It’s A Girls’ Year (This Time, For Real)

Last year, the American Idol machine made it known that it was a girls’ year. They were over mediocre, boring, run-of-the-mill white guys with guitars running away with the Idol crown. They would have none of that. It was time for the next Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood. So, naturally, voting rounds came and four of the first five boots were women, leaving us with male vocal powerhouses such as Tim Urban, Aaron Kelly and Lee Dewyze.

So how are things shaking up this year? Might we, for the first time since diva-dominated Season 6, see more than one girl in the top 4? Did the ladies bring it? Do dramatic wardrobe reveals, desperate cries for attention and the greatest hyperbolic statements ever uttered ever, for all time have a place on the Idol stage? Well, let’s see how many of those answers the top 12 girls’ performances can answer.

Ta-Tynisa Wilson – “Only Girl (In The World)” (Rihanna)
Now I’ll start off by being fair to Ta-Tynisa. She has gotten the short end of the stick this season. Her most memorable moments so far are suffering from LeAnn Womack-related Amnesia (a truly horrible disorder which also afflicts Scotty McCreery) and delivering a strained “Unchained Melody.” On top of that, she’s stuck in the Dead-Man-Walking spot. That said, Ta-Tynisa could’ve been previously edited as God’s gift to mankind or, even more outrageously, as Lauren Alaina, and still been washed aside after her performance last night. She chose a song with no melody to speak of in the verses and a shouty-by-design chorus and then performed the second half of it while doing some rigorous football linemen drills. When Rihanna has you beat in live performing, you should probably rethink your career path. And while J. Lo and Steven Tyler are still useless in the live critiques, if you carefully piece together their words, they actually make sense.

Steven: Ta-Tynisa, the song sang you.
J. Lo: It’s good that it’s over now.

Naima Adedapo – “Summertime” (Porgy and Bess)
“Summertime” is just like home for Naima. Her name also means exotic flower. She was born a bright star and all she needs is the ability to shine. So, what I’m gathering from all of this is that she and her family are the leading writers of fortune cookie fortunes. (Move to the Sea(crest) and opportunity will follow.) Everything from her loud self-designed outfit to her opening wacky-wavy-inflatable-flailing-arm-tube-man move was ludicrously extravagant. Yet, somehow, I couldn’t help myself from enjoying the entire performance. There’s something to be said about actually having fun while performing and Naima was definitely having fun with herself. It was a welcomed departure from the typical Idol showing which attempts to infuse every note with as much drama as an episode of 24. I dug the oddly upbeat, jazzy arrangement of the song. And, as with nearly all of her fellow female contestants, she hit the vast majority of her notes (a feat now worth mentioning in the wake of last season).

Kendra Chantelle – “Impossible” (Christina Aguilera)
Let’s talk about Kendra’s leather pants. Leather. Pants. Yeah. Kendra has a surprisingly strong voice. While it gets a little shrill on the higher end, it’s absolute money in her lower range. I have nothing to say about Kendra. She’s stunningly pretty and has a pretty voice. This would be more special if it weren’t true about half the girls we have remaining. (Hey, “there are too many pretty girls with pretty voices” is the best complaint I’ve had about the show in years.)

Rachel Zevita – “Criminal” (Fiona Apple)
Let’s get things straight. Rachel is not quirky; she is certifiably insane. She started with her backed turned to the camera, wearing a black shower curtain which she immediately shed to show her daring bead-adorned dress. As she slinked down the stairs to the judges, J. Lo was giving her best “what-is-this-bitch-doing?” face. (Meanwhile, Steven Tyler was drunkenly head-shaking and Randy Jackson was nodding off to sleep.) I love it when the contestants use the tiny bit of stage directly behind the judges to perform. It’s glorious watching how the judges react: do they swivel their chairs around? turn their heads? ignore the performer completely? This judging panel chose to ignore poor Rachel, so she quickly regained their attention by screaming a few unintelligible syllables. Anyway, Rachel gave a fantastic bitchface of her own when Steven dared to accuse her of being Broadway. Because, if there’s one thing Rachel has never done, it’s Broadway (and, perhaps, sanity). I will be sad tonight, when we inevitably lose Rachel’s crazy… I guess I’ll have to make do with legitimately talented entertainment.

