Last night the second group of boys had their turn, opening their song holes and letting mellifluous sound come pouring out like gravy. Well, actually, there wasn't a whole lot that was either mellifluous or gravy-esque. Or if it was gravy, it was the cheap chemical goo-gravy from Kentucky Fried Chicken, not good homemade Thanksgiving gravy. Why am I talking so much about gravy? Maybe I'm hungry. Anyway, it was an underwhelming pack of mens last night, but we must do our due diligence and talk about them as if they were the most important things in the world. So let's press on, by focusing on the five young gents who were put through to the semifinals. We'll give the newly dead their due too, at the end.

Lazaro Arbos: This kid, huh? I just do not know what to make of this kid. On the one hand, yes, he has a sad story of triumph. Saddled with a particularly debilitating stutter, Lazaro is really only able to clearly communicate when he's singing and the words flow like grav— Nope, not going down that road again. The point is that it is nice that he has found something that can carry him past his disability and gives him some measure of comfort and pride. On the flip side, that "some measure" of pride is actually maybe kind of a lot of pride? Like he seemed a tad diva-esque last night maybe? I don't know, I got this vibe from him that he was playing up his emotions a bit, trying to create an emotional arc for himself so that when he got through, it would be a more satisfying story. The assumption from the beginning being that he was going through. Maybe I'm totally reading into things, but that's just a feeling I got watching him whimper and sweat last night. (Not many grosser combinations of words than "whimper and sweat," huh? Sorry about that.) If he did assume he was going through, he was right, as the judges sent him to the next round despite the fact that the Keith Urban song he glooped out was really not very good. And the judges said as much, Keith criticizing the song choice, which again was his own song, and the others saying some variation of "It wasn't your best, but..." They like this kid's story, they like the emotional wallop of it, and so they are keeping him around. It's no surprise that the show wants to tell a few stories in addition to having some crackerjack singers, but it still stings every time you notice the machinations at work. Again, maybe I'm crazy and he really is just a good singer whose singing the judges like and there is no calculation lurking behind the whole thing on either side. But! Don't you detect a faint strain of something discordant humming around this Lazaro character? Some ulterior motive or darker drive hiding behind the feel-good story? I do. For some reason, I do.

Vincent Powell: A former backup singer for the likes of Whitney Houston, Vincent's story is similar to Melinda Doolittle's, which is never a bad thing. Melinda Doolittle was the best! Also similar to Mindy Doo, Vincent can blow. He sang a smooth R&B jam and put some real stank on it, in a good way. Putting stank on something is good, right? I think it's good. Anyway, the point is that Vincent seems like a nice guy and sings well and we're all very happy that he's made it through. Is he marketable to young tweens and teens and teens' tweens? Oh mercy no. Never in a million years is he marketable to anyone under the age of 35. But, whatever. We don't want a boy to win this year, remember? So it's OK that Vincent is a very good singer who will not be the next big pop star. That's probably what they want. Credibility without having to follow through on anything. So Vincent, and many other guys this season, might be something of a tool of the system, but whatever. Everyone who's ever signed any piece of paper with the words "American Idol" written at the top is a tool of the system. It's nothing specific to Vincent and friends. Here's hoping he just enjoys the ride of singing every week instead of being at work — although, hm, I guess his work is singing — and getting some national television exposure. That's really the best you can hope for on this show, the experience of going on TV every week and seeing what that's like. Enjoy it, Vincent!

Cortez Shaw: This one mystified me a bit. Cortez sang that annoying "Titanium" song that was in Pitch Perfect and it just straight-up did not sound very good. Possibly not good at all, even. He hit a lot of wonky notes and the pitch sorta leaned over and fell down the stairs at one point and the whole thing made him sound a bit like the reigning Mr. Short Hills Mall singing one last goodbye song before handing over his crown to the new young upstart. It was competent for a regular person, but not for someone on his way to the semifinals of America's most important singing competition since Star Search. I just don't think he can cut the mustard, not just the mustard but any mustard. No mustard cutting of any kind whatsoever. And yet, the judges were excited about him. Maybe they liked that he screamed a lot, like he could be their Bruno Mars or something, or maybe they're stacking the deck with duds. I think that's what it is. I'm tellin' ya. That's what's happening here. Keep an eye peeled. Watch and see. They have a plan.

