It was ladies’ night yesterday evening on American Idol with the top 10 girls taking the stage to sing for their lives. The retro rockers walked away the real winners, proving that smart song choice, solid delivery, and self-awareness make all the difference to the judges. Speaking of the judges, they, once again, emphasized the importance of each contestant carving out their own niche in the competition and the girls who were able to do that fared the best.
Some of our early favorites took a huge nosedive (sniff, sniff, Haeley Vaughn, sniff sniff), but a few contestants that we’d written off as too gimmicky at first proved they’ve got some real singing chops. For the record, we’re hoping a lady walks away with the crown this year (it has been a guy for the past two seasons), and last night fortified our confidence that this could happen. Read on for our complete AI power list.
1. Crystal Bowersox Risk Level: 7 Payoff: 10 Total: 17
After a horribly cliché take on Alanis Morrissette’s “Hand In My Pocket” last week, Crystal — the grungy-looking rock chick — reemerged with an intelligent and soulful version of Creedance Clearwater Revival’s “Long As I Can See The Light.” She smartly stuck to her image as a indie coffeehouse performer by choosing to play her guitar throughout the performance, but also showed off the rich, soulful side of her voice by giving the song a slightly gospel treatment. All four of the judges loved Crystal last night with Randy calling her performance “hot” and Kara adding that she “hit a new level.” Simon, arguable the only judge whose criticism really matters, said her performance proved that she is a true artiste. Let’s hope she can keep up the momentum — we like this girl.
2. Lilly Scott Risk Level: 8 Payoff: 8 Total: 16
This season’s other quirky rocker type, Lilly is another one to watch on the ladies’ side. More lighthearted than Crystal, she delivered a similarly soulful performance of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” She also chose to strum her guitar along with the song and the overall effect, in our humble opinion, wasn’t quite right. When the white girl with streaked hair sang the line, “a change is gon’ come,” it was hard to take her seriously. Authenticity aside, the song did highlight her versatile and powerful singing. All of the judges — with the exception of Simon — were blown away by the performance. “I wasn’t crazy about it. I think you oversang a little in the middle. I thought Crystal was stronger,” he said. Sorry Lil!
3. Siobhan Magnus Risk Level: 10 Payoff: 8 – minus 3 points because we thought it was a little cheesy and forced = 4 Total: 15
Tackling on an Aretha Franklin song is a ballsy move and we have to give Siobhan some props for that. Her straight take on the Queen of Soul’s hit “Think” was technically strong, but some of the high notes were a little flat and screechy, giving the overall performance a trying-too-hard feel. Also, because she chose not to alter the arrangement in any way, it seemed a little karaoke to us. That being said, the judges LOVED it. Randy said, “You are so bold and fearless. It was dope.” Simon — always the voice of reason — agreed with our initial estimation, adding, “I thought there were parts that were terrible.” Preach.
4. Paige Miles Risk Level: 7 Payoff: 7 Total: 14
Paige sort of flew under our radar during Hollywood week — surprising, because usually we can spot a true diva from a mile away. She’s got the biggest voice of any of the girls and this is exactly what’s so frustrating about her (to us and to the judges): she doesn’t capitalize on it at all. There hasn’t been as big a female voice on the show since Jennifer Hudson and this is where Paige could walk away with the competition. Week after week, however, she blows her opportunity by choosing songs that don’t let her make good use of her clearly amazing pipes. This week it was “Walk Away” by Kelly Clarkson. Randy offered an astute criticism when he suggested Paige focus on songs with longer, more drawn out melody lines that actually let us hear her powerful, guttural voice. Ellen was all over Paige this week but Simon was less enthusiastic, saying she is “getting lost.” Let’s hope she finds her way — we’d love to see a true singer walk away with the title this year.
