‘American Idol’: The Top 10 Guys Learn From Last Week’s Mistakes

Can American Idol contestants be put on the spot more often? The Top 10 guys suddenly had to perform a day earlier when Idol had them switch nights with the girls (due to Crystal Bowersox’s sudden hospitalization for diabetes-related complications), and almost all of the menfolk flourished under pressure. Are the judges ever going to acknowledge even the possibility of a dude winning three years in a row? Because a few surprising male contenders emerged in last night’s performance show — and it would be foolish to count them out.

Michael Lynche finally proves that he’s a force to be reckoned with—not only by claiming that he benches a superhuman 505 pounds (or “four or five Ryan Seacrests, depending on if he’s wearing a suit or not”), but his soulful rendition of James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World” shows that he’s serious about making it all the way to the top. Really, the man could be a Ruben Studdard with muscles. Big Mike is a lot more comfortable than he was the last few weeks, strutting around the stage with purpose and swagger. Although Michael’s vocal range is a bit limited, he shows if you know how to perform for a crowd and pick the right songs, you can go far in this competition (and the music industry, for that matter). A strong performance, that debonair look (sleek black suits even come in XXXL sizes, apparently) and the continuing goodwill tied to his new fatherhood all add up to one thing: he’s sailing through.

We think John Park peaked his first week on Idol. Nothing John has done since his initial audition has wowed us, and his mediocre take on John Mayer’s “Gravity” last night contained a bit too much of it. John’s vocals were competent, but he failed to add any distinctive twists and ended up sounding like an inferior karaoke fan. He might be a nicer guy than John Mayer (it wouldn’t be hard to pull off), but he’s certainly not as good a singer, and we didn’t feel any emotion on stage from Park this week. To be honest, we’re not sure why he inspired such Facebook follower excitement (9,299 friends and counting!). What was it? He didn’t take his shirt off, he wasn’t involved in a scandal… it’ll remain one of life’s mysteries.

Casey James needs to be docked a few points for not doing enough research to find out how many times his chosen song, Gavin DeGraw’s “I Don’t Want To Be,” has been beaten to death on the Idol stage. (Bo Bice, Chris Richardson and Elliot Yamin all tackled the country tune in previous seasons.) Casey’s vocals seem a little shaky – is it nerves, or is he struggling to play the electric guitar while singing? — but with his charming looks, killer smile and golden locks, a few wobbly notes aren’t going to stop him from going straight to the Top 12. Plus, he’s memorable — and busting out an awesome guitar riff at the end of your performance doesn’t hurt, either. Kara ain’t liking it, though — she tells him he went “two steps back” by showcasing his skills as a musician more than that of a singer, but we think she’s just trying to backtrack from her swooning (and uncomfortable) cougar-ific comments from last week.

Nerds of the world, we’ve found your king! In his pre-performance segment, Alex Lambert says he gets stage fright and introduces the world to his made-up language, which sounds like a cross between Vulcan, Na’vi and Elfish. It’s so geeky, it’s endearing. With his understated, bashful personality and his clearly-not-trying-to-be-trendy blond mullet, this season’s Lambert is the absolute complete opposite of last year’s Lambert. We’re really not sure how well Alex will fare in this competition unless he’s grows some confidence, but it’ll be one hell of an arc to see him blossom into a superstar performer from the first episode to the finals, and his emotional, pitch-perfect take on John Legend’s “Everybody Knows” is his first step in declaring frontrunner status.

Todrick Hall turned Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got To Do With It” into a slow, sensual R&B jam, and although he sings it well and gives the song a unique spin, it’s all a turn off for us. Really, Todrick is the equivalent of Richard Hatch on Survivor or Omarosa on The Apprentice – that one player in a reality competition who refuses to waste time doubting themselves and just wants to win. He looks ready to kill the minute the judges critique him negatively, but to his defense, the judges keep giving him contradicting advice – Randy tells him to just sing a song and not change the arrangement, even though all four keep droning on and on about putting your own spin on a song. Ellen then tells him to move and be a dancer, despite Simon telling him last week that he performs like a dancer trying to be a singer. No wonder Todrick looks like he’s boiling over when he probably thinks he should be getting standing O’s. We’re confused for him. Our only advice for Todrick? Stop acting like a show-off.

