Michael Becker/FOX
February 10, 2010 12:00 AM

Hollywood week started with Ellen DeGeneres’s first night as a judge. It was so strange to watch her turning moment by moment into Paula Abdul — giggling, slipping eye-catching bracelets onto her wrists, making strange disconnected comments.

That was just my sick fantasy.

In fact, she was the Ellen we already know: funny and sharp, but never too funny or too sharp.

Her first critical judgment on camera told you all you need to know. Skiiboski, the dude with the perplexing name, was more sudbued and polished than in auditions, but he still couldn’t stop prowling the stage. “You frighten me,” she told him. “You were like a leopard behind a cage.” She also made the absurd yet fundamentally true observation: “Sexy and scary — it’s a fine line.” He was out, but he seemed to leave in a pretty good mood.

Even when Ellen seemed to be indulging in a little sadistic humor, making four singers move back and forth and to the side before telling them their fate, it was only to let all four through.

Fireworks with Simon? No. Mostly she observed, made marginal comments and put on glasses to scrutinize her notes.

The strongest performers included:

Andrew Garcia. He sang an acoustic, vaguely flamenco version of Abdul’s “Straight Up” — that got Randy laughing. Kara called the performance “genius.”

Lilly Scott. Identified as a sandwich maker/musician, she delivered a fantastic cover of the jazz standard “Lullaby of Birdland.” Kara’s judgment: “Everything about you is refreshing.” Yes, but what about those sandwiches?

Michael “Big Mike” Lynche, the massive personal trainer. He proceeded on to the next round despite (or because of) the pressure of his pregnant wife feeling contractions back home. “It’s a good day,” said Simon.

Also succeeding, for now: Casey James, who took off his shirt for Kara during his audition and sounds like Chris Daughtry (with a blond ponytail). He got through with a solid blues-guitar number.

Tim Urban. He sang a David Cook number in the manner of Kris Allen while looking like John Denver. Well, why not?

Didi Benami performed Kara’s “Terrified” and, amazingly, impressed Simon with her song choice.

Haely Vaughn, who in auditions said she wanted to be a black country pop star. She sang Taylor Swift’s “Change.”

And the Pat Benatar-esque Mary Powers, who could be the season’s obligatory rocker chick.

Out: Amedeo DiRocco, the big-hearted Italian-American guy. Jay Stone, the beatboxer. He sputtered helplessly into his microphone. Justin Williams, cancer survivor. Maddy Curtis, the 16-year-old with four Down syndrome brothers. Ah … and the DeSimone Sisters! Support each other in your hour of need!

I was saddest at the failure of Vanessa Wolfe — or, as Ryan described her, “the country girl who stole our hearts.” She had one of the most original voices during auditions, but she was undone by nerves. What made her departure even sadder was watching her drag her luggage down a hotel corridor over unappealing carpeting.

Anyway, thanks, Ellen. Smooth touchdown! –Tom Gliatto

Michael Becker/FOX

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