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Welcome to the top 20! Well, OK, last night was the second night of the Top 20, but I was out sick yesterday so I didn't get a chance to write about the girls. Oh well, it was the same old story. That one girl is good and so is that other one and a couple of the others were boring. That's all there really was to say about that. Now, to paraphrase Ryan Seacrest, let's get to the boys!

Yes, ten mens sang their little songs last night, and I gotta say. If the Idol producers are trying to get a girl to win this season, they have done a bang-up job of selecting the dullest, creamiest, snooze-worthiest crop of guys they possibly could have. I mean, man are these dudes dull. It's not that they're not good singers, it's just that there's nothing really unique about them. You've seen one guy, you've seen the rest. It's really a tired, sad group. And they picked terrible songs last night! Songs we have heard on American Idol a million bajillion times before. If one kid can sing a pretty recent Rihanna song, then that means the rest of them do not need to be singing "I Believe I Can Fly" or "End of the Road" or "Feeling Good" for god's sake. Maybe I've just been watching this honk-fest for too many years so it only seems like we hear these boring, tired songs every other episode, but good grief. Enough is enough. Sing something timely, fools. That's all I'm asking. Sing something timely. Ah well. Let's figure out who was good and who was bad, shall we?

The Good

Though I suspect he's not exactly the humble, unassuming New Orleans boy he says he is, there is still something undeniably likable about Burnell Taylor, is there not? He's got the cute story about weight loss, the fun but fashionable nerd clothes that he wears (that shirt buttoned all the way up! The jean jacket!), and that lovely scratch in his voice that communicates pain and struggle and ultimately redemption. Mind you, I don't think the scratch is as rawly inspirational as the judges seem to think it is; there's a lot of conscious effort going into it. But that's OK. If the kid wants to communicate struggle, let him communicate that, even if it is awfully performed. And those clothes are very calculated too; he knows he looks adorable and that everyone wants to give him a big hug, and so he's continuing to dress that way, even amping up the look week by week to attract the most flies. He's a clever lad, this Burnell. And there isn't anything wrong with clever. Last night he sang "I'm Here" from Oprah Winfrey Presents: The Color Purple and it was good. It may have seemed familiar because he already sang this song once before, but that's OK. He explained that his initial audition was chopped up in editing when the show aired, so he wanted to give America the song in its full, pained glory. Which is fine. He was honest and possibly even crafty in his motivations. Or maybe he totally blundered by singing a song we've all heard before and people will think him repetitive and boring? Eh, not very likely. He seems to have a big fanbase and the judges are in league with him something hard. And he knows it. Which is fine! It's fine to know where you stand. But let's hope the show doesn't turn him. We've seen too many once innocent people slowly turn into monsters in Idol seasons past and it would be a shame to see it happen again, especially to someone who did, at some point, seem mostly guileless. Stay on the light side, Burnell! Do not follow the darkness, for it can only lead you where it led Scotty McCreery. Oh wait. He won. Never mind. Do whatever the hell you want.

OK don't laugh, but I'm putting Paul Jolley in this category. I know, I know, he's completely ridiculous. He's basically what would happen if a stuffed animal shop on Main Street U.S.A. at Disney World came to life and burst into song, but isn't that kind of fun? I guess you'd have to throw a little Frontierland in there too, because jolly Paul wants to sing country music. Yes, the young man who showed up to his first audition in a neon turquoise shirt and gleaming white pants wants to be a country singer, so a country singer is what he's going to try to be. But don't worry, he's not doing Toby Keith or anything. (He may be doing Toby and/or Keith, but their shift at Tomorrowland doesn't start until this afternoon so I have to wait to ask them.) He's certainly not doing George Strait, ahem. Last night he sang a Christina Aguilera/Blake Shelton duet, which is about as country as wearing cowboy boots to a Cheesecake Factory. But he put some twang on it, just as he does every night in the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue at the Fort Wilderness resort, and so it was sufficiently countrified to count as genre. He couldn't avoid a little theatrical flair, though, which he brought to the big, belting end of the song. It wasn't amazing, but y'know what? It was fun to watch, and how many other people in this group can you say that about? Not many, my friends. Not many at all. So yes, I like Paul Jolley for that reason. And because it's funny to watch Ryan touch and rub his shoulders after he performs. Just a little of the ol' touch 'n' rub, like they do in that basement room at the Grand Floridian if you ask your bellhop the right way.