Burnell Taylor: Aw, Burnell is very good, actually. OK, so some guys are good and could maybe be commercially viable. One of those guys is Burnell, a nice guy from Nawlins who sings with a perfect scratch in his voice and last night was all done up in a bowtie and fun nerd glasses and a blazer. He looked a little like that guy from The Wire who comes to town to kill everybody, but he also looked like a nice nerd who is secretly kinda cool. He sang a John Legend song with passion, doing this great thing with his hands and arms, a sort of flailing action. He's doing some good wiggle work, this Burnell, and I think it's charming. The judges were equally smitten, Nicki going on some long monologue about how he lost weight and that shows he's turning a corner in life and he wants to get his family out of the hood, which was a little over the top but mostly harmless. But then she started saying things like "Your whole family is depending on you" and all this stuff and it was like, whoa Nicki. Slow your roll. Calm down. Way to put a shit-ton of pressure on the poor kid. I mean, maybe that pressure was already there, but she didn't have to remind him of it and state it as fact on national television. It just seems a little cruel to say all that to a person at this juncture, when really the odds of them winning are so high they'd have a better chance of getting struck by the lottery. I think she overstated her case, is all. We all know that Burnell wants this badly and that his family is rooting for him. That's true of almost anyone in the competition. You don't need to beat that fact into his or our heads. We get it, Nicks. We get it.

Nick Boddington: Speaking of Nicks, this is that squirrely little guy who's a bartender right here in New Yorked City. I guess he's fine. He's pretty boring though, yeah? Like there have been far more interesting squirrely little guys on this season who are not with us anymore. I don't think you could ever call Johnny Keyser "squirrely," but for the purposes of this assignment, yeah I'd rather have Johnny Keyser than this wiggleworm. He sang a song by James Morrison, which was an interesting choice, kinda cool and lesser known, but with the big Idol Funtimes Orchestra scoring the scene behind him, it all seemed rather cheesy. Like the wedding band let the saxophonist sing a song and everyone was impressed that he could bang it out pretty decently, but then the real singer goes back to entertaining the increasingly drunk guests. Nick's almost cool, he's almost a big-voiced wonder, but he's not quite there on either front. But I suppose he could get more interesting, the more chances he has to do new and different things. And really, who were they going to send through instead? Well, OK, maybe his friend Gurpreet, but beyond that. 

And then there were all the dudes who went home. Not much to say about a lot of them. Gupreet was fun and charming and it would have been interesting to have him around a little longer instead of, say, Cortez. I mean, I'd rather have Kevin Covais around than Cortez. I think we should also take a second to briefly mention Mr. Josh Holiday, who had the gumption/balls/nerve to sing an original jam that went a little something like, "Like a river to the sea / You're always pouring into me" and it was very silly. He also started at the piano and then got up when the song got bigger and it was just... Doing all that vamping and stuff is fine when you've taken a well-known song and done an interesting tweak on it. But doing that for a song you wrote, on American Idol? It seems a smidge indulgent, that's all. Just a tad. He didn't really sing it very well either, which is probably a worse crime. Or at least it should be. For normal people Josh's worst sin was that he didn't sing terribly well, but for me it's that he had the gall to sing his own song and try to make it theatrical in any way. How dare he! How simply dare he. Oh well, he paid the heaviest price for it in the end. He is gone, and four others. Now twenty in total remain. They will stand and salute us before they head off into the fray, one of them already with the winner's gene doing its curious work inside their bodies, but wholly unaware of it. Who will it be? Hero or horror? Boy or girl? The real adventure begins! After this message from Ford.