Ghalebemachah_idolThe new Hollywood Week format showcased on Tuesday (Feb. 12) night’s American Idol had some odd consequences. On one hand, it was almost completely devoid of the sort of suspense and histrionics viewers have come to expect. That’s bad. On the other hand, I felt like I actually saw some super performances over the course of the two-hour episode. That’s good.

To some degree I missed the old Hollywood structure. I missed the ridiculous trio performances that forced the hopefuls to display collaborative skills they’d never use again in the competition. I missed the late nights of fighting, I missed the one guy who couldn’t find a team and ended up making awful music with two discordant gals, I missed the flirty twit who would rather party and hook up than learn to harmonize. I missed the frequent freak-shows and the occasional unexpected alchemies that the episode used to often feature.

And perhaps because of the new format, the stakes on Tuesday’s episode felt lower. Yes, there were nervous tears. Yes, there were people on the verge of collapse from psychosomatic colds. Yes, there were one or two confused people who said that they wished they’d been given a fair shot. [Fair shot? Goodness gracious. If you want a fair shot, go out and make it in the industry without American Idol, without the advantages of this television exposure. American Idol is all about cheating and skipping steps.] But nobody stood on the stage and refused to leave. Nobody swore at Simon, on stage or off. Nobody ranted about the specific people who made it through versus the people sent home.

Heaven knows some of the contestants would have been justified in ranting. After the Philadelphia audition episode, I saw Angela Martin — beautiful, talented and caring for a seriously ill daughter — as a sure-thing Top 12 contestant and a possible winner. On Tuesday’s show, we found out that in addition to her previously established sob story — already effective in my book — her father was killed between the audition and Hollywood. She still sounded good. Very good even. But she was rejected. That’s pretty cold.

You want to know what’s colder than that? She was called forward and sent home, while Kyle Ensley, aspiring governor of Oklahoma, was put through despite a rendition of "My Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)" that could have been inserted in any audition as an example of the worst in any particular city. He was a bit better later in the episode, but if you ask me to say who has a better chance of ever earning a nickel for singing in public between Angela and Kyle, I wouldn’t hesitate. The judges, though, went a different direction.

They also like David Cook, with his middle-of-the-road voice, floppy hair and soul patch a lot more than I do. Ditto with David Hernandez, whose performance featured grunting, groaning, an unexplained falsetto and all manner of pointless vocal acrobatics. I’m also concerned for Syesha Mercado, who lost her voice less due to sickness and more due to her unceasing shouting. Remember how Gina Glocksen and Chris Daughtry were both at least somewhat undone by raw, over-worked voices? She’s going to have the same problem.

And who would have guessed that the over-hyped Cardin McKinney, who had the Internet Idol tom-toms beating in her favor since the fall, would get less screentime in Hollywood for her singing (she forgot the lyrics at some point) than for her flirtations with Borat of Venezuela Ghaleb Emachah. Not only am I convinced that Ghaleb is 40, but his guitar accompanied take on Bryan Adams was very nearly William Hung-bad. If he was truly one of the 164 best people Idol saw in the audition rounds, then Ronaldo Lapuz deserved a courtesy Hollywood invite as well.

Don’t get me wrong, though. I know I sound negative. That’s what I do. The new Idol format helped give us some fantastic performances.

The decision to let the singers perform instruments only unearthed a few versatile musical threats, but some people just seemed better with a musical instrument as a prop. Is Brooke White — the R-rated movie avoiding nanny — really going to go on the road with her piano? Heavens no, but the keyboard channeled her energies and she was like a whole different singer.

The same is true of poor formerly homeless Josiah Leming. His version of "Grace Kelly," complete with keyboard, was haunting, a contrast to the rather excessive polish exhibited by many of this season’s ringers. He puts something personal into every song, even his version of "Stand By Me," which the judges correctly panned. My concern with Josiah is that I think the kid has problems and not the sort that would be improved by the bright American Idol lights. I watched his night-before meltdown and his last performance and I kept thinking of Daniel Johnston, which will only mean something to a few of you. It’s usually a cop-out for people not-named Jennifer Hudson to claim they were better off without Idol, but I really think Josiah may be better off without Idol.

Who else do I like?

While I agree with Simon that Amanda Overmyer may become predictable in a hurry, I love that biker-nurse’s voice. Her reborn Janis Joplin shtick is a gimmick, but it’s a splendid gimmick and I love how it puts the otherwise fine Carly Smithson’s somewhat similar mannerisms to shame. I’ll root for her as long as she’s around. Or until I become sick of her.

I think Michael Johns’ "Bohemian Rhapsody" was a show-stopper on what Constantine Maroulis taught us was a darned hard song to sing. He also did well with "Light My Fire" earlier in the episode.

Kristyleecook_240Like all of this season’s ringers — see also Kristy Lee Cook, Smithson, et al — Johns is going to make the Top 24 and he’ll help save us from the sort of early season embarrassments Idol is known for (Antonella Barba and your racy pictures, I’m lookin’ at you… no really… I am… You’re about to kiss some skanky chick in a picture… Ew). Does that take away from the charm?

Another ringer, Star Search winner David Archuleta, may be my current prediction to win. He isn’t a bad singer and he reminds me of Ryan Pinkston from Quintuplets. You likee? He’s not my cup-o-tea, but I think his delayed pubescent charm will play great with the teenage girls, as well as with their mothers, who will think he’s like Danny Noriega, only he doesn’t prompt the same awkward questions.

Enough of my ramblings… What were your thoughts on the new format? On the performances? And on the Top 24?

And check out all of our Idol coverage over at Zap2it’s Guide to American Idol.

Posted by:Daniel Fienberg