As it kicked off its "final judgment" round on Thursday, a name that one contestant griped sounded alarmingly apocalyptic, "American Idol" showed a clip of Harry Connick Jr. lecturing the 48 contestants who'd made it to the solo round.
"At the top of my list of pet peeves is hearing people bitch about that they don't feel good," he told the stressed-out singers, some of them apparently sick. "Just suck it up and sing. It's entertainment."
As Connick gave his little speech, the following words flashed on the screen: "No more Mr. Nice Guy."
Poor Harry. The producers seem intent on turning him into the "mean" judge, but in fact, he really does seem like a nice guy, earnestly dispensing helpful advice to the aspiring young artists in his midst. And neither he nor his fellow judges, Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban, seemed to relish making the cuts needed to get the "Idol" roster to 30 ahead of next week's live rounds, either.
"Through this whole episode my nose is just going to be red," sniffed a tearful Lopez after crushing one contestant's dreams.
"[Curse] this, man, seriously," Connick said.
Lopez had told that contestant, Leah Guerrero, who had been unkindly let go at the same time another contestant, Andrina Brogden, had gotten the good news that she'd made it through, that she'd been "pulling for" her.
"You're extremely talented. Please come back. Don't quit the fight," Connick urged Guerrero.
Spoken, if you ask me, like a truly nice guy.
But, nice or not, the judges had to send 18 singers packing. At the end of this round, which will conclude Thursday, only 15 male and 15 female singers will survive.
Those who received good news Wednesday included …
—Emily Piriz, a 17-year-old singer whose voice Lopez described as "beautiful, so light and airy."
—Spencer Lloyd, who made it through despite having sung a clunky original tune during the solo round that Connick quietly compared to a "public service announcement."
—Jillian Jensen, who cried just as hard after making it through to the live rounds on "Idol" as she had when she was cut from Season 2 of "The X Factor" ahead of that show's live rounds. "I'm not crying. I'm just freaking out right now," she told Ryan Seacrest, midsob.
—George Lovett, 24, whose hope that the judges would "see the potential" in him was fulfilled.
—Sam Woolf, 17, who broke hearts in the solo round with a song he'd written after his mom left him. Then the grandpa who has lovingly raised the teen broke hearts again after he found out Woolf had made it through, exclaiming, "He keeps amazing me!"
—Malaya Watson, whose goal was to be "the very first tuba player on 'American Idol.'" After she corrected Connick on the pronunciation of her name, which she said means "freedom," he thanked her. "That name has great potential to be a star at some point," he said.
—Maurice Townsend, whose choices Connick called "smart."
—Bria Anai Johnson, who got the good news from Lopez. "You know what's crazy: You made it into the top 15 [females]," J.Lo told the 16-year-old singer. "Maybe that's not so crazy."
—Partially pink-haired hopeful and group round punching bag Jessica Meuse, whose drama continued. She made it through only at the expense of fellow contestant Jesse Roach. The two were summoned together before the judges to have an instant sing-off. Meuse emerged victorious, and Roach was sent home. "This is the hardest decision of the competition, just so you know," Lopez said before delivering the blow. Cold comfort to Roach, I'm guessing.
—Country-singing farm boy Dexter Roberts, 22, who Urban said was "the real deal."
—Emmanuel Zidor, another weeper, whom Lopez has promised to buy a pair of high heels.
—MK Nobilette, 20, whose voice and delivery Lopez compared to a "quiet storm." Nobilette's look is gender-ambiguous, and when the judges mentioned that it was unclear where she'd fit in, the contestant said she had her own ideas about that. "I am very obviously gay," she said. "There are always going to be people in America and everywhere else who are definitely going to hate. But I think in the last few years there have been a lot of things that have changed that and really made it a positive thing." "Thank goodness," Connick said, as the judges welcomed the show's first openly gay contestant.
—Kristen O'Connor, the pretty singing nurse who auditioned in Atlanta.
—Jordan Brisbane, the kid who cheekily said during auditions that he has what it takes to "shut the 'American Idol' series down." Brisbane got the news on his 16th birthday! "That's a 16th birthday right there," Urban observed. "Sweet 16 and never heard 'no.'"
—The aforementioned Andrina Brogden, who, after making it through at Leah Guerrero's expense, tried to tamp down her delight. "This is terrible and amazing all at the same time," she said.
—Malcolm Allen, who was one of many singers who sang Mary J. Blige's "I'm Goin' Down" during the solo round. "This is my time to shine and this is gonna happen," Allen said, while rocking an ultrabright yellow sweater.
—Alex Preston, the musically gifted 20-year-old, who for some reason wore his guitar in to face the judges. "You're like Linus with his security blanket," Urban teased, adding, "I can relate."
OTher not making it through included Madelyn Patterson, Michael Simeon, Sabrina Lentini, Keri Lynn Roche, Casey McQuillen and Nica Nishae.
At the end, the show left us with a sing-off cliffhanger, as the fates of two 22-year-old hardworking, country-singing Alabamians, Casey Thrasher and C.J. Harris, both found via the "Idol" bus tour, hung in the balance.
"You're from Alabama; I'm from Alabama," Thrasher told Harris, while they awaited the judges' decision. "You sing country, but you're versatile; I sing country, but I'm versatile."
Which versatile country-singing Alabamian would make it through? We'll soon find out.
Which do you think should make it through? And what do you think of the top 30 so far?
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