'American Idol' cuts down to 16

Jasonyeager_top24_americanidol7_2_2I've done this for a long time, but I don't remember many results shows more wide open than Thursday (Feb. 28) night's American Idol. As the episode begins, I can't begin to guess who's going home. Let's follow the action, minute-by-minute.

8:00 p.m. ET Ryan Seacrest kicks off Thursday's show by warning that, "The eliminations are inevitable, the drama is real." Let the inevitability (and/or drama) ensue.

8:01 p.m. Almost 31 million votes came in this week, which is a lot of votes following two episodes that most observers reckon ranged from so-so to subpar.

8:01 p.m. Seacrest begins by asking the judges to justify the decision to do theme works this early in the season, a decision that the judges have nothing to do with. Paula says that it's harder for Simon than for her to give up control to the American people. And meanwhile, Ryan's mother -- a little slow, it seems -- has noticed that Simon sometimes holds his hand to his head in what the host aptly describes as a "half-moose." Mmmmm... Filler.

8:03 p.m. If you thought they were off-pitch as individuals this week, wait until you see the Top 20 mangle the '70s as a group. Here's something I've never seen before: Usually at this point in the competition, five or six singers can be expected to receive special whooping and notice from the crowd in these Group Sings. With this group, the only singer who draws audible audience celebration is David Archuleta. Is that the sort of thing that the other 19 notice? Are they half-singing and half-wondering, "What's David's dirty little secret and will TMZ dig it up soon enough to save us?"

8:11 p.m. Tonight's results start with the Guys, but only after we recap Tuesday's performance. I feel like I already did that. On Tuesday. Everybody really loved David. I got taken to task for accusing him of missing a note or two. It was fun.

8:14 p.m. Ryan asks Jason Yeager, Danny Noriega, Chikezie, Jason Castro and Michael Johns to stand from the back row. Michael and Jason the Muppet weren't very good on Tuesday, but based on past affections they're safe anyway. Chikezie wasn't very good last week, but he was one of Tuesday's standouts and he's safe. That leaves Jason Yeager and Danny facing elimination. For reasons having everything to do with talent -- but also somewhat with difficulties connecting to younger viewers -- Jason's going home. This was not a surprise. I'd figured Yeager for elimination after he napped through "Moon River" last week. "Based on the criticism and everything," Jason says he saw this coming. He says that song choice is everything. Simon tells Jason that his problem is failure to stand out from the crowd.

8:19 p.m. Jason's exit performance of "Long Train Running" is better than what he did on Tuesday night, looser and more confident. Even raising his game to this level wouldn't have made a difference, though.

Alexandrealushington_top24_americ_28:24 p.m. The Ladies put on a great show on Wednesday night. Or at least that's what Seacrest says. As I promised at the end of last night's recap, I went back and rewatched several of the performances, including Asia'H, who was much worse than I initially thought (it was a hard song and she missed just about every note), and Alexandrea, who was a smidge better (her cargo shorts weren't). Brooke's performance became a lot duller the second time around, while I found a reason or two to like Syesha more. I tried, but I couldn't find a way to appreciate Amanda's journey to Kansas.

8:27 p.m. Again Ryan asks the back row to stand up. It's Kristy Lee Cook, Amanda Overmyer, Alexandrea Lushington, Brooke White and Asia'H Epperson. Kristy and Asia'H are sent to safety first, followed by Brooke. That leaves Amanda and Alexandrea. The punishment for one poor performance is elimination for Alexandrea. Randy says it wasn't really the right choice, but that Alexandrea chose the wrong song at the wrong time.

8:30 p.m. Alexandrea was not the worst contestant at the stage, but she never succeeded in helping viewers figure out who she actually is. Certainly her departure has David Archuleta beside himself. Geez America. You love David. Hasn't he trained you to love what he loves yet? I guess it's too soon for that. By April, David, you'll have America in the palm of your hand. Then you can punish them for taking Alexandrea away. Oh yes. You'll make them all pay. Just like Carrie at prom, Little David. Nobody will laugh at you then!

8:37 p.m. Carly Smithson, Alaina Whitaker, Ramiele Malubay, Syesha Mercado and Kady Malloy, the front row, are now on the spot for the Women. Carly, who was decent last night, and Ramiele, who wasn't, are sent to safety, as is Syesha. That leaves Kady and Jailbait Kady (Alaina). Viewers, it turns out, were not hopelessly devoted to Alaina, who's sent home. This surprises nobody more than Kady, who seems to have expected elimination. A tearful Alaina tells Ryan, "I can't sing. Sorry, this is embarrassing."

8:39 p.m. Since Alaina needs nurturing, Ryan calls on Paula. The judge is able to summon up a cogent thought, telling the visibly moved teen that this is only the start for her. Ryan offers Alaina the choice on whether or not she's going to sing one last time. She doesn't want to, but the other women urge her to do it and gather around her in support. I'm often accused of being cold-hearted, but even I'm a little bit moved as Alaina powers through. Good show, girl.

Alainawhitaker_top24_americanidol_28:43 p.m. Does anybody remember tears when Antonella Barba went home last year? Or, really, any of the booted Top 24 contestants? This year, everybody seems to be sent off with soggy group lamentations. Alaina sure has everybody -- Danny Noriega most photogenically -- bawling.

8:47 p.m. Seacrest has news about the start of the Top 12, still two weeks away. Not only will they have a new stage and new credits and not only has Ruben Studdard been brought out of mothballs to record a farewell song, but Idol is finally going to take its shot at the Lennon-McCartney songbook. That could be interesting, certainly more interesting than a recap of last year's Idol Gives Back.

8:54 p.m. Brad Pitt, Miley Cyrus, Mariah Carey and others will do Idol Gives Back this year.

Robbiecarrico_top24_americanidol7_48:55 p.m. From the front row of Guys, Ryan calls only Luke "Who?" Menard and Robbie "Hairpiece" Carrico to the center of the stage. He may have been good enough to date Britney Spears, but he isn't good enough to date you, America. Robbie's heading home. Simon gets one last chance to rub Robbie's lack of authenticity in his face.

8:58 p.m. The journey ends tonight for Jason, Robbie, Alexandrea and Alaina. I'm gonna miss the two eliminated gals more than the booted guys.

Agree? Disagree? Did the right four go home?

And follow all of our Idol coverage in Zap2it's Guide to American Idol.