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Today is

Round of 24: The Men - February 20

Thousands tried out for the "highest title". Now we're down to 24, and America, get your dialing finger ready, because you're the ultimate judge.

If you've been with us before, welcome back. If you haven't, where've you been? This game ... is simple. You'll hear what the judges think. You'll hear what we think. You'll hear what the singers think. Let's get it on.

First singer: Rudy Cardenas. He got his golden ticket singing "Open Arms." Simon did not like the initial audition, but the North Hollywood musician will test his mettle and hope to change his mind today on "Free Ride" by Jefferson Airplane.

What they say: Randy thought the party was started, but he personally was "corny". Paula thought it was fantastic, lively, and up-tempo. Simon didn't think it was very unique.

What we say: The power is enough to carry it, but that's the problem, is that it's all energy and no substance. The voice strains from time to time and the breathing's off a couple of times. It's not a winning performance.

In the Coke Red Room, Chris S. says it's all about looking pretty tonight. Chris R. thinks they all can rock out. Brandon says he's ready for the spotlight. Get ready Brandon Rogers, you're next. The background singer from Altadena, CA had the best audition in Los Angeles. Today, he's in the limelight with "Rock With You" by Michael Jackson.

What they say: Randy wasn't sure that was his best performance, and the thing is that he can do so much with the song. Paula agrees with Randy, saying that he needs to step up. Simon says he's a good singer, but the song was safe. "I think you're much better than that."

What we say: That's a brand new way of taking an old song and making it your own. This is a standout person. Brandon has earned his place in the forefront tonight. Now let's see how long he can hold onto it.

Moment of truth for Sundance Head, who has admitted not having done enough to warrant his place here. The Porter machinist had his best audition... in the audition. He's had no less than two emotional breakdowns, and looks to put it behind him in "Nights in White Satin" by the Moody Blues.

What they say: Randy... "I don't even think you were on pitch that entire song." Paula thinks it was the wrong song. Simon says he's gone right off. Very old-fashioned. "I don't like you tonight."

What we say: Flat and lacking energy to start. The chorus was operatic, which didn't really fit the mood of the song at all. Second chorus is back to flat.

A famous will perform and break some news as we send two of these rascals home. Which two? Tune in Thursday. Meanwhile, Paul Kim, spurned by the cult of Hung to audition, has gone from San Jose to Hollywood with "If I Ever Fall in Love". Today, it's all about Wham!'s "Careless Whisper"... bare feet and all.

(C-Note: I love the hell out of this song. Don't mess up.)

What they say: Randy thinks it was the best voice, but the song was kinda stiff. "I still like your potential." Paula thinks he oversang the song. Simon suggests that he put on shoes next week, thinking it was very ordinary and third-rate.

What we say: Maybe if it started a half-step up, it would've worked, but it didn't have the range that the song asks for. And it almost seems like Paul is holding back, almost like he doesn't want to give it hell, and that's what you're supposed to do on this song. Give it hell. Feel it. Tell the story. Make yourself cry. Deliver another performance like that, and no, Paul Kim, you're never going to dance again.

Ryan comes out with his shoes off. He's trying to represent... his pedicure. Randy thinks that this is turning into a cover band audition, while Simon notes that a lot of people are playing it safe.

Chris Richardson from Chesapeake works in the restaurant business. He drew comparisons to Justin Timberlake early on. Hopefully he brings charisma. He wants to rock out to Gavin Degraw's "I Don't Want to Be."

What they say: Randy feels like the show just started. "It wasn't your best performance, but you made it kinda work." Don't be scared. Paula likes the arrangement, making it feel like a brand new song. Simon apologetically calls the vocal "small." But he likes Chris, and he thinks he's got the potential there.

What we say: It starts out like a high-school choir performance, but he's got the attitude of the song spot on. He could be one of the best of the bunch if he learns to sing the entire song all the way through.

Chris' dad is as red as an apple after dancing to that.

Back in the Red Room, Nick Pedro is nervous, but ready. The Taunton salesman made it Hollywood last year, but bowed out after a lyrics flub. How far will he make it this year? He sings Richard Marx's "Now and Forever".

What they say: Randy saw nerves. "It wasn't good for me, dawg. It was really really boring." Paula wants the magic back... Simon... "I didn't think it was that bad, actually."

What we say: He sang the song straight. This is the kind of song that isn't really helped by runs. That's the good. The bad.. it was sharp a couple of places, and yeah, it was pretty boring. A couple of runs wouldn't hurt either. I mean, come on. You're giving me chitterlings without neckbone.

