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In the world's ultimate talent search - where the eyes of a nation are upon the best undiscovered singers in the country, where the audience has the power to make or break you, and where a million-dollar recording contract is on the line, there is only one rule: If you can sing it, bring it.

Recaps by Gordon Pepper and Chico Alexander, GSNN

Host: Ryan Seacrest
Judges: Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson
Creator: Simon Fuller (based upon "Pop Idol")
EP: Cecile Frot-Coutaz, Simon Fuller
Packager: 19 Entertainment, FremantleMedia North America
Airs: Tuesdays at 8:00pm ET and Wednesdays at 8:30p ET on FOX

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Web design by Jason Elliott. Logo by Chico Alexander. 

March 9/10 - Wild Card

For those of you who believe that you can never have a second chance to make a first impression, I have two words for you...

Clay Aiken.

He was America's pick for wild card last year, and now, 12 others have a shot at taking his spot on live TV. Wait, TWELVE others? Yeah, that's right. You see, in a twist (there's that word again) from previous incarnations, the producers have brought back twelve others to, in a sense, reaudition for eight spots to be decided upon by the judges, spot on. Now, if I was Gordon watching this, I'd say "Man, this twist sucks!" But we have an hour and a half of Fox time to fill, so I guess we're stuck.

We go back to the 12 auditions, and the first time that the judges take part in the rehearsals. So far, early standouts are Lisa Leuschner (Randy: She reminds me of Kelly Clarkson) and ... well, not much else (Simon: Overall, incredibly disappointed.). In the end, our three heroes are left with six spots full, and six "?"s. They have to keep two of them. One of them may be George Huff, to which Simon smilingly plugs his ears. Hey, smilingly's better than, well... Simon-like. And it is a loud place. The acoustics from what I hear are just... good night.

Bottom line from Cowell: "When the results come in, there's gonna be a few raised eyebrows. Particularly mine."

But enough drama now. It's time to see who'll get to sing tonight. Again, twelve singers, eight spots. Then we sing. Wow. Breaking.

First up, Lisa Leuschner. I liked her, really. Randy and the others... don't. She won't sing tonight.

Next: the over-schmoozing, under-singing Matt Metzger. Paula lets him know that he'll take the mic tonight. Okay, you let him back in, but you ditched Lisa? And where the hell is Scooter Girl?

Next: Marque Lynche. The good singer is more of a stage singer, therefore Simon lets him know that he won't sing.

Next: Katie Webber. The lovely singer-dancer/singer... will sing tonight. And jumps for joy about it. Go Katie.

Next: Jennifer Hudson. A little theatrical, and I wouldn't wish that dress on my worst enemy. But it's the voice that gets her through to the show, as Paula tells her.

Next: George Huff. Simon lets our soul singer know... after the break... And I have to agree with Ryan that Simon doesn't really do that phrase justice. Oh well. Can't win'em all. It takes two and two to let Simon tell him that he's singing tonight.

Next: Elizabeth Letendre. The Katie Webber-lookalike gets another shot thanks to her focus. On what, I don't know, but that's just me.

Next: Leah LaBelle. Paula has no qualms about giving her another shot.

Next: Jon Peter Lewis, whose ink has been honestly tailing off since his initial performance. Simon keeps him, telling him to change his middle name to "Lucky". Rut-roh.

Next: Tiara Purifoy. Last week's walking disaster... walks right on. Randy cuts her.

Which leaves us with Eric "The second coming of Aiken" Yoder and Suzy "BOO-la-tha" Vulaca. Ultimately, the velvet tone is cancelled out by the lack of personality, as Eric is given the hook. Okay, we have the singers, so... a-rooty-toot-toot, and AWAAAAAY WE GO!

First up, Jon Peter. In Group Three, he placed third in the voting, singing "Tiny Dancer". More or less due to his personality. Tonight, he sings the Elvis/Junkie XL version of "A Little Less Conversation". And that sound you hear is the combined force of JXL banging his head on a wall and Elvis rolling in his grave. Pitch and tone are more spot on than usual, but that's where the good ends. Here's a rule: when you're on the Idol stage and you know for a fact that you can't do ________, don't do _________. His quirky dance and charm can't make up for the fact that this was clearly, as Australian Idol's Ian Dickson puts it, "a comedy routine."

