, it actually managed to reflect the image of her “deeply concerned” face and cast lustrous jade pools back onto her throat. It also sent me into a daydream that she was some kind of glamorous alien, just moments away from peeling back the rest of her human skin, revealing a V-like visage, and devouring whole the American Idol contestants who failed to crack the Season 11 Top 24. “I’m sorry baby, but your journey ends by becoming delicious protein to fuel my multihyphenate career!”

But no, despite the ominous spaceship ambience on the Las Vegas set of Le Rêve: The Dream — all bubbling pools of liquid and foggy walkways and subdued lighting — the latest installment of Idol was a relatively happy one.  Sure, the judges began the task of whittling down the final 42 singers to a group of 24 semifinalists, but that means we’re just a week away from the live performance rounds — and hopefully the next great performance that will join Adam Lambert’s “Mad World” and Fantasia Barrino’s “Summertime” and Tamyra Gray’s “Minnie the Moocher” on the list of the show’s great contributions to music and television.

Am I getting a little overexcited for Season 11? Um, does Steven Tyler like the word “beautiful”?

So let’s take a closer look at the 14 Season 11 semifinalists revealed on Wednesday’s telecast — the other 10 will be announced on Thursday’s show — breaking them into three distinct groups, and giving you a sneak preview at the imaginary number you can use to call and vote them through to the next round:

Brielle Von Hugel: 1-866-MOMMY-ISSUES
At this stage of the game, Brielle could rescue a lamp-bound genie and wish for Celine Dion’s vocal cords, Beyonce’s magnetism, and Adele’s soul, and she’d be hard-pressed to overcome the edit she’s gotten over the last couple weeks. Or rather, the edit given to her bossy, trash-talkin’, spray-tanning stage mom. Even worse, her overwrought “Killing Me Softly” was more “Killing Me Histrionically.”

Chelsea Sorrell: 1-866-NIGEL-HATES-HER
Let’s see: She got about 11 seconds of screen time heading into Wednesday’s show, and Uncle Nigel chose to celebrate Chelsea’s semifinal berth with footage of her forgetting the lyrics in her final Hollywood Week solo? That said, Chelsea’s tone was as clear as bottled water on Carrie Underwood’s “I Told You So,” and our dark overlord does like to have a punching bag or two heading into the Top 12.

Creighton Fraker 1-866-ALL-CAPS-SINGING
I’ve had problems all season with Creighton’s Extreme Song Makeover: Runs and Tics Edition approach to music, and his Vegas solo to “New York State of Mind” was no exception. Plus, his last note sounded like a coughed hairball. The best I can say about Creighton is that he’s this season’s Von Smith. And we all know where Von Smith finished in Season 8. Or, okay, at least 14 percent of us know. (Side note to Ryan Seacrest: When Creighton’s own intro package included discussions about being adopted, and having discovered his “birth daddy” was the lead singer of Flotsam and Jetsam, then it’s your job to respect that narrative. I’m not gonna lie: I gasped when you noted “his dad was right there” as the cameras cut to the long-haired rocker. It’s only a one-word difference from “dad” to “birth dad,” but the distinction couldn’t be greater.)

Erika Van Pelt: 1-866-CALL-A-STYLIST
I had to agree with J.Lo thay Adele’s “Don’t You Remember” wasn’t a great fit for Erika’s final Vegas performance. It brought out a strange tone that sat at the intersection of opera wannabe and Swiss mountainside yodeler. Plus, were the producers trying to foreshadow an early ouster by playing Kelly Clarkson’s “Already Gone” as Erika exited the “Green Mile” room? That said, all of her previous performances were rock solid, and if this likable chick could learn that sleeveless black and white mumus (as well as tiny vests) are not really anybody’s friend, she could find herself on the 2012 Idol tour.

Baylie Brown: 1-866-BEST-HAIR-EVER
If there’s such a thing as a Season 11 front-runner, it’s probably Baylie: The gorgeous blonde’s comeback from a Season 6 Hollywood Week flop, and gorgeous audition to Bon Jovi’s “Bed of Roses,” got plenty of buzz, and even managed to excite someone like me, who’s kind of ambivalent about country music. That said, I wasn’t as enamoured of her Vegas performances, and in particular, that solo on “Here Comes Goodbye” sounded a wee bit wobbly.

Haley Johnsen: 1-866-WHO-THIS-LADY?
My first reaction to those clips of Haley’s audition went something like this: “Wait, wasn’t this girl called Brittany Zika during the auditions?” But no, Haley turned out to be a different blonde chick in a jaunty hat giving a lovely rendition of “The Story.” Whether or not her shyness and delicate vocals will hold up to Idol’s Bandzilla remains to be seen, but in a season where full-throttle belting is the order of business, Haley’s relative subtlety might provide a much-needed alternative.

