The judge sobs after cutting a favorite contestant as the competition moves toward the top 24

By Tom Gliatto
February 24, 2011 08:35 AM

Wednesday night’s two-hour American Idol episode started with 61 contestants going to Vegas – and came to an abrupt halt back in L.A. As the judges winnowed down the singers to the top 24, Jennifer Lopez broke it to Chris Medina, a performer with a big burden of heartache, that he was out of the competition.

Chris dealt well with the rejection: He thanked the judges for the touching moment during auditions when they met with his wheelchair-bound fiancée, Juliana, who’d been hurt terribly in a car accident. Because of that opportunity, he said, “Juliana’s more popular than I am.”

Jennifer, on the other hand, suffered what Ryan Seacrest described as “an unprecedented meltdown.”

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Well, no, it wasn’t as histrionic as that, but she broke down in tears, over and over – from having to tell Chris bad news, in particular, but possibly from the strain of crushing the dreams of so many singers.

A viewer couldn’t help noticing, meanwhile, that the cable box indicated that the show’s two hours were up, and we didn’t know much at this point beyond the fact that Clint Jun Gamboa was in, and so were the striking Naima Adedapo and the Cat Stevens-like Paul McDonald. As Steven Tyler and Randy Jackson consoled Jennifer, telling her she’d been considerate and couldn’t fault herself, Ryan was wondering aloud whether they’d have to carry on without her. At that point the screen gave way to this message: “To Be Continued.”

I’d say it was a bizarre night.

The first hour, in which those initial 61 contestants were reduced to 40, saw everyone bused to Las Vegas to pool once more into groups to sing the Beatles. In a free moment before going onstage to perform a duet of “We Can Work It Out” with Sophia Shorai, Ashley Sullivan ducked out and came back Ashley Suraiva. She married her boyfriend, David, in the same chapel where Britney Spears tied the knot in 2004. “You’re going through with it,” Ashley told her husband-to-be on the way to the chapel, “or I’ll kill you in your sleep.”

Then Mrs. Suraiva sang, and not too well. “It was not hot today,” Randy said in heavy tones. Or as Steven put it, “Yikes.” She was among the singers cut.

And yet Ashley, whose sobbing storms would once have made Jennifer look like a stoic, didn’t seem all that upset. She was still in a happy honeymoon daze. Good for her.

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The Beatles portion proved again that this could be a bumper crop of Idol talent. As in Idols past, many of these singers are too young to know much of the Beatles’ catalog. So we always get a lot of “The Long and Winding Road” and no “Happiness Is a Warm Gun.” But their interpretations of the standards were often surprisingly fresh.

One of the few weak performances, in fact, was Chris Medina’s duo with Casey Abrams of “A Hard Days Night.” They were dressed as the Blues Brothers and bouncing around on a prop bed. But Chris’s character and his personal story made for some genuinely verklempt moments. So long.

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