(EW.com) -- Ryan Seacrest is revving up.
We're just one week away from the season 11 live shows, and he was running down a dream, itching to shout out his signature line, "This!" That's it. "This!" That's Ryan's calling card, ever since he stopped saying "Seacrest out." Weird.
Anyway, here's Ryan as he tiptoed down the scary "green mile" catwalk of "American Idol's" final judgement round. "THIS! is the path each contestant will take to meet their fate." It's a dramatic walk, but nothing can prepare them for THE DEADLY SMOKE MONSTER.
Or, as it turned out, our three judges. Especially J. Lo with her sparkly green "Stripper mermaid desperate to be cast on 'Dancing With the Stars'" dress. The look was appropriate, though, considering that last night's entire production -- set on the colorful Le Rêve stage on the Las Vegas Strip -- revolved around the premise that at any point, any sea creature or land lubber alike was this close to disappearing forever into a brilliantly hued pool of plasma.
And many of them did. We said goodbye to Lauren Gray, Blaire "Who?" Sieber, Naomi Gilles, Neco Starr, Clayton Farhat, River St. James, Caleb Johnson, and awful cowboy Richie Law. The plasma got 'em. It'll get us all in the end, if we ever decide to "make it to Vegas." It's just what happens.
The episode ended -- as so many do -- with an emotional cliffhanger involving new dad Adam Brock, who was sobbing heavily before the three Fates as they prolonged the announcement of his destiny.
After tonight's two-hour telecast, I can tell you only 14 of the top 24 moving on in the hopes of becoming America's Next Top Idol. The six guys and eight girls definitely singing for your votes next week are.....
Creighton Fraker -- It turns out this preacher man's adoptive son, who always felt out of place singing church music when all he wanted to do was ROCK, found his birth father and his real dad was the lead singer of a heavy metal band from the '80s called Flotsam and Jetsam. So that's cool! I'm surprised they didn't reveal this bejeweled nugget of info sooner. His dad looks like a more weathered cross between Josh Holloway and Kurt Cobain, which is perhaps the biggest piece of sacrilege s--- I've ever written on EW.com, and that is saying a lot. Creighton sang "New York State of Mind" surrounded by a molten lava moat to represent the rock and roll spirit he has been entitled to since birth. Did he croak at the end? On purpose?
Joshua Ledet -- Is EVERYONE the son of a preacher man? ("Yes. Yes they are," confirms EW.com correspondent Melinda Doolittle via Twitter.) What a world. I liked the softness he brought out at the end of his final solo, "Up to the Mountain," and also enjoyed his unintentional reference to the deadly pools of plasma surrounding the tributes' platform with the line "Some days I look down, afraid I will fall." Can I get a "Hallelujah?" The judges sure could, as Joshua strolled away on the smoky catwalk, shaking out his hands in delighted shock.
Reed Grimm -- We learned out of nowhere that his dad had died of pancreatic cancer in 2005. Sad face. Okay. Reed solidified his role as the season 11 weirdo with an energetic solo of "It Don't Mean a Thing" filled with scatting and more drum-playing. "Howdy ho!" he greeted the judges. Randy leveled with him: They want to make sure Reed can show his vocals off and not just his colorful character and random non-vocal skills. That said, he's through. And he's gonna dance around! Seacrest, by the way, seemed very excited to pull that curtain back for Reed. I think Mr. Grimm might be Ryan's fave. Then again, Ryan must get so bored in the holding cells sometimes, breathing in the shared plebeian air, fixing his hair in the same mirror as everyone's sweaty family members. I'm just glad he never got anywhere near the plasma.
Heejun Han -- Speaking of people sweating, the best line of the night was Heejun's response when Ryan asked "What are you sweating?" "MOSTLY WATER." (!!!!!!!!!!) We found out that Heejun has a history of depression and that the special needs kids he works with inspired him to try out for "Idol." That's certainly a lot at once, and I'm loving all of it. This kid wears his emotions on his sleeve and they emanate through his various beanies -- and his music! "New York State of Mind" took on much more meaning after we'd been reminded that Heejun's from Queens and gotten a little more of his backstory. That said, he's not technically the best singer of the bunch. The judges made it clear that they weren't selecting him for his voice. "You're a better star than you are a singer, so we're gonna put you through, pal," said Steven. This was very well put, very honest. That loon can be so spot-on and succinct sometimes. As Heejun wandered away, "Hey Jude" rang out in the background -- because "Hey Jude" kind of sounds like "Heejun," I guess. This is about 1 percent as funny as "Mostly water," which is still pretty funny.
Phil Phillips Jr. -- Heejun's new BFF, who picked him up in glee after Hey Jude's tender triumph, was up next. The Dave Matthews impersonator had struggled with forgetting some words during Hollywood Week, but his final solo of "Nice and Slow" was...well, that! Honestly I could not stop focusing on how often he lifted his left leg while singing -- tic check! -- but I can't say I found anything wrong with the actual vocal. His guitar definitely makes him a stronger contestant. I'm not sure he'd look or feel comfortable on one of Idol's cheesy theme nights with just his own body and voice to present. We shall see. Be-de-lee-bop-bop-wowwww.
