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‘American Idol’ Final 24: Which One Makes It — Jacee, Brett, Colton?

And someone wasn’t happy about her birthday present; now let the games begin!

If you’re familiar with the phrase “most dramatic rose ceremony ever,” you’re probably already hip to the fact that reality shows are very fond of the literary device known as hyperbole. So when Randy continually referred to this season’s candidates as “the most talented group ever,” it was difficult to take him seriously, dawg.

I have to say, though, as the remaining hopefuls catwalked through the airport hangar one by one to learn their fates, it dawned on me that this season may actually live up to the hype.

How else would you explain the fact that prodigies like Hollie Cavanagh and Deandre Brackensick were given the boot on Wednesday’s episode? And need I mention the Chris Medina incident? The competition had to be really hot for J. Lo to allow that to happen.

Unlike Wednesday’s dramatic cliffhanger episode, though, Thursday lacked in the “Idol Shocker” department.  For the most part, this season’s editing has not allowed us to waste our energy on contestants who wouldn’t be around for long. Do the names Brittany Mazur and Jimmie Allen ring a bell?

Didn’t think so.

How about Tiwan Strong or Erin Kelly (not to be confused with last season’s Aaron Kelly)? It is almost comical when Seacrest mentions that these hopefuls haven’t made the cut because it feels like this is the first time we’ve ever seen some of them.

We hadn’t seen blonde barmaid Jackie Wilson in so long that I just assumed the 28-year-old had met her demise somewhere between Hollywood and Vegas. Turns out she just wasn’t worth the film. The judges told her that though she started off strong, she fizzled out. It didn’t help that she committed two “Idol” sins during her final solo performance: attempting Kelly Clarkson and forgetting the words. When Lopez delivered her fate, she replied with a “Why?” bordering on insolent.

As for cowboy John Wayne Schulz, 22, his rejection could perhaps be best channeled into a country song. All he needs to do is lose his truck, his dog and get drunk. Carrie Underwood aside, country music seems to be the easiest platform for Idols who aren’t quite worthy of idolatry. (See: Josh Gracin, Phil Stacy, Bucky Covington.)

But it would be a huge mistake not to have a contestant who appeals to the red states. Enter 17-year-old Scotty McCreery to save the day. Sure, he didn’t stand up for Jacee, forgot the words during Hollywood Week and seems to have a repertoire consisting exclusively of Josh Turner songs.

But the kid has a unique country sound that the judges could not overlook. Endearing himself by owning up to his behavior regarding the Jacee melodrama, he apologized for “not being the man he should’ve been.” Then he admitted that he went back to his room and cried. (Again, the makings of a new country hit!)

Another contestant whose behavior was called into question was Jordan Dorsey, 21. You may remember him as the “picky piano teacher” who literally circled the auditorium auditioning singers (including McCreery) for his group in Hollywood. “I’m confident. I’m aggressive. I like to get things done in perfection.” Though Randy questioned his behavior, the judges rewarded his shrewdness and his talent by naming him as a Top 24 finalist.

Joining him there is his former Hollywood group member Lauren Turner, 24. This cleaning lady may not be happy to find Dorsey in the Top 24, as he left their group for something better. 

That “something better” included 17-year-old Robbie Rosen, whose final solo performance of “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” was light on the accompaniment but heavy on the talent. Steven gave him a “yes” before Lopez lauded him as “one of the best singers we have.” Again, not hyperbole.

Keeping the superlative theme going, Jacob Lusk, 23, earned more than just a “yes” from the judges. Referring to one of his Hollywood Week performances, Randy said, “Your performance of ‘God Bless The Child’, I think, is the single best performance EVER on ‘Idol.’ Ever! EVER!”

While Lusk melted into a loud wailing “collapse cry” after that performance, this time he couldn’t control his giddiness. As he ran out of the hangar doing what looked like a Navajo rain dance, he encountered Seacrest and proceeded to pick him up and twirl him about. Priceless. Yes, his oversinging can be ridiculous at times, but he is nothing if not entertaining.

Not to be outdone, Casey Abrams also earned mad props from Randy. “I don’t think we’ve ever had a musician as talented as yourself,” declared the Dawg. It’s true, it takes a real musician to do justice to a song that is often associated with Jessica Rabbit. Abrams was so overwhelmed by making into the Top 24 that he knocked his chair off the stage. And to think, all he really wanted was an excuse to hug Jennifer Lopez.

Vegas standouts Tim Halperin, 23, (“Something”) and Kendra Chantelle, 21, (“Blackbird”) also made the cut. Both have been given similar feedback from the judges — open up, show us who you are as an artist. Halperin made a valiant effort by performing an original song for his final solo but Chantelle may need to branch out a bit. “There’s things you haven’t heard me do yet,” she stated. Well, “Fallin’” by Alicia Keys isn’t one of them.

