Finally, American Idol is real! Gone are the hideous pre-taped auditions and Hollywood Week hysterics. We have arrived at the live shows that we, America, get to vote on. And if there's one thing Americans never tire of, it's voting. So let's celebrate that the success and failure of these glimmer-kids has been finally placed in our hands, their futures all translucent and fragile for us to either protect or cruelly crush. Such power, America!

Last night was Boys Night, with the twelve semifinal guys singing for their suppers in front of a horde of teenage girls that the producers had bused in from a nearby Center for Teen Emotions facility. So there was much shivering and shrieking and lots of unnecessary applause, and that was just the judges! Good grief do these judges not say anything but gooey compliments these days, huh? I liked J.Lo and the Tyler witch this season up to this point, but now they're just back to hurling out words like "amazing" and "incredible" and "skeebee-blap-blap-fannnntastamatic" (in Tyler's case at least) with wild abandon. It's too much, judge-os! (No judge-o.) Ya gotta slowwww your roll, give some constructive criticism. To be fair there was a small amount of that last night, but it wasn't nearly enough. If we're just going to be taking a long, scenic tour through Complimenttown for the rest of the season, I think I'm gonna wanna get off this bus sooner rather than later. But oh well.

Oh, there was a big surprise last night! It was at the end of the episode but I'll just tell you now. There was a SURPRISE 13TH CONTESTANT. Yes, a mystery 13th Guest, like some sort of Westing Game-esque novel. "They all wondered who this 13th guest might be. Lady Everly stood by the fire with Professor Abagnale, whispering theories. Melody Bannister and Jones Forsythe determined it would be someone they somehow all knew intimately. Whoever it was, the twelve assembled guests knew nothing good could come of it." The 13th Guest. I would read that book for my summer reading list! Somebody write that book! (Oh wait, it's already a movie!) Anyway, the mystery guest on Idol turned out to be affable giganto-human Jermaine Jones, who seemed very happy to be there. There had been suggestion that the returnee it would be Johnny "Sandwiches" Keyser, but as we all know, that is no longer a possibility. Colton saw sure to that back in Las Vegas. So Jermaine it is and he and his mom were thrilled to be back and Ryan was happy to have his Grawp around again to keep him safe. So everyone was satisfied with the choice. Let's see how long he rides the second-chance wave of goodwill. Now, to the singing!

THE GOOD

America, I've been lured in. I stared too long into those dark beady eyes and now my emotions feel guided by some external force. Some wriggling, writhing, cockatoo entity. Yes, I enjoyed Colton Dixon's dark magic last night. I know! I know. He is clearly evil and up to no good, and it's likely Ryan will be dashed fatally on the rocks while following his menacing, magnetic siren song (and tight pants, his siren tight pants too), but I can't help myself. I'm merely a weak and lowly human, made of skin and guts, so he got me. By gum he got me. The ludicrously pompadoured Dixon sang some sort of Paramour song which... I don't know. That's a band I guess? Some sort of anger-swoon band that the gloomy kids in Omaha like? Not like the really gloomy ones, it's all Korn and other business for them, but like the middle-range gloomy ones, the rich gloomy ones, they like Paramour, I'm guessing. Oh and speaking of rich! Each contestant's turn began with a self-made video of themselves at home and Colton lives in a mansion! It's a mansion in the middle of the woods, but it's a mansion all the same. His bedroom was all stocked with fancy music equipment and stuff. So he's a little rich boy, attuned to the finer things in life, there in his red brick mansion. But ah well, that's fine. It was just funny considering Idol seems to favor back-home stories where people live in tents or sleep under their grandma's stairs or whatever. But Colton's life was in a manor house in the forest with a shiny Yamaha 'lectric pianah. There was no God talk in Colton's segment but that stuff apparently informs his whole Idol message, so keep an eye out for that. Anyway, yes, I admit. He sang well, he performed well, I suspect he will go far in this here competish. Though, he doesn't come across that well when he's not singing, does he? After his performance Seacrest asked him how he felt he did and Colton was like "Oh, you know, I tried something a little different, so I'm not sure. What did you guys think of it?" And when he asked that he turned to the audience knowing he'd get a wave of wild teen-fart applause, he just knew it. And that was obnoxious. Ryan kinda rolled his eyes at that one but even then he still felt a strange tug in his chest, an invisible guiding hand. Colton pulsated with black energy. Thrumming there in his painted-on pants.

