I don't have the heart or the patience to start doing singer-by-singer breakdowns of "American Idol" until the finals begin, but I'll offer some general thoughts on who did well and who didn't on night one of the semi-finals, after the jump...
Going into the night, everybody knew Danny Gokey was a lock to advance -- compelling backstory with his late wife, tons of screentime through his friendship with Jamarr, nice guy, killer voice -- and nothing that happened tonight changed that. As mentioned in many past "Idol"-related columns and blog posts, I despise the works of Mariah Carey, and Danny actually made me like "Hero." He didn't even need the pimp spot, but this was a case of the producers making it clear early on who the guy is to beat.
Beyond Danny? I initially looked at this particular semi-final grouping and thought it would be a reprise of the semi-final group from season two that featured Reuben, Clay and Kimberley -- who happened to finish 1-2-3 that year. We had not only Danny, but Anoop Desai and Michael Sarver the roughneck competing for at most two spots (one, really, since we knew Danny would get one), and the female half of the group featured a bunch of women with potential who had been heavily featured in earlier rounds -- though, admittedly, one of them was the possibly psychotic Tatiana Del Toro.
But if we went into the night with it looking like the producers had unfairly stacked the deck -- possibly to generate some early buzz for the return of the wildcard show -- we came out of it with these 12 looking much less impressive as a whole. After Danny, there were two other very strong performances, one male and one female, in Ricky Braddy and Alexis Grace. But even though Ricky did a very strong, Elliott Yamini-y take on "A Song For You," he hasn't had a lick of screentime before tonight, so he might have to wait for the wildcard, where the audience plays no role at all in who advances to the finals. Alexis was surprisingly strong on Aretha's "I Never Loved a Man," in that a little white blonde girl with pink streaks in her hair shouldn't sound so convincing on such a bluesy song, but she pulled it off.
As for the other early favorites, Anoop was solid but chose a blander song than I would have liked, and the judges rightfully called out Sarver for being too safe. Stevie Wright imploded with a painful, shrieky Taylor Swift cover, and Casey Carlson managed to out-pageant even Diana DeGarma with her smiley, pointy take on "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic." I've already forgotten almost everyone else, and the show ended 15 minutes ago as I type this.
I know Danny's going through, and I feel reasonably confident about Alexis. So does Ricky somehow make it through on talent alone, the way a guy like Charles Grigsby did with this format back in season two? Do Anoop or Sarver ride their previous screentime in?
Or will the judges' desperate pleas for Tatiana to bring back the crazy at all costs resonate with viewers somehow? Vote For the Worst is already backing her (not that they matter), and you just know she'll be back for the wildcard if she doesn't go through tonight. But I have to have faith in the "Idol" viewers at large. If they're guilty of anything, it's putting too much stock in personality over talent/performance, but Tatiana sure isn't the kind of personality they've backed in the past. And her clip package was spectacular in its tone-deafness, as if she had watched all her appearances to date with no idea how terribly she was coming across on-screen.
So my hopeful predictions are Danny, Alexis and Anoop, with Ricky coming back and impressing in a couple of weeks for the wildcard. But I ain't sitting through an hour-long results show to find out if I'm right.
And speaking of padding, it was almost like the show needed to be two hours to squeeze in the comments from the new four-judge set-up. I was watching a lot of the episode on DVR delay, and after a while I lost patience waiting to get to Simon and started fast-forwarding through the other three (in addition to the appearances by the parents, the clip packages, etc.). I don't care if Kara is marginally more articulate than Randy; I don't want to have to sit through three people to get to Simon. And that's going to be a problem once the show condenses back to an hour in however many weeks' time.
What did everybody else think?