The Tampa Bay area lost half its reason for cheering the semi-finalists on American Idol on Thursday, as Tampa resident Janell Wheeler found herself among the first four contestants cut from the show after the audience vote this week.
Wheeler joined Joe Munoz, Ashley Rodriguez and Tyler Grady in taking the long walk, surprising many Idol watchers who had other singers pegged as the worst performers. Local fans still have St. Petersburg-raised Michael Lynche to root for, however; he survived the cut, despite taking a few harsh criticisms from the show's judges after his performance Wednesday.
From the start, this season's edition of Idol has felt a bit off-balance, and not just because of new judge Ellen DeGeneres or the ultimately unfounded early rumors of Lynche's ejection. And the odd vibe continued into Thursday, where some singers survived, despite delivering some of the week's worst performances.
Tim Urban, a last-minute substitute for a disqualified contestant, who delivered a particularly awful rendition of One Republic's Apologize, looked more shocked than anyone when host Ryan Seacrest pronounced him safe. (Munoz, who got the hook instead, looked like he was dying to ask for a recount.)
Likewise, Texas church music teacher Lacey Brown should have disappeared for her shaky take on Stevie Nicks' Landslide. But it's useless to second-guess the will of viewers, who seemed to pick off two generic female singers and two of the more irritating guys.
It's as if the show is still finding its rhythm, weeks after its debut, readjusting with a jarring transition whenever the contest moves into a new phase.
So just when DeGeneres learns how to deal with her fellow judges during the pretaped Hollywood Round shows, she's thrown into Idol's live broadcasts, where producers never seem entirely sure when the camera will turn on or which judge is supposed to speak first.
At times, Simon Cowell seems disconnected to the point of insult, winking at his girlfriend in the audience and talking with the other judges whenever he thinks the camera isn't on him. Small wonder DeGeneres got herself seated as far away from the bratty Brit as possible, once the live shows started.
Of course, these are complaints that surface every year -— including the lament that the current crop of singers seems so incompetent. Good thing last year's winner, Kris Allen, was on hand to show what's possible, launching through an emotional rendition of Let It Be that reminded you exactly how he stole last year's crown from showy vocal powerhouse Adam Lambert. We also learned the show would be presenting its charity program, Idol Gives Back, on April 21.