"American Idol" - The First 12 - Feb. 17, 2009
The first twelve of the top 36 begin competing for a spot in the top 12. Three slots will be taken from this group.
Ryan introduces the judges. He asks Randy what the contestants need to focus on. He says they really need to be in it to win it. Kara admits she's a little nervous but says the contestants can't let nerves get to them and to be as great as they can be and go for it. She says it's great to be here. Paula says they have to make magic happen in a minute and 20 seconds. Simon says it's different this year because there are no second chances.
Ryan explains how it will work this year: for the next three weeks each group of 12 will perform. The girl and guy with the highest vote count and the next highest vote getter of either gender will get into the top 12. The final 3 will be decided on the wild card show.
Tonight's theme: Hits from the Billboard Hot 100 since the chart began
Contestant #1: Jackie Tohn
Clip: We see her audition and lots of her screaming. She really wants this.
Song: "A Little Less Conversation," Elvis Presley
Performance: Jackie is sassy in a polka dot bustier, leather pants, and sneakers. She sounds okay, a little bit of gritty rock in her delivery. She moves a bit awkwardly with her legs bowing in and out and gets a bit goofy in places. She handles the tough cadences well though.
Randy: Wasn't blown away by the vocals but thought it was all good on the entertainment side.
Kara: Thinks she can work the stage and thought she did her own thing.
Paula: Has always loved her and says it wasn't perfect but that perfect is sometimes boring and she's a true performer who makes people fall in love with her.
Simon: Thought she played the clown and that the performance was ungainly, the song gimmicky - the crowd starts booing- and that she did herself no favors and that she blew a great opportunity by doing something silly instead of something good.
Ryan talks to Jackie's parents in the red room. They're very proud. Jackie had a good time. She says everybody here is a banging singer so she wanted to show she's a rocking entertainer. She has no regrets.
Contestant #2-- Ricky Braddy
Ryan chat informs us he went to music school but ended up serving chicken fingers. He quit that job to follow his dream.
Clip: Randy loved him in auditions. He fell apart on group day in Hollywood, but pulled it out in the solo session. He wants to show America who he is.
Song: "A Song For You," Leon Russell
Performance: Ricky's rocking a royal purple velvet jacket. He seems very sweet. It's a piano ballad which he sings pretty straightforwardly. He sounds good, seems comfortable, and hits some nice falsetto notes. It's not flashy but it works. Paula gives him a standing O.
Randy:This is what he's talking about and thinks it was unbelievable and it was the true jump off for season 8.
Kara: Thinks he killed it and that he has an incredible gift.
Paula: She's proud America gets to see how talented he is and that he deserves to go far in the competition.
Simon: He's not jumping out of his chair as much as the others. He thinks he has a great voice but not star quality in terms of charisma and self-belief.
In the red room the parents -wearing "Braddy Bunch" t-shirts- are touched. Ricky feels incredible.
Contestant #3 - Alexis Grace
Clip: She goes over her audition in which they told her to dirty it up. By Hollywood she had by putting in pink highlights and featuring her decolletage.
Song: "I've Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)," Aretha Franklin
Performance: In a pretty little black dress and blood red lips she tries to vamp it up but it feels a little put on. The vocal is pretty strong though, if a touch strident in places. She ends it up smartlyand tosses in a little rasp that works for her.
Randy: He says she found the dirt and the soul and is loving her right now.
Kara: Thinks the genie is out of the bottle and it's been a pleasure to watch her come out of her shell.
Paula: Thinks it's fantastic that she's so young and cute but has so much inside her.
Simon: Thinks she was the best so far and that she clearly has self-belief. Says she might be a dark horse like Kelly Clarkson.
In the red room dad and dad's girlfriend are awestruck. Alexis feels like she's in a dream.
Contestant #4 - Brent Keith
Clip: We get some kind of glitch showing the wrong tape. Ryan covers by bringing Brent down to the stage. Then they roll the tape. Brent works at a home improvement warehouse. His audition was the one where Paula and Kara went under the table. He explains that he and his wife live paycheck to paycheck.
