It was quite the rough start as the first dozen of "American Idol's" Top 36 took to the stage on Tuesday night. Song choices were all over the map, and if the performances themselves weren't awkward to begin with, they added the element of having the singers' parents and other loved ones waiting in the holding area for post-performance interviews.
There were very few favorites to come out of the evening, which included some funny bits -- including Simon taking a completely unnecessary but hilarious swipe at Season 4's Bucky Covington. Simon called someone a clown, slammed the band a couple of times, said one singer "shouldn't have been allowed" to sing her song and told another "there is zero chance of you making it through to the next round."
All that and Tatiana del Toro managed to dial back the crazy and put on a decent performance. Out of the first 12 performers, only three are guaranteed a spot in the finals, so the vote is finally in America's hands. Keep reading for the details:
Best of the night: Danny Gokey let us know he was a church music director, so that opened up another voting block. He sang Mariah Carey's "Hero," which is a bold choice for anyone. He took a page out of David Cook's book by giving some edge to a Mariah song. The judges and the crowd went nuts for him, while his friend Jamar Rogers clapped from his seat in the audience. Randy called Danny the redeemer of the night. Kara called him a hero and said "you give us all hope." Paula said he was stellar and said she had "two words, with a hyphen: sold-out arenas." Simon said, "back to the real world -- it was good." He said it wasn't fantastic, it was good. He said he liked Danny, he just wasn't "buying the hype right now."
Alexis Grace, who the judges asked to get dirty, said the advice they gave her made her do better. She sang Aretha Franklin's "I Never Loved a Man." She gave a nice bluesy treatment to the song and showed some strength. Kara said the genie is out of the bottle. Paula said people don't that, at 21, Alexis would "have the ability to present so much soul, so much passion, so much confidence." Simon said she was the best, so far (she went third), and that she could be the dark horse in the competition.
Ricky Braddy, who hasn't had much screen time so far, didn't make much of it from the start as it was tough to hear him talking about quitting his job selling chicken fingers because he wasn't holding the microphone anywhere near his mouth. He sang "A Song for You" by Leon Russell. Ricky was a fine singer, but his performance and his style likely won't be enough to make up for the fact that America, until now, knew nothing about him. Randy said it was "the way to jump off Season 8." Kara said he "killed it" -- in a good way -- and said "it was amazing to watch that." Paula acknowledged that Ricky wasn't featured and said he deserves to go very far. Simon said it was "very, very good," but he wasn't jumping out of his chair. He also said Ricky doesn't have any star quality.
Need some help: Anoop "Dogg" Desai hasn't been afraid to make bold choices and he proved it with his choice of Bobby Brown's "My Prerogative" in Hollywood. This time, he took on Monica's "Angel of Mine." It was good and strong and soulful, but didn't show off his style and vibe. Randy said the whole song was a little sharp. Kara said it was a hard song to sing and she wasn't sure he had the capability to do it. Paula said America had already connected with him. She said, "I think that Anoop Dogg is here for a while." Simon thought the song was a little too grown up for him, and too serious. Simon agreed that Anoop has "massive likability" going for him.
Jackie Tohn, 28, from New York went first and sang Elvis Presley's "A Little Less Conversation." The softer, jazzy treatment she gave the song didn't work. She was clearly going for style over range -- and she didn't show off enough of either. Her high energy was nice, but with the spandex tights her awkward dancing made her look like she should have been in a step class. Randy said he wasn't blown away by the whole vocal thing, but he liked the "entertainment side." Simon said she "played the clown." He said the song was a bit gimmicky and she didn't do herself any favors. Jackie said he wanted to show she was a fun rocker and not the big singer. Did it work?
Just a'ight for me, dawg: Tatiana "Nicole" del Toro toned down the crazy while she talked about how emotional she was during the Hollywood round. She said she felt attacked, then sang Whitney Houston's "Saving All My Love for You." The singing was just fine -- certainly not the worst of the night, and possibly the second-best among the ladies on a particularly rough evening. Randy said he was impressed with some "moments." Kara noticed the "very reserved Tatiana" that they saw, but she didn't know where Tatiana would have a place in music. Paula missed the crazy. Simon put a point on it, saying, "Tatiana, you are a complete and utter drama queen." He said she was desperate to be famous. "Surprisingly, it wasn't bad at all," Simon added.
