Well, everyone, now it's time to get down to business. The field of over 70,000 hopefuls has been whittled down to just 32 semi-finalists, and now it's our turn to have a say-so in who moves on from here. The first group of eight semi-finalists will perform tonight, with two of them moving on to the finals from here. Yes, only two move on from each semi-final round this year. Then, after the two winners are chosen from each round, the final two spots will be claimed by wild-cards. Having two wild-cards is not the only new twist this year. In another departure from last season, one of those wild-cards will be decided by us, the viewers.

The show begins with Ryan (who looks like he just woke up) showing us around the new set. You can tell that this is now a hit show, as this year's set is a whole lot snazzier than last year's version. We meet the judges, and then it's off to the "Red Room" ("The Coca-Cola Red Room", as I'm sure we'll be reminded umpteen times during the season). In another departure from last year's format, family members are in the Red Room this year to lend their support to the semi-finalists.

Enough with the formalities and introductions…it's time for the performances!

First up tonight is Kimberly Caldwell, and I immediately wonder how long it'll be before Ryan brings up the whole Kimberly/Julia melodrama from last week's show. Surprisingly, Ryan doesn't mention it, and he asks Kimberly about her song choice. Kimberly tells us that she'll be singing "Come To My Window", and she says she hopes she'll "do Melissa Etheridge proud" (I'll refrain from making a joke about "doing Melissa Etheridge", proud or otherwise…). Kimberly walks confidently out onto the stage, finds her mark, and wastes no time getting into her song. Her voice isn't as gritty as Melissa's, but she does a good job, and that is reflected in the judges' comments afterward. Randy tells her that her performance was "very nice." Paula adds, "You were right on the money." Simon praises Kimberly, saying, "That was brilliant. Really, really good." Kimberly retreats to the Red Room for a bit of an analysis of her performance (her singing performance…get your minds out of the gutter!), and we find her mom and sister waiting for her on the couch with Ryan. Ryan gives out the number (which we'll all know by heart before this whole thing is over), and while he's doing that, Kimberly plaintively mouths the words "vote for me". Yeah, like she'll need to be begging for votes…

Next up is Patrick Forston. In his video segment, Patrick tells us that he's "always been into fashion" and that we should "expect to see a lot of different looks" from him. Well, Patrick, that would assume that you'll be going far in this competition, and I'm not sure how accurate that assumption is going to be. Patrick is one of the few male contestants to sing "Unbreak My Heart", and I'm hoping that he is the last contestant to sing this song. Enough already! As he's singing, he looks like he's constantly wincing in pain. I'm not sure if he is wishing he had chosen another song, if he's in some sort of physical pain, or what, but there's definitely a grimace on his face for almost the entire duration of his performance. Once he's done, Patrick walks over to face the firing squad, er, I mean the judges. Randy tells Patrick, "That's not quite what is gonna send me over the top, dude." Mary Sunshine, I mean Paula, chimes in with "Good job. I'm a big fan." Just once, I'd like to see Paula really go off on somebody like Simon does. Of course, I'd also like to win the lottery, and I have a feeling that will happen before Paula pulls a Simon Cowell on one of the contestants. Then, it's Simon's turn, and Simon (surprise, surprise) pulls no punches. He tells him that his song choice was "terrible", and then he adds, "Quite frankly, your outfit sucks." Simon, stick to the music critiquing. Let Mr. Blackwell or Elsa Klensch do the fashion commentary, OK? Thanks. Wait…who's that coming out onto the stage? It's Patrick's dad, and I'm suddenly wondering if this is going to turn into one of those Little League games where an over-zealous parent argues with the ump over whether or not little Johnny was safe at home plate. Thankfully, it doesn't, but Papa Forston does defend his son's choice of clothing, at which point Simon tells Patrick he should have worn what his dad is wearing. Ouch…Patrick, you'd better get off the stage before it gets any worse.

Third on tonight's roster is J.D. Adams, and he once again reminds us that he's related to 2 former American presidents. We get it, J.D….we get it. If you were facing a college entrance interview panel, that genealogical fact might help your cause, but it's Simon, Randy, and Paula we're talking about here. Anyway, J.D. does a pretty good job with "All in Love Is Fair", and as he's singing, I notice his shirt and wonder if he sneaked into Ryan's closet before the show and stole it. J.D.'s performance gets mixed reviews from the judges. Randy tells him, "You did good, dude." Paula adds, "I have nothing to say except 'real good job'." Simon concludes with, "You look like the American Idol, but I'm not sure you sounded like it tonight. It was just OK."