Song:"Hicktown," Jason Aldean
Performance: He seems a little nervous but he's doing well vocally and he's quite the drink of water with a killer smile.
Randy: Likes what he did and that he returned to his country roots. He likes him and thinks he would make a good country artist.
Kara: It was a little safe for her and not rangey enough. She wondered where the soul she saw in the auditions went.
Paula: Agrees that it was safe but she sees him as a country-western star and look what happened for Josh Gracin and Bucky Covington.
Simon: Wonders what did happen to Bucky Covington. He thinks that Brent is a nice guy but it wasn't safe but forgettable. He thinks he just blew a massive opportunity. Brent says that country fans won't forget that.
In the red room Brent's wife Nicole says they never put a deadline on him pursuing his dream. Brent seems perturbed but thinks he made the right choice since they're supposed to show what they will do as an artist and that's what he wants to do. Ryan points out that country music does quite well.
Contestant #5 - Stevie Wright
Clip: She's 17 and her auditions went well with all the judges except Simon. She wants to showcase her bubbly young age more like the judges counseled her.
Song: "You Belong With Me," Taylor Swift
Performance: It seems pitched too low on the first few lines and then gets in a better register for her. But, she's hitting some clunkers and seems nervous doing side to side dancing and getting behind the beat and out of breath at points. Her movements seems to be disrupting her breath control. It is not good.
Randy: It was not hot for him and thinks she's a better singer than that and if she'd sung that way before she wouldn't have made it this far.
Kara: Thinks she has an identity crisis, that the song was young, sure, but not right for her.
Paula: Agrees it was not the right song and points out the range issues. She wasn't the contestant they fell in love with.
Simon: Says the others are being polite and that it was terrible, out of tune, out of her depth. The good news is she got some experience from this and hopefully will learn from it.
Celebrity alert: Ted Danson and Neil Patrick Harris cheer for Stevie as she leaves the stage.
In the red room her parents hug her and thinks the judges gave confusing advice. Ryan gives her props as a 16-year-old who has never done this before for being brave. And she is being brave,no tears. (Even though her clip package said she was 17).
Contestant #6 - Anoop Desai
Clip: He's 22. The judges were surprised by his soulful voice. He wants to bring energy.
Song: "Angel of Mine," Monica
Performance: He rocks this slow r&b jam nicely. He's very sweet if a little awkward with his arms. He hits some rough patches but is charming overall if a little adult contemporary.
Randy: Loves him but didn't love the song choice and thought he was sharp the whole time.
Kara: Isn't sure he had the riffs to pull off what she thinks is a hard song. She thinks he has great potential and believes him when he's singing.
Paula: Thinks America has already connected with him and that whether he was a little sharp or not that he has a Brian McKnight quality.
Simon: Thinks it was a little too grown up and serious for him. Anoop gets all earnest and says for him it's all about thanks. Simon says they've heard him better but that he has massive likability.
In the red room his parents are taken aback. He says he was nervous but that the band makes them all sound better.
Contestant #7 - Casey Carlson
Clip: She's 20 and works at a tea shop. Her auditions went well and it's been an incredible process. She loves Jordin Sparks.
Song: "Every Little Thing (He) Does is Magic," the Police
Performance: She starts pretty well with a nice tone, closer to the Shawn Colvin cover version of the song and then she hits a rough note. And then it unravels. She starts a strange pinwheeling motion with her arm. She recovers but is a little shaky and does a goofy wink to the camera. She's a little pagaenty and cutesy and pitchy. She's gorgeous though.
Randy: Says it was not good for him. The song was completely wrong for her and weirdly karaoke.
Kara: Says everything about it was wrong. Says she's a beautiful girl but that she shouldn't touch a song by the Police. She wishes she had done a girlie anthem. She also thinks the dancing was bad. She had such high hopes for her since she's a "package artist" but that it fell flat. (Casey looks down sadly).