Brent Keith's moment started with a hiccup, where his background tape didn't start correctly. It eventually did and then he launched into a song called "Hicktown" by Jason Aldean. It was a little too self-conscious of an attempt to secure that country vote. The field is too wide at this point for that kind of a ploy to work. Randy said he could see Brent at a chili cookoff, which I don't think was a compliment. Of course, Taylor Hicks is playing at a chili cookoff next week, isn't he? Kara thought Brent played it safe. Paula agreed. Simon said it was forgettable and not original. "Personally, I don't think country fans will forget that," Brent said.
Michael Sarver, the oil rig guy, took on Gavin DeGraw's "I Don't Wanna Be" and it fell pretty flat. He tried to growl a bit to show some emotion, but it didn't quite work, and this wasn't the kind of song that shows much range. Randy said it started out rough, pitch-wise, and said he might like Michael better on the soul thing. Kara said it's a great crowd-pleaser song, but it wasn't his best performance. Paula went on to list all the past "Idols" who did a better job singing that song. Simon said it wasn't the best vocal, but it was better than some they heard tonight. Simon said he hoped America would give Michael another shot.
No chance: Stevie Wright struggled to get Simon's support throughout the audition process. She was aiming to show her young, bubbly, 17-year-old self with Taylor Swift's "You Belong with Me." It was over before it started in this case. Poor Stevie, it seemed like nerves got the best of her. Randy said "that was not hot for me." He said if he'd have seen that the first time she auditioned, she probably wouldn't have been there. Kara said Stevie was having an identity crisis and her song choice didn't serve her. Paula said the range was too much and "it wasn't the Stevie Wright that we fell in love with." Simon said the judges were being quite polite. "It was terrible," he said. "There is zero chance of you making it through to the next round, I'm afraid, after that."
Casey Carlson works at a bubble tea shop and chose to sing "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic." She gave the kind of performance that makes me hope no one is tuning in to "Idol" for the first time. She gave awkward shoulder moves and winks at the camera while singing completely out of tune. Randy appeared to be in pain and said it was not good for him. He said it was weirdly karaoke. Kara said everything about that was wrong. Then, she and Randy dueted for a moment, singing, "Everything about that was wrong!" Kara said you leave Police songs alone and didn't like "the weird dancing." Even Paula poured salt on the wound. Simon simply asked, "How do you think it's gone tonight?" Casey said she had fun, but Simon said the singing was just atrocious. "You shouldn't have been allowed to sing that song, to be honest," he said.
Anne Marie Boskovich was the one who needed the instant makeover during the Jacksonville. She decided to sing Aretha's "Natural Woman." It was a decent vocal, but not strong enough when taking on Aretha. Randy said it was a bad song choice. Kara said the song felt so old, she'd rather have heard Anne Marie sing something like "Love Song" by Sara Bareilles . "So, something that's not as good? Classic?" Anne Marie said, prompting an awkward moment. Simon said "you voice is not good enough for that song, so it just destroyed you, in my opinion."
Stephen Fowler, who famously forgot the lyrics to his song during Hollywood week, promised he wouldn't make the same mistake again. He decided to sing Michael Jackson's "Rock with You." It was too karaoke and Stephen failed to deliver it with any power or passion. There was just no feeling and, as Michael says, "You've got to feel that beat." Randy said, "I don't know what's going on," and went on to question the song choice. "It wasn't even the right song for you to be singing." Kara said she got more out of Stephen when he forgot his lyrics at the keyboards. Paula sang that singing "Rock with You" was a "kiss of death." Simon called it a terrible song and a "terrible arrangement, with that awful keyboard, whatever that was." He said "it was corny, and you're not a corny."