Jermaine Sellers was one of our early favorites, and his personality finally had a chance to shine during the preclip: while sporting a dinosaur onesie (yes, really), the singer deadpans, like right out of Onesie Anonymous: “I’m Jermaine Sellers, and I rocks my onesie.” Oh, how we only wish he had sung while in that dino pajama jumpsuit. He sings the hell out of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On,” and he comes across as funny, likeable, and a bit sassy, whereas Todrick just came off as arrogant. The judges, however, were not into it, telling him he did too much with the classic song. Again, we’re as clueless as the contestants regarding what the judges are asking them to do. If Jermaine didn’t do his vocal flourishes to show off his voice, we bet they would complain that it wasn’t interesting enough to make him stand out. A man can’t win. But could that be the point in all these contradictory statements? Are they being harsh on the male contestants so a female will slide in as the show’s winner? Start your conspiracy theories… now.

Straight up, now tell me, is Andrew Garcia running out of steam already? Uh, uh, oh! Andrew shows off his break-dancing skills in his pre-clip, which gives his personality a bit of an edge — so far, he’s soared with his nice-guy-in-glasses-with-a-guitar persona. But his performance of  James Morrison’s “You Give Me Something” is pitchy, and Garcia just seems to have lost some of his star-is-born luster this week. With a middle-of-the-road performer like Andrew up against an underdog like Alex Lambert and a hunk like Casey James, who will America favor? Unfortunately, this is TV, and being the guy-with-the-great-voice isn’t compelling enough to motivate people to keep you afloat week after week at this stage. Andrew needs to return the spark to his arrangements, because it’s all starting to sound too “coffeehouse open mic night” to keep people interested.

Aaron Kelly comes off as a kid who should be getting the lead roles in his high school musicals, not already pursuing a career as a recording artist. With his slight country nod to The Temptations’ “My Girl,” his vocal runs took over the entire performance. Does it matter, though? Aaron needs to have a truly terrible night before his legions of fans (read: viewers his same age, or several decades his senior) leave him cold. Simon brings up Justin Bieber, who (if you have ever read this column before) had hit singles at age 15. The difference between Aaron and The Bieb could fill all four judges’ giant Coca-Cola cups to the brim — Bieber knows who he is and what kind of artist he is, even at such a young age. Aaron shouldn’t be forced to figure that all out by age 16 (and of what we’ve seen so far, he hasn’t). At least he’s got a huge head start on other, older contestants who still aren’t sure who they are as an artist yet, either. Such aaaas…

Tim Urban had nowhere to go put up after his abysmal rendition of OneRepublic’s “Apologize.” His take on Matt Nathanson’s “Come On Get Higher” was better, but it was inconsistent, and he lacked any whiff of star power as a recording artist. We just can’t get excited about him fully clothed. Seriously, though, Tim should have used the Internet hype of his powerhouse pecs to his advantage and donned a tight T-shirt to remind viewers of his assets. He wouldn’t even still be on the show if it wasn’t for incessant crybaby Chris Golightly’s disqualification, so he should take the time he’s given to utilize anything he can to help him stay on the show, because his singing alone isn’t going to help him. We agree with Ellen’s critique that Tim should consider acting instead, because he’s got the looks and enough of a singing voice to pass as an actor/singer. At the end of his Idol journey (this Thursday, perhaps?), we hope Tim gets a commercial agent and eventually does the sitcom/movie thing like other past Idols.

Lee Dewyze got the pimp slot, but we already forgot he was in the competition. Believe it or not, that’s not a good sign. His raspy take on Hinder’s “Lips Of An Angel” had some faulty moments, plus Lee needs to try a bit harder when it comes to styling himself–jeans and a blank blue t-shirt? You aren’t performing in your college dorm in between art history and Spanish 101, Lee, you’re on TV, where people judge every inch of you. The worst part is that he doesn’t even seem to be having fun up there. Lee does have a grisly voice , and with his guitar skills, he could be this season’s David Cook, a rocker starting slow and finishing strong—but there’s a spark missing. Plus we think Casey is stealing his thunder as the show’s main male pinup.

Best of the Night: Alex LambertWorst of the Night: Aaron Kelly, if only for the awful song choice

All in all? The boys worked their butts off this week, taking risks and learning from their mistakes, and the hard work really paid off—and that’s with one less day to rehearse, too! We’re not so worried about this batch of male contestants anymore. In fact, the females have a lot to live up to tonight. Bring it, ladies!

As far as one female’s performance in particular, it looks like the honeymoon’s over for Ellen DeGeneres: the comedian received her first set of boo’s from the crowd after giving Tim Urban the bad news that his singing simply isn’t any good. She did, however, show off a bit of her musical background by suggesting Jermaine Sellers sing a Frankie Beverly and Maze Smooth tune next week, should he continue in the competition. A somewhat obscure choice for someone who claims she’s just a regular ole music fan, no? We’re finally starting to believe Ellen knows more about music than she first let on. At this rate, by tonight she’ll be giving lectures on the history of Motown and by the finale she’ll have conducted her first symphony.