The guy who sang last, Joshua Ledet, who Ryan told us is called "Mantasia," he was very good. He's good because you don't really expect him. We didn't see that much of him throughout auditions, so we don't know what we're gonna get, but then he opens his mouth and sweet bright noise comes out and it's very nice. I wish he hadn't sang some cheesebox Jennifer Hudson song, though. Sure "You Pulled Me Through" is nice and all, but Joshua needs to really connect with an audience that's not that familiar with him, and singing a rando J.Hud song is probs not the best way to do that. I also wish "Mantasia" didn't exist? Because that is terrible? I know it's supposed to be a compliment because Fantasia Barrino was Idol's great Kokopelli god of thrashing musical ecstasy, but it just sounds weird. It's a bad name. Plus, I'm pretty sure that Mantasia was a semi-secret gay discotheque on Pleasure Island before Disney shut all the clubs down because of the suicides. You know, you could go to 8TRAX, the Fireworks Factory, or Mannequins Dance Palace, just have a regular awesome Pleasure Island night, orrr you could go through a small door at the back of the Adventurers Club and you'd be in Mantasia, a fabulous if seedy nightclub where all the Aladdins from the stage show hang out, as well as a few of the Erics and Beasts from the parade, and definitely at least one Jungle Cruise boat captain. Mantasia, putting the pleasure in Pleasure Island from 1991 to 2008. So it's just not a good association for Joshua. No more Mantasia. It sounds weird and you could tell that he didn't like it either. Think of something else, please. Mannifer Hudson? Fine. Mannifer Hudson.

I suppose one could say that Adam Brock was good. But he chose an annoying old-timey song (I really wish they'd raise the song choice year minimum to like 1985 or something because I just cannot hear any of the old standards anymore. It's just too much), and I also detect a faint whiff of the Gokey about Adam Brock, don't you? Maybe it's just the same egg shaped head and black glasses, but whatever it is, it's off-putting. I feel like I want to like you, Adam Brock, but then there you are sputtering about White Chocolate and singing some old boring song and you inch ever closer to the Bad category. I'm sorry. Jermaine the Jiant also sang well, though I just don't know that his voice has a place on a pop singing competition in 2012. It's fun and all, but the Idol demographic isn't exactly running to the Strawberry records (kids still do that, right? It's 1996?) to buy a bunch of albums sung by a baritone giant every weekend. He just doesn't seem terribly marketable to me, but I guess that's not really my concern. For the purposes of assessing his singing, he sang well.

THE BAD

Oh heavens, Ebens. Yikes. Yoops. Yunk. Tiny pixie creature Eben Franckewitz sang last night and amidst all these relatively ball-dropped older dudes he just seemed like a timid little mouse, didn't he? A timid little mouse that can't really blow, yo! He hubristically chose to sing a goddamned Adele song, so I guess you gotta admire his pluck, but boy did he not sing it well. Poor thing's tiny, round-yet-pointy face (he's like an Edward Gorey drawing) trembling on every strained note, awkward limbs flailing and shuffling. I know that he's likely very impressive when he sings at talent shows and stuff, and that Idol just loves to have some tiny little elf creature that grandmas want to vote for (damn you, grandmas!), but I just do not get why they're doing this to poor Eben. It seems cruel. I don't want to make fun of a 15-year-old child. Why are you making me make fun of a 15-year-old child?? The poor dear. The poor wimp. It's just not good. The judges were all "Welllll, there were some problems... but... mostlyitwasgoodletsmoveon." They gave him a few criticisms but nothing substantial, really. Ah well. Poor Eben. He's probably so homesick. I feel bad for his mom.

Brackenship. Brackenfield. Brackenstein. Whatever that guy's name is, Deandra Brankenhanken, who knows, he was not good. I know, I know. He looks like Mufasa's hot younger brother who's not Scar, and he seems nice and all, but oof. Oof. Maloof. He goofed. He sang an Earth Wind & Fire song which A) great choice. I have yet to meet a teenage girl these days who isn't a diehard Earth Wind & Fire fan. They all wear T-shirts that say "Team Earth" or "Team Wind" or "Team Verdine" on them. It's crazy. And B) the falsetto. The whole thing was falsetto. It was actually a really strange performance. He sort of bopped around on stage, curly mane a flying (srsly, in the light it looked he had touched electricity — girl, get thee to a bottle of Frizz-Ease), and sang this weird breathy electric flute of a song and took teenage girls' hands like that's a thing that teenage girls like. Ballads from old Harvey Keitel movies sung to them by a lion-human who is groping their hands softly. That's just basic teen science, the simple hot core of the teenage girl's brain. So yes, it was strange and vaguely off-putting and yet the judges ate it up like lukewarm sex soup. Oh boy did they like it. J.Lo called his voice perfect. Perfect for... what, exactly? Seducing Antoine Merriweather? It just didn't do it. For me, for you. Just not aight.

