Curtis Finch Jr.'s performance brought the judges to their feet Wednesday… (Michael Becker / Fox )
If anyone had lingering doubts that the male contenders on "American Idol" this season pale in comparison to the women, this week should put them to rest.
On Tuesday night, after the top 10 women performed, it seemed like all but two of them would have been solid picks for the top 5, and several already appeared to be strong competitors for the win. But on Wednesday night when the top 10 guys performed it was another matter entirely.
After the final uneven note had been sung, we were left with only two performers who definitely deserved to be among the five guys to make it into the overall top 10 on Thursday night, plus a mixed bag of maybes.
Sadly, there was also one clear no: Charlie Askew.
After his last performance — which was peculiar and perhaps a little disturbing, though perhaps not as peculiar and disturbing as the judges' decision to put him through — you probably expected something strange and off-beat from Askew. And he delivered, singing Genesis' "Mama" in his signature committed/uncommitted William Shatner-esque style. The awkward teen had also switched up his look, sporting a tank top, a ponytail, a feather-leather earring and the dregs of a wispy mustache.
He looked every bit the D&D-playing high school geek, and the judges, like a bunch of pretty, popular kids who had temptingly invited him to sit at their table in the cafeteria only to teasingly turn on him, ridiculed him — in front of millions.
"I wish I knew what people at home were saying right now," Urban said. "If nothing else, we definitely have offered some diversity tonight." He suggested that Askew try to front a band, noting that something about his performances seemed "disingenuous" and "disconnected."
Though his comments brought a glinty tear to Askew's eye, Urban, actually, seemed to be trying to be kind. Not so Nicki Minaj.
"Last time I saw you, I wanted to cradle you in my arms. And you know how obsessed I am with you. Where's my little baby at, Charlie?" she said to laughter in a sing-songy voice. "What happened? I don't know what happened. I feel like someone stole my kid." Then, with a sour face, she made fun of his look — "I don't want to see your arms, I don't want to see you working out …" — saying she wanted her "cute, cuddly Charlie back."
Jackson, who'd been chuckling like a dull henchman throughout the other judges' critiques, called Askew's performance "terrible" and said he was "worried" and didn't "know what was happening."
And Carey, seeing that Askew, burning with humiliation, looked ready to burst into tears, tried her best to sound soothing despite not having anything really nice to say.
By the time Ryan Seacrest came out to engage in his usual post-song contestant-host banter, Askew — face red, eyes down, mouth tight — seemed to be barely holding it together.
"I can see on your face, that was a tough one," Seacrest said, stating the obvious.
"All I can say is I needed to vent a little bit," Askew said, seething. Lots of people think he's happy, he added, but "the only reason I smile so much is because I feel like I have to."
The moment was dark, it was scary, and mostly, it was something we'd probably all rather not be watching unfold on our TV screens. Who wants to see the awkward high school kid get picked on by the bully judges?
Here's hoping Askew's fan base — his awkward turtles, as he calls them — will surround him and help restore his self-esteem.
As for the two who were doubtlessly worthy of making it through, they were …
Curtis Finch Jr.: His take on R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly" definitely took off — and lifted the judges to their feet. They offered praise. Lots of it. Keith Urban told Finch he stood for everything "good," "light," "godly," "whole" and "positive." Nicki Minaj urged him to use his power and talent for good because he had a calling and "people are hurting." Randy Jackson was moved to "praise God." And Mariah Carey thanked him for the performance, saying she "needed" the energy and feeling he'd spread.
Devin Velez: In the video interview footage that aired before he sang "Somos Novios" (It's Impossible), Velez said that when he sang in Spanish he felt more "authentic." That was clear as soon as he took the mic in hand and switched languages. In that moment, it was as if he were grabbing hold of the competition in earnest. Urban called him "gifted." Minaj rolled out her best Spanish words -- "muy bien," "perfecto" — then switched to English to call him "real," "believable" and, for some reason, a "Spanish Ken doll." Jackson seemed unusually sincere when he praised his tone and vibrato. And Carey called the performance "incredible," and suggested that Velez might find success with a larger, international audience.