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'American Idol's' gender equity rule helps guys land in top 20

Michael Becker / Fox

Lazaro Arbos survived the Sudden Death Round of "American Idol" on Thursday.

After dominating "American Idol" for the last five years, guys don't seem to be the front-runners this time around. It actually took a gender equity rule to get the men 10 spots in the final 20 Thursday night. Based on what fans have seen over the past two weeks, if it were left up to the skills of the 40 who began the fortnight, the ratio would skew a lot closer to 2:1 in favor of the women.

Lazaro Arbos is a great story, even on a night when he wasn’t at his best. Cortez Shaw showed something, even if the vocals weren’t consistent. Nick Boddington got some redemption after his painful cut in Las Vegas a year ago, when he was forced to say goodbye while the other four members of his group moved onto the semifinals. L.A. Reid lookalike Vincent Powell and weight-loss machine Burnell Taylor also moved on.

(If you didn’t recognize Taylor, there’s a good reason for that: He’s down about 40 pounds since his audition and looks totally different. Maybe alum Jennifer Hudson should drop the Weight Watchers gig and endorse the “Idol” plan instead.)

None of those guys stink. All could be compelling with the right backstory emphasis and editing package (like the kind Arbos is getting already and Taylor got on Thursday).

But if you tuned in for a showstopping performance, the closest thing you got was Zoanette Johnson’s brief interview after the cameras caught her grooving to Powell’s performance, reacting in a way that made him look both pleased and uncomfortable. Star power wasn’t apparent in anything other than a scattered chorus or two.

And if you were looking for energy from the judges, forget it. Apart from Nicki Minaj’s gushing praise of Burnell, there wasn’t anything memorable said there, though Keith Urban did raise eyebrows when he gently suggested Lazaro shouldn’t have picked his own “Tonight I Wanna Cry” to sing.  When a judge is telling you not to sing one of their songs, that’s rarely a good sign.

What was evident is that the judges had made most of their decisions before the night began. That’s been true throughout Vegas, and it’s understandable that the four on the panel (perhaps working with Nigel Lythgoe and other execs) know what they’re looking for in the live shows and that this was simply a chance for the long shots to fight for the few spots already unspoken for.

If it was solely based on Thursday’s performances, David Oliver Willis has something to complain about. He sounded fresh and original on “Fever,” even if he looked like a throwback to previous generations, but caused the judges to respond with a whole lot of meh. And Bryant Tadeo’s “New York State of Mind” either sounded better on TV than it did to the fearsome foursome, or he was already out the door before he took the stage.

Moreover, if it were based on sheer ability instead of gender, some of the also-rans among the women, such as Juliana Chahayed or Shubha Vedula, would still be around.

But the five men who moved on Thursday took advantage of the opportunity, and now “Idol” has its final 20. Next week: the live shows, where the field gets cut in half again. But regardless of how the guys do compared to the women, five of the men are going to make the top 10. That’s the rules.

What did you think of the guys' performances? Did the right five move on? Share your thoughts on our Facebook page!

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