‘American Idol’: The Final 24 Offers Few Surprises

In an unusually mellow show,“American Idol” got down to a final 24 tonight, and there were only a few surprises.

Safe: Stefano Lagone, Thia Megia and Tatynisa Lewis. Gone: Moon-faced crowd favorite Jacee Badeaux, real-life mom-loving cowboy John Wayne Schulz and seven-time loser Jessica Cunningham were all out, the latter on her 25th birthday, no less.

“With an abundance of talent, there were no easy decisions,” said Ryan Seacrest in a particularly accurate voiceover.

But there were no tears, no hysterics, nothing like last night when Jennifer Lopez broke down after bidding adieu to sentimental favorite Chris Medina. Tonight was all high-fives and hugs.

So, if you’re keeping track, that means last night’s five finalists—Naimo Adedapo, Clint Jun Gambia, Haley Reinhart, Paul McDonald and Ashton Jones—are joined by 19 more, for a total of 12 guys and 12 gals, including Karen Rodriguez, Robbie Rosen, Tim Halperin, Julie Zorilla, Scott McCreery, Jovany Barreto, Lauren Turner, Rachel Zevita, Kendra Chantelle, Jordan Dorsey, Lauren Alaina, Jacob Lusk, Pia Toscano, James Durbin, Casey Abrams and Brett Loewenstern as well as Lagone, Megia and Lewis.

Now comes the hard part.

The shows now go live, and America gets to chime in with their votes. It’s crunch-time.

Perhaps the cruelest thing the producers did tonight was pit the last two standing outcasts, Loewenstern and Badeaux against fast-finishing Colton Dixon, all of them teenagers, for the final spot. The notably jittery Loewenstern kept insisting to Ryan Seacrest there were two slots left, only to be told this was the final one. Thankfully, the judges kept the suspense mercifully short before tapping Loewenstern, who ironically enough performed as his final song something about having a bullet-proof vest, then embracing his two opponents and proclaiming, “We’re all shining stars.” Dude is a hippie in the best sense.

Unfortunately, Jessica Cunningham wasn’t quite as sanguine after the Susan Lucci of the competition was bested by 15-year-old Megia on her 25th birthday, the demure singer flashing a pair of middle fingers censored by “Idol” logos on her way out.

Robbie Rosen appears to be one of the front-runners heading into the finals, with a strong performance of Elton John’s “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” that had Randy Jackson marveling: “He’s so unassuming…you’re a genius,” with J. Lo adding, “You’re obviously one of the best things we have” and Tyler getting admonished by Randy after proclaiming, “You sang your a– off… I mean, tush.”

You can’t deny the preternaturally mature 17-year-old Scotty McCreery, an aw-shucks real man who made sure to tell J. Lo he’s a quarter Puerto Rican “even if you can’t tell.” He complete nailed Josh Turner’s “Long Black Train” and could be the show’s first-ever male country star. “I love the authenticity,” gushed the big Dawg. “We’re big fans.”

Bubbly Lauren Alaina has an over-the-top personality that was borne out by her dress for “The Walk”: a purple chiffon number with sparkly pink cowboy boots that only a 16-year-old could pull off.

If there’s an overall favorite right now, it’s Jacob Lusk, whose stunning version of “God Bless the Child” had Randy Jackson calling it “the single best performance ever, ever, ever on ‘Idol.’” Exuberant and wildly enthusiastic, the spa concierge from Compton with the soaring gospel voice is a lock for the final four.

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James Durbin remains a strong candidate as well, slamming Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” in his final turn, with aback story that includes Tourette’s Syndrome, a wife and kid and an inability to hold a steady job. “You’re a lighting bolt,” cracked Tyler. “You won’t be selling pizza,” before admitting James sang “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” better than the Aerosmith front man himself.

Someone who should appeal to America is 19-year-old Casey Abrams, a remarkable jack of all trades who Randy described as “funny and fearless… and that’s what all great artists are.” Rushed to the hospital this week, it’s up in the air whether he’ll make it to Friday’s taping, which is a must for him to qualify. “I’m here to prove people like me can be sexy,” the portly bearded Abrams proclaimed. For his final audition, he chose the 1936 Kansas Joe McCoy jazz standard, “Why Don’t You Do Right?,” which was originally called “The Weed Smoker’s Dream,” that was featured prominently in the movie “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” Wonder if the “Idol” people made that connection.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had a musician as talented as you are,” gushed Randy. When Abrams heard he’d made it, he threw his chair off the stage, then vowed to pay for it. Can’t wait to see what he has in store for us as the show moves onward.

This is a pretty eclectic batch of performers, but it’s pretty clear who the favorites are going in. So far, the show’s been pretty clockwork. The new judges’ panel seems to be clicking. The talent is there… Certainly enough choices to satisfy everyone. Who will survive the upcoming ordeal? Will the front-runners hold their position, or will there be someone who emerges from nowhere to seize the day. There’s a lot of potential, including several 15- and 16-year-olds who will be put under a great amount of pressure in a short amount of time, Will the volatile Alaina blow up? Can Abrams continue to astound? Is Lusk up to the task? Is Scotty McCreery America’s new favorite sweetheart? All these and more will be revealed in the weeks ahead. Stay tuned.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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