Also trying his hand at an original song was Stefano Langone, 21, who accompanied himself on piano. The risk paid off. Though Lopez used her acting skills to try to fake him out, eventually she got around to welcoming him to the Top 24. Jovany Barreto, 22, was also a victim of the Lopez fakeout before learning of his fate as a Top 24 finalist.

Falling under the “was there ever a doubt?” category were judges’ favorites Julie Zorrilla, 19, and Lauren Alaina, 16. As Zorrilla donned one of her cute signature dresses complete with a crinoline, Lopez advised her that they wanted to feel more of an emotional connection with her. Then J. Lo made her misty romantic comedy face and it looked like she was on the verge of another breakdown. But, no! It was another display of her acting skills! Zorrilla will live to sing another day.

Alaina was also clad in crinolines. And sequins. And pink cowboy boots. Yes, all at the same time. This time it was Steven who tried his hand at the fakeout, saying, “I’m just not sure how you’re gonna be able to handle it in the big time … since you’re goin’ through, girl.” Guess we can cross county princess off the list.

Falling into no discernible genre was 21-year-old Rachel Zevita, who performed Lady Gaga’s “Speechless.” Her vocals took many unexpected turns and her fashion sense made Alaina look like Michael Kors, yet she was overly concerned with what the audience and judges expected of her. J. Lo told her that they just wanted her to be herself before giving her the good news. Perhaps we can get Jimmy Iovine to mentor her on wardrobe.

Tatynisa Wilson, 20, and Karen Rodriguez, 21, also made the cut despite inconsistencies throughout the process. While Wilson, much like McCreery, butchered the lyrics to “I Hope You Dance” during Hollywood Week, her voice was one to be reckoned with. The judges progressed her to the Top 24, despite J. Lo’s empty warnings that “on this show, it’s about not having a bad day”

Rodriguez, who looks like she could be J. Lo’s spunky little sister, has always been a favorite of the diva. (Could it be that she performed “If You Had My Love?”) The other judges, however, weren’t so sure, as she seemed to “disappear” in the middle of the process.  Proving her J. Love yet again with Selena’s “No Me Queda Mas,” she earned a spot as a finalist.

Joining her will be her high school classmate Pia Toscano, 21, whose rendition of Alicia Keys’ “Doesn’t Mean Anything” garnered the 11th female spot.

So who would be the twelfth and final female? It came down to 15-year-old Thia Megia and Jessica Cunningham, 24, who were sent in to face the judges together. It didn’t take a math whiz to figure out this equation. No screen time equals no dice. While we’ve seen Megia through virtually every stage of the competition, Cunningham’s was yet another name and face that left me drawing a blank.

Adding to the pressure was the fact that it was Cunningham’s 25th birthday, which she made sure to tell the judges. Before they delivered the news, the panel encouraged the loser to come back and try again next year.  “This is my 7th time,” Cunningham shot back.

“Idol” Shocker! For one of the first times all season, the judges did not cave to the use of a sob story. Thia Megia was given the green light and Cunningham was let go. “Getting cut on my birthday is evil,” she fumed and gave the camera two middle fingers.

The judges were sad to let Cunningham go because she was “the only rocker in the whole competition,” but they obviously overlooked Adam Lambert soundalike James Durbin, 21. Though he didn’t impress with his Queen group number, he proved he could control his voice with his final solo, Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” If you enjoyed the screechfest of Season 8, then get ready for more because Durbin is a finalist.

The saddest part of the night came when three guys vied for the final male spot. Buddies Jacee Badeaux, 15, and Brett Loewenstern, 16, joined Colton Dixon, 18, in the hangar to hear the news. While Dixon had initially gotten lost in the crowd, he recently made enough of impression to warrant Steven calling him “crazy good.”

Badeaux broke our hearts during the Group Round and endeared himself to viewers with his angelic voice and unassuming manner. But was he too unassuming and young to survive “Idol?” His final solo of Michael Jackson’s “Gone Too Soon” was pitchy and stage presence is not this kid’s strong suit.

Loewenstern, on the other hand, exudes the confidence of a much older, more experience artist. He even sang his own original song. And let’s not forget it was he who took little Jacee under his wing during the Group Round.

The judges assured the boys that they could come back as many times as they wanted and do really well, but in the end it was Brett who made it. Tears welled up in Jacee’s eyes yet again as he hugged Lopez.

Loewenstern offered up cheesy, yet sincere, words of comfort: “It doesn’t matter out of all three who made it because we’re all shining stars…..To be in the Top 40 out of hundreds and thousands of people we gotta give ourselves a round of applause.”

Indeed. Let the games begin.