The first of the live rounds, last night's episode of American Idol was a welcomed return to true form. We saw all of the male contestants in the Top 24 perform, including the thirteenth contender who was brought back to compete live, Jermaine Jones, the appropriately dubbed "gentle giant" with a strong baritone voice.
On the whole, the performances were fairly strong for the first live show of the season. Yet, as has been the case all season so far, it's not just about musical chops, it's about personality, the whole package and that special something that can turn even a fifteen-year-old boy into a star.
Standout of the night included Creighton Fraker and Adam Brock, whose rendition of "Think (Freedom)" by Aretha Franklin took on a uniquely Elton John vibe, but in a good way. Brock may not be a pretty singer by any means, but, man, he can sing. Steven Tyler agreed: "That was brilliant." It was one of the more deserving compliments of the night, coming from a man who was otherwise doling them out like candy.
Fraker's take on "True Colors" was more on par with a round five or six performance than a round one. Fraker, whose back story and personalty matched perfectly with his song choice -- something that can't be said for the other contestants, by any means -- started the song seated, connecting with the audience again in a way that was incomparable to his competitors. Unlike Brock, the man wasn't making a face every few notes that made him look constipated -- Fraker genuinely looked like he was having a good time up there. "With a performance like that, with a voice like that, I don't want you to go home," Jennifer Lopez told him.
Jermaine Jones also put on a memorable performance of "Dance With My Father" with his low vocal range and enthusiastically grateful appreciation for being back on the Idol stage. Jones even added a comic moment to the evening, when he was shown talking to Ryan Seacrest post-performance, towering over the Idol host like the gentlest of giants.
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It's hard to say whether Jones, Fraker or Brock will make it through to the Top 10 -- or as one of the three wild card finalists -- both of which will be revealed on Thursday. However, we can say that we don't expect to see Deandre Brackensick, Chase Likens, Eben Franckowitz or Reed Grimm to make it through to next week.
Grimm, whose happy-go-lucky shtick is played out at this point, did good with his choice of a jazzed-up "Moves Like Jagger," but his performance was too ad-libbed to prove he can follow a melody -- or stand in one place for more than a few seconds. Brackensick, who took on "Reasons" by Earth, Wind & Fire and has an overly devotional (and premature) female following, made for an awkward two minutes of falsetto and Willow Smith-style hair flips. Likens's country performance was so generic, we can't even remember which one he did, and Franckewitz's take on the almighty Adele, doing "Set Fire To the Rain," made for the most interesting stage screen displays of the night but the worst song choice.
American Idol returns at 7 p.m. tonight with the eleven female contestants fighting to prove why they should be kept around. Idol airs on Fox 31.