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Let’s hear it for the boys

Male singers strut their stuff for the viewers on ‘American Idol.’ By Craig Berman.
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

With the preliminaries over and done with, “American Idol” moves onto the semifinals. First up were the guys on Monday night for a run of performances that proved heavy on ballads and karaoke tributes to Stevie Wonder. Tuesday night brings the women, and on Wednesday the two men and two women with the fewest votes get eliminated. This continues for two more weeks, until the show's down to 12 finalists or until the audience flips to the VCR and watches tapes of the “Idol” Christmas Special instead.

How the guys did:

Niko Smith, 22, Town & Country, Mo.: Started things off with "Part-time Lover" by Stevie Wonder, and sang it pretty well. Simon called it "background singers quality," and though the other judges liked it a lot, it wasn't particularly memorable. One thing's for sure — he looks exactly like his father, Baseball Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith.Grade: BStay or go? Going first probably didn't do Nikko Smith any favors, but the votes he lost by going on before some viewers had a chance to turn on their TV sets were probably offset by those from St. Louis with fond memories of his father. He'll make it to next week.

Scott Savol, 28, Shaker Heights, Ohio: Picking a slow and boring song wasn't what he needed to do here. "You Are My Lady" by Freddie Jackson is not something that's going to move the audience on its own, and his sales pitch didn't do him any favors either. Savol is trying as hard as he can, but he is going to have a hard time mustering the showmanship he'll need to make it very far. His voice has gotten him this far, but as Simon said it was very forgettable and tonight so was he.Grade: C-Stay or go? Savol's in real trouble. He's been featured heavily at every stage of the auditions, but going second didn't do him any favors and his song selection left a lot to be desired. He's a 50-50 shot, but might slide through based on the fact that a lot of people know him from all the airtime he got during the audition stage.

Anthony Fedorov, 19, Trevose, Pa.: Anthony sang "Hold On to the Night" by Richard Marx, which the judges all criticized for being too safe. Safe is probably good enough, though, particularly since he had the requisite plaintive looks and hand gestures to make all those Clay Aiken fans swoon.Grade: B-Stay or go? He's gotten so much airtime already that it's hard to imagine he doesn't have enough supporters for him to advance. It would be a tremendous upset if he wasn't back next week.

Bo Bice, 29, Helena, Ala.: "Drift Away" was the perfect selection for him, though the arrangement started at an odd place in the middle of the song. Still, it gave Bice the opportunity to clap his hand, play to the crowd … in other words, be the rock star that he's trying to portray. All three judges loved it, which may be key since he still hasn't had the chance to show much personality.Grade: B+Stay or go? Bice needed a good performance, since we haven't seen as much from him as we have from some of the others. But he came up big when it counted, and is likely safe.

Travis Tucker, 21, Manassas, Va.: "My Cheri Amour" by Stevie Wonder was a safe, though boring choice. Tucker definitely has the smile of an American Idol, but didn't stand out enough to make much of an impression.Grade: C+Stay or Go? Tucker didn't really do anything to distinguish himself. He'll need to do much better to make it to the finals, but will probably advance based on the smile and the personality.

Constantine Maroulis, 29, New York: He picked "Kiss From a Rose" by Seal, a tough song to sing but an opportunity to be a showman. He missed some of the notes, but didn't miss a chance to play to the crowd. Simon had it right on when he said that fellow rocker Bo Bice sang better, but that Constantine showed more personality.Grade: B-Stay or go? Much like Anthony Fedorov, it's hard to see this guy getting the boot so quickly. He'll benefit from all of his airtime during the auditions, and it's hard to seeing him being one of the two bottom-feeders this week.

David Brown, 20, New Orleans: David broke out the Jackson 5, and a little "Never Can Say Goodbye." It was an odd choice, and he didn't sing it all that well.Grade: CStay or go? A very blah performance on a night he really had to stand out leaves Brown very vulnerable. It would not be shocking at all if he got the boot.

Jared Yates, 18, Danville, Ill.: Jared was another in a run of very blah performances. Picking a slow song by 98 Degrees probably wasn't the best idea. Even though the boy band may fit the mold of American Idols, Jared didn't do a whole lot to show that he was a candidate to join them.Grade: C-Stay or go? Yates is going to need a whole lot of people voting on potential or past efforts rather than tonight's performance. He stands a good chance of being one of the two eliminated.

Anwar Robinson, 25, Elizabeth, N.J.: The music teacher showed his background, going deep into the past to belt out "Moon River." He did a solid job, and the judges all appreciated the song choice, but who knows whether the voters will appreciate someone singing a song they've never heard of? At least he knows that Paula wants to buy the recording of him singing it, so even if he gets voted off, that should be enough to buy a cup of coffee.Grade: C+Stay or Go? Robinson's definitely not one of the two worst singers, and has probably shown enough through the auditions to advance. But his status will likely depend on how many voters make their selection based on the judges' comments or past impressions.

Judd Harris, 27, New York: Broke out a little Elton John, which was the right call given the amount of soulful ballads elsewhere on the program. "Travellin' Band" woke the audience up, which means he stands a good chance of advancing. Simon predicted that a lot of girls would vote for him, but really all he needs a small portion of the TV audience that wants to have some acts that are more entertaining than ballads, even if it means a lesser voice.Grade: A- Stay or Go? Harris stood out because he sang something different, that made the crowd get up and dance a little bit, possibly including people at home on their sofas. He'll advance.

Joseph Murena, 26, Smithtown, New York: Murena set an "Idol" record, becoming the 4,000th person to sing "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You?" OK, that may be an exaggeration, and he played the audience well, but it was awfully dull.Grade: C+ Stay or go? Murena would probably be in bigger trouble if he'd gone earlier in the show, but at this stage of the competition it doesn't take a groundswell of support to keep hopefuls in the game, just enough to make a candidate the 10th highest finisher. He won't be in the top half, but probably will live to fight another week.

Mario Vazquez, 27, New York: Another Stevie Wonder fan, but by far the best entertainer of the night. Vazquez's rendition of "Do I do" had all three judges impressed, and was a nice way to finish a night that was a whole lot of "eh" and not much star quality. And of course, he's got that whole hat gimmick going for him.Grade: AStay or go? It would be a tremendous upset if Vazquez didn't advance. Given the amount of air time he's already had, the fawning judges' comments and the nice performance, he'll easily make it to next week.