With last week's medical drama behind them, the top eight ladies took the "American Idol" stage Tuesday night (March 9) in the final performance before this year's top 12 is chosen. In what is becoming an Adam Lambert-like bit of déjà vu, leading contender Crystal Bowersox nailed it again, while Siobhan Magnus, Lacey Brown and Didi Benami had solid enough nights to likely make it to next week.
First up, singing Kelly Clarkson's "Breakaway," was 17-year-old Katie Stevens, the high-schooler who smartly chose a contemporary artist to combat complaints from the judges that she was coming off as too old. The performance started off shaky with some flat spots as Stevens struggled to find the right notes, seemingly singing in too low a key. When she reached the midsection, Stevens began working the stage a bit and singing in a higher register that was more suited to her voice.
Randy Jackson wasn't loving it, saying the tune by the first "Idol" winner was too big for the teen's voice and making the dreaded karaoke comparison. Ellen was excited that Katie took their notes and went young, praising her voice, though she felt Stevens didn't sell the lyrics. "I think what's going on this year is we have people who really know themselves and people who don't," said Kara DioGuardi, who told Stevens she had a great radio voice. "I don't think you know who you are yet as an artist." To her credit, Cowell said, Katie has gotten a lot of confusing advice and taken it to heart, but like Kara, he said Stevens just doesn't know what kind of singer she wants to be yet. Though he gave her a 10-out-of-10 for trying, he called the rendition "gloomy."
Going retro, Siobhan Magnus went with a song she heard her dad sing growing up, the Animals' 1964 hit "House of the Rising Sun." Starting out with an almost operatic a cappella run, Magnus put rich emotion into the rootsy lament, singing it like a folk/blues anthem and proving again that she's a real contender for the title.
"You are why I love music, because it's supposed to move you, it's supposed to do what you just did to me," Ellen said. "I was captivated. I loved what you did with the song. You made it current. You're spectacular." Randy applauded the risks Magnus takes every week, even praising her for not taking the judges' advice, and Kara was way into the a cappella bit at the beginning. "You are so unique and different," she said, marveling at how surprised she is every week by Magnus' choices. Simon, however, wasn't feeling it. From the pre-interview where she talked about her dad to her kimono-like outfit and the performance, "It was all a bit weird" for Simon, who felt she didn't really do anything interesting with the song. "I was under-impressed. I thought you were so much better where you had that really cool moment. There was no moment in that. It was all a bit ploddy, a bit boring."
Getting back into her singer/songwriter sweet spot, Lacey Brown took on Brandi Carlile's "The Story," a country-ish ballad that suited her breathy voice and high, clear falsetto.
Though he didn't love the song, Cowell said she sang it very, very well and felt he could hear it on the radio right now. He also noted that she worked the cameras very well but still felt like he hadn't heard Brown's definitive performance yet and that she hasn't found the song that's going to make her stand out.
With a standout performance of Coldplay last week, Katelyn Epperly went back in time again for Carole King's "I Feel the Earth Move," standing a bit awkwardly at a keyboard and giving the song a generic disco-boogie feel that at points still managed to highlight her scratchy, soulful voice.
DeGeneres wasn't sure it was the right song choice to help get Epperly into the top 12, while Kara went a step further and said it didn't really feel like Katelyn came to compete but was just going through the motions. "It just wasn't enough," she said. The hair and the Wurlitzer groove worked for Randy, but he didn't think Epperly had a connection or vibe with the song. Simon also liked her golden crown of curls, but said, "On the downside, it was kind of like request night on a Friday night at a restaurant if you were working there." Epperly explained she chose the tune to avoid repeat criticism from Simon about being corny. "On what is arguably the most important night of your career, you chose quite a simple song, didn't do anything special with it, and I think other people look as if they're trying harder. So this may have been a mistake for you tonight."
Picking up her guitar for the first time since Hollywood, Didi Benami went torchy with an Adele-like folky ramble through Fleetwood Mac's "Rhiannon," wrapping her supple voice around the song's yearning lyrics and coming across as earnest and focused.
For Randy, it was way better than last week, even though it didn't have a "wow" moment, and Ellen loved how Benami came back from being trashed last week with confidence and grace. For Kara, it was simply one of her favorite moments of the season so far and, in a rarity, Cowell agreed, saying, it was "head and shoulders above anything else we've heard tonight. For the first time, certainly since these live shows, you proved that you're an artist, and I think, Randy, I disagree, she did have a 'wow' moment and the wow moment was the whole performance."
The news was not so great for Paige Miles, who went with one of Michael Jackson's favorite songs, the weepy ballad "Smile," popularized by silent-film icon Charlie Chaplin. Miles never quite found her groove, as her quavering voice struggled to keep up with the song's tricky arrangement.
The pained look on Ellen's face said it all, as Randy called the tune too big for her. "That song is supposed to be inspiring, it's supposed to be uplifting, and it was just sad and heavy ... and you have such a great personality, and we didn't get to see it, and we keep saying over and over, this is the time to shine. This is the time to show us who you are, and I don't think that was the right song for you to choose," DeGeneres said. From the horrible choice of song to the awful 1974 Holiday Inn lounge arrangement, Cowell said it was probably the end of the road for a good singer who just doesn't seem to know what kind of artist she wants to be. Miles, a huge fan of the Jackson version, said she simply couldn't hold her emotions in check during the performance.
Cementing her status as the one to beat, Crystal Bowersox strapped on an electric guitar for Tracy Chapman's "Give Me One Reason," reaching deep for a glimpse of the bluesy grit she learned in her hometown of Chicago. Bowersox imbued the song with just the right amount of hip-swaying sass and country swagger, drawing the biggest ovation of the night.
"You are 1 million, billion percent going to be in the top 12 next week," Cowell promised, noting that Bowersox has clearly gained confidence during her run on the show and again dubbing her the one to beat. Ellen's run out of adjectives to describe Bowersox's talent, calling it the performance of the night. "This is what we talk about when people know who they are," Kara said, pointing out that the song choice was perfect because it's exactly what she could heard Crystal doing on her debut album. "Every time you step up there, it's easy for you, because ... you just know what to do."
Lilly Scott closed the show with Patsy Cline's "I Fall to Pieces," giving the country classic a Hawaiian spin while strumming an electric mandolin and wrapping her kewpie-doll voice around the song's sensual lyrics.
It was all good for Randy, who said Scott was in the zone, while DioGuardi marveled at how she found a way to make a 50-year-old song sound contemporary. "I think you're very brave for choosing that song on a night like this," Cowell said, before knocking Scott for lacking the 'wow' factor necessary to close the night with a bang. "It was cute, it was quirky, it plays into what you're all about, but that could have been a risky thing to do."
The top eight men are up next Wednesday night, and the final four semifinalists will go home Thursday.
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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