Colton Dixon -- Excuse me, "'Idol' veteran Colton Dixon." Is it just me or are the producers being really heavy-handed in their mythologizing of Colton Dixon? The kid auditioned one season, didn't make it, and now he's back and there's a skunk living in his hair. What's the big deal? Let's also drop the sister storyline moving forward, okay? Schyler Dixon was never part of gargoyle overlord Nigel Lythgoe's master plan, and it's very obvious! And she certainly doesn't need Colton to "Fix Her" just because she didn't land the chance to become an "American Idol" pawn like her big bro. (I had no idea I was so annoyed by this guy or the show's presentation of him when I started this paragraph. Thanks for being my therapist, everyone! The guy has a pretty voice for sure.)
Jen Hirsh -- Her final solo of "Baby I Love You" didn't inspire as many ecstatic Steven Tyler head-snaps and wasn't filled with as many Paula Cole-esque sex sounds as her fantastic "Georgia On My Mind" solo, but it was still damn good. The judges want her to be less nervous out there. "Relax. We're your friends, kind of," said the magnanimous Randy Jackson.
Haley Johnson -- This one's a little infuriating, not because she sucks (she's great!) but because we didn't know much about Haley to begin with and the producers decided to not show us her final solo. Well, what the heck was it? We're told she "really began to shine" in Vegas during that fab group number with Elise, Eben, and Reed -- so her solo had to have been worthy as well. What gives? Anyway, she's a cute blondie with bangs and plenty of jangly jewelry that causes a ruckus whenever she moves, so obviously I love her.
Elise Testone -- Baby had the runs during her final solo, "This Is a Man's World," as she got down dirty in an amazing mustard leather frock. She sounded so growly and so good, and I was so fascinated by the way the abstract art museum around her positioned her at the center of a great big sun that I cheered out loud a little when she hit that sultry final low note. She got my hands off the keyboard. That is huge. The judges LOVED her explanation of the feeling she gets when she sings -- "After I'm done, for you, I feel like I'm going to explode." They just ate it up. Soaked up those rays of sunshine. I'm loving so many ladies so far!
Erika Van Pelt -- Here's another one! Everyone's favorite mobile DJ may have misfired (suggested The Voice of Ryan) with her final solo of Adele's "Don't You Remember." J. Lo was subtitled as she muttered "I don't like this for her," and I gotta say I agree with the lopes here. Erika sounded too exerted and echo-y, like an overachieving ghost, as she tried to match Adele. So J. Lo set Erika up for disappointment: "We had a lot of people who didn't do as amazing as we thought they were gonna do; unfortunately you were one of those people." That took her about 30 seconds to say but she may as well have been shining her boob emeralds and whining "blah blah blah guess what it's opposite day" the whole time because that is the gist of all these drawn-out word jumbles that mean and say NOTHING.
Chelsea Sorrell -- We haven't seen too much of her. The country singer messed up big time on her solo, "I Told You So" -- but Steven Tyler put a pin in that and had her start over. "You know what, baby? Hold on, you sing so good," he drawled/drooled. Steven later tormented Chelsea at the end of the Smoke Monster's runway -- I didn't think he had it in him! "I can tell by your demeanor out here, you already know what the answer is." But he didn't pause long enough to make it truly evil. "You're going through." Oh, my, this girl is a squeaker in person. She just kept squealing and squeaking and I wanted her to please leave the runway. For now that's what I find most memorable about her voice.
Baylie Brown -- Chelsea's "country counterpart" sang "Here Comes Goodbye" for her final solo -- a bold choice to perform in front of people hungry to latch onto any decent-ish reason to say goodbye to you. But no one's about to say goodbye to a leggy blonde twangler (new word, do you like it?) who speaks J. Lo's language by wearing a sequined short shift and commanding an extremely loving close-up shot for her last notes. The beginning of this performance sounded way too breathless and shaky for me, but I'm a fan of Baylie's so I'm glad to see more of her. I like that she waited five years to come back -- and then didn't pretend that she "wasn't there to audition" once she'd arrived at the convention center.
Jessica Sanchez -- Is there any sadder line from season 11 so far than "My mom is unemployed because of my music career"? Don't tell me! I don't want to hear it. This stage child is only 16, but sings well beyond her years with perfect pitch and an often annoyingly persistent vibrato. The editors showed all of her final solo, "The Prayer," just like they showed all of Jessica's group number, so they're clearly pushing her. I definitely like her voice (especially those high notes) but I'm getting a slight Thia Megia/robot vibe from her. I suspect she has more soul and fire than that, though. 16! Can you believe it? I never can.
Brielle Von Hugel -- Well, she certainly "has the moxie of a star," said Ryan, which -- based on all the footage we've seen of Brielle and her stage mom, Mrs. Von Huge Turd -- was a euphemism for "is a big brat." I wanted to like Brielle's final solo of "Killing Me Softly" but it felt like one massive, overwrought whine to me. At the end of the smokeway, Steven encouraged the 17-year-old. "Big bites. You're just eating this contest." I love that he brought food into it for no reason. Someone get this Hungry Man a giant plate of fruit -- and please make sure it blends well with the exquisite purples and yellows of his outfit.
What do you think of the 14 Yeses? Anyone else disappointed about Lauren Gray and Neco Starr? (That name!!!)
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