Tomorrow, women. Got it? Good. Next, Blake Lewis, the champion beatboxer from Seattle. He was in the group with Chris S., Rudy, and Tom "I'm not really a plant, I sware" Lowe. Will we see a signature beatbox tonight? Probably not. The selection is "Somewhere Only We Know" by Keane.

What they say: Randy loved it, although he missed the beatbox. Paula saw a different side, and she loved the falsetto. Simon says that he's the first person who sounds like he's from 2007. Best so far.

What we say: Blake is better than he realizes. I just wish he wouldn't take this round as a test of the waters like everyone else. A couple of places were flat or sharp, but in the end, it was passable. Maybe if he wasn't so worried about messing up, he wouldn't. Just a thought.

Blake wants America to know he can sing. After all, it's a singing competition.

Next, somewhere in Seattle, Shyamali Malakar is watching little brother Sanjaya in his first top-24 performance. He just got his GED. The worst part of the audition... obviously watchign his sister get cut. This is for her. Stevie gets his requisite take with "Knocks Me Off Of My Feet".

What they say: Randy didn't think it was very good. "It wasn't even remotely close." Paula says that there's an easiness to his voice. "Seems like you're hesitant." Simon? "The irony was the most used line of the song was 'I don't want to bore you with this'."

What we say: the best part of that performance was the hair. The rest of it was wicked to the bone deathly boring. Almost too mellow for his own good.

What can he do to improve next time? Put your personality out there.

Next, Chris Sligh takes the stage with all of Greenville, SC watching. His audition moment, singing "Sweet Home Alabama" 37 times. (C-Note: contrary to what is shown on TV, Idol auditions take in upwards of a week... This is what they do during the week). Humor definitely helps him through the contest, as does strategy and song choice. He views it as a game. His play this week: "Typical" by Mute Math.

What they say: Randy says he's ahead of the beat, but he thinks he's the bomb. Paula thinks the song is suited to his voice. Simon is torn. He likes him, but he feels like he's at "some weird student gig."

What we say: Perfect pitch. Nice tone. He knows where his strength is, but the thing is, it's lost in the first chorus with the shouting and moving about. You gotta watch out for that.

What Ryan says: "Don't call me sweetheart."

What Chris says: "Obviously audiences are into this kind of music right now, and just because I don't sing Il Divo or the Teletubbies doesn't mean I'm not a good singer."

What we say revised: Oh no you just didn't go there. You NEVER argue with the judges!

Next, Jared Cotter is in the queue. It's been a rough room, but he's from New York. He can handle it. The waiter (who got fired for trying out) proved it. He's looking at this as a clean slate. He puts on his best Brian McKnight face with "Back at One".

What they say: Randy says it was pretty good, but didn't like the ending. Defense: "All I got is a minute 30." Paula says it sounds like Brian. Simon interprets that as unadventurous.

What we say: Way to schmooze. That'll get you a few votes. That sounded almost exactly by Brian McKnight played a full-step under. The disadvantage of that is that the power is there, but the range isn't, and as a result, some of it is flat. But not enough to affect the entire performance.

AJ Tabaldo of Santa Maria, CA abandoned ship...ping company to try out for Idol... five times. He liked the first round of Hollywood Round, because that's where he was cut last year. He sings Luther Vandross' "Never Too Much."

What they say: Randy thought it was pretty good, but it didn't bring anything new to the party. Paula: "AJ, you can definitely sing." She adds she needs to go for it. Simon: nothing great, nothing terrible, a theme park performance.

What we say: It's one those cases where he gave his all and then some... and still came up short. Most of it was nasal. Paula and Simon are both right in that AJ needs a challenge.

Final performance comes from the man who ran back to Jacksonville, FL to meet his new baby daughter, Navy sailor Phil Stacey. His family is all in place, wife and all, as he sings "I Could Not Ask For More" by Edwin McCain.

What they say: Randy gives him the best vocal props of the night. "That was on point. Rich, Full, in tune." Paula thought the beginning was shaky. Simon agrees, but thought he worked it out in the end. "I'm comparing it to Chris Daughtry who really nailed that performance."

What we say: what Phil lack in vocal acuity, he makes up for in stage presence.

So to sum up...

Sound pretty: Brandon, Blake
Look pretty: Paul, Chris R., Nick, Chris S., Jared, AJ, Phil
Pretty damn ugly: Rudy, Sundance, Sanjaya

Why Simon's being negative? Don't care. He's usually right. Now... it's on to the ladies!

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