Paula: Says guys tell her that she's the most exquisite, beautiful girl but that picking that song was a mistake, there was no connection and her phrasing was weird.
Simon: Asks her how she thinks it went. She says she had fun. He says he's trying to think of something positive. He says she looks good but the singing was just atrocious and reinforces that it was a bad song choice. He follows through with the blown opportunity theme. Paula tells her to cut out the winking and faces and stuff too. Simon says he liked that and it was the least of her problems.
In the red room her mom tells her she rocked and that she's proud of her. Dad hugs her too. She says she chose the wrong song but she had a blast. She tries not to cry and gamely succeeds.
Contestant #8 - Michael Sarver
Clip: He's 27 and a roughneck. We see him working on the rig and hanging with his wife and kids.
Song: "I Don't Wanna Be," Gavin DeGraw
Performance: He seems comfortable and has good stage presence but his vocals range from competent to pretty good, never spectacular.
Randy: Thinks he can definitely sing but was pitchy and liked him better on a soul tip. Not a bad choice for him but not a great performance.
Kara: Thinks it's a great crowd-pleaser song but it wasn't his best performance. She likes that it was true to him and thinks he's likable.
Paula: Isn't going to be as tough on him and thought he did a good job. She was distracted by the microphone hand switching. She thought the song showed a different side and since so many former contestants have sung it that apparently means Gavin DeGraw is a great artist.
Simon: Thinks it's tricky. He thinks they put him through because they like him because he's a good honest guy who needs a break but says it wasn't the best vocal. If he gets through, which Simon hopes he does, it will be because America likes him not because his performance was great.
In the red room Brent's wife says she told him to sing pretty. His mom is there too. Brent is glad to hear everyone thinks he's such a nice guy.
Contestant #9 - Ann Marie Boskovich
Clip: She's 22, a waitress, and a demo singer. She was the one who was sent away during her auditions to change up her look. She feels blessed to be here.
Song: "(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman," Aretha Franklin
Performance: She's singing it very lightly. She keeps bending her knees and pointing with her arm. She gets to meat of the song and she monkeys with the cadences and is hitting some some bad notes. This isn't really the song for her voice but she ends it okay.
(Ted Danson liked it but Danny Gokey's friend Jamar is clapping the clap of obligation).
Randy: Asks her how she thinks she did. She says "pretty good." (Uh-oh). He disagrees and says it was a bad choice and that she couldn't tackle such a big song.
Kara: Says the song is so big and you have to kill it and it felt a bit old-fashioned. She wanted to hear something a little more girlie like "Love Song" by Sara Bareilles. Ann Marie points out that song isn't as good, or at least, not as classic. Randy and Simon laugh and thinks that's sassy. (But really, it's simply true. That's a fun song but it's no "Natural Woman" and I doubt Sara Bareilles would argue that.) It gets odd.
Paula: Says she thinks she did better compared to Hollywood. She agrees it's a huge song but that she gave it her all.
Simon: He goes the hotel singer route. He says her voice is simply not good enough for that song and it just destroyed her.
In the red room, her mom was bummed by the judges comments.
Contestant #10 -Stephen Fowler
Clip: He's 26 and a musician. He's the one who goofed up his lyrics and walked off during the solo audition in Hollywood.
Song: "Rock With You," Michael Jackson
Performance:He's got a sweet smile but this song is in an odd place in his register and he ends up sounding flat on the verses and sharp on the choruses. He's got an easygoing likability and there are some good bits but an equal amount of rough ones and it's not amazing. He also keeps pointing skyward "Saturday Night Fever"-style. He does remember the words.
Randy: Says it's not the joint for him to be singing.
Kara: She says she got more from him at the piano when he forgot the lyrics since he seemed more connected to the music. He says to go by what he did in Hollywood because he's not comfortable singing without the piano. (You know Simon's not going to like that.)
