American Idol Recap: The Cutting Crew

american-idol-season-13-top-30-sam-woolf-Like a bowl of wasabi mac & cheese, Part 1 of American Idol‘s “Season 13 Top 30 Announcement Episode” was a mix of familiar comforts and spicy new twists. (Urgh, sorry, now all I want to do is Google Image Search wasabi mac & cheese.)

Predictably yet sorta comfortingly, we had The Elevator of Doom ©, The Misty Eye of J.Lo (™), The Keith Urban Sing-Along Hour, A Brutal Last-Minute A Cappella-Off (With Bonus “Mean Girl” Edit)! And there was even The Barnacle They Finally Detached From the Judges’ Table ripping through our bathroom doors with an axe, and cackling, “Heeeeeeere’s Randy!”

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And yet at the same time, newbie producer Per Blankens threw us a few curves: The first contestant ever to make it through to the voting rounds and be openly allowed to say the words “I’m gay” on camera. J.Lo actually schooling Harry Connick Jr. on his failure to recognize a star in his midst. And so many original songs by contestants that I actually found myself shouting “Holy Toledo!” (Yes, that was an overt Crystal Bowersox reference.)

By the time the two-hour installment ended with a shocking cliffhanger — OK, it was actually kinda expected, but I’m not gonna be the one to come between “shocking” and “cliffhanger” — we’d learned the identity of 17 of the 30 contestants who’ll partake in next week’s “Rush Week.” And while one or two eliminations kinda stung — I will remember you, Nica Nashae — and a few “yeses” seemed like mere pawns on the Season 13 chessboard, there’s already an impressive number of potential contenders for the mighty Candice Glover’s throne.

Here’s where we stand going into tomorrow night’s one-hour continuation of the Top 30 sweepstakes:

Top 15 Women (So Far)
Andrina Brogden
Bria Anai
Emily Piriz
Jessica Meuse
Jillian Jensen
Kristen O’Connor
M.K. Nobilette
Malaya Watson

Top 15 Men (So Far)
Alex Preston
Dexter Roberts
Emmanuel Zidor
George Lovett
Jordan Brisbane
Malcolm Allen
Maurice Townsend
Sam Woolf
Spencer Lloyd

Some additional impressions…

Top 3 Most Pleasant Surprises
M.K. Nobilette | Yes, I loved her matter-of-fact “I’m very obviously gay” comment to the judges — a long, long, long overdue milestone for a show that’s gone to ridiculous lengths to totally ignore the backstories and significant others of its prior LGBT contestants. But it was her hushed, lilting rendition of “The A Team” — yes, J.Lo’s “quiet storm” description was apt — that made me excited to see what she’ll do next. [Quick poll: Who should do “Fast Car” first — M.K. or Majesty Rose? Yes, I am assuming Majesty advances Thursday night because I don’t want to believe the universe would allow it to go down any other way.]

Andrina Brogden | There was an exuberance and sass — plus a depth of tone — to her cover of Ellie Goulding’s “Burn” that proved a major upgrade from her ho-hum audition. I hated to see Leah Guerrero — who got almost no screentime except for her enthusiastic support of her fellow contestants — get her heart broken, but in a head-to-head taste-test, Andrina was the hands-down champ.

George Lovett | Dude’s been under the radar the last five weeks, but he showcased incredible horsepower without ever veering into showboating territory on “I Won’t Give Up.”

Top 3 Headscratchers (AKA “Not Ready for Primetime!”)
Malaya Watson | Um, if Malaya couldn’t figure out that she and the band were in different keys for her solo performance of “I Believe,” do we really think she’ll fare any better in front of a roaring studio audience? Plus, even after Harry hit the “reset” button, some of her runs were more “high school band practice” than “symphony orchestra.” Put it another way: Was she really more qualified than Keri Lynn Roche?

Jordan Brisbane | When I can hear you gasping in the midst of Beyoncé’s “Halo,” then I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly. [Or as Yoncé ad-libs it: “I! Don’t! Think! You’re! Re-eh-eh-eh-day!”]