The Bad

The problem is, no one is bad this season. (Well, one person is, but we'll get to him.) It's just that so many of them are so boring. Like Cortez Shaw, for example. Who cares? Just really who cares about what Cortez blandly did last night. He sang Bruno Mars, which Zzzzzz... If there is a duller singer than ol' yeller Bruno Mars currently tearing up the charts, do not point him out to me. Cortez sang that "Locked Out of Heaven" song, which contains the totally not gross at all line "Your sex takes me to paradise." I guess that line is fine for some occasions, but on American Idol? Pimply little girls and boys screaming for that? No to the thanks. But the real crime of the song was that Cortez sang it so wanly, nothing sticking out or landing dramatically or anything. It was just "Here's this yelling song for you, blah blah." I'm not digging it, Cortez. I'm really not.

Lazaro Arbos also bothers me, though I actually might be more inclined to call him "bad" than I am for some of the other just straight-up boring dudes. Lazaro of course has the Stutter Story, which is a good one, but it's gotten far enough in the competish that he can't just rely on that. And the trouble is, when he actually sings, it's really florid and goopy and silly. It's just a wall of annoying noises which, while they may be marginally on key, don't really say anything. Last night he sang "Feeling Good," probably because he's seen gals on the show do it before to great success. Oh, wait, no sorry I mean he probably saw Adam Lambert perform it to great success. But Lazaro is not Adam Lambert, and so it just came out desperate and loud and imprecise. And yet the crowd loves him so, and the judges can only gently criticize him for fear of violent reprisal, so Lazaro just does his thing, his head growing bigger, misplaced confidence getting thicker and stronger like a tree growing through the sidewalk. We'll see how far he gets, but I suspect it will be farther than he should.

OK, this is probably going to get me in trouble, but what's going on with Curtis Finch? Good lord almighty did the judges slobber all over this guy last night, when in reality he sang a song that has already been sung four different times on Idol before and he did nothing to make it distinct. (Haha, of course it was better than little Aaron Kelly's, but that doesn't mean it was good.) I ask again: Who cares? Sure he's a prayer director or faith leader or whatever they're calling him, but beyond that the song had exactly zero relevance to anything. That song means nothing anymore. It's been microwaved too many times and lost all flavor. It's just a soggy heap of notes and gray, limp inspirational lyrics. But the judges were all like "HOLY GOD I HAVE SEEN THE LIGHT!!" Keith said that Curtis brought "everything good and godly and pure" to the Idoldome. Which, ew, Keith. Ew. Good ≠ "Godly," Keith. And let's not even touch the issue of what's "pure." The other judges got in on the game too, saying that spirits were raised and all this claptrap that they felt pressured to say. If Curtis keeps using his hokey religious revival shtick I guess he could do well, but it's going to get more disingenuous with each passing week. You're on American Idol, not a spiritual pilgrimage. Lighten up for god's sake.

The I Don't Know What

I mean, what are we to say about Charlie Askew? What really is there to say? The kid has gone off the rails, I fear. Last night he came out in a TANK TOP with a SINGLE FEATHER EARRING and sang-screamed a Genesis song. It was really, tremendously unpleasant and the judges were all "Uhhh..." Yeah, ya dopes! That's what happens when you put novelty acts through this far. Sometimes they start to believe their own hype and then get a terrible boost of overconfidence and we end up all watching with our hands over our eyes because oh my god we can't believe it's happening and it's so embarrassing for everyone involved. Charlie's performance was basically the singing scene at the end of About a Boy except Hugh Grant didn't rescue him and the singing was way, way worse. Hopefully America will do him a sweet, swift mercy and send him home tonight, but who knows. These novelty acts can last a whole lot longer than they're supposed to, especially if they're squirrely little teen boys who people take pity on. If I were his parents I'd take him off the show, but I am not his parents. I'm not even his uncle. I'm just me, far away, vicariously embarrassed in a sad, sad way. Oh Charlie Askew. Quit livin' up to your name.

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