Paula: She's glad he remembered the lyrics but that it would've served him better to sing the David Cook song that he botched in Hollywood since he felt a connection there. She says singing that song is a kiss of death since the song belongs to Michael Jackson. She's disappointed...
Simon: ...as is Simon especially given Stephen's experience and stated drive to win. Simon also says the arrangement was terrible, particularly the keyboard parts. He says it was corny. Stephen says he's corny guy. Simon says he's not.
There's no one in the red room for him.
Contestant #11 - Tatiana Del Toro
Clip: She's 24. Oy. You remember the screaming, the crying, the drama, whatever. She was hurt to be judged in Hollywood.
Song: "Saving All My Love For You," Whitney Houston
Performance: She sounds fine in the low register, better in the high. She plays with the melody in a way that isn't too annoying. She hits the big note and brings it on home. But it's definitely a little hotel lounge-y. It's shockingly understated though. She poses dramatically at the end ensuring that it concludes annoyingly.
Randy: Was worried about her singing this song but thought she had some moments. He thought the melody in the second verse was weird but that she can really sing.
Kara: Calls Tatiana a rollercoaster ride and thought this was very reserved. She agrees there were good moments and she hit some big notes but she wonders how she fits in the industry. Tatiana thinks she can do all genres.
Paula: Thinks she's the most talked-about contestant so far. She's not used to the demure Tatiana but thought there were beautiful moments too. But she doesn't know who she is. Paula, of all people, says she misses the crazy and Kara actually asks for it. (Of course Tatiana's just being savvy, she knew the drama would get her screen time in the early going but that she'd have to tone it down if she actually wants to go through). She says sometimes she gets nutty and that Hollywood was stressful and exciting and she says isn't usually like that and her friends were surprised.
Simon: Says she's a complete and utter drama queen. (She smiles demurely and nuttily). He says she's desperate to be famous, like Paula Abdul was. Paula says "like you aren't." Tatiana says she does marketing "as a business" and she wants to market herself to another level. To get back to her singing he says it wasn't bad at all. He says she needs to lose the slightly weird demure thing she's got going now. (And it is very strange as she nods and smiles sweetly.) He says it's making him nervous. It gets even weirder as Kara tells her to go crazy and Simon asks for the weird laugh. She doesn't do it and says her friends say she's never laughed like that and then all the judges laugh like that. She smiles a big smile but doesn't do the laugh.
In the red room are two of her friends from Puerto Rico. Ryan asks who the real Tatiana is- the calm girl or the crazy lady- and she says she's a multi-faceted woman who went through an experience she never expected to have and she didn't know she was going to react that way. She says this is more like she normally is and she laughs but it's not that crazy laugh. Ryan tells us there's more to the "psychic" story and we'll hear it if Tatiana goes through. Ryan gives the numbers and Tatiana appeals directly to America to keep her dream alive.
Contestant #12 - Danny Gokey
Clip: He's 28 and a widower and looks like Robert Downey, Jr. He's a church music director. (And is probably your next "American Idol,' or at least top 3). He wants to encourage people.
Song: "Hero," Mariah Carey
Performance: It's not perfect but pretty close, soulful and believable and, definitely, likable. And he seemed calm and confident. (Paula and Kara love it, as does the audience, Jamar looks on approvingly.)
Randy: Calls him the redeemer of the night and says it was blazing hot.
Kara: Calls him the hero, says he gives us all hope and that he was great pounding the table.
Paula: She has two words with a hyphen: sold-out arenas.
Simon: Bringing it back to earth, he says he thought it was good but not fantastic and that the arrangement was a bit heavy-handed, but he's a very good singer. Kara interjects that she loved it. Simon likes him but he's not buying the hype right now.
Danny says he was envisioning people rising above rough circumstances while he was singing.
I'm calling Danny, Anoop, and Alexis.
I'm calling Danny, Casey and Jackie.