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American Idol: It's a Man's Man's Man's World

Word broke Tuesday afternoon that this week's American Idol contest eps would be flipped, with the guys going first and then the girls following on Wednesday. The reversal of the standard girls-first set-up happened because Crystal Bowersox -- the blond, bluesy, Carole Kingish girl who plays guitar and harmonica and is one of the few recognizably human contestants in the show's history -- had some kind of undisclosed medical issue (on air, Ryan would only say she'd gone to the hospital and was under "doctor's orders" not to perform, and to let her perform at full strength, the producers switched the performance line-ups.

Just to be howlingly clear: She's sick, but instead of having to tough it out, the entire show is reorganized around her. If she doesn't wind up in the finals, I'll be shocked. Voters like her, the judges think she has talent, and I have every faith that the producers are willing to augment viewer votes with their own personal discretion to ensure they get the group they want. (In my mind, Idol is like Quiz Show with less Rob Morrow.)

As for last night's guys: I'm still shocked that they're only cutting two at a time. Based on their performances the first couple weeks, the challenge isn't deciding who to eliminate, it's figuring out who to keep. Whoever sticks around again this week will surely be the least terrible, not the most deserving. Aside from a couple bright moments, the entire episode was unbearable. I found myself unable to feel like I was back at Backstage, my favorite karaoke bar in Los Angeles. Sure, every now and again someone would do better than you'd expect on a song, but that still didn't make them worth more of your time than three minutes and glances between drinks. And most of the singers were worse. Idol was like that Tuesday, just a run-on of karaoke performances with no soul and nothing worth remembering except to recall how disappointing they'd been.

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The only highlight? Big Mike kicked off the evening with "It's a Man's Man's Man's World," and he howled that James Brown like his life depended on it. It was a huge step up from the Jason Mrazish guitar pop he'd done the first week, and the judges were rightly taken with his transition from average pop singer to talented R&B performer.

Everyone else landed on a spectrum between regrettable and embarrassing. Jermaine's melismas were ludicrous, as was his defense that that's how he does it at church. Todrick has the same problem with his bizarre reimagining of "What's Love Got to Do With It," too. Even Casey, the aspiring bluesman from outside Dallas, ignored the vocal aspect of his Gavin DeGraw cover to focus on guitar skills that felt only a step or two above "Rock Band."

That's, really, the problem: Even with what Simon referred to as "billions of songs" to choose from, these chuckers pick the lamest tunes imaginable recorded by neo-warblers most people need to Google. If you've got four judges and 20 million people watching, do you really avail yourself of "Come on Get Higher" by Matt Nathanson? No, no you do not. Would it kill these guys to think outside the box when it comes to late-century stuff? Indie pop, alt-country, whatever; if you have to go down, do it with Sufjan Stevens instead of Fall Out Boy.

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