‘American Idol’ Recap: The Top 12 Women Kick Off The Real Competition

After weeks and weeks of auditions, and after weeks and weeks of hearing Randy, Simon, Ellen and Kara talk about how a girl is going to win this year hands down, the “American Idol” ladies finally premiered Tuesday night (February 23). And the verdict? It was a lot like seeing “Slumdog Millionaire” three months into its theatrical run: Everyone you know talked it up, it was nominated for like 55 Oscars and then you pay your $12.50 and you watch the little kid get covered in excrement and you walk out of the theater going, “Really? That was it?”

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We’ve got 12 performances to rip through, so before I go on a rant about how offensive I found Ellen and Simon’s “Sexual Harassment Is Acceptable (And Hilarious) If Your Co-Worker Is A Lesbian” sketch, let’s get right to the performances.

Paige Miles
Song: “All Right Now” by Free
Verdict: Wrong By A Mile(s)
We hadn’t heard a peep from Paige during the “Idol” pre-season, which is a crying shame since her final Hollywood Week performance looked as though it brought the house down. The tiny hints of personality we saw suggests she could have actually had a little following going into these semi-final shows if “Idol” weren’t so fixated on grandmothers with Alzheimer’s. Instead, viewers were left with an uneven rock/soul vocal that was more “wedding” than a “Bridezilla” marathon. Simon called out her rough song choice but Kara DioFakeTan thought it was a “brilliant” decision. (This coming from a woman who thought hiring Evan Lysacek’s costume designer to make her earrings was brilliant, too.) And as if going first on the show (always a death spot — just ask Rudy Cardenas) and getting zero screen time until Tuesday wasn’t insulting enough, her segment ended with Seacrest all but forcing the Eartha Kitt lookalike to admit that she had been sewn into her dress and couldn’t pee for five hours. Yikes. (Also, sewn into a dress? What, is “Idol” holding “Project Runway” challenges backstage now?)

Ashley Rodgriguez
Song: “Happy” by Leona Lewis
Verdict: Depressing
The Jordin Sparks-obsessed Ashley thought it would be a good idea to swallow the distractingly shiny microphone. Add the poor audio mix into the equation (think 95 percent vocals, five percent tinny board feed from the band) and the result was a dreary, labored take on a dreary, labored Leona Lewis ballad. (Fun Kara fact: Leona Lewis is this generation’s Mariah Carey!) Randy, Kara and Ellen all pussyfooted around how forgettable Ashley was but Simon was straight with her. “No originality,” he proclaimed. What will do without him next year? They might as well put three puppies on the panel that Seacrest could fake out with an invisible stick after every performance. Hell, it’d be a lot more entertaining to watch.

Janell Wheeler
Song: “What About Love” by Heart
Verdict: What about pitch?
The pretty blond who sang “American Boy” in Hollywood week (as opposed to the pretty blond who sang Kara DioGuardi in Hollywood week or the pretty blond whose parents are divorced) turned me off the second she said in her pre-performance interview that she was going to do what she’s been told she does best: “Light up the stage.” Alas, her broken Heart did not light up the stage. It lit up my bitchy side, however. I know this because the only notes I jotted down were “like watching a drunk mom” and “Is she wearing jean leggings?!” I also noted that Randy didn’t like the performance but he “still has vibes” about her. Vibes, ladies and gentleman! I’m so glad we’re letting such capable critics have an outlet for their insightful constructive criticism!

Lilly Scott
Song: “Fixing A Hole” by the Beatles
Verdict: Fixing the show
Imagine Zooey Deschanel playing Jessica Rabbit in a platinum wig, haphazardly strumming a guitar that might not be plugged in and purring through a Sgt. Pepper’s deep cut so seductively you might wonder what “hole” she’s singing about. That sounds like a disaster, but Lilly Scott (or “The Pride of Denver,” as Seacrest called her as if she were a giant ball of twine or something) livened up the show tenfold with a memorable, imaginative interpretation. Randy said Lilly was a “real indie artist” and then compared her to Lilly Allen and Adele (two singers signed to major labels — High five, Randy!). I just hope America’s ready for Lilly’s offbeat charms.

Katelyn Epperly
Song: “Oh! Darling” by the Beatles
Verdict: Her Majesty
At first glance, Katelyn Epperly’s new “done-up” look was off-putting. Her curly fro had grown so large I half expected Chris Golightly to jump out from her roots holding a rush-job memoir in one hand and court papers in the other. But then Katelyn sang like a pro and made me regret suggesting Angela Martin should have taken her spot in the Top 24. Suddenly, frivolity like “makeovers” didn’t matter any more. If only the judges were mature enough to overlook things like hair clips and lipsticks. Nope. Instead, Katelyn was given the classic Iraheta treatment. (“Iraheta treatment” being defined as when the judges nitpick over non-issues instead of giving a singer the glowing praise he or she deserves.) Simon had compliments for Katelyn, but they were surrounded by words like “messy” and “shouting.” The shouting gripe was ironic considering my own criticism for Katelyn was that she didn’t push her voice hard enough to get that guttural wail McCartney does so brilliantly on the original recording. I guess Simon isn’t familiar with the Beatles catalogue. Why should he be? [Eyeroll.]