Karen Rodriguez – “Hero” (Mariah Carey)
For the first time, Karen was not introduced as “MySpace’s” Karen Rodriguez. Of course, without this moniker, half of America was left wondering who this chick singing in some crazy alien language was. Karen sang well. In fact, I’ll say she sang extremely well. I even like the tone of her voice and her control. (She didn’t attempt to hit any glory notes in the first chorus! That’s unheard of for a Mariah cover on Idol.) I cannot, however, endorse anything about her performance because out of every song in the (Idol) world, she chose “Hero.” Oh MySpace’s Karen Rodriguez… maybe you would have fared better if you were Facebook’s Karen Rodriguez. (Who would play her in The Social Network 2: Now It’s Real(ity TV)?)

Lauren Turner – “Seven Day Fool” (Etta James)
First off, Lauren Turner had a distractingly groovy screen saver going on during her performance. (It might’ve been the same one they pulled out for Clint’s “Superstition” but I can’t be bothered to do things like fact check.) She was also one of three or four contestants this week to abuse the poor, sad, lonely mic stand. I felt bad for it, lying there on its side, all dejected. She’s got a powerful voice and picked a song with some life in it even if neither were my cup of tea. (Quick aside, what exactly did J. Lo want Lauren to do when she suggested to get more physical? Would she like a little more kick-boxing and somersaulting?) Good performance that, if all things were equal, should put her through to the finals. All things are not equal and I can’t say I’ll be crushed if she gets Lisa Leuschner’d. (I was, however, crushed when Lisa Leuschner got Lisa Leuschner’d.)

Ashthon Jones – “Love All Over Me” (Monica)
Ashthon Jones is my hero. She is perfect and I will not accept any suggestion otherwise. Ashthon Jones can do no wrong. She is drop-dead gorgeous and has confidence in spades. I was even endeared by her “what’s up ladies?” and “you know what I’m talking ’bout” interludes that typically send me up the wall. So if you were expecting an unbiased, fair critique of Ashthon’s performance, you have come to the wrong place. I loved her performance. I loved the song she picked. I love her deliciously divalicious demeanor (semi-accidental alliteration!) and her adorable post-performance chat. Ashthon Jones, you are so beautiful to me. And now I have doomed you to the fate of my last three pre-semis favorites: Asia’h Epperson, Felicia Barton and Ashley Rodriguez (lol, oh Ashley Rodriguez, what a mistake you were).

Julie Zorilla – “Breakaway” (Kelly Clarkson)
Julie was my other potential favorite. Her original song in the final Hollywood round and her duet with Tim were both top notch. I have no problem saying that her performance last night was an abomination. Julie would make an excellent Ms. America or prom queen. I imagine Julie could make a living smiling and waving at plebeians from intricately-ornamented platforms (floats, balconies, etc) while having her hair in the perfectly styled up-do and wearing a frilly pink dress. In fact, Julie would make a very pretty princess of some small European nation. If you think about it that way, Julie’s song choice made perfect sense. She was connecting with the song like J. Lo wanted her to. Julie, like Anne Hathaway, is a perfectly refined princess who just wants to break away. Julie Zorilla is real life Mia Thermopolis. (I assume it’s becoming readily apparent that I have actually never seen the Princess Diaries movies and have only vague inklings of what the plot might be.) Well damnit, she can spread her wings and learn how to fly, do what it takes till she touches the sky, as evidenced by the clouds in the background while she was performing. (Get it? Clouds? She’s flying? I know, real subtle.) Oh well, farewell Julie Zoropolis, I hope you have a better life in your cloud palace alongside Jasmine and Belle.

Haley Reinhart – “Fallin'” (Alicia Keys)
I promise that Alicia Keys’ catalog is larger than “Fallin'” and “No One.” I dislike Haley and an intro package which included, “I want to be an inspiration, I want to be a visionary to people all over the world” did not help her case. Then she threw down her best sexy baby voice (thank you, 30 Rock) on “I keep on fallin’ in and out of love with you” and a little part of my Alicia Keys-stanning self died. Haley is desperate for attention and will affect her voice and performance in anyway possible to grab it. I will admit that the whale calls did grab my attention and I’m sure she seduced a whole bunch of belugas out there. (This might have been an overly harsh critique for Haley, given that she was singing in tune, but girl drowned herself in some Alicia and needs to be properly reprimanded.)

