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Familiar faces among final 24 on ‘Idol’

Men are heavy on personality, while the women need to build fanbases fast. By Craig Berman
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

Apart from the finale, Wednesday’s episode of “American Idol” is the happiest of the season. Judges are happy. Twenty-four contestants are happy to be told they’re in the semifinals. And the unhappy 16 who are eliminated tend to not get a whole lot of airtime, so that usually doesn’t sap too much positive energy.

This season, producers tried to make sure fans were happy as well.

For the most part, contestants who had gotten a decent amount of airtime and hadn’t been cut already were picked to be in the final 24. Most of the rest were people who hadn’t been seen much.

That was the story from beginning to end. Sanjaya Malakar got highlighted both at his first audition and the last night of the Hollywood round, and he was the hopeful to make the cut. Sundance Head was featured early in the competition, shown struggling in Hollywood, but still got the last spot. When in doubt, the familiar faces moved on.

Taylor II?The success of Taylor Hicks last season must have made an impact on the judges, since most of the men who made the final cut have been notable as much for their personalities as their voices. Sundance Head may be the most obvious example, since he was a nonfactor after his first audition and somehow managed to make the final cut anyway, but he was far from the only one.

Three members of a group-day foursome made the cut, as Rudy Cardenas, Chris Sligh and Blake Lewis made up a full 25 percent of the semifinalist field. Sligh, who looks a little like Jack Osbourne, walked into the star chamber and said “You guys are probably wondering why I called this meeting today.”  That jokester attitude hasn’t scared off the terrible trio yet, and it served him well again here.

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Lewis is notable primarily for his constant beatboxing. Next season, when the judges are treated to an endless array of unconventional singers encouraged by this example, they’ll have to admit that they brought it on themselves by virtue of this decision.

Paul Kim did everything barefoot and wore the same pair of underwear every cut day. No word on whether they’re boxers or briefs, or if they’ve been washed. He advanced in what the judges called a split decision.

Nicholas Pedro quit in Hollywood last year, got a second chance this time around, and made the most of it by getting into the semifinals. AJ Tabaldo had him beat: This was his fifth time auditioning, and it paid off. Phil Stacey missed the birth of his daughter to audition in Memphis and likewise had it pay off — a fine example for young men on Valentine’s Day.

Then there were the more traditional selections. Brandon Rogers moved from singing backup for Anastacia and Christina Aguilera to his own role on the “Idol” center stage. Chris Richardson was compared to Justin Timberlake in New York, and since Timberlake sells a lot of records, it’s no shock that Richardson will get the chance to sell himself to the voters. Jared Cotter hasn’t gotten as much publicity, so he’ll have to make an early impression next week.

Remember what’s-her-name? She made it!The women who advanced were also familiar faces, though a lot were of the “oh, yeah, it’s what’s-her-name” variety.

Gina Glocksen got a fair amount of airtime in season five, and a ton in the Hollywood round this season, and she was a no-brainer selection into the final 12. New Jersey’s Antonella Barba has seemingly had her entire “Idol” experience thus far hit the airwaves, and became the last of the dozen picked. But the rest were either last seen in their original auditions or hadn’t been seen at all before Wednesday.

Melinda Doolitte said she’d been a backup singer for more prominent musicians her whole life, but Simon told her to aim higher. “You’re good enough to stand in front of the stage,” he said as he gave her the good news.

He had different advice for Alaina Alexander — featured in the L.A. episode and then forgotten about. “Blow your nose,” he said, after Alexander sobbed in relief at the news that her last chance at making it in music would continue into the semifinals.

Single mother Lakisha Jones sounds like an even more powerful version of season five finalist Mandisa, at least from the brief clips shown in her initial audition and in Hollywood. San Antonio auditioner Haley Scarnato became the latest to go from wedding-band singer to “Idol” notable. Simon wasn’t terribly impressed with 16-year-old Jordin Sparks in Seattle and didn’t seemed wowed by her in Hollywood either, but apparently his vote was outweighed by Randy and Paula, because she advanced as well.

Nicole Tranquillo, Sabrina Sloan, Amy Krebs, Leslie Hunt and Stephanie Edwards had barely been seen before Wednesday’s show. Though they advanced to the semifinals, they’ll have to build a fanbase in a hurry.

Few shockers among rejectedOnly 16 singers got rejected, and though it had to be painful to come so close only to fall short, most viewers probably didn’t feel much in the way of pangs of sorrow.

Tami Gosnell got some airtime in the Feb. 7 “best of the rest” episode, but probably not enough to acquire a devoted fanbase. Matt Buckstein got more airtime in Hollywood last year than he did this time around, while Anna Kearns was mostly notable because she was very, very tall.

Tatiana McConnico was the star of Birmingham, while Thomas Daniels was the best in Seattle, but neither did enough after that to cement their spots.

And that was pretty much it. Most of the rest won’t even have the consolation of having a lot of footage to show their grandchildren someday, as they tell them how close they came to being one of the final 24.

Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C.