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'American Idol's' gentle criticism leads to a meltdown

Michael Becker / FOX

Charlie Askew's performance did not impress the judges Wednesday.

Quirky Charlie Askew has been one of the most prominent “American Idol” guys so far in season 12. He’s appealingly eccentric with a big voice and a pleasant demeanor, but he’s also a 17-year-old kid who has always seemed like he’s one high-wire act away from collapsing.

That collapse occurred on Wednesday night, as everything about his night was ill advised. As he performed Genesis' "Mama," he looked like a kid playing dress-up with his sleeveless top, ponytail and wispy mustache. He sounded like a cover singer in a random high-school garage band. Finally, and perhaps more worrisome, is that he shrank onstage and had a tough time holding it together upon hearing criticism that, in the “Idol” universe, wasn’t even all that harsh.

“Something feels not fully genuine. It just feels disingenuous a little bit,” Keith Urban said. That’s something a kindly music teacher would tell a star student having a bad day, but Charlie looked devastated.

“Last I time I saw you I wanted to cradle you in my arms,” Nicki Minaj said. But this time? Not so much.

“I don’t want to see your arms, I don’t want you working out. Charlie! I don’t want to see that ponytail. I don't want to see that earring. Lose the mustache immediately, honey! Charlie, seriously, babe, I want my cute, cuddly Charlie back,” she said.

Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey offered similar comments: gently critical, like what a parent would give to a high-school student. And Charlie looked sadder and sadder.

“All I can say is I needed to vent a bit,” Charlie said when Ryan Seacrest asked him what he was thinking when he decided to go down this unsafe road. “The message I was really trying to send is that a lot of people think I am a happy buoyant person a lot of the time and the only reason I smile so much is that I have to.”

“Charlie,” Ryan said, a comforting hand on his shoulder. “You’ve got some friends here, OK. We appreciate your courage and your honesty, and there’s nothing easy about having those feelings inside and standing up here and having to do that tonight.”

And then the teenager started to cry, and Ryan mercifully let him go backstage.

The whole night would seem like a bad sign for Charlie, as the sympathy votes will probably be outweighed by those who think it would be cruel to bring him back to go through this suffering again. Of course, he might still be marketable, and marketability is a big theme for the “Idol” judges this season.

They liked that Devin Velez sang Perry Como's "It's Impossible" in both English and Spanish, which means there’s a 100 percent chance he’ll keep doing it each week for as long as he’s around. They loved teenager Elijah Liu and his performance of Rihanna's "Stay." Nicki said she could imagine seeing his face on cups and pillowcases and likened him to New Kids on the Block. We assume that’s a compliment in this context, though it rarely would be otherwise.

Burnell Taylor and Curtis Finch Jr. were also their usual strong selves, with Burnell getting another rave review of his audition song "I'm Here," and Curtis receiving a standing ovation and a host of hallelujahs for "I Believe I Can Fly." Given that Lazaro Arbos had a nice comeback performance with “Feeling Good,” the men’s final five looks set barring some wackiness in the voting.

That’s bad news for Nick Boddington, whose voice is really sweet but might not be a great fit for the competition, and for Taylor Swift wannabe Paul Jolley. Vincent Powell will get some extra votes because he closed the show and people will therefore remember it, but “End of the Road” is always an unfortunate song choice because it lends itself to dumb puns when you get sent home. Cortez Shaw was entertaining, but sang early in the show and was eclipsed by those who followed.

And that leaves no place for Charlie. Which, under the circumstances, is probably a good thing.

Were the judges too harsh on Charlie, or does he need to toughen up? What did you think of Wednesday's performances? Share your thoughts on our Facebook page!

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