5. Michelle Delamor Risk Level: 7 Payoff: 6 Total: 13
Another strong voice, Michelle Delamor is really the one at risk of becoming lost in the competition. She presented herself as an R&B songstress at the beginning of the competition and her mediocre performance of Alicia Keys hit “Fallin'” last week did little to prove she could actually pull off the persona. This week, she went off in the opposite direction with Creed’s “With Arms Wide Open.” She did try to give the song a slight urban edge, and, again was moderately successful. The judges were split with Randy and Simon saying that it wasn’t quite there and Ellen and Kara loving it. We’ll think she’s got another week or two in her but all those Delamaniacs out there (if any actually exist) shouldn’t get their hopes up.
6. Katelyn Epperly Risk Level: 7 Payoff: 7 – 2 points because she totally annoys us = 5 Total: 12
Idol‘s resident ’80s hooker (see Katelyn’s outfit from last week), this is another contestant suffering from a major identity crisis. She’s all over the place, singing a retro doo wop rocker one week and a melancholy piano ballad next. Her version of Coldplay’s “The Scientist” was perfectly adequate, but far from spectacular. It was risky move because the judges have come down hard on performances that have been too much of a downer and the intimate nature of the song veered it toward that territory. Only Randy really liked it (though Simon offered a half-hearted endorsement) with Ellen saying it almost put her to sleep. We only wish it had that effect on us. On the upside, we don’t think we’ll have to deal with her for much longer.
7. Haeley Vaughn Risk Level: 6 Payoff: 3 Total: 9
Poor Haely Vaughn. We had such high hopes for her. Really, we did. Her African-American Taylor Swift shtick had us thinking it might be her competition to lose. Somewhere though, she lost the magic that made her a shoo-in during Hollywood week. Last week’s “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” wasn’t so bad (we don’t care what the judges said — at least she was playing her guitar) but her version of Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb” was not good and, as Ellen pointed out, it should’ve worked. She’s young. She’s attractive. This should’ve been a home run. It wasn’t though. The song didn’t suit her voice — and she has a good one. We really think Haeley should keep exploring the country thing, it’s definitely her niche and one that’s worked in the past (see Carrie Underwood).
8. Didi Benami Risk Level: 10 Payoff: -2 Total: 8
Another favorite during Hollywood week (this is the girl who actually made a Kara DioGaurdi-penned song sound good), Didi was the contestant that got it worst from the judges last night. Instead of sticking to her flower child singer-songwriter guns, she inexplicably decided to take on the staid, trite “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers. This was her first mistake. This song screams “white girl trying to be soulful” and, as Simon pointed out, it’s such a generic karaoke favorite that it did little to showcase Didi as a viable modern day recording artist. Instead, it brought into question her authenticity (we just weren’t buying her pseudo-soulful wailing, sorry). This girl needs to choose more confessional, narrative songs that allow her interpretive skills to shine through. She’s definitely got a good voice. Last night, she tried way too hard to prove it.
9. Lacey Brown Risk: 1 Payoff: 6 Total: 7
Like Tim Urban on the guy’s side, Lacey Brown had the most to prove last night. Her horrible performance of Stevie Knicks’ “Landslide” (one of the best songs ever written in our opinion) lost her some serious points with us. This week, she played it super safe, choosing the song that Kara actually recommended by name in her critique of Lacey last week. Her version of “Kiss Me” by Sixpence None The Richer was fine, but certainly not show-stopping. We think Lacey might be in trouble. She’s not necessarily forgettable. She’s even worse. We think people will remember her, but for all the wrong reasons.
10. Katie Stevens Risk: 3 Payoff: 3 Total: 6
One of the season’s youngest contestants, you definitely get the feeling that Katie could be a solid singer…in a few years. Kara actually mentioned this, noting that her take on Corinne Bailey Rae’s “Put Your Records On” almost seemed like it was in the wrong key for Katie. We agree; the verses scraped the bottom of the barrel of her low register. But we’re not so sure a key change would’ve made her performance any better — she struggled to reach some of the top notes last night, too. Simon said it best when he noted that Katie was completely failing to tell us who she is in the world of this competition. A tall order for someone so young, which is why we’re confused as to why the judges even advanced her in the first place rather than choosing to a girl with a distinct musical point of view (ahem, Angela Martin). Unfortunately, it might be too late for Katie. We’re not so sure she’ll get another chance to show us who she really is — if she even can.