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American Idol: James Durbin, Casey Abrams Lead Top 12 Men

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Michael Becker/FOX (2)

And so the grand Idol wheel gains momentum, moving to the big stage. The top 12 men performed Tuesday (picking their own songs), with the top 12 women to sing on Wednesday. Out of them will come, on Thursday, the top 10, plus the judges’ wild card picks.

Let’s just say there may have been ups and downs, but definitely no Sanjayas. This is a slick crowd!

And most of them have arrived with their styles defined, and the judges inclined to praise – maybe overpraise? – the hopeful singers. Then again, how much does any of these three opinions influence viewer voting? Maybe too much sugar from Jennifer Lopez is no better or worse than too much vinegar from Simon Cowell.

Here are my top five to move on:

QUIZ: Are You an Idol All-Star?

James Durbin has the most powerful rock voice since Adam Lambert, only with less costuming – though he was wearing some sort of raggedy fabric tail. He roared along from peak to peak with absolutely no effort on Judas Priest’s “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’.” Steven Tyler praised him excitably with a bleeped-out string of what is now known as the “Melissa Leo word.”

Scotty McCreery, whose so-called comfort zone has been apparent from his audition, sang John Michael Montgomery’s “Letters From Home” in loping hound-dog moans that won over the judges. “You’re born to sing country music,” Jennifer said. This is true.

Jacob Lusk performed the classic weepy ballad “A House Is Not a Home” with lots of buttery trills, prompting Steven to put his hand to his forehead as if on the verge of swooning. Steven said Jacob’s presence was “divine intervention,” and Jennifer tearfully compared him to the late Luther Vandross, who also used to sing the song.

Casey Abrams growled and yowled his way through “I Put a Spell on You,” ending on a surprise soft note. I don’t really like his delivery – the voice seems to be coming out of the wrong person – but at least it’s his own, and he doesn’t stumble. “You’re sexy,” said Jennifer. “You’re going to redefine this whole thing.” Randy apparently agreed: “More, more, more – yes, yes, yes!”

Stefano Langone has arguably the purest pop voice in this group – high, purring and smooth, like a top-of-the-line kitchen appliance. “You’re a beast up there,” Jennifer said after he sang Bruno Mars’s “Just the Way You Are.”

And beyond:

Paul McDonald, who’s the polar opposite of James Durbin, sang a soft, woolly cover of the classic “Maggie May,” prompting each judge to salute him for his uniqueness. “I love somebody who smiles while they’re singing,” Jennifer said. Luckily, he hadn’t chosen to perform “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd.”

Clint Jun Gambao, who kicked the night off with “Superstition,” was confidently fiery and seemed to be enjoying himself (although from my special Idol chaise at home, his voice sounded sometimes as if it were being swallowed up by the band). “Beautiful,” Steven said. “Brilliant.” No disagreement from Jennifer or Randy.

Jovany Barreto, the singing shipbuilder, is apparently a romantic crooner, delivering a heartfelt “I’ll Be.” “Holy shipyards,” exclaimed Steven, who like Jennifer was quite impressed. Less so, Randy: “I didn’t really get it,” he said, using the dreaded phrase “very karaoke” in describing the performance.

Robbie Rosen sang a mushy, treacly cover of Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel,” but Jennifer and Steven both liked it. Randy, now that he’s in what was Simon’s spot, tends to be the dissenter, although he expresses himself without Cowellian irony or sarcasm. “I kinda differ with my cohorts,” he said. Oh.

Brett Loewenstern took on the extremely tricky “Light My Fire,” although it looked as if most of the pyrotechnics were in his flaming red hair. “That was more hair-tossing than me and Beyoncé put together in the past ten years,” Jennifer said. But the judges enjoyed him, and you had to agree with Randy, who called him “bold” and “fun.”

Jordan Dorsey didn’t seem to really have a groove to settle into on Usher’s “OMG,” skittering from style to style. The judges were uniformly disappointed: “Is that who you want to be as an artist?” asked Jennifer, who thinks his strong point is soft R&B.

And it was hard to say what Tim Halperin was trying to do, exactly, with Rob Thomas’s “Streetcorner Symphony.” His voice was reduced to a sharp wedge. He sounded like Van Morrison woken up from a nap. “I’ve heard you sing so much better,” Steven said.

Again, Tuesday the top 12 women takle the big stage (8 p.m. ET) on Fox.

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