The next contestant to sing is LaShundra Cobbins, except she's not LaShundra Cobbins anymore. Apparently, she became Trenyce sometime between the Hollywood auditions and tonight. Whatever. Trenyce/LaShundra/TreShundra sings Bonnie Raitt's "That's Just Love Sneaking up on You", and I'm pleasantly surprised with her performance. Trenyce walks over to hear what the judges have to say, and Randy immediately remarks on the name change. He then tells her, "That was very, very nice." Paula tells her, "That was unbelievable. I'm in love with you right now." Um, OK, Paula. Save that kind of stuff for the Spice channel, sugah. Simon tells her, "The song stunk, but you sang it really well." Trenyce goes back to the Red Room, where she engages in some idle chatter with Ryan and her sister Tamika (no, not THAT Tamika, thankfully) before the show goes to a commercial.

Our fifth performer tonight is Meosha Denton. She sings Leann Rimes' (or Trisha Yearwood's, depending on where your loyalties lie) "How Do I Live?", an interesting choice for her, in my opinion. It sounds to me like she's singing the song a bit too slowly, but she does a decent enough job with it. The judges all seem to think that the performance was rather lackluster as well. Randy tells her, "I wasn't moved." Paula adds, "You have a nice tone, but I'm not sure if it was your best performance." Simon tells her, "You walked out as a loser, and you gave a 'so what?' performance." Wow, we're only in the first round of semi-finals, and Simon's already thrown out the "L" word. Heaven help the semi-finalists in the shows to come if they're really bad. And just what does he mean she "walked out as a loser", anyway? Obviously, Meosha is a bit dejected after those comments, but she puts on a game face and reminds Ryan that Simon called R.J. Helton a "loser" last season, and look how far he got. She concludes with, "It's up to America."

Before Bettis Richardson goes on stage, he announces to the world, "I hope I don't burp, fart, or trip." Of course, I immediately want him to do all three on camera and with the microphone turned up enough to catch every sound. Come to think of it, after seeing his performance, he might have gotten a better reaction if he had burped, farted, and tripped. Randy tells him, "Dude, I did not enjoy it at all, dude." Wow, a "dude" at the beginning and end of a sentence. You must have really pissed Randy off, Bettis. Paula gets about as mean as she can when she tells him, "That wasn't the best song choice." Simon, of course, has absolutely no trouble being mean and tells Bettis, "I think you blew it big-time." The best part of Bettis' time in the spotlight probably comes when he's back in the Red Room talking to Ryan and his sister, and his sister says, "Simon can kiss my ass." Careful what you wish for, hon'…

Our second-to-last performer of the evening is Charles Grigsby. Charles (who, in my opinion, bears a striking resemblance to Will Smith tonight for some reason) describes his style as "neo-soul with a touch of hip-hop." Now, what that means, I don't know. But, I don't think the song "Overjoyed" is a good example of it. Charles (along with Trenyce) turns out to be one of the surprises of the night. Randy tells him, "That was good." Paula chimes in with, "You have a velvet tone." Simon concludes with, "You did very, very well."

The final performer tonight is Julia DeMato, and before she goes out on stage, Ryan does bring up the whole melodrama from last week's show. Julia assures Ryan that she and Kimberly are definitely friends, and Kimberly chimes in with "That's true." I'm not sure if I completely believe either one of them, though. I noticed how they were never near each other in any of the group shots. But, I digress. Anyway, Julia sings "Son of a Preacher Man" and gets generally very good reviews. Randy tells her, "That was good. Nothing special, though." Paula tells her she did a "good, good job", and Simon says that Julia has sung better but that she is "one of the better contestants in the competition" and that he'd like to see her make it through to the finals. After Julia returns to the Red Room, we get to meet her sister once again, which is one time too many for me. I mean, sister dear's 15 minutes of fame should have been over last week.

Before the show signs off for the evening, Evan Marriott ("Joe Millionaire") makes a surprise appearance. I'm not sure why he's there other than for some sort of cross-show promotion. Ryan asks him who he picks for his potential bride on his show, and Evan whispers something in Ryan's ear. Ryan says, "Simon Cowell?", and everyone lets out a collective groan. I sure hope that the "comedian" that wrote for Paula last season isn't writing for Ryan this time around.

Well, that's it. The first group of semi-finalists has performed, and their fate is in our hands. Simon had a few choice barbs, Paula was for the most part her usual cheery self, and Randy said "dude" about 10 times or so (No "dawg" yet, but I expect that to happen soon.). Which two performers will make it through to the Top 10? If I had to say right now, I'd say probably Julia and Kimberly, with J.D. and Trenyce as dark horses. Nothing is a given, though, so who knows what will happen. I mean, could any of us have predicted that Jim Verraros would have made it out of the first group of semi-finalists last season?

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