[I skipped town for a little while on the ol' AI column because I'm generally pretty busy on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, and I just couldn't force myself to sit through 6 or 8 or however many hours of goofy audition bullshit. Plus those things are a pain in the ass to recap. Now that we're onto the Top 24, though, I'm back and equally as apathetic as ever.]

Okay, so, American Idol! Tonight we begin the most magical part of the season, when three nights a week are devoted to this wonderful show: Tuesday the boys sings, Wednesday the girls sing, Thursday we send home 2 boys and 2 girls until our Top 24 has been reduced to a Top 12. At that point we leave the comfy little arena (which is probably a non-demoninational church or something) of the Top 24 and head to the much larger, much scarier Top 12 stage, where dozens of thousands more fans with posters can fill the audience.

For now we're still safely in the church, though. Ryan looks sort of weird tonight, like he forgot his eyeliner or something. His eyes don't look right. Randy advises the boys to "keep it real," Paula makes fun of Randy for saying "dog" often, and Simon recommends that the boys sing well. Those judges of ours. Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em. Also it's 60s week, already. (Won't it be weird when we're far enough into the future to have to qualify it as 1960s?)

1. David Hernandez – 24 – Glendale, AZ – "In the Midnight Hour"
It's always awkward in the first couple of weeks before we really get a sense of how talented/ugly/much of a pussy everyone is. This guy, for example, strikes me as someone who probably sucks a lot, who convinces himself that he can stop sucking by saying that every criticism is a "challenge." If you get enough criticisms about a certain hobby of yours, does that "challenge" you to find something else to do? I am irritated by people who react to stimuli as if their thoughts are just reels of motivational poster slogans. Also this guy is a pretty middle-of-the-road singer. His voice is really smooth, which is good for this kind of music, but his last notes were really strained. People should stop singing in that loud screamy Whitney Houston way that seems to be so popular on this show. The boys especially need to stop. Randy liked him, Paula liked him, Simon liked him better than he expected to.

2. Chikezie – 22 – Inglewood, CA – "I'll Spend My Life With You"
First of all, I cannot abide someone who pretends to have only one name. Come on. Apart from that bit of ridiculousness, this is like if Carlton Banks was forced to wear the ugliest orange suit in the entire world: technically he's good at singing, but the performance is cheesy and he's wearing the ugliest orange suit in the entire world. It also sounds like it's not a natural way for him to be singing, like he's affecting his voice to be more "60s" or something. Also he tosses in some sort of ornamentation at the end of practically every phrase, so that's annoying. Randy proclaims it "alright," Paula thinks he looks great, Simon hates his suit.

3. David Cook – 25 – Blue Springs, MO – "Happy Together"
Pretty much every single thing about David Cook offends me. His hair is stupid looking, his face looks Canadian (which is weird to say, but he reminds me of at least 2.5 members of Kids in the Hall), he's unapologetically poseur-y, like, "Look at me, I'm so cool and hip! I'm just like one of you kids!" except that he acts like he's uncomfortable with himself and really insecure. His act annoys me. Also his performance annoyed me. It was like if you gave "Happy Together" one dose of placebo solution, but you told them it was steroids for part of a research project or something, and then the song thought it was crazy and badass and angry but really it was just a little bit excited. I'm pretty sure everyone has heard a "punk"/"emo"/"whatever the kids call it these days" version of this song before. 60s music is really well-suited to conversion to that genre because it has nice, steady rhythms which can easily be adapted into strings of eighth-notes.

Anyway, it wasn't even a particularly good cover, but Randy only ever listens to Celine Dion and Beyonce, so he had never heard "Happy Together" sung that way before, so he loved it. Neither had Simon, who also liked it. And obviously Paula loves everything ever.

4. Jason Yeager – 28 – Grand Prairie, TX – "Moon River"
Jason has a son, so he makes sure we know about him. Shut up about your kids, people. Kids don't make you a better singer. Nor does having been raised by a single mother, nor whether or not you were a crack baby, nor your webbed toes. People need to stop acting like Tyra Banks hosts this show.

This performance is cheesy as fuck. He's using a cabaret voice and short phrases, like it sounds like he's singing karaoke to "Moon River" as recorded by Mariah Carey and Babyface in 1993. It's really, really awful. This song is really simple, and it would be easy to do something nice and minimal, but he is cheesing it up. Randy says pitchy, Paula actually gives good advice, warning that the simpler the song is, the harder it is to stay on track with the pitch. Then she says that her first dance recital was to "Moon River," and Jason talks about his grandma for a couple minutes and is annoying, and then Simon jokes that he bought his first puppy while this song was playing, because it's so emotional for everyone. Also he hated it, because he is cool, like me. Also Jason's son looks like an alien.

5. Robbie Carrico – 26 – Melbourne, FL – "One is the Lonliest Number"
This is a pretty good performance, I think. It's nice and simple, but still not boring. Well, what he's doing is nice and simple and not boring. What the tech people are doing is inducing seizures all across America. The lighting is really stupid. And how weird is shit they project onto that screen behind the singers? So weird some of the time. And man, how lame are 60s songs? At least in the hands of these guys? The judges all like it, and Paula calls Robbie "authentic." That makes him sound like a minted coin or a pair of Levis or something. Like, the kid's white and he's wearing a chain to connect his wallet to his pants: He's lying to somebody somewhere along the line. Simon is concerned that perhaps Robbie is not quite as "rock n roll" as he dresses. I think that Simon gets really personally offended when "rockers" turn out to be more like "normal people who slightly favor rock over other genres." Stop pigeonholing the dude already.