Randy: You picked the boldest time to do that dancin'. It's the best time to be bold. You worked it out. I give you props."
Paula: You made everyone in this audience smile. Great way to start the competition.
Simon: I thought the entire performance was horrible.

And the kicker is I was really pulling for this guy. Guess I can pull for one of the twins now. First twin: Elizabeth, also from Group Three. Gave a nice, good, cookie-cutter performance. But this time, she'll throw back to what works, giving "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" another shot. This was the song that put her in Hollywood. It's a little shaky for me, and admittedly, she did it better in her initial audition, but not bad. Not bad at all.

Randy: It was very pitchy in spots, but you covered it well. You ended well.
Paula: You know your range. You have great control.
Simon: The only thing is, you have the "it" factor. I don't see you as a star.

Have to agree. Good singer, but that's about it. Second twin: Katie, who sang "Orange Colored Sky" in Group One, but failed to place in the top three. Can she get "So Emotional" for a comeback? Well, she tries the Jasmine Trias flower-in-her-hair. Flower aside, this one is only as strong as the last personal. A little pitchy and shouty at times, she's basically a good voice in a fancy wrapping. But not really a star. And as an aside, is it me or does she look a little too Britney-ish?

Randy: I'm still not blown away. It was just a'ight for me.
Paula: I think you did much better today than in rehearsal. You gave up mugging for the camera. Your pitch was off, but I like the way you let go of trying too hard.
Simon: You are like Jessica Simpson. She's successful not because she's a good singer, and that's part of the reason why she's a pop star. I thought it was okay.

No, Jessica's a success because she up and got married to the 98 Degrees guy. Maybe if she was married to George from last week, she'd get some credit. Oh well. George's loss on "Always and Forever" last week (he placed third) is America's gain. He warms up quite loudly before taking the stage for "Lean on Me". He definitely goes for the young skew, but I wouldn't go that deep to open ever again. But one of the better performances of the night, simply going on stage presence. Might just've owned it there.

Randy: You remind me of a deacon of my church when I was growing up. You put it down!
Paula: I really enjoyed it. Soulful throwback.
Simon: I think what you have as a huge advantage that people want you to do well. You sum it up what we're looking for.

Not bad at all. He may make it. Okay, halfway down, halfway home. And half of tonight's hair belongs to our next Wild Card hopeful, Suzy. Last week, she failed to chart, mostly on said hair. But she's pulled it back and let it out on "I Will Survive". This is one of those songs that is impossible to mess up. Just ask Cake. She's doing everything right on this one. Hitting the notes, engaging the audience, everything. That's not to say that she's without flaw. I would've ended it better.

Randy: Overall, it was really good. I liked you trying to take some chances to make it your own. This is a growth.
Paula: You made me like this song. You've got power in your voice.
Simon: I think you did very well with that.

Definitely a favorite there. Next up is Matthew, who placed third in Group One thanks to his stage persona more than anything. But you know, you can only take that so far. Not discounting anything, but the voice on the middle third of "When I See You Smile" sounds more like a forced admission of begging, hiding his pitchiness behind a schmaltzy face. In a word: WEAK.

Randy: You started off good, after that it started getting a little rocky. Got to the end, ah, he's back. The consistence performance isn't there.
Paula: I think that you've shown tons of personality. The girls have found an American heartthrob, but I think that if you want to pick rock songs, you're going to have to find a rock edge.
Simon: You tick all the boxes. But for the box that says "star", that's where we have a problem.

Down to two: Leah and Jennifer. Leah's first. She failed to chart as she and Jon Peter were the last two standing on the couches in Group Three. Or sitting. I don't know. Randy's longing for the soulful singer they met in New York. And, after listening to "Let's Stay Together", I'm longing for Scooter Girl again. Shouty and pitchy where it doesn't need to be. And the arrangement didn't do anything for me either.

