The guys' solo day kicked off with a few changes to this round of the competition. The judges set out to eliminate half of the remaining 43 guys, and made cuts after every eight performances. For the first time, contestants were given the option to play an instrument.
Paul Jolley didn't exactly blow the judges away with his version of Carrie Underwood's "Blown Away," especially since it came after he nearly had an anxiety attack onstage. "Can you be professional for just one minute?" a ticked-off Nicki Minaj told Jolley afterward. But his performance was enough to advance him to the next round, along with Curtis Finch Jr. and Lazaro Arbos.
Devin Velez relieved some of the show's intensity, as one of the few contestants who insisted he wasn't nervous and actually seemed relaxed. His version of the classic "What a Wonderful World" saw him through to next week. Gurprit Singh Sarin (with a sound reminiscent of Gavin DeGraw) and Cortez Shaw both advanced, too.
But Matheus Fernandes let his nerves (and his heart-wrenching back story) get the best of him, telling the judges for what seems like the millionth time that people told him he'd never make it because he's a little person, before a so-so performance of Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger." Immediately sensing the judges weren't impressed, he admitted it was his first time singing with a live band. "We could tell," Randy Jackson said. Mariah Carey called the song "a little bit disconnected," and Minaj, as always, gave it to him straight: "Sometimes things can go from being inspiring to becoming a pity party." That particular party cost him a spot in the next round.
Nicholas Mathis sailed through Wednesday's group rounds as a member of The Couch Potatoes, getting a standing ovation from all four judges. Though his Thursday performance of Bruno Mars' "Locked Out of Heaven" had a whole lot of heart, some judges thought he was trying too hard. "I felt like you were chasing the song," Keith Urban said in a rare moment of gutful honestly, causing Mathis to break down backstage before he was even eliminated.
Papa Peachez's nasally, monotone rendition of Lady Gaga's "You and I" earned him a harsh critique from Minaj, who has championed his cause from the beginning. "I'm so disappointed," she said. "I don't understand why you chose that song. You let this competition make you complacent."
"This just isn't the competition for me," Peachez said with a shrug after he was sent packing. "I don't like singing other people's songs." I thought he seemed out of place in this competition anyway.
Jimmy Smith, whom Minaj told last night she wasn't sure about his star power, made it through, most likely because of Carey, who reinforced again tonight that he has been one of her favorites since his audition.
Also moving on to the next round is Nick Boddington, one of few contestants to incorporate an instrument, wowing the judges with his piano version of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals' "The Stars." Adorably awkward Charlie Askew, in an oversized suit and neon-bright high-tops, gave an unimpressive offering of Goyte's "Somebody That I Used to Know," but it was arguable that his personality that saved him. "You have this quirky thing that is so odd that it's right," Minaj said.
Marvin Calderon and Burnell Taylor were two of three contestants whose performances of Christina Perri's "Jar of Hearts" got them through, but the same couldn't be said for Nate Tao and Micah Johnson. Both favorites for their voices as much as their stories (Tao's parents are deaf and Johnson suffers a speech impediment due to a botched tonsil surgery), they handled elimination with grace.
"I've been through a lot worse," Johnson said.
Twenty-eight will advance to next week, though eight of them will be eliminated next Thursday following the girls' group and solo performances.