Thia Meghia – “Out Here On My Own” (Fame)
Thia gets a lot of flack for being a precocious teenage pageant bot. And yes, she is a well-mannered teenager who has been around the singing competition circuit a few times before, but that doesn’t make her voice any less stellar. (I say this entirely hypocritically as someone who raked Diana DeGarmo over the coals repeatedly during Season 3 for being the pageant bot to end all pageant bots.) Her a cappella start was pitch-perfect and gutsy for a first time out. She also earns points for completely ditching Bandzilla in favor of a piano. I don’t know that I want Thia to hang around for very long, because between this and her Hollywood rendition of “You Raise Me Up,” she seems like a rather one-dimensional contestant. For now though, she’s a good singer and all I really ask for is good singing. None of this explains what Randy Jackson was smoking when he compared her tone to Michael Jackson’s. I’m sorry, has Randy ever heard Michael Jackson sing before? Is he just pulling names out of a hat now? Because, I can totally hear Thia sounding exactly like MJ on “Smooth Criminal.” Yeah. Right.

Lauren Alaina – “Turn On The Radio” (Reba McEntire)
The producers have been pushing Lauren Alaina hard. After that performance, I can completely understand why they’re pimping her so hard (wow, the word “pimping” really has never sounded quite so gross). She’s young and already has amazing confidence and comfort on stage. She’s not opposed to going country (which is where Idol has seen the most success). Oh yeah, and she can sing too. She hasn’t done anything to invoke the gratuitous praise the judges have been heaping on her (Kelly Clarkson she is not), though. And most importantly, she needs to learn the #1 rule of American Idol: do not speak unless spoken to (and even then, keep it short). I don’t care how cute you think “Peaches” or Georgia or Seacrest might be, voters are sitting at home silently contemplating ways to physically remove you from the stage. (… Or is that just me?) To illustrate this rule, I’ve put together a graph because, as a scientist, that’s how the world works for me:
Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Pia Toscano – “I’ll Stand By You” (The Pretenders)
Pia quickly replaced Julie as my favorite pretty girl after their respective performances last night. (Do not take this to mean I like Pia more than Ashthon or that I think Ashthon isn’t pretty. Ashthon is simply a goddess in her own league.) Her vocal was nearly flawless. Where many of the girls gave equally competent straight vocals, Pia bested them all in terms of emoting. I don’t think anyone is going to be mentioning this performance in the same breath as Kelly’s “Stuff Like That There”, Carrie’s “Alone” or Jordin’s “I Who Have Nothing” but it was still a stellar way to end the first week of live performances. A little part of me is still questioning if I really am on the Pia train or if I just haven’t heard a version of that song that I haven’t loved. (Because, really, I was also in love with Shakira’s Hope For Haiti performance of it a year ago.) Also, Her Majesty Jones was crying after Pia’s performance, so, as a loyal pupil, I feel compelled to show similar enthusiasm. I will stop recapping Pia’s segment before I have to relive Randy’s ability to ruin anything with gross hyperbole. (Yo, dawg, that was the biggest overstatement ever! In ten seasons, we’ve seen a lot of great exaggerations, but you just blew them all out the box! That was hot!)

So even if on girls’ night we were forced to hear “Summertime,” “Breakaway,” “Hero,” and “Fallin'” they were still on a whole about twice as good as the guys. If it were up to me, the finals would include 10 girls and 2 guys, maybe even just 12 girls so there’s no chance of a guy winning. So I’m happy to report that we can look forward to a year with all this female talent and watch Paul, Tim and Casey get hometown visits.

Going through: Pia, Thia, Lauren A, Naima, and Lauren T
Potential wildcards: Ashthon, Kendra, Karen, Julie
Don’t-You-Forget-About-Them: Ta-Tynisa, Haley, Rachel

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