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Is Norman Gentle ‘Idol's’ next Sanjaya?

Nick Mitchell's character got a huge crowd reaction and might be back, despite Simon Cowell's objections.
/ Source: contributor

“American Idol’s" second semifinal was a little better than the first, as the nerves didn’t seem as obvious and the bad performances weren’t quite as terrible. That will leave a lot of the singers who don’t make the finals a little bitter that they were placed in a group without the weak links that were apparent the first week.

Ironically, some of those who faltered were ones who started with an edge. With a couple of exceptions, the judges’ favorites didn’t get it done on Tuesday night, and have to hope that they made enough fans in the early weeks to compensate.

The special caseThe judges took a chance by putting Nick Mitchell into the final 36, and they might wind up paying for it. Mitchell again performed as the over-the-top comedy act he calls Norman Gentle, going all-in with the style that got him this far.

The performance was as crazy as advertised, complete with prancing around onstage and what Ryan Seacrest referred to delicately as getting to second base with the show’s logo. It looked at times like the worst audition since William Hung, and Simon Cowell appeared ready to jump on stage and remove Mitchell by force, saying “I hope I am speaking on behalf of America here when I say I pray you do not go through to the next round.”

He might not get his wish. Mitchell got a huge reaction from the crowd, got the other judges to smile, and, as Kara DioGuardi said, “At least we remember him.” He might not be a candidate to win, but he could easily emerge as this season’s Sanjaya if he left the viewers laughing.

The legitimate favorites Allison Iraheta didn’t show much in her pre-performance interview, which was Jason Castro-esque in its dullness. Fortunately for her, her stage performance was a lot more polished. She couldn’t say that she was singing “Alone” by Heart without it sounding mocking and self-deprecating, but she sang it like she owned it.

“This girl is serious,” Kara DioGuardi said, apparently having not heard any of her interviews.

Simon Cowell was a big fan as well. “You’re the best tonight by a clear mile," he said. "It was like the competition just started right now. What’s amazing is that you were so boring upstairs with Ryan, and then you started singing and you turned into a very different person.”

Adam Lambert could become the second consecutive male semifinalist to advance to the finals by closing the show with a flourish. He also became the first contestant ever to be compared to a vampire.

Randy Jackson loved Lambert’s “Satisfaction” and compared the singer to, among other pop culture figures, bloodsucker Edward Cullen from the "Twilight" books.

“It was a little bit manic but it was Mick Jagger. It should be manic,” he said.

“I’m watching the Adam Lambert concert. You’re in a league of your own, and you’re leaving some people in the rearview mirror,” Paula Abdul gushed.

Simon again made a sales pitch for one of his favorites, and Megan Joy Corkrey can only hope that it pays off as well for her as it did for Michael Sarver a week ago. The judges all thought she looked great, and she definitely had a fan in Paula Abdul, who ended her comment with “I heart you.”

"I hope that America votes for you," Simon said. "I just wish the vocals were a little better tonight.”

The contendersKris Allen sang a perfectly pleasant “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson, but may suffer in the voting because it wasn’t as memorable as Lambert’s performance or as unique as Mitchell’s. Apart from Kara, the judges all liked it, and Simon gave him props for showing some confidence and personality. That might make him a candidate for a wild-card spot if he doesn’t get in Wednesday night.

The judges were disappointed in 17-year-old Jasmine Murray, but she might do better in the voting than her voice would indicate. She got a lot of airtime in Hollywood, in part because she did the group sing with the infamous Bikini Girl, and was the only member of the foursome to advance.

But she didn’t shine opening the show with Sarah Bareillis’ “Love Song.” She had the attitude and the moves but, as Simon said, not the voice. “I think you’re a couple of years too early, but you’d be someone I’d be confident in for the future,” he said.

Dueling pianist Matt Giraud also has to hope that viewers remember his earlier performances more than they do this one. He went away from his instrument and the blues, instead choosing to sing Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida.” It wasn’t the right call, and he didn’t pull it off.

The longshots
Mishavonna Henson
seems like a typical teen in her interviews, but sounds a lot older on stage. Too old, in the eyes of the judges. Her version of Train’s “Drops of Jupiter” left Simon feeling cold and the rest of the judges feeling not much at all. “I haven’t shown them that side that I can loosen up, but I know I can,” Henson said afterwards. She probably didn’t convince the audience, but perhaps the judges will give her another chance as a wild-card.

Kai Kalama’s story about caring for his ill mother was one of the heartwarming tales of the audition, but after Kalama’s performance of “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?” he might be the one shedding the tears this week. It was old-fashioned and unmemorable, and made him sound more like a wedding singer than a pop star in waiting.

When the judges make a big production about complimenting someone’s legs, that’s an indication that their next move probably won’t be a similar platitude for that person’s voice. That was the story for Jeanine Vailes, who hasn’t gotten much airtime this season, and tried to make up for it with an over-the-top “This Love” by Maroon 5. She made a nice sales pitch for another chance, but it’s doubtful that enough fans of the show are going to buy it.

Jesse Langseth also decided to take a chance, after she was grudgingly put through as the sing-for-your-life winner. The single mom, sister of Grammy Award winner Jonny Lang, Langseth went with Kim Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes,” but didn’t get the reaction she was hoping for. “It was too cool for school, and I don’t see why anybody is going to jump on the phones and vote for you,” Simon said.

Every judge agreed that they liked Matt Breitzke personally, and that the welder’s story was compelling and his voice was good. Every judge also agreed that picking “If You Could Only See” by Tonic did not allow any of that to shine. Breitzke stood by his choice and said he wouldn’t have changed a thing, but he might not feel the same way when he’s onstage hearing Ryan tell him his fate on Wednesday.

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