Last night, in the whirl of graphics that starts out every dream parade, a virtual cone unpeeled to reveal a virtual American Idol – an androgynous figure, neither male nor female, perfect and singing. In real life, though, the talk was all about the "ladies" vs. the men. J. Lo called the girls "just as explosive" as the guys. Ryan wondered how we'd ever choose between them. All twelve came decked in metallic dresses and new hair-dos. The reminder sounded: out of the dozen men yesterday and the dozen ladies today, only one, either male or female, can be etc. etc. etc.
First out of the gate: Ta-Tynisa Wilson. She sang "Only Girl" by Rihanna, flat the whole way through. Randy was the only one who didn't love it. J. Lo and Steven gushed before they'd seen any of the others, nearly all of whom outperformed her.
Like, for instance: Naima Adedapo, who sang a very loungey "Summertime." Randy didn't like her just as much as he didn't like Ta-Tynisa, but that didn't hide the fact that Naima was better. Her notes were correct, and her voice came through with little distraction from that band that's always playing. She also had the strange and compelling style she's been rocking all season. "You are like an exotic flower in a rose garden," J. Lo said, as Naima excitedly cut in with: "That's what my name means!" Whether "Naima" means "exotic," "exotic flower," or "exotic flower in a rose garden," we may never know (Google says "tranquil").
Kendra Chantelle was next, with Christina Aguilera's "Impossible." Kendra is not as exciting as the judges keep telling us she is. Regardless, even Randy went bananas. Her vibrato made him feel "connected" to her and "warm," and ... reminded him of Lauryn Hill? But why? Only J. Lo said something that could double as an insult. "I feel like there's more in you."
Rachel Zevita took the stage next, delivering the only performance of the night that could be called a bomb. Her "Criminal" had a notable lack of Fiona Apple sex appeal. The movements were jerky and thought-out. Steven called it "a little too Broadway." This J. Lo echoed, with the suggestion that Broadway could be a venue for Rachel to consider. Isn't Broadway also very hard to break into? Zevita took the criticism in stride and said she had a great time onstage.
Next up: MySpace's Karen Rodriguez, with Mariah Carey's "Hero." As technologically facile as MKR must be to have originated on MySpace, she is nevertheless from the Nineties. This is not a bad thing. In fact, it may have been a very good thing. From her dated look to the dated song to the fact that she updated it with Spanish lyrics (as opposed to, say, Arabic, which might be more provocative today), MySpace's Karen could clearly take us back to an innocent time if given the chance.
Before Lauren Turner went on, Ryan told us our friends at Ford have made J. Lo's latest music video available. Keep that in mind everyone. Lauren sang "Seven Day Fool," which is all about scrubbing floors and whatnot. This may or may not have been intended to call up her backstory as a maid. The judges loved her but advised her to let go physically. "I'm sarcastic, America, just so you know," Lauren said, defending her lack of moves. Sarcasm seems like a handicap if you're trying win America's favorite singing competition.
Next was Ashthon Jones, whose confidence threatened to be irritating. Her version of Monica's "Love All Over Me" wasn't actually that good, but she made it look like it was. The judges ate it up, with lots of references to Diana Ross and Ashthon's diva potential. Later, with Ryan, Ashthon made aggressively sexy faces while coaxing us to vote for her.
Julie Zorilla of the dresses sang "Breakaway," by former Idol Kelly Clarkson. The judges weren't convinced. "It's like, do you really want to break away?" J. Lo asked. A surprise turn for Julie, who's usually called "the whole package."
Next was Haley Reinhart, with Alicia Keys' "Falling." She growled in all the right ways, making J. Lo and Steven happy, but Randy said the song didn't do anything for Haley: "It's kind of like a karaoke kind of thing." Buoyed by the other two, Haley responded with the verbal equivalent of a polite letter. "It's your opinion. You're entitled to it, but Alicia has been a big inspiration to me so I'm just trying to go for it."
Former America's Got Talent Semifinalist/current fifteen-year-old Thia Megia went next, providing a "quiet moment in the middle of all these big performances," according to J. Lo. She sang "Out Here On My Own" from Fame. It was undeniably good, as much for the moving effect of a small girl in a spotlight, like J. Lo said, as for her the quality of her voice, which Randy compared to that of "the late great Michael Jackson." So the Dawg said. If you could do the aural equivalent of squinting, maybe.
Judges favorite Lauren Alaina took the penultimate spot with "Turn On The Radio" by Reba McEntire. It wasn't the best she's done, but the judges slotted it "somewhere between Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood," which is to say, by Idol standards, very very good. The moment that'll probably win Lauren the most votes, though, is when she introduced a nickname for Ryan that hit Twitter exactly a second later: "'Peaches,' cuz he's from Georgia like me."
Last, and the most standing ovation-iest, was Pia Toscano. Her "I'll Stand by You" brought the whole crowd and the judges to their feet. Like everything last night, though, it didn't seem to merit that kind of violent reaction. The past weeks have by and large turned out higher quality performances. Still, good job, Pia. You're probably in.
So: Pia, Lauren A., Thia, Ashthon and Karen are shoo-ins, with Lauren T., Haley, Kendra and Naima potentially shaking the ranks. Also Peaches – shoo-in nickname candidate.
Last Episode: The Top 24 Are Here!