Having flashbacks to the reject special?
I'm not sure who the 32 best singers in America actually are, but it's clear that John Preator, Heather Piccinini, and Lisa Wilson are not -- and never will be -- among them. After last week's promising round of semifinalists, Tuesday night's ''American Idol'' was dragged down by three performers who belonged alongside Scat Girl on Monday night's reject special.
What was especially alarming was that all three were among the cockiest of the eight performers (don't worry, we'll get to the other five). ''I want America to see the passion I have for music,'' vowed the ample-foreheaded John Preator, before unleashing his tuneless, sheep-like vibrato on the already unbearable Michael Bolton tune ''That's What Love Is All About.'' Someone call George W. Bush: I think we've found a weapon of mass destruction.
The de-blondified Heather Piccinini displayed a slightly greater ability to discern pitches, but she paired that with an utter lack of taste. Randy compared her hopelessly tacky, grimacing, spastic-dancing rendition of ''New Attitude'' to a hotel-bar performance, but he was being kind. It was more like a junior-high talent-show performance -- a losing one. The best part was when Heather responded to Simon's criticism of her unattractive facial expressions by -- you guessed it -- making yet another ugly face.
Busty, coasting-on-her-looks Lisa Wilson was at least amusing in her preperformance video -- she must be the only performer to actually drop down to the floor and hump the ''American Idol'' logo. Then came a cataclysmic version of Melissa Etheridge's ''Come to My Window'' that wasn't so much (as she put it) ''stepping out of the box'' as it was plunging over the cliff. Smirking, pouting, and strutting her way through a stream of shouted wrong notes, Lisa at least gave Randy one of his funniest moments. ''How do you think you did?'' he asked, deadpan. ''Was this a good song choice for you, do you think?''
Aside from those three embarrassments, Tuesday's performances ranged from mediocre to almost impressive. Susie Vulaca sang every note of ''Unbreak My Heart'' perfectly, but managed to be boring in the process -- I'm already forgetting which one she was. And despite Paula and Randy's praise, Simon was right about Tiara Purifoy: Her version of ''I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)'' was a screechy, overblown mess that poorly served her obvious vocal talents.
17-year-old Jasmine Trias' combination of girl-next-door humility with formidable, if generic, Mariah-style vocal chops is obviously reminiscent of Kelly Clarkson, and she will undoubtedly join the final 10. She could even win. But there's a fine line between sweet and saccharine, and Trias could cross it -- especially if she keeps flashing that ''hang-loose'' sign at every camera she sees. We get it, you're from Hawaii.
Meanwhile, both George Huff and John Stevens displayed charm and unique vocal styles, but neither really shined. I wasn't sure if Huff's hoarseness is part of his act, or a symptom of a bad cold. And while Stevens transcended the Rat Pack with a pleasant-enough version of Billy Joel's ''She's Always a Woman'' (which, in the whitebread bizarro world of ''Idol,'' almost felt like alt-rock), the performance never ignited. Still, the 'tween vote may push Stevens forward, if the shrieks that greeted his arrival are any clue.
Finally, a note to ''Idol'''s producers: Congratulations on shelling out for an actual band. Now how about ditching the $10 karaoke-bar video displays -- crashing waves, floating clouds -- behind the singers?