Randy: That wasn't your best performance, but that was really good.
Paula: I do think this was one of your best performances.
Simon: I thought it was shaky, I thought it was ordinary. For the first time seeing you, I think "So what?".

Two words of death. And Paula, I've heard Mary J. And Leah's no Mary J. Sorry to say. This last person Jennifer might be, though, even though she didn't place in Group One. I wouldn't know what's louder, her voice, her animations, or her dress. But at least the voice, as demonstrated in "I Believe In You and Me", is one that can seriously give people a run for their money in the top 12. Although, and I've said it before, I wouldn't wish her fashion sense on my worst enemy.

Randy: You get the prize for best performance of the night.
Paula: The best thing about your voice is the fact that you have this muscle, and that you convey a story that moves and touched every single one of us.
Simon (after learning that "this man named George, I don't know his last name" made her dress): George, if you're watching or listening, you're fired (Wrong show, dude). Vocally, I've always loved you vocally. You are going to have to learn to control yourself, but well done.

And there you have it, America. The judges' picks for who should be in the top 12. Each judge gets one pick, and America gets the final pick. I honestly don't know what's the mindset of said picks, but I'd say that those four picks would most likely go to George (if, for anything, Randy's pick), Suzy, Leah (if, for anything, Paula's pick), and Jennifer (if, for anything, Simon's pick).

And I'm seven for nine in the GSNN pool, so America, don't let me down. RE-sult (AND Ruben Studdard, the reigning Idol) tomorrow.

I have to tell you something - I saw the Wild Card selection last night and I was NOT happy with how they ran it. For starters, to bring people back and then cut 4 of them out is not only crushing for the singers, but it's lame - especially if you tune in just to listen to the singers who don't get any time.

I have had friends talk to me about 2 different scenarios. The first one was that the people who the judges didn't select weren't selected because they will be the people who will be selected to go on to the finals. I think that would make sense - EXCEPT that they cut 4 people, which means that one of them (unless they increased the Wild Card to allow 5 people instead of 4) will be on the outside looking in - so I'm guessing that all 4 people who aren't singing are indeed cut. That and the fact that Ryan has consistently said throughout the episode that those 4 were getting cut may be a hint here.

Adding insult to injury was the fact the three of the eliminated - Tiara, Lisa and Eric - had to sit there and not only watch them perform, but have the judges talk to them about it like it's going to help them in the competition - which it won't if they are cut. I don't blame Marque for not being there and having to sit through that - unless the reason why the three were there is because they are in the finals and they don't know it yet. Of course, that would also mean that American Idol was lying when Ryan said that those four were cut - but then again, American Idol has not always been truthful in the past - such as the difference between the voting between Clay and Reuben in the finals being around 1,300 votes - give or take 130,000 votes...

The other idea that people had was that they had to cut 4 people because American Idol could only be 90 minutes long. My reaction? You have got to be kidding me. If American Idol asked FOX to give them 3 hours and leave the last hour for a concert featuring William Hung, Edgar and Ricky in a duet and Martha Krabill, FOX would turn around and say "Sure - can we repeat that tomorrow night and pre-empt The OC?"

Last night, we had our Top 8 perform, and my 4, (assuming that the people the judges cut out are indeed cut out), are George, Jennifer, Leah and John the pelvis shaker. Ryan starts and says that of the 8 people there, only 4 of them get to to on - which means that the other 4 are indeed cut. That doesn't mean that the judges can't pick someone out of the 4 people who didn't perform last night and I would not be surprised if someone - probably Simon - picked from one of them.

Ryan introduces us to the 8 singers, the three judges, and the friends and family - and the one hour recap. We talk to Matt, who's been friends with Clay - and Clay told him to relax and sing. Too bad he hasn't been listening. Jennifer still likes her dress, regardless of what Simon said, and Jon Peter Lewis says that the pelvis waving from yesterday was part of one of his facets. Suzy defended her song of choice (I Will Survive) while Katie thinks that it was tough to see her friends eliminated the way that they were.

