March 03, 2010 12:00 AM

Last-minute change of plans: The top 10 men sang instead of the women — Crystal Bowersox had been sent to the hospital, but Seacrest didn’t say why. Instead he asked Ellen if she ever missed a show and she said, yes, American Gladiators and Bewitched. I like it when she delivers dippy little jokes. He then asked Simon which sex had the edge among the top 20, and Simon said it was the girls by “a smidge.”

Best of the night was Lee DeWyze, singing Hinder’s “Lips of an Angel.” I’m not sure if his rock-blues growl has a genuine kick to it, or if his style actually bores me silly, but he seems to understand how to carry a song from start to finish — possibly the only one of the guys who really does.

“I can hear you on the radio — right now,” said Kara. Simon told him, “You are head and shoulders” above the other guys, and may in fact “be the one to beat.”

The judges were also unanimously happy with Michael Lynche. He sang James Browns’s “This Is a Man’s World” to prove he was (in his words) “the main event” and not (Simon’s words) a mere intro act.

“I did not get it until tonight,” said Kara, calling him a potentially “great artist.” Simon said he’d gone from “a pussycat to a lion.”

Most improved: The very nervous Alex Lambert, who confessed that previously he’s thrown up before performing. He sang John Legend’s “Everyone Knows.” His voice has a soft, dry tone that’s actually quite pleasing — Kara described it as enviably “recordable.” Ellen, returning to her unripe banana image of last week, said it was as if that banana had been put in a paper bag and urged on to full, mature deliciousness. At some point, if he fails, she’ll say he slipped on the peel.

Casey James had his first misfire performing “I Don’t Wanna Be” by Gavin DeGraw, a song much covered by Idol contestants. Accompanying himself on electric guitar, he sounded unexpectedly rinky-dink. Even Kara, his self-confessed cougar fan, told him, “You took two steps backwards.” Simon agreed with her, saying he lacked rock grit.

“That hurt a little bit,” said Casey. Simon then made things worse, saying all he had in his voice was sand. Dirt, said Kara.

We also learned that Casey has a pre-performance ritual that involves peering into a cardboard box. I had horrible thoughts about Gwyneth Paltrow at the end of Se7en.

Andrew Garcia has one of the best voices, but his cover of James Morrison’s “You Give Me Something” was “pitchy all over the place,” said Randy, and generally more indicative, said Simon, of an inability to pick the right song to suit his talent.

Aaron Kelly’s “My Girl” sounded like a kid singing a song so old to him it could have been a hit during World War I. Randy and Ellen thought his confidence had grown. “I really liked it,” said Kara. “I like you.” Simon, though, thought the whole thing was old-fashioned — that Aaron had slipped.

Tim Urban may very well survive, despite his ho-hum vocals on Matt Nathanson’s “Come On Get Higher.”

Simon thought he sounded more relevant, more contemporary, than other performers. Ellen made the most interesting criticism, suggesting he has the looks to be an actor on a show like Glee.

You have to admire Todrick Hall’s willingness to take a risk. He went with Tina Turner’s signature hit “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” ditching his fancy Broadway dance moves.

Ellen actually got her first boos from the audience — she faulted the song choice, and wanted him to keep the dance moves, not drop them. Simon: “This is not working out at all.”

Probably in trouble: John Park, whose big voice has yet to find a song it can wrap itself around comfortably, and Jermaine Sellers, whose buttery-fluttery vocals weren’t right for Marvin Gaye‘s “What’s Going On.” –Tom Gliatto

Tell us: Who did you love? Who did you hate? Are the guys or the girls doing better? Michael Becker/PictureGroup(2)

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