Haeley Vaughn
Song: “I Want to Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles
Verdict: I Want You To Sing Better
OK, folks. Here’s where I get tomatoes thrown at my head. I like Haeley Vaughn and her newly-pierced nose a whole lot. I agree that listening to her singing voice is about as pleasant as grinding a Brillo pad into your bathing suit area. And yes, her lisp can be distracting. And yes, she started on the show as a “black country pop star” but hasn’t sung a country song in ages. However, she has that “it” quality about her. Her smile makes me smile. (It makes Simon angry, though — he compared her to a wind-up doll.) Listen, do I think she’ll be our next “Idol”? With a hot mess voice like that, of course not. But could she be the next Nickelodeon star? Without a doubt. Let’s keep her around for another couple of weeks while the show’s still padded with bores. I promise I’ll abandon ship once truly talented people are up for elimination. Until then:Go Pooters!

Lacey Brown
Song: “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac
Verdict: Oh. My. God.
Lacey Brown is the “Idol” equivalent of that woman who recently tripped and accidentally destroyed a Picasso at the Met. She took a masterpiece and ruined it beyond repair, breaking my heart in the process. Not only am I a diehard Fleetwood Mac fan, but I’m a diehard Lacey Brown fan, too. She had my vote thanks to the audition episodes, but in those audition episodes she didn’t sound like there was a goat stuck in her belly shrieking to get out. I focused on anything — the pointless spiral staircase animation behind her, Lacey’s asymmetrical floral kimono blouse with a tank top underneath, the remote control’s confusing asterisk button — just to get through the longest 90 seconds of my life.

Michelle Delamor
Song: “Fallin’” by Alicia Keys
Verdict: Failin’
The corporate singer/sales associate/children’s choir leader with a large family and a winning smile chose one of the most cliché “Idol” songs ever. Therefore I refuse to write about her. Instead, I will watch this old video of Japanese monkey waiters.

Didi Benami
Song: “The Way I Am” by Ingrid Michaelson
Verdict: Off Key-Key
Another early fave of mine flames out spectacularly. Her first mistake was ditching her guitar. Why wouldn’t she show off that she’s more than “just” a vocalist during this first semi-final show? The other mistake was wrapping herself up in a floor mat taken from the outside of a Berkeley college dorm room. Didi’s impression of Ingrid Michaelson was pleasant enough (and if not many people know who you’re copying, you appear to be far more clever and interesting than you really are), but then the second verse arrived and Didi said, “the hell with pitch!” In her interview package, she said she wanted to refrain from getting teary-eyed on the show. After that low-key (and unfortunately off-key) debut, I was the one left crying on my couch.

Siobhan Magnus
Song: “Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak
Verdict: Wicked Awesome
Siobhan is a glass-blowing apprentice, which has already yielded three oral sex innuendos from the men on the show. (Stay classy, Seacrest!) And if I may get in on the wordplay action, the girl blew me away Tuesday night. I wasn’t expecting Siobhan (who we’ve only seen yowl like a rock star) to slink into my living room dressed in her finest Geisha threads crooning my ultimate karaoke jam, “Wicked Game.” Unlike Paige (remember her from 90 minutes ago?) and Janell — who picked songs against type haphazardly — Siobhan found an unexpected tune that showcased her impressive range, her vulnerability and a pretty uncanny Chris Isaak impression.

Crystal Bowersox
Song: “Hand In My Pocket” by Alanis Morissette
Verdict: You Oughta Know to Pick Smarter Songs
Crystal’s pre-performance interview package showed a lot of her adorable baby boy, who the Bowersox cited as the main reason she auditioned for the show. (Side note: Do we know Baby Bowersox’ name yet? I hope it’s Jack, because Jack Bowersox sounds like the name a “24″ fan would give to their cat.) Crystal did a good job establishing who she is: A dreadheaded troubadour who plays the guitar and the harmonica. (Her white teeth and business casual attire were nice additions, too.) But until she picks smarter songs that don’t already have a female street busker feel to them (like, as Simon suggested, a Bowie song), Crystal won’t kick her “Idol” career to the next level. She’s new to this reality show thing, remember? She might need a week or two to catch up. (I loved when she responded to Simon’s “be more original” comment with, “They don’t allow original [songs] on the show.” She really has no idea what she got herself into, does she?)

Katie Stevens
Song: “Feeling Good” a la Micheal Bublé
Verdict: Nina Bemoan
Katie’s obviously a producer’s favorite. She scored the pimp spot that closes the show, and she got extra screen time during a random “backstage” interview segment with Seacrest earlier in the episode. Funny how that works. Yet I’m confused as to why producers would be so gung-ho about shoving this girl down our throats when she’s gonna go and pick a head-scratcher of a number like “Feeling Good” to make her grand live “Idol” debut. First of all, this song is a death trap on “Idol” semi-final shows. Second of all, Adam Lambert owned this song less than a year ago. Most importantly, it’s old-fashioned, which is never a good idea when you’re a 17-year-old (though somehow dressed like an eight-year-old) on “American Idol.” (I suppose that’s what happens when you hang out with your grandmother 24/7). Katie sang the song well, but you know what? I look pretty great in a tuxedo with tails, yet you don’t see me busting that out when I have a black tie event. On a personal level, I finally figured out who Katie reminds me of: Famous chef and Food Network personality Alexandra Guarnaschelli. If Alexandra slapped on a little girl’s headband, I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

What did you think of Tuesday night’s Top 24 premiere? Who were your faves? Did you cheer when Randy used the word “sharp” instead of “pitchy?” Who do you think is in danger of elimination this week? And most of all, do you still think a girl’s going to win “Idol” this season? Leave a comment below, and you can follow my “Idol” ramblings on Twitter, too.