By night's end, Pia Toscano and Ashthon Jones emerged as the ones to beat, while teens Thia Megia and Lauren Alaina appeared to have also punched their cards into the top 10.
Beyoncé impersonator Ta-Tynisa Wilson, 20, did the honors and went first, singing Rihanna's "Only Girl (In the World)," while wearing a geometric-patterned poodle skirt. Though she looked the part, her thin, squeaky vocals were way off and the band's tinny new wave arrangement did her no favors.
Jennifer Lopez said it started off shaky, but she liked how Wilson played to the crowd and disagreed strongly with Randy Jackson, who wasn't afraid to say it was just a'ight and didn't really show anything unique.
One of the most promising singers, 26-year-old Milwaukee stadium attendant Naima Adedapo isn't just a great singer, she also designed the beautiful canary-yellow Geisha-inspired dress that she wore while singing one of her favorite tunes, the "Porgy and Bess" classic "Summertime." Bringing a finger-snapping, sultry sass to the oft-sung tune, Adedapo worked the stage, the crowd and the judges while showing off her rich range and effortless, Erykah Badu-like star quality.
J.Lo called her "an exotic flower in a rose garden," but once again Randy ... not so much. He called it lounge act-y and a pale comparison to former "Idol" champ Fantasia's version, noting that she pulled it off at the finish with a strong note.
Former bathtub saleswoman Kendra Chantelle, 22, slowed things down with a slinky take on Christina Aguilera's "Impossible." Wearing skintight black leather pants and a body-hugging top, she didn't try to out-diva the troubled pop star, but instead just sang a competent, growly version of the lesser-known ballad accented by a small end-run of notes.
Jackson was worried when he heard Chantelle was going to sing the tune, but praised her vibrato and compared it to Lauryn Hill's. "You did it again, voice hot, clothes hot, style hot," said Steven Tyler, who clearly was enjoying the visual and the audio show during the performance.
This year's resident oddball Rachel Zevita has finally gotten her shot after four years of trying, and the 23-year-old didn't disappoint, coming out in a black cape and shedding it with a flurry to reveal a short red dress. She gave Fiona Apple's breakthrough 1996 hit "Criminal" a jazzbo tilt, missing a lot of the notes, but putting lots of energy and sass into the performance.
"I loved your strut, I loved your swagger, I loved your moves," Tyler said. "A little too Broadway for me, not that that's a bad thing, Broadway could be your niche." Zevita said she'd never really sung like that before, which led Lopez to wonder why she chose that song and arrangement and whether she aims to be a contemporary star. "It wasn't great, it wasn't good," Randy said simply.
Fiery Latina singer Karen Rodriguez, 21, went the full ballad route with another "Idol" staple, Mariah Carey's "Hero." Her vocals were solid, but she threw a curveball by going the funky bilingual route and singing half the lyrics in Spanish.
"Wow, wow, wow," Lopez enthused, showing off her goose bumps. Randy was finally glad to hear someone make a song their own, suggesting the lyrics sounded even better in Spanish than English. "Definitely a one-of-a-kind singer," Steven added, suggesting she hook up with male frontrunner Jacob Lusk for a duet.
Louisiana housekeeper and Bette Midler doppelgänger Lauren Turner went topical (peep the lyrics about scrubbing dirty floors) with Etta James' "Seven Day Fool." She showed spunk and showcased her rich R&B growl, but the performance seemed a bit old-fashioned for "Idol."
Not just because she's an L.A. homegirl, but Randy loved it, calling it a fresh mashup between Amy Winehouse and Florence and the Machine. Tyler agreed, dubbing the performance "spectacular" and admiring the way it went from down low to way up high and everywhere in between.
Nashville's Ashthon Jones, 24, got seductive with Monica's suggestive "Love All Over Me," giving the ladies in the crowd multiple shout-outs and showing off a bit with some big, meaty runs and power notes.
"You've got the confidence of a queen and you sing so sweet," Tyler said. "You go places with your voice few have gone." Because she knows, Lopez said Jones had all the makings of a diva: the big hair, the body, the moves, the composure and the confidence.
Hollywood's Julie Zorrilla, 20, took a big gamble with season-one winner Kelly Clarkson's "Breakaway," coming out tentative with shaky vocals and not much personality, mostly failing to give the song that signature spark Randy's been looking for.
The judges weren't feeling it. Lopez said it was not great and lacked a connection to the lyrics and personality, while Randy, shocker, said it paled in comparison to Clarkson's original. Personality-plus singer Haley Reinhart poured into a tight black mini-dress and made love to the audience during Alicia Keys' "Fallin'," throwing in some growly accents, shoulder rolls and high runs in an attempt to make the song her own.
Again, Jackson didn't think it did anything for Reinhart, missing her husky, Janis Joplin-like tone, though Steven said it had the right amount of sexy rasp, attitude and vocal coloration.
Next up were the season's two youngest female contestants, starting with 16-year-old Thia Megia, who brought things all the way down with the Irene Cara "Fame" classic "Out Here on My Own." Singing in a spotlight a cappella at first, Megia once again showed precocious talents, belting out the ballad with confidence and a powerhouse voice.
"Sometimes a person's pitch can be so perfect it doesn't matter what song they sing," Tyler gushed, marveling at the talent she's amassed at her young age. Lopez loved the captivating, quiet confidence and Randy said the quality of Megia's tone was dead-on, again comparing it to the late Michael Jackson.
Fellow youngster, Georgia firecracker and early favorite Lauren Alaina, 16, has proven expert at working the judges and she mixed it up a bit with Reba McEntire's country stomper "Turn on the Radio." The vocals were a bit shaky at times, but Alaina confidently worked the stage and got the crowd hyped with her infectious energy.
"You don't even have to try ... the voice is just so effortless," Lopez said, marveling at Alaina's natural talent, while Jackson said the high-schooler doesn't even realize how much potential she has.
The night's final slot belonged to Pia Toscano, 22, the raven-haired former makeup artist who opted for the Pretenders' go-to singing competition staple "I'll Stand By You." She looked like a star in her glittery black cocktail dress and sang a solid version of the tune, hitting her mark in a slightly overwrought arrangement and ending with some big, showy notes at the end that sounded flat on TV, but clearly moved the crowd.
And the judges, who jumped up to give her a standing ovation as Randy guaranteed Toscano earned a spot in the top 10. "You were saving that for when it counts ... it was out of this world," Lopez added.
"Idol" returns on Thursday night for the results show, when five men and five women will move into the top 10 and the judges will make their wild card picks.
Which girls did you think killed it on Wednesday night? Let us know in the comments below!
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