American Idol Hollywood Week: Favorites Chris Medina and Casey Abrams make first cut.

American Idol early favorites – Chris Medina, Lauren Alaina, and Casey Abrams – made it a step closer to becoming Season 10's American Idol.

Kin Man Hui
Casey Abrams gets into playing his melodica while waiting to audition for American Idol in Austin, Texas. Casey has been an early favorite of the season. August 2010.

Anyone who has ever seen American Idol's Hollywood Week, knows that it is grueling. This time it was twice as tough because twice as many golden tickets (327) were handed out during auditions.

It was no surprise to see Randy Jackson take over what was once Simon Cowell's gig, telling the contestants how they have only one shot, trying to strike fear into their already fluttering hearts. Maybe it was the British accent, but it was so much easier to take Simon seriously.

The contestants filed onto the stage in groups of ten, each of them were given an opportunity to sing a cappella and then they're done. That's it. No discussion, no tears, no feedback from the judges . . . no wonder so many viewers were dying for Hollywood Week to get here! After the contestants were finished singing they were broken up into two groups, those who stay and those who go. The judges seemed deliberate and cohesive in their task this week; in seasons passed, it wasn't unusual to see some heated exchanges and differences of opinion, though admittedly it typically happened later in the process. Will these judges be as simpatico when they're choosing the final 40? Only time will tell.

Thursdsay night started with the red-haired wonder Brett Loewenstern, who as predicted, made it through the first cut. Whether it was nerves or the recycled speech about overcoming his adversaries, some of Brett's magic seemed to have worn off. Let's hope he can accept that he's no longer the taunted child he once was and let go of his nerves, because there's definitely potential underneath it all.

Another early favorite, Casey Abrams, once again wowed the judges and sailed through to the next round effortlessly. Everything Casey does seems to be effortless and as if his exceptional talent wasn't enough to warm the cockles of your heart, his genuine empathy for the subsequent contestants who didn't make it through was endearing. It showed a personality that didn't have much opportunity to peek through during the auditions process. So while Brett faltered a bit, Casey seems to be on the rise.

James Durbin, though making the cut, was significantly less impressive. He seems to have adopted a signature screech a la Adam Lambert, but even with Adam's talent, his screech became predictable and a bit off putting. The fact that James's screech was also a bit indulgent and didn't fit the song is worrisome. James needs to simmer down and show some range.

Lauren Alaina sang "Unchained Melody" and still had a breathtaking voice. Her performance was a little rushed, which was a shame, especially since that particular song relies on the patient tempo as much as vocals to deliver its full power. Nevertheless, this girl has serious talent and could very well make it far, if not all the way, in this competition.

A contestant who will likely polarize viewers going forward is Chris Medina. If one judges the performance on its own, it was undeniably underwhelming. In his clip, he states, "this is where everything changes or everything stays the same." Powerful words knowing his situation and when he added, "I don't want it to stay the same," one couldn't help feeling the weight of that statement. Unfortunately, though he made it through, nothing with Chris really changed in this round and he failed to leave an impression vocally.

The same cannot be said for 15-year-old Jacee Badeaux, whose voice is as clear as a bell. Without any evidence of nerves, he wandered forward and opened his mouth as though he hadn't a care in the world and why should he? He is as adorable as he is gifted and he'll definitely have some longevity; one can imagine all the grandmothers of the country rioting behind this young man.

Another contestant who gave viewers someone to riot behind was Holly Cavanagh. You might remember her as the unhinged ball of nerves who could barely stop trembling and crying long enough to eek out a chord. This girl seemed to have found her confidence somewhere between then and now. She strode onto that stage with a fire in her belly and gave an impressive audition. It was hard not to be proud of such a transformation and in that respect, she's already won.

Rob Bolin (half of the Idol's dysfunctional couple, Rob and Chelsee) really showed some excellent talent tonight. There was a quality to Rob's voice that brought to mind Dave Matthews, which is never a bad thing and both he and his ex, Chelsee made it through. (Let's hope they get back together soon so they can be referred to as the wildly clever portmanteau: Cherob. Get it?)

Idol's power-couple, Nick Fink and Jacqueline Dunford, on the other hand, ended up being torn apart (which may be for the best since their names aren't quite the vehicles of creativity that Chelsee and Rob turned out to be.) It was evident during auditions that Nick had the lesser talent of the two; what was not quite as obvious is that Nick has some real issues with rejection. Rather than leaving with dignity and being supportive of the woman he claims to be so in love with, who just made the cut, he argued with the judges about how he deserved a chance to finish his song.

Apparently, he didn't have time to get to the good part. Hmmm, if there is a good part, doesn't that imply there is a "not so good" part? Then, just when one thought he couldn't get any more pathetic, he did it. Yes, readers, Mr. Fink (whose name was obviously foreshadowing) did the unforgivable . . . he committed auditory assault. You know, auditory assault, singing that is forced upon the ears of the unwillingly, usually delivered with an unfounded sense of "so there." He continued on full tilt as they left the auditorium and he accosted Ryan for not being more upset about his not making it. Poor Jacqueline, couldn't even enjoy a moment of her victory.

Now, at the risk of seeming as pompous as Mr. Fink before the judges let the air out of his tires, time to fact check our previous predictions of those who would make it through:

Naima Adedapo: Check.

Chris Medina: Check.

Paul McDonald: Unconfirmed sighting. That may have been him looking happy but the camera quickly moved on. Is this guy in the witness protection program or something??

Lauren Alaina: Check.

Casey Abrams: Check.

Brett Loewenstern: Check.

That's like 5.8 out of 6!

And no finks here to spoil this moment of self-congratulatory blogging.

Until next week, check out the video below of Chris Medina's original song. Does he have what it takes to be the next American Idol? Share your thoughts in the comment section.

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