It was a relatively scandal-free week for the ladies, save for Amanda's unearthed DUI arrest, but after last week's performance, what she needed was an IV of quaaludes.

That's not to imply that Amanda was last week's sole catastrophe — far from it, as this year's crop of female talent proves to be the least "Idol"-ready in memory. Going into Wednesday night's talent show - which, along with the boys' Tuesday-night performances, determines who gets a place in the top 12 hierarchy — one would have assumed it would be a call to arms to bring forth the inner cavalry and sing like there's no tomorrow. Well, you know that old saying "When you assume ..."

Wednesday night you could almost read the mental blueprints outlining the judges' epic struggle to sway the viewers toward their picks. When asked by Ryan who specifically needs to step it up, Simon said quite astutely, "Everyone. No one is safe."

Asia'h Epperson
Song: Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody"
Verdict: Might be her dance of death

Year after year, these contestants never, ever learn. And why would they? As long as the judges continue to gush over mediocre performances (this one had Paula nearly dancing atop the table), there will be no moratorium on Houston. I'm a fan of husky female voices, so I wasn't totally disappointed in Epperson's take; in fact, I kinda like her tone. The performance was like Whitney herself, compared to Asia'h's debacle last week. That said, it's one of Houston's most dated songs — it's so 1988 that to escape it you'd need a time machine. Epperson did the best she could with her limited, albeit torchy range, but the results were little more than loungy.

Kady Malloy
Song: Queen's "Who Wants to Live Forever"
Verdict: Hey, being an emotionless cyborg never hurt Carrie Underwood's career

Simon called out Kady for obvious reasons: her mechanical vocal and stage persona. You can't help but wonder what awful things have happened in this girl's life: Offstage, she masquerades behind dead-eyed impersonations with an overabundant need to make people happy, while onstage she's DOA, singing under a cloud of despair. It would be fascinating to watch the dichotomy if, at the very least, she had the vocal chops to pull off her brazen song choices. She does not, so all we're left with is a tuneless warbler who might be better served if she sought professional help. I assume she was as shocked as anyone when she wasn't eliminated last week, so she went full steam ahead. Unfortunately, the train didn't have enough coal. When vocally generic Katharine McPhee's version of the song sounds like Edith Piaf in contrast, you know your next logical stop is the Playboy Mansion.

Amanda Overmyer
Song: Joan Jett's "I Hate Myself for Loving You"
Verdict: Oh, Amanda, don't make me hate myself for ... oh, never mind

The '80s theme set my heart aflutter for Amanda and Amanda alone. How could she pass up the chance to wow us by revealing the range I've always assumed her to have? I mean, "Total Eclipse of the Heart" would have been ideal — she could be Bonnie Tyler's daughter, for all her delicious rasp. She could have piggybacked David Hernandez and given us her own "It's All Coming Back to Me Now," and it would have been dazzling. I would have been happy with a Stevie Nicks classic too, though it might have drudged up painful memories of Nikki McKibbin in season two. (Let it go, Jeffrey, let it go.) But as a die-hard Joan Jett fanatic, I wasn't displeased with the song selection. Rather, it was the execution that left me disenchanted. I'm not sure if it was the VotefortheWorst.com endorsement, or if she was still distressed from last week's John Zorn-like calamity. Maybe she felt naked without her Lily Munster hair and makeup (though she was all the more lovely for it). Whatever the reason, Amanda appeared, well, defeated. Vocally, she never strayed from the melody (there's not much melody to begin with), but her recital seemed almost contractual, and she seemed pissed that she had to be there at all.

Carly Smithson
Song: Cyndi Lauper's (or Roy Orbison's) "I Drove All Night"
Verdict: At least it wasn't Celine Dion's

Smithson revealed that her most embarrassing memory was the time she got her legs stuck in some railings and her friend greased them with butter to get them out. (Oh, Carly! You're such a silly goose! Color me confused, but I would have just assumed that even more humiliating would have been when, as Carly Hennessey, you were signed to a major label — Randy Jackson was head of A&R, by the way — that gave you a $100,000 advance, and spent two years and more than $2 million on the recording, promotion and video expenses of your first CD, which went on to sell only 400 copies. No? Oh, maybe that's just me.) Given Simon's criticism of Kady's robotics, you have to wonder how he avoided such an analysis of Carly, who's far from emotional. She struggled to reach the power notes, but when she did, she sounded clear and confident. But more often than not, it was more a shout-fest, resulting in an anticlimactic Vegas warble.

Kristy Lee Cook
Song: Journey's "Faithfully"
Verdict: More like a monotonous Faith-Hilly

With a hiccup and a twang, Cook treated us to the Elly May Clampett version of this Journey schlockfest, and the result bordered on Ace Young-style banality. She wavered off and on pitch throughout most of the song, and that bellow right before the decrescendo was cacophonous. Her awkward facial tics juxtaposed with her wacky stance brought to mind a comment you might hear from Simon: This was akin to watching your drunk, hot cousin warbling karaoke at the Hillsboro Hoedown Square-Dance Club.

Ramiele Malubay
Song: Phil Collins' "Against All Odds"
Verdict: What did I do to deserve two Phil Collins songs in as many nights?

I can't help but be struck by Malubay's beauty, because there isn't much else to get excited about. Here is a wee girl with a big, beautiful voice who consistently fails to live up to my expectations by choosing the wrong songs and lacking confidence. Here is a capable singer who could actually tackle a Whitney or Christina or Celine song (though my moratorium wishes remain) with those pipes, but instead relies on annoying Mariah coos and twitches and melisma. I've yet to be impressed with Malubay, but here's hoping that if she makes it passed Thursday's elimination, she can find the right balance between incandescence and restraint, vibrancy and emotion.

Brooke White
Song: Pat Benatar's "Love Is a Battlefield"
Verdict: War is hell, but this was a li'l slice of heaven

Randy was absolutely wrong (as usual) when he said with a straight face that he doesn't think Brooke brought anything new to the song. Here was Benatar's synthiest hit song, and White chose to do it as an acoustic number. What's not new about that? She pulled a David Cook, only in reverse: While Cook presented the ballad "Hello" as a stalker anthem, Brooke modernized a dated '80s dance ditty into an acoustic yearn. OK, so she's not Patti LaBelle, but I do like the catch in her voice, and she looks lovely with brushed hair. I swear if there's ever a musical, live-action version of "The Dark Crystal," she has the lead. Brooke may not be the best singer, but I'm enjoying her ascension more and more.

Syesha Mercado
Song: Whitney Houston's "Saving All My Love for You"
Verdict: She might be dancing with Asia'h if Kady gets the sympathy vote

There's nothing more annoying than mimicking. By delivering absolutely zilch to yet another Houston song, Mercado might have rendered herself a nonentity, a solid singer — one of this year's best — that no one remembered as they reached for their phones because of poor song selection. If Wednesday proves to be her final curtain, it will be a waste of talent and charm, not to mention a smile that lasts for days.

Is it too close to make bold predictions? Will we be saying bye-bye to Kady and Kristy? Will it be Ramiele's final bow, or will Syesha's and Asia'h's fanbase split the vote for a surprise ousting?

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