THE FUTURE IS GRIMM

I feel like I need to devote an entire section to how much I dislike Reed Grimm. Oh mah gah this bebopping motherf-cker. It is just too much. It is a bridge too far. And all that smug smiling and self-satisfied noisemaking. It is just the pits. The literal pits. I think I saw Natalie Portman and Zach Braff screaming into Reed Grimm last night because he is so much the pits. And do you know what song this smug bastard chose to sing? Do you know? He sang Adam Levine's "Moves Like Jagger" because of course he chose that song. I feel like they are spirit animals for each other! Reed Grimm and Adam Levine are both awful in nearly exactly the same way, so of course. God, why isn't Reed Grimm on Ze Voice? He really should be on Da Voice and not this show. Because I don't like watching him and I don't watch La Bouche. Don't you kind of wonder if Reed Grimm stinks like cabbage? I bet you a buffalo nickel he smells like boiled cabbage. And it's not good. What do you think? Do you think he's convinced America? Do you think they like his horky shtick? Lord I hope not. I can't suffer this fool too much longer. Reed Grimm. The hell kind of name is that? The hell kind of performance was that? Why does he smile so much? It's so unnerving. This knowing smile as if we all have history together, totally get him. Reed, you're not coming back for a special guest concert with your college a cappella group. No one here knows who you are, so chill out. Ugh. Shudder. The worst. Am I alone in this? Just the flustering worst.

THE OTHERS

There were other dudes who sang, but eh. Jeremy Rosado sings well but completely uninterestingly. One interesting thing about him, though, was that I think he swore during his pre-sing stoolterview with Ryan? Did you notice that? Am I hearing things? I feel like he said "Yeah, sh-t's been crazy" and there was an awkward pause while Ryan and Jeremy and the terrified audience tried to figure out what to do. I was actually too embarrassed to rewind it to see, but I'm pretty sure that happened. Oh well, Jeremy. The judges certainly adore you so it probably won't be a problem. Shit's crazy though, huh? Oh no! I did it!

Creighton Fraker is pretty middle-of-the-road. I know he's supposed to be all funky and fresh and funkyfresh and whatnot, but eh. I liked that he jammed "True Colors" because that's a nice song, but it didn't really do it for me. I liked in his intro video that he was in the East Village because I knew exactly where he was and that was funny, to see an American Idol person at a place I have walked by a million times. But other than that, eh. I'm not convinced. I know everyone loves them some Creighton Fraker, but no thanks, not really, not for me. He's a second-tier Muppet. (He is absolutely a Muppet, right? You can almost see the wires under his wrists. Total Muppet. Felt mouth and all.)

There was some poor sad cannon fodder dude who sings country named Chase who I'm pretty sure we'd never seen until now? Pretty sure he's been a complete ghost this entire time. And he did not perform well enough to do the whole Kris Allen out-of-nowhere thing. I think this might be Chase's one week on television and then it's back to singing to girls in the back of pickup trucks or whatever he does. Singing to boys under the rodeo bleachers. Hard to say. He does something like that though. Oh, and he's in the theater department at his college, so he'll be fine. He'll just go back and play Judas in JCS and it'll be fine. It'll all be fine. Hope you had fun, Chase.

Oh, and of course, Phillip Phillips. He sang "In the Air Tonight" and it wasn't that good, sounded a little strange, but whatever. He is a dreamboat wrapped in a stone fox wrapped in a pancake, so who the hell cares what the hell he sounds like. He will go far. Oh yes, he will go far.

And that's about it, folks! I apologize for failing to recap last week, I had a personal matter to attend to. And, unfortunately, will be attending again to said matter tomorrow and Friday, so this will be my only recap for the week. But I'll be back next week stronger than ever. Who will still be with us? Only time can tell. And, though it's almost March, I fear we still have all the time in the world.