Reed Grimm: 1-866-AIN’T-I-ADORABLE?
I dry-heaved every time Ryan Seacrest dropped a phrase like “quirky charm” or “colorful character” during Reed’s intro package, and it turned into a full-fledged case of The Voms when Randy told the shiny happy jester that “music lives in you and through you.” Still, his jazzy scatting and drum-playing on “It’ Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing” is the kind of quirk that will help him stand out in the crowded semifinal rounds. Yes, Idoloonies, brace yourself for more jazz hands and butt shaking and self-aware zaniness.

Heejun Han: 1-866-FIX-THAT-MOP
I’m not going to lie: Even if Heejun’s dazed and confused persona is a complete construct (and I kind of think it is), he gives good soundbites. “What are you sweatin?” asked Ryan, as Heejun awaited word of his fate. “Mostly water,” replied Heejun. And later, I howled when Heejun noted that hugging Jennifer Lopez is “every Asian man’s dream.” But really, personality can only get you so far on Idol, and it was Heejun’s soulful Vegas solo on “New York State of Mind” that made me think this dude might be a Top 12 contender — especially if he stops cutting his own hair and steps it up a little in the wardrobe department.

Jen “Geor-juhhhhh-uh-uh” Hirsh (pictured): 1-866-SOLID-AS-A-ROCK
That final Vegas solo on “Baby I Love You” was my least favorite vocal from Jen to date — it just seemed a bit overworked maybe? — but that’s not saying it wasn’t distinctive and in-tune. Consistency counts in this competition, and it’s hard to imagine Jen suffering a complete vocal collapse once the live rounds begin. That said, Randy’s “soothing” words — “We’re your friends, kind of.” — sent a chill up my spine that he could be targeting Jen to replace Haley Reinhart as the season-long recipient of his hateful (though poorly worded) critiques.

Elise Testone: 1-866-SAVE-THE-ROCKER-(AGAIN)?
I loved that Elise shared she’s been doing up to 10 gigs per week to try to make it in the music biz. (I mean, who doesn’t appreciate a hard worker?) And I loved that Elise said she values converying emotions over hitting every single note of her songs. But most of all, I loved that her throaty rendition of “This Is a Man’s World” gave me flashbacks to Allison Iraheta’s Idol run. (This paragraph is brought to you by Lady Rockers FTW 2012.)

Jessica Sanchez: 1-866-THIA-WISHES
True confessions: I let out a “get it, gurrrrlll!” as Jessica swooped and hollerated during her final Vegas solo on “The Prayer.” Seriously, she’s got the ferocity of a pre-Oscar, still-crazy-eyed J.Hud, but those lilting high notes at the end proved she can rein it in, too. Was Jessica’s family accidentally knocking over that Carrie Underwood poster a sign from above that a new Idol superstar is nigh?

That clip of Joshua’s audition made me wonder if “How Do I Live” had gone in for radical plastic surgery sometime in 2011 — because it was barely recognizable. His Vegas solo on “Up to the Mountain,” however, was tremendous. Sure, his hollerating passion took it right up to the border of ridiculous, but then Joshua brought it all the way back with an ending that landed like a pillow drifting off a 10th-story balcony. Plus, his gray vest and pants with black shirt was a seriously fetching combination, especially compared to some of his sloppy-casual bretheren.

Phil Phillips: 1-866-THIS-IS-THRILLER
His ability to take R&B jams and give them a jaunty acoustic twist may be a gimmick, but it’s a damned enjoyable gimmick, as evidenced by a version of Usher’s “Nice and Slow” that was brimming with humor and sex appeal. I’m not sure about his switch from Phillip to Phil, or his choice of a grubby green t-shirt that would’ve been more appropriate for an oil change, but if he makes the Idol tour, let’s give him credit for being talented before automatically griping about him being a “white guy with guitar,” shall we?

Colton Dixon: 1-866-COIFF-SYRUP
This much is true: Colton’s a wizard behind the keyboards. He has a magnificent/ridiculous mane of Mohawk-ed, skunk-striped beauty. He’s a sweetie to his little sister. And what’s more, he’s had a fan base percolating since his elimination during the Season 10 Green Mile episode. All of which gives him an edge over the 11 other guys competing for six slots in the finals. But I’ve got to admit I found his cover of “Fix You” to be a little pedestrian, and his affected, modern-radio pronunciations to be slightly jarring. Anyone else out there with me?

Lauren Gray, Neko Starr, Richie Law, Blaire Sieber, Naomi Gillies, Clayton Farhat, River St. James,
and Caleb Johnson

What do you think of the Season 11 Top 24 so far? What did you think of the Adam Brock cliffhanger? And were you upset with any of the eliminations? (Lauren Gray’s hurt a little, but honestly, girlfriend could use a one-year crash course in dynamics.) Sound off in the comments!

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