Why are the people torturing themselves for this? Because of the next act - Ruben Studdard, who has already sold 2 million copies of "Soulful" and who is performing the album's first single, "Sorry 2004". He was pitchy to start - maybe it's all of that energy - but he does come through and sings it well. Ryan goes to the judges - Randy says it was hot, Paula says 'Touchdown'. Simon? 'I will pay you to re-enter'. Based on what I've heard so far this season, I don't think that Simon is kidding.

Ruben is happy about the winning the grand prize and he equates this to a job - and he likes the money - as well as the NAACP Image Award that he received. Ruben now faces the Wild Card people. Jennifer asks what to expect in the finals - and Ruben says to expect to work, as this is a daily job. Leah asks if he keeps in contact with anyone - and Ruben says Clay, Kimberley, and Rickey Smith - who pops out of the audience and says hi.

Enough frivolity - it's time to start cutting more people. Ryan recaps what all of the judges have said about all of the contestants - and then we get to see who the judges picked. After a reminder that we can make our own video and win a car, we will see who Randy Jackson picked. Randy didn't think that anyone was unbelievable, so it was a hard choice. He has chosen... Jennifer Hudson, bad wardrobe and all. She is happy, and Paula and Simon agrees - while Simon says that she needs a better stylist. Jennifer reprises her song from yesterday.

Next up is Paula, who wants to put all of them in. Well, that would make a show that lasts through the Summer, and FOX may need that for ratings purposes, but I digress. Paula decides to select... Leah LaBelle. Leah thanks the lord as her mom looks on. Randy likes the choice - but Simon should think that Leah is lucky that she has a fairy grandmother in Paula. Simon may be right - Leah is awful in her reprise - but then again, she's probably too emotional to sing right now. She better clean it up next week...

Simon says that he didn't sleep at all, and he based his decision on who he thought the audience wanted to see. Simon picked.... George. Whoa. That was a surprise to me, for 2 reasons - 1. SIMON picking him? and 2. That means that he didn't win the popular vote, which surprises me. George grovels to Simon, and he is trying to sing without crying. He does a very capable Lean On Me, and the audience goes nuts. Simon, once again, may be right on a prediction.

That leaves one slot left - and it's based on who the audience wanted. We know the audience wanted Diana DeGarmo, Fantasia Barrino, Camille Velasco, Matt Rogers, Amy Adams, La Toya London, Jasmine Trias, and John Stevens previously, as they are all back to see who the 12th and final person would be. John says that he was intercepted by around 40 kids at a hockey game, while Amy talks about her pink hair and how she gets interrupted during dinner. 'I'm not mad - just hungry'. Diana is embarrassed that the local media is getting performances from her when she was younger, and Jasmine will be sticking a different flower in her hair every week. Matt's having a ball and he misses Simon. We'll see if that sentiment is there for next month...

The last spot for the American Idol Top 12 goes to...with 22% of the vote... Jon Peter Lewis! The gyrations did indeed pay off - and he could go far if he keeps the same strategy. The judges agreed with America - but Paula wants more personality and fun from him and Simon still thought he was horrible - but brave for taking the chance. Jon Peter reprises his gyration and drunken dancing and we are out of here.

My take? I can't help but think that this talent is not as good as last years - and I can't help but think that the producers, who knew that, decided to try to cover it by A. showcasing a lot of inferior talent in most of the introductories and specials to show what exactly they had to choose from and B. adding a lot of drama which was both needless and a pointed 'screw you - we just needed you for the ratings' to the eliminated people. I've never any sort of talent outside of The Gong Show be discarded so flippantly as I have this season - and that gives me a bad taste in my mouth as we progress into the Final Round of 12.

As for those 12, the only women who I really like is La Toya London and the only guys who I like is Matt Rogers and George Huff - and that's mostly on their personality. I'm sensing a La Toya/Fantasia showdown to end it - and that really doesn't get me excited.

The Bottom Line - Am I going to be watching the finals? Of course. Is this as good as last year's crop? Not even close. I hope that they step up their game or else we're going to get comparisons all season long. We'll see if they can indeed step up next week, when Chico gives us the scoop and his opinion.

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