After weeks of auditions both good and bad, guest judges both helpful and useless and contestant packages both tear-jerking and groan-worthy, we've finally made it. Tonight the top 12 girls perform and the ninth season of American Idol officially starts. Who will prove that they deserved one of the coveted semifinal slots? Who will be swallowed up by the stage when the lights come on and the show goes live for the first time? How much will Kara annoy me? Let's find out.
Ryan warns us viewers/voters that we've got our work cut out for us this season because of the top 24's great potential. Ryan must have missed rehearsal, because what I heard tonight only had the potential to make me change the channel over to Lost. There were a few bright spots, but overall it was a very shaky first night.
Just to give you a feel for how I will be doing the recaps from this point on: I will be giving my snap judgment on each singer's performance. I may point out a couple comments from the judges that I agree with or find egregiously incorrect, but I am mostly going to avoid repeating what they say and give the panel a composite score based on how well I think they judged the performance. Obviously, an "A" means I think they nailed it and an "F" means they let Kara speak way too much. Another (not so apt) example: I give Ellen's Jay Leno-esque video bit about Simon rubbing her leg a D+.
So, let's get to it:
Paige Miles, "It's All Right Now"
She says she's ready to hit the live stage, but her performance is kind of a mess for me. There are moments when her big voice shines through, but I am much more distracted by the moments when it doesn't. Other than the big note at the end, I thought it was a lackluster opening song. (Also, the band is way down in the audio mix, which I know isn't Paige's problem, but it's annoying.) It's clear the judges like Paige, but she didn't really show what they saw in her tonight.
Judging the Judges: D Simon rightly called it a cheap wedding singer song, but the rest of the panel praised her strong voice, which just wasn't on display tonight.
Ashley Rodriguez, "Happy"
<Sarcasm>I am absolutely shocked to hear her sing a diva ballad.</Sarcasm> Ashley can't even begin to match up to Leona Lewis with her version, and it makes me quite unhappy. More shocking than how awful the song is: Randy and Kara actually have useful criticism when they tell her to stop doing the tour of the divas.
Judging the Judges: A The arrangement was terrible, and Simon is on the money when he says she's gotten nothing but worse since her first audition.
Janell Wheeler, "What About Love"
I am a big supporter of Janell, even though she really fumbled in Hollywood Week. I'm not sure she's ready to take on Heart, especially when I can hear her nerves in every single note of the song. She has a good stage presence, but the vocals are just not as strong as they have been. Kara says the song didn't highlight the unique quality in Janell's voice, and I hate to admit that I agree once again. What's going on?
Judging the Judges: B+
Lilly Scott, "Fixing a Hole"
I'm all for Lilly's indie-artist sensibilities, and she is the first performer of the night to deliver a solid vocal. It's not really the first thing I would slip into my CD player, but she knows who she is and she picked a song that fits her, even if it was, as Ellen says, completely random. Do I see her winning? Absolutely not. Then again, she was in tune, something that's so far been in short supply.
Judging the Judges: B- They are mostly right, but Ellen uses the word "presence" for the first time with Lilly, which is fine, if she didn't use it three more times over the course of the evening.
Katelyn Epperly, "Oh Darling"
The Beatles medley continued with Katelyn, who surprisingly didn't butcher the song. I caught an Amy Winehouse vibe from the performance, though I didn't think she looked like an American Idol contestant at all. I think vocally she's earned another week on the show, but she's got to do something about her personality because her body language during the judging portion showed signs of making America hate her.
Judging the Judges: B
Haely Vaughn, "I Wanna Hold Your Hand"
Let Haely be a lesson to the judges when they insist on being original when they arrange songs. She never should have chosen this song, and she certainly shouldn't have done any of the things she did to the melody. It was very screechy and her phrasing was just annoying. After about 30 seconds, I began thinking to myself, "I wonder what Angela Martin is doing right now?"
Judging the Judges: A Randy gets points for calling her out on her phrasing and Simon rightly said it was verging on terrible.
Lacey Brown, "Landslide"
Luckily, the night's two worst performances came back to back. Lacey, who I liked through the audition rounds, absolutely butchered this song with another jacked-up arrangement. It made Stevie Nicks look worse than her awful Grammys performance with Taylor Swift did. It was even worse on the replay at the end of the hour. There honestly is nothing good I can say about the song, which is a shame.
Judging the Judges: A- The minus was for Simon pulling a Paula and curbing the bad response with a compliment about Lacey's eyes.
Michelle Delamor , "Fallin'"
Unlike Ashley, Michelle can handle the big diva songs, even though she avoids some of the big notes early on. Vocally, she's one of the best of the night, but I wasn't blown away by what she did with the arrangement. I was mostly bored by the whole thing, and think the show should add the song to the "Do Not Sing" list. I'm with Ellen: She played it safe and needs to take a risk.
Judging the Judges: A
Didi Benami, "The Way I Am"
I hate to say it, but Didi also played it a little safe tonight, but she was a pleasure to listen to. (And thank God she's stopped crying!) Simon complains that she doesn't stand out from the other singer-songwriter types in the crowd and that if he closed his eyes, he couldn't tell them apart. I couldn't disagree more, especially considering that when I closed my eyes tonight, Didi was one of the few who was always in tune.
Judging the Judges: C- Yes, she didn't explode, but she sang well, and that's what it's about.
Siobhan Magnus, "Wicked Game"
I, like Simon, can't figure this girl out. But I, unlike Simon and Randy, enjoyed the "dark" vibe of this song. Sure, she can blow up Stevie Wonder, but the diversity she showed was impressive and her control between the lower and upper register was nice. Now, about her not knowing what a dark horse is...
Judging the Judges: C Randy, you can't tell some contestants to mix it up when you also tell others they should play to the big part of the voice all the time.
Crystal Bowersox, "One Hand in My Pocket"
Maybe I've overhyped Crystal in my mind, but I was really let down by her performance. I think she's a lock for the top 12, and I don't think Simon should compare her to thousands of subway buskers. But this did have a very wonky coffeehouse vibe. I didn't see much originality in this, and I know she has it. Maybe this was a good wakeup call.
Judging the Judges: B
Katie Stevens, "Feeling Good"
Performing yet another song from the list of ditties idol should ban, Katie did her best to get through a very awkward performance. I honestly think I fell asleep during the first 10 seconds. She's got a great voice, and I don't want her to go all Katy Perry because the judges told her to be young. But she should save the standards for one of the theme weeks.
Judging the Judges: C Kara, why make excuses about Katie not being able to hear herself but not say the same for any of the other pitchy contestants?
What did you think of the show? How was Ellen in the live-show format? Who are you voting for and who's going home? Share your thoughts below!
After weeks of auditions both good and bad, guest judges both helpful and useless and contestant packages both tear-jerking and groan-worthy, we've finally made it. Tonight the top 12 girls perform and the ninth season of American Idol officially starts. Who will prove that they deserved one of the coveted semifinal slots? Who will be swallowed up by the stage when the lights come on and the show goes live for the first time? How much will Kara annoy me? Let's find out...