Gurpreet Singh Sarin did not make the cut in the sudden-death round on "American… (Michael Becker / Fox )
The "American Idol" voting will begin next week; we'll indulge in two full nights of live performances (Tuesday and Wednesday) and a third (Thursday) in which the 20 semifinalists will be slashed to 10 finalists. For me, the audience input can't come soon enough.
Overpowered, swayed or just confused by Nicki Minaj, who has assembled her favorite contestants like bonbons in a box and dismissed the rest with eye rolls, shrugs, smirks and the occasional giggle, this season's judges have made some choices thus far that viewers watching at home may question. It'll be interesting to see which contestants have "connected," as the judges like to say, with the voters and which have not.
On Thursday night, the final five male contestants were chosen to advance to the semifinals, bringing the total selected over four nights to 20. And five were sent home.
Advancing were …
Vincent Powell: This 29-year-old singer from Austin, Texas, boosted the room's low energy with his passionate take on Lenny Williams' "Cause I Love You." Keith Urban thought it was "crazy," in a good way, saying, "Preach on, Brother Vincent." Minaj said it had "hit" her "somewhere," calling it "good … sexy old fashioned." She said she envisioned mature women flinging their panties at Powell. Randy Jackson hollered that Powell was "in it to win it!" And Mariah Carey said simply, "Finally."
Lazaro Arbos: He worked up a sweat as he tackled Urban's "Tonight I Wanna Cry," making Carey emotional and the man who wrote it stammer. (Oh, the irony.) Urban thought the 21-year-old from Naples, Fla., had been trying to catch up with the song, but toasted Arbos' spirit. Minaj thought he had "played it safe, but in a good way." Jackson admired the "sweet spot" in Arbos' voice. Carey said she was moved by Arbos' struggle. It's not hard to conclude that Arbos' back story — he stutters painfully except when he sings — accounts for a good part of the judges' enthusiasm. To my ears, he didn't sing as well as others who were sent home.
Cortez Shaw: This 22-year-old Dallas warehouse worker with big dreams and good looks performed a slowed-down version David Guetta's "Titanium" unevenly, but had moments of transcendence that Urban believed offered "total redemption." Minaj swooned that Shaw was "sexy." Jackson liked Shaw's "range" and "current" style and declared himself to be a "fan." Carey implied she'd been championing Shaw all along, and complimented him on his "very good choices."
Burnell Taylor: Minaj was deeply moved that this 19-year-old Hurricane Katrina survivor from New Orleans had shed 40 pounds since his audition. (That was when, you'll recall, he made Carey declare, "Burnell made me cry.") She felt it was a symbol that he had let go of the weight of the tragedy and his circumstances and was letting a "different spirit" — a lighter one — take over his life. As far as Minaj was concerned, Taylor had also overtaken the competition, calling him "the best by far tonight." "Right now, literally today, I would pay to see you sing," she said. She and the other judges also toasted the originality Taylor displayed on John Legend's "This Time" and his ability to transfer emotion.
Nick Boddington: Boddington, a 27-year-old New York bartender originally from Memphis, has given better performances than his airily distant take on James Morrison's "Say Something Now." The judges didn't like the song choice and felt a lack of "connection," though they did compliment the "timbre" and "warmth" in his voice. Despite the tepid response, in a sea of so-so contenders, Boddington still managed to stand out enough to make it through.
Less lucky were Methenee Treco, who tried too hard, but was probably primarily undone by the curse of having to perform first; Gurpreet Singh Sarin, who looked fetching in his saffron turban and slacks, but disappointed the judges by ditching his guitar; Josh Holiday, who performed an underwhelming original song (on the bright side, he didn't split his pants again); and David Oliver Willis, whom everyone except Minaj seemed to enjoy. She sneered that it seemed as if Willis had just gotten his guitar for Christmas and was up there having a "good ol' time."
Bryant Tadeo sang Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind" well, arguably better than either Arbos or Boddington had sung theirs, but was still sent home. Though three of the judges thought he'd handled the song well, overall, one key judge did not: Minaj.
Yeah, I'm definitely ready for the voters to take it from here. (Step aside, Nicki.) Is there anyone you're itching to send home?