Last night the top 12 girls (the show's word, not mine) took the stage. I'm glad the judges haven't already been feeding us the whole "this is the season of the girls" because after last night's performances, I'd think Nigel Lythgoe was holding the premiere of J.Lo's video hostage. On the whole, in the words of Randy Jackson, "for you, for me, I just wasn't feeling it, dawg."
As with my previous recap, I'll divide the performances into three categories: the Downloadable, the Tolerable and the Pack-Your-Bags.
Pia Toscano: In Season #3, when they still had a top 32, there were a number of contestants you literally had never heard of before. And at the end of one show, out walked a singer named Latoya London. She proceeded to sing the hell out of All By Myself, surprising a still-not-quite-jaded Larry Hoffer. I just kept saying, no one had ever seen her before! (Sadly, she had the pipes of a goddess and the personality of copy paper, so she finished fourth.)
I share the history lesson because that's how I felt with Pia Toscano last night. Barely remember her from her audition or Hollywood week because there were probably 100 similar-looking girls with flat-ironed dark hair floating around. And given that producer-pimped Lauren Alaina "Last Name? What Last Name?" went just before her, I thought Pia would be the sacrifical lamb in the "pimp" spot to make Lauren look even better. But Pia knocked it out of the house with I'll Stand by You, delivering one of only a few knockout punches of the evening.
Thia Megia: I love being surprised. I expected Thia to either hew to the producers' view of what a 15-year-old should sing and break out Miley Cyrus (shudder) or to pull out a big diva ballad. Happily, she did neither, instead opting to sing Out Here on My Own, complete with an a cappella start, dramatic lighting and a bare stage. I thought it was pretty spectacular.
Lauren Alaina: After Lauren's energetic performance of Reba's Turn On the Radio, the judges once again reminded us that Lauren is even more spectacular than she knows! There's more to her! She's 16! You must love her! She's a combination of Kelly Clarkson and (shocker) Carrie Underwood! Seriously, though, I think Lauren has a great voice and she seems tremendously comfortable on stage, but Lauren already seems a tad fond of the spotlight, using her post-performance time to refer to Ryan as "Peaches" Seacrest (because he's from Georgia, apparently). If the producers could dial back the pimping
Lauren Turner: Another contestant I barely remembered from Hollywood or her audition, except when I wondered whether Nigel Lythgoe would allow another Lauren in
the competition, Lauren surprised me. Growling and gesturing through Jully Black's version of Etta James' Seven Day Fool (thanks to Entertainment Weekly's Annie Barrett for that info), Lauren brought some much needed spark and power to the show, despite some unfortunate prom-girl styling. And her throwaway comment "I'm sarcastic, America," only endeared her to me more. Lauren, do not listen to J.Lo's advice to get your face in the camera more. She confused you with the other Lauren.
Kendra Chantelle: Loved her duet on Blackbird with Paul McDonald in Vegas, so I was looking forward to Kendra's performance. She has a smoky, sexy, soulful quality to her voice, and I think there's more power in there we haven't seen. The song (which I assumed was called "It's Impossible" for the number of times Kendra used the word), Christina Aguilera's Impossible, didn't show off her voice as well as it could, and I fear her lack of a "look at me" personality may hurt her.
Naima Adedaipo: A few friends have called Naima their pick to win the competition. If this is to happen, she needs to concentrate more on her vocals and less on the theatrics. There's embracing your quirkiness and then there's screaming "Look at me, I'm quirky!", and that is where I feel our dear Naima is right now. Her version of Summertime finished much stronger than it started, but it also contained a hammy "Don't I wish?" after the line "Your daddy's rich." While I don't think she needed to be compared to Fantasia Barrino here (thanks, Randy), I think someone needs to shake her and tell her to sing something simple and powerful next week. Steven Tyler told Naima "I do take you personally. America needs you now,"(?) while J.Lo compared her to an exotic flower (which, coincidentally, Naima actually means). Umm, ok.
