The first grade in this week's "American Idol" women's report card goes to the producers for lopping 60 minutes off the show's running time. A+ programming move, folks. The two-hour, filler-heavy live episodes we've seen in recent weeks will not be missed, even if the leaner, meaner show still managed to kick off with a painfully corny, too long bit involving the openly gay Ellen DeGeneres cuddling in the lap of the painfully heterosexual, recently engaged Simon Cowell as some sort of bid to convince us that the two talent adjudicators are BFFs.
Now about those contestants. A few will not be missed either next week, based on their subpar performances on Tuesday night. Others, meanwhile, continued to impress and had us thinking this season is not nearly as dull as we once feared. Who surprised us, who disappointed us and who's in danger of going home? Let's take a look at the top 12 women's report card. (And don't miss Jim Cantiello's recap of their performances in the MTV Newsroom.)
Didi Benami: Picking up the guitar for the first time since the Hollywood rounds, Benami wins the comeback-kid award for her acoustic folk take on Fleetwood Mac's "Rhiannon." Her confident strumming and doleful camera stares made the judges fall in love with her again, with Cowell declaring that she'd had her first "wow" moment of the season.
Crystal Bowersox: After last week's health scare, this season's one to beat did it again, effortlessly killing it with a bluesy shuffle through Tracy Chapman's "Give Me One Reason." Though not as revelatory as last week's Creedence Clearwater Revival cover, Bowersox's confidence and chops inspired Cowell to absolutely guarantee she'd be in the top 12 next week.
Lilly Scott: Performing in the prime final spot, Scott strummed an electric mandolin for Patsy Cline's classic "I Fall to Pieces." Kara loved how she made a 50-year-old song sound contemporary, and Cowell praised her unique personality and oddball delivery but wasn't sure it was enough to get her through to the next round. Scott won't hoist the trophy in May, but we beg to differ with Cowell: She will live to sing again next week, at least.
Siobhan Magnus: This season's resident quirky girl paid homage to her dad with the Animals' "House of the Rising Sun." In place of last week's soul-wail-heard-round-the-world, she kicked the retro tune off with a strong a cappella section and turned in a solid, if unexceptional, performance that should get her into the top 12 as well. DeGeneres said she was captivated and called the rendition spectacular. The glassblower's apprentice may have kept it in check this week, but make no mistake: She can wail.
Lacey Brown: She'd had very little success mixing it up with Fleetwood Mac and Sixpence None the Richer up until now, so Texas' Brown decided to chuck it all and just do what comes naturally, crooning countryish ballads. From her rooster-like hair to the animal-print cardigan, it was all a bit Beauty School Dropout, but Brown did just enough with Brandi Carlile's "The Story" to impress most of the panel, with Simon giving her props for knowing how to seduce the camera. She'll keep on keepin' on, but just giving good camera face won't get her that far.
Katelyn Epperly: She wanted to up the energy, but with a disco-lite stumble through Carole King's "I Feel the Earth Move," all Epperly did was likely make voters second-guess their opinions after two strong weeks. Kara went so far as to say she didn't think Kate had her game face on and was just going through the motions, while just about all Randy Jackson and Simon could compliment was her gorgeous head of blonde curls. She's probably safe for another week, but just barely.
Katie Stevens: We've hammered her for many things in the past, but never before for being pitchy. A new week, a new critique. After repeated criticism for picking songs that made her sound older than a 17-year-old high-schooler, Stevens smartly went with Kelly Clarkson's "Breakaway" ... but it still didn't measure up. Her Benjamin Button-like qualities just make her incapable of communicating any sense of youthful energy. Jackson said the song was too big for her voice, while Cowell called it gloomy, complaining that she too didn't know what kind of artist she wants to be. You could see it in her eyes: She knows she's going home. Voters will likely agree.
Paige Miles: One of the most epic fails in "Idol" history. Miles, who despite scant screen time before the semi-finals has been tagged by the judges as having one of the best voices in the competition, butchered one of Michael Jackson's favorite songs, "Smile," turning it from inspiring to just plain sad and heavy in Ellen's eyes. Cowell said it was like a Holiday Inn lounge-worthy effort and effectively signed her ticket home. Miles broke down and said she couldn't keep her emotions in check during the performance, perhaps a precursor to Thursday night's tears.
What did you think of the women's performances? Who killed it? Who blew it? Who is definitely making it to the top 12? Let us know by leaving your comments below.
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