On Wednesday morning, following the top 12 men’s debut on “American Idol,” MTV News sized up the competition with our first report card of the season. We doled out high marks to Paul McDonald and Casey Abrams, and delivered some tough love in the form of failing grades to Robbie Rosen and Jordan Dorsey.
Now it’s the top 12 women’s turn to soar or suffer. When the ladies took the stage on Wednesday night, they busted out praiseworthy tuneage and showed off vocal chops that aren’t quite ready for the big time. Who’s up, who’s down, who might be out by next week? It’s report card time!
Pia Toscano: She alone lands in this category because she alone blew us away with the iron-man strength of her vocals. Some of those sustains during the Pretenders’ “I’ll Stand by You” were dizzying. Pia made a savvy song choice, avoiding the voice-crowding din of an up-tempo tune (unlike Lauren Alaina), and showcased nothing but her best-in-show vocals. Welcome to the head of the class, Miss Toscano!
Kendra Chantelle: Unlike her Hollywood Week duet partner Paul McDonald, who broke out of the crowd on Tuesday, Kendra didn’t fully separate herself from the pack. At least not yet. She showed off an impressive range and a soulful tone while singing, a tad boringly, Christina Aguilera’s “Impossible.” We look forward to Kendra following McDonald’s lead and delivering a breakout performance soon.
Lauren Turner: Though her take on Etta James’ “Seven Day Fool” was a tad bit Broadway, there’s no denying the strength of her vocals. Still, we’re not yet ready to join our colleague Jim Cantiello in we’re-not-worthy praise of Turner. We’ll be looking for a more contemporary and radio-relevant tune before thrusting her into the upper echelon.
Ashthon Jones: Steven Tyler was right: Jones has a trainload of confidence, and it’s on the strength of her self-assurance and personality, rather than her song choice of Monica’s “Love Over Me,” that she sneaks into this range. We dig her sultry, R&B soul, though we’ll stop way short, unlike Jennifer Lopez, of saying she’s a diva-in-the-making.
Thia Megia: It took guts for this teen to strip down Irene Cara’s “Out Here on My Own,” stand out there on the stage under a spotlight, and live and die on the strength of her vocals. Live she did, and she came close to having a “moment.” Close.
Lauren Alaina: Let’s just pretend the judges didn’t anoint Lauren as the artistic goddaughter of Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. We get it; she’s an internal “Idol” favorite. For us, her high-energy take on Reba McEntire’s “Turn On the Radio” veered too far into “Coyote Ugly” territory. Who knew she wanted to be a country rocker? But we give her credit for going big early.
Naima Adedapo: Perhaps Naima isn’t a student of “Idol” history, because even casual viewers know that a) you can’t sing “Summertime” without being compared to Fantasia and b) you’ll never come off on top in that comparison. That being said, her vocals were solid, the arrangement had a nice, jazzy feel to it, and she ended strong. We’re expecting more from Naima going forward, and we’ll be disappointed if she doesn’t rise up next week.
Karen Rodriguez: Like Naima, Karen chose a song that simply would not lead to favorable comparisons. It doesn’t matter if she sang “Hero” in English, Spanish, Dutch and Mandarin, the “Idol” contestant is never going to wow us more than Mariah Carey.
Ta-Tynisa Wilson: There was something inhumanely tinny about her voice during a take on Rihanna’s “Only Girl.” Not only were there pitch problems galore, but the performance very much reeked of girl-singing-into-a-hairbrush-in-her-bedroom syndrome.
Rachel Zevita: We were praying, “Please don’t throw off that cape and reveal some skimpy outfit!” Then we were praying, “Please don’t try to act all sultry!” Then we were praying, “Please just stay still because you’re running around the room like a loon, trying to hit your marks, and your vocals are suffering.” Despite our prayers, Rachel made all these mistakes and more in an all-too-“Chicago” performance. She’s in serious danger this week. (There is a god!)
Julie Zorrilla: Above and beyond the unpleasant, nasal tone to her voice, the performance was all sorts of wrong. Maybe it was the dress or the forever-waving arm, but the whole thing came off as very pageant-y and practiced.
Haley Reinhart: Haley’s take on Alicia Keys’ “Fallin’ ” was yet another example of poor song choice by the women. She brought nothing new to the tune, overused her rasp and growl, and unleashed the single worst note of the night when her voice actually cracked toward the end.
Don’t miss “Idol Party Live” at 10 p.m. Thursday on MTV.com, following the “American Idol” results show, for analysis, celebrity guests and even some karaoke — get in the conversation by tweeting with the hashtag #idolparty! In the meantime, get your “Idol” fix on MTV News’ “American Idol” page , where you’ll find all the latest news, interviews and opinions.