As always, some blossomed and some disappointed beyond belief as American Idol kicked off the viewers' choice portion of the competition.
Unfortunately for those who tanked, only three of the dozen hopefuls who tried out in front of America for the first time Tuesday get to automatically move into Idol's vaunted Top 12. (Same will go for the next two groups of 12 set to perform over the next two weeks, while the fourth-highest vote getter for each night will compete along with a few judges' picks in a Wild Card sing-off March 5 for entrée into the finals.)
With the ante upped (and with their families waiting in the wings with Ryan Seacrest so that they could immediately be cornered once the judges had spoken their piece) six guys and six girls either shined or managed to make the same mistake that has been plaguing Idol contestants since day one—bad song choice.
Here's a recap of what we heard tonight:
• Jackie Tohn: The audition-round favorite, channeling a biker-chic Minnie Mouse in satin black leggings and a polka-dot tube top, started it all off with Elvis Presley's "A Little Less Conversation." A bit gimmicky, proclaimed Simon Cowell of the performance, which was heavy on entergy and sadly light in terms of vocal prowess. Not to mention, she went first, so only her real fans are going to remember her, for better or for worse.
• Ricky Braddy: The handsome Tennessean, so far flying under the radar this season, can really sing, as evidenced by his textbook take on Donny Hathaway's "A Song for You." But again, he sang so early in the night that it's hard to say whether that was a Top 3 performance.
• Alexis Grace: According to Randy Jackson, season eight really began when Grace, 21, harkened back to a bluesy, jazzy place with Aretha Franklin's "I Never Loved a Man." It had some screechy moments, but overall—quite sexy. And different, which may have been the key tonight.
• Brent Keith: The low-key Ohioan proved he doesn't wanna be a pop star per se by going for the twang with Jason Aldean's "Hicktown." Simon questioned whether he made any impact with that tune, but Keith appeared confident that country fans wouldn't soon forget him. It might help that voters might not want to forget his fresh-scrubbed Midwestern good looks.
• Stevie Wright: So much promise when the 16-year-old who claimed Stevie Nicks asa namesake walked into her Phoenix audition. So much disappointment when she butchered Taylor Swift's "You Belong With Me." Reminder: If it's been on the charts within the last few months, you've got to nail it. Three out of four judges blamed her song choice. Simon told her to be glad she picked up a modicum of experience. Sorry, Stevie.
• Anoop Desai: The very likeable early-round favorite sounded very nice...but again, was he memorable enough to rise above nine others? He gender-bent Monica's "Angel of Mine," so it was interesting, but his Idol future pretty much depends on the bond he's already formed with the fans.
• Casey Carlson: Another one bites the dust. The 20-year-old cutie looked absolutely great—don't worry, Paula Abdul made sure to point out how hot she is—but her rendition of the Police's "Every Little Thing [S]he Does Is Magic" was weak sauce. The perfect package the judges once assumed she had just got lost in transit.
• Michael Sarver: "We've heard a lot worse," Simon reasoned after Sarver crooned the Gavin McGraw standard "I Don't Wanna Be." With their similar looks and sounds, we don't see both him and Brent Keith making it through.
• Anne Marie Boskovich: She turned in one crystal-clear tune after another during Hollywood week, but the 22-year-old got a little ahead of herself tonight by going with Aretha's "Natural Woman." She's gorgeous, but she just didn't have the soul.
• Stephen Fowler: Figuring he couldn't have anywhere to go but up after flubbing the lyrics twice during his final Hollywood solo, the 26-year-old musician was sorely disappointed. Simon said that he wished Fowler had forgotten the words to "Rock With You," while Paula pointed out that the '80s standard belongs to Michael Jackson alone.
• Tatiana Del Toro: Well, we'll be a barrel of monkeys' uncles. The drama queen was alright, especially when considered alongside some of the night's previous flameouts. We slapped our foreheads when she started in on Whitney Houston's "Saving All My Love for You"—remind us if Whitney has ever been a good idea in this competition—but she managed to power through. And then she didn't say a whole lot afterward, which helped (although the judges tried their best to raise her freak flag). Del Toro was, of course, the only contestant to remind voters afteward that she needs them to help live her dream.
• Danny Gokey: You would have thought the front-runner's performance of Mariah Carey's "Hero" heralded the Second Coming the way Paula, Randy and Kara DioGuardi carried on. Admittedly, it was the most pleasing performance of the night and he's a near shoo-in for Top 12 status. But it was no "Hemorrhage" as performed by Chris Daughtry.
Only three—the top guy, the top girl and the next-highest vote getter regardless of sex—will find out that they're safe on Wednesday's live results show, while the fourth-place finisher will have a long time to think about song selection before March 5.