Idol Beat: The Final 36, Group 1

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Let the dividing and conquering commence! Here's how it works this year: dude and lass with the highest vote counts in each of the three sub-groups of 12 are in like Flynn, plus the next-highest vote-getter, regardless of gender. Once the "Top 9" are determined, there'll be some wild-card hoo-ha to settle on three additional finalists.

Some observations: - Ryan: "Say hello to the judges. It's starting to look like The View over here!" Touche.

Alexis Grace's got a sort of "tamed Molly Ringwald" thing happening, doesn't she? And she sings them blues like a woman who's lived 'em, leading Simon to trot out the highest form of Idol praise: a Kelly Clarkson comparison.

Simon on Jackie Tohn's overly hammy humping of Elvis classic "A Little Less Conversation": "You played the clown tonight." Just insufferable in every sense of the word, but beware: in Idol seasons past, viewers have gladly suffered fools greater than she.

Anoop's promise to bring the fury nightly a la his "My Perogrative" had me thinking he could be this year's Chikeze, albeit with a better voice - until he unleashed Monica's blah "Angel of Mine." Even in ballad mode, he was formidable. Paula, smitten: "You've got that Brian McKnight quality to your voice."

A Stone Temple Pilots-esque rip-through of Gavin Degraw's "I Don't Wanna Be"? Not a good look for white-soul dude Jeremy Michael Sarver.

Ricky Braddy's parents had dorktastic "The Braddy Bunch" tees made! Shamelessly snuck in a plug for their website! These are pretty much the only things anyone will remember about Braddy three months from now, when he's back home serving chicken fingers.

Presumably, Doogie Howser M.D. and Sam Malone are here because they didn't have anything better to do.

Stephen Fowler can't catch a break. He remembers all the words to the song he performs, but that song is Michael Jackson's "Rock With Me" - a disco-inflected classic he's not even remotely suited to and roundly ruins. Worse, there's no friends or loved ones awaiting him backstage; in this context, that's like being the last kid left waiting for his parents at daycare.

So supposedly Tatiana Del Toro spent Hollywood Week impersonating an escaped mental patient because she was beset on all sides by haters. She's probably got multiple-personality disorder; tonight's take on "I'm Saving All My Love For You" was too smolderingly composed to have eminated from the same unhinged psyche that so worked our nerves before.

What say we make book on who should be left standing on Wednesday night?

NO CHANCE! NO CHANCE IN HELL!: The Sarvernator, Stevie Wright, Stephen Fowler, Brent Keith, Casey Carlson.

STRANGER THINGS HAVE HAPPENED: Jackie Tohn, Ricky Braddy, Ann Marie Boskovich.

PROBABLY SAFE: Tatiana, Danny Gokey, Anoop, Alexis Grace.

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