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American Idol fans can be divided into two categories: People who get off on the schadenfreude derived from the initial, painful auditions, and those who become emotionally attached to a particular contestant during the viewer-voting portion of the season. As such, “Hollywood Week” – the five-day run where all those golden ticket revelers go through a round of punishing new auditions – is like Idol purgatory. You don’t get to see freaky, delusional and possibly mildly retarded hopefuls shrieking tone-deaf renditions of “Don’tcha,” but it’s also too early to actually care about the fates of any of these people.

Last night, on the first of two Hollywood Week episodes, a series of rapid-fire eliminations pared down the competition from 176 to forty. Tonight, Randy, Simon and Paula will issue a face-to-face verdict with those remaining, and twenty-four will get the thumbs up to start the competition in earnest next week. Though any of them could be booted on tonight’s show, we’re just stoked that a few of our early faves are for now still in the running.

  • Chris Sligh, the pudgy 28-year-old jokester who delivered an amazing version of Seal’s “Kiss From A Rose” in Birmingham, Alabama. Sligh fronts an only semi-terrible rock band called Half Past Forever and actually has decent taste in music: On his blog, frommymindtoyoureyes.blogspot.com, he lists Muse, Ben Folds, the Killers and Ray LaMontagne among his favorites.
  • Sixteen year-old Jordin Sparks, whose dad is NFL star Felipe Sparks, killed on Celine Dion’s “Because You Loved Me” in Seattle and has the potential to be a cross between Katherine McPhee and Lisa Tucker: an appealing blend of sass and chops.
  • Blake Lewis’s frosted hair makes him look like a Seacrest-style tool, but the twenty-five year-old from Bothell, Washington has ridiculous beatbox skills that he worked to amazing effect last night in his group’s take on “How Deep Is Your Love.” His singing voice ain’t too shabby either.
  • In 1965, R&B singer Roy Head had a smash hit with “Treat Her Right,” which has been covered by everyone from Otis Redding to Johnny Thunders to Nikka Costa. In 1980, he had a baby boy and named him – wait for it – Sundance Head. Though the excessively sweaty young Head needs to gain some control over his wide-ranging voice, he’s an early fan favorite to keep the Soul Patrol on active duty this season.

— Jenny Eliscu

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