Haley Reinhart: Instead of an "easy" button, they need to make a "less is more" button for Haley. As I've said before, just because you have the ability to do a throaty growl doesn't mean you have to do it every other note. She tried to make Alicia Keys' Fallin' sexier and more soulful, but trying to do so while tossing your curls, spinning around and mugging for the camera doesn't always work. Steven and J.Lo liked Haley's performance, but Randy was unimpressed, leaving Haley to declare Alicia Keys "an inspiration."
Karen Rodriguez: Karen, we know you love J.Lo. You sang both a version of If You Had My Love and a Selena song during Hollywood week. But your uber-pageanty rendition of Hero switching from English to Spanish to "show your flavor" (thanks, J.Lo) didn't work, especially when accompanied by your soccer mom hair and pageant gown I swear I saw on a Miss Missouri from the 80s. (Trust me, Karen, you can't out-pageant a pageant fan.) Vocally it was good, including the Star Search key change toward the end, but meh. And invoking Jacob Lusk did you no favors, although if he really is your best friend, Karen, even he would have steered you away from that hairdo.
It Might Be Good to Have Your Bags Packed on Thursday...
Ta-Tynisa Wilson: Since being named to the top 24, Ta-Tynisa picked up a hyphen for her first name and lost all vocal talent, apparently. (Given the footage before her selection last week showed she forgot the words to her songs in Hollywood, I don't quite get why she's here anyway, except for cannon fodder.) One can only wonder what possessed her to sing Rihanna's Only Girl (In the World) while dressed like a ballerina in combat boots. And by "sing," I mean she didn't. Steven borrowed from the Paula Abdul dictionary with his "You sung the song and the song sung you," while J.Lo told Ta-Tynisa she was probably glad it was all over. Randy wasn't feeling it, man. (Clenching my fists not to make the "Ta-ta, Ta-Tynisa remark.")
Rachel Zevita: Oh, my quirky little bird. There's always a contestant on the show who tries to shake things up just a little too much, with mixed levels of success. (See: Overmyer, Amanda; Scott, Lily; Magnus, Siobhan; Lewis, Blake; etc.) Rachel tried to out-quirk them all with a vampy, nearly unrecognizable version of Fiona Apple's Criminal. I loved her intent, and pieces of it were cool, but instead of being turned off by its Broadway-esque nature (like J.Lo was, probably because she was turned down for a part in Chicago), I didn't like that most of the song was sung in an almost-monotone. Rachel seemed flummoxed the judges didn't like her, and didn't even compliment her little strip-tease at the beginning. So sad.
Ashthon Jones: Ashthon (I wish she'd drop the extra "h" for bloggers) fills the archetypal diva slot, even taking her boldness to new heights when she flirted with Ryan Seacrest. (Girl, Julianne Hough will cut you.) I hated her version of Monica's Love All Over Me, partially because the song did her no vocal favors and partially because I couldn't hear the song over being distracted by her onstage antics. Steven told Ashthon "her voice went places few have gone," but he meant it as a compliment. Randy told her that she was more Diana Ross than Monica. And if that's the case, dear Ashthon, perhaps it's time to break out your best Beyonce-in-Dreamgirls impression and sing Hard to Say Goodbye.
Julie Zorrilla: After their amazing duet of Something in Vegas, did pretty princess Julie and Tim Halperin make a suicide pact? Because both went from serious favorite to serious fodder in less than two minutes. In another gown from the "Toddlers & Tiaras" line for grownups, Julie absolutely butchered Kelly Clarkson's Breakaway. Seriously? You can sing any song you want to and you sing that? After invoking the first Paula-esque "you look beautiful" of the season, J.Lo continued her critique of Julie's lack of emotional connection to her songs, asking "Do you want to break away? Really?" I know I did during that song...
Tonight is the results show, when we'll find out who the top five men and women are, and then see how many contestants will get wild cards to perform again next week, when the judges
Oh, and can someone explain the forced interaction between Ryan and James Durban at one point last night. Was James supposed to be standing there putting his arm on Ryan, or was that a reminder that James has Asperger's and Tourette's?