6. David Archuleta – 17 – Murray, UT – "Shop Around"
When this kid talks, he sounds like my friend, Kyle, who in turn sound like the Stuart character from Mad TV. I'm not proud of any of that, but there we are. This kid is a really good singer, although the performance still isn't awesome, I think because the music sucks so much. I can tell he's giving this his all, and I guess it's good to get 60s week out of the way early, before it really counts too much, but still. The judges all love him, and he's really cute and super excited and bashful about it. He's like if last season's Melinda and Jordin combined into one young, racially ambiguous, talented, modest superstar.

7. Danny Noriega – 18 – Azusa, CA – "Jailhouse Rock"
Oh man this kid is sooooo gaaaaaaayyyyy! He looks like he's his own lesbian twin sister, it's just bizarre. The performance isn't super wonderful, but he looks like he's having a good time, and the kids definitely seem to be bringing it more than the older guys, at least in terms of enthusiasm (and gayness). Randy didn't really like it, Paula started some bullshit about colors that continued mercilessly throughout the rest of the night, and Simon thought it was just the absolute worst thing he'd ever heard in his life. Everyone argues a lot, and Danny makes weird Napoleon Dynamite faces that are not flattering at all. For someone so fierce, he seems to forget he's on camera in front of all of America.

8. Luke Menard – 29 – Crawfordsville, IN – "[I have no idea]"
I have never heard this song before. I think he's doing an okay job, but I have absolutely nothing to compare it to. Randy thought he was sharp the whole time, and Paula agrees, but still loves him, because he looks sort of like Orlando Bloom. Simon thinks it was forgettable. So is everything at this stage in the competition. That's the point. Everything sucks at this point.

9. Colton Berry – 18 – Staunton, VA – "Suspicious Minds"
Well, I thought that other kid was gay, but man… I don't mind gay people. Some of my favorite roommates have been gay. But this kid is gay and obnoxious and very pale. I guess let me put it this way: I don't hate gay people, I just hate theater people. It's the constant "Look at me! Look at me!" Jack Russel terrier attitude that gets on my nerves, and this kid has it in spades. The whole performance is like he's pretending he's in the middle of his college's best performance of "Nine" ever. Randy, like he does whenever he hears something that is too white for him to process, non-committally says he likes it. Paula and Simon both don't really like it very much. Simon says that Colton has no relevance, which ironically has no relevance for Colton. Simon must never have watched a cell phone commercial, or he would know that he needs to speak in acronyms to reach the kids these days. "Colton, wtf? u ftl. : ("

10. Garret Haley – 17 – Elida, OH – "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do"
I felt so horrible for this kid the whole time. First of all, his hair is straight 80s perm. If that's not authentic rock n roll, I don't know what is. He also looks like Bill S. Preston, Esq, so that's something else in his favor. Unfortunately he sings like someone has broken into his house and murdered his family, and is making him sing this song as part of a hostage tape, and Garret just has to stand there and sing into the camera, with a machete at his throat and the corpses of his relatives strewn on the floor around him, and their blood is starting to conjeal and make the floor sticky, so on top of having to sing a song he doesn't necessarily like on national telivision, his new shoes are pretty much ruined. That would be the only excuse for him sounding as timid as he does, unless someone cut off his balls just before he went on stage. The judges all tell him that he needs to man up and play outside some, but no attempts a very easy cowardly lion joke.

11. Jordan Castro – 20 – Rockwall, TX – "Daydream"
This is seriously awesome. He has his acoustic guitar and it's nice and simple and happy. You know that Miles Davis "Over the Rainbow" that was on the Finding Forrester soundtrack? It's like that. It's really seriously awesome. He has a couple of false notes sort of near the end, but overall he's probably the best of the night. It could seriously just go straight into a Claritin commercial right now. As soon as he's done singing, he gets all relieved/nervous in front of the judges, and Randy's like, "meh," and Paula's like, "yay!" and Simon's like, "You've got it. You and that other small kid." What they "have," I guess, is natural talent, whereas most of these people just really really really want it. They don't mess up because they don't get nervous when they're performing, because performing music is where they're at home. That sounds cheesy, but it's true for a very few people. The rest of these suckers just want the fame and the satisfaction that comes with saying, "I'm a music star."

12. Michael Johns – "29" – Buckhead, GA – "Light My Fire"
I thought it was pretty meh, but the judges were all just falling over themselves for a chance to fellate this dude. He's an okay singer. He reminds me of the lead singer for Creed a little bit. Paula likes him because he's handsome, Randy likes him because he senses that other people like him, and Simon likes him because he knows that fairly handsome man plus Australian accent plus singing = wet panties = $$$$

So you guys know the drill. That was the boys. So far it looks like younger boys > older boys, but we'll see what happens. Wednesday is girls, and Thursday we see who goes home this week.