Emmanuel Zidor | I suppose his advance to the Top 15 guys was worth it just for his lift and spin of Ryan Seacrest, and then our intrepid host’s abject failure in pulling a reverse of the move — the two of ’em tumbling to the floor in a ridiculous heap. Still, dude’s take on “I’m Goin’ Down” didn’t sound like the stuff of an eventual finalist. Wouldn’t it have been kinder to send him home with instructions to improve his techinique for Season 14?

Top 3 Solidified Front-Runners
Malcolm Allen | Holy heck, this kid has so much vocal control, I kinda wanted to see if he could perform the seven wonders — AHS: Coven style. (Sorry, that was a crazy comparison, but I miss Jessica Lange on my teevee!) How Harry questioned the dapper fella’s marketability is a mystery worthy of Jessica Fletcher — but thankfully J.Lo dismissed such nonsense with a flawless “I. Remember Him. Every. Time.” Plus, if someone as unpleasant as Chris Brown is still going platinum, then isn’t every human being alive “marketable” on some level?

Jillian Jensen | Loving the sandpaper-y quality of her tone, and her original track had an emotional rawness that was quite appealing.

Dexter Roberts | No idea what song this plainspoken fella was singing — my country knowledge doesn’t run as deep as I’d like it to — but Dexter grabbed my attention instantly with his authenticity and feeling. Plus, I’ll admit, his tearful collapse on the elevator ride back down to the holding room was awfully sweet. [10 Points for Stoic Boys With Tearful Centers!]

(OK, and probs the adorable Sam Woolf) | Don’t hate me for saying it, but the supercute teenager’s original song — written after his mom moved away from him — might not have been as powerful without the accompanying backstory. Still, he’s got a tone as warm and soothing as a fresh brewed cup of tea — and is close to a mortal lock for the Top 10 as anyone this season.

Cut During the Episode
Keri Lynn Roche (whaaa? Her stage antics on “I’d Rather Go Blind” were a little histrionic, but girlfriend’s got a killer voice!)
Madelyn Patterson
Michael Simeon
LeBryant Crew
Sabrina Lentini
Casey McQuillen
Jessie Roach
Nica Nashae
Leah Guerrero
Plus a few other people who the show’s producers oddly didn’t bother to identify by name

Fates Still Hanging in the Balance
Casey Thrasher Vs. C.J. Harris [The “winner” of the Alabama guys’ sing-off was left in cliffhanger mode]

Other thoughts…

* Why do Uncle PB & Co. seem hellbent on sabotaging Jessica Meuse? Her “Whipping Post” was clearly and vastly superior to Jesse Roach’s shaky “Do Ya,” her solo performance showcased the best original track we’ve heard this season (“Done”), and yet they had to show her failing to return Jesse’s compliment as the judges deliberated which raven-haired rocker would advance. (Maybe she was nervous — or just didn’t want to fib!) Color me vexed, either way!

* I loved Harry’s warning to contestants to keep it to themselves if they were feeling sick. That’s the kind of music-biz brutality for which these kids are signing up, so it’s best to not dole out gold stars and lollipops just for showing up, right?

* Not only did Spencer Lloyd’s original song have lyrics that could’ve doubled as a “public service announcement” (as Harry put it), but there wasn’t a whole lot of melody, either. I remain ambivalent about his prospects, even if deep down I know he’s going to advance to the Top 5 with the ease of Kris Jenner taking a selfie.

* Every time Alex Preston reminds us how “different” his style is, I want to pull a Patsy Stone and shout, “I’ll be the judge of that!”

* Finally, Melinda and I are gonna have an interesting time discussing Maurice Townsend when we shoot Reality Check on Friday. [Oh snap!]

With that, I turn it over to you!

What did you think of Night 1 of The Green Mile? Which singers stood out for you? Which cuts and advances left you yelling “What the…”? And have you already got a favorite heading into the Live Rounds? Sound off below!

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