The top 8 girls on American Idol,
As host Ryan Seacrest introduced the judges, Ellen DeGeneres was discovered sitting on Simon Cowell's lap, nuzzling his face. "I didn't know we'd started," she said. This was clearly an effort to dispel rumors that the two judges dislike each other. Ryan remarked, for Simon's benefit, or perhaps for any clueless people in the audience, "I think Ellen's taken."
First to take the stage was Katie Stevens, who had earned high praise from the judges during Hollywood week. She chose Kelly Clarkson's "Breakaway," wearing a black shirt, black shiny beaded necklaces, a banded collar jacket, dark jeans, and heels. She looked a lot more contemporary, and it was a current song, but her rendition of it was kind of lifeless. As she sang the lyric "Something felt all wrong here," I had to agree. She didn't quite seem to have the melody on the verse, though the chorus was slightly better. [VIDEO OF KATIE]
Randy Jackson said that "Kelly Clarkson is one of the greatest contestants we've ever had" but that Katie's version "paled in comparison" and was "almost like karaoke." Ellen loved that Katie had taken the judges' notes and chosen a young song. She told her, "You have a great voice" but criticized her for not feeling the words. She concluded, "It's a singing competition, but let's see some personality, as well." Kara DioGuardi said Katie has "a great radio voice." Still, "I don't think you really know who you are as an artist." Simon acknowledged, "This has been very confusing for you," since Katie has received a lot of advice. He said that, to her credit, she's taken that advice. "You look 100 percent better than you did two weeks ago. You've chosen a young song." He agreed that she didn't seem to know who she was as an artist. He added that, in the second half of the song, she "sucked the energy out of it." Seemingly feeling sorry for her, though, he gave her "ten out of ten for trying."
Next was the quirky Siobhan Magnus, who dedicated her performance of "House of the Rising Sun" by the Animals to her dad, who introduced her to music. She wore a really cute little red dress with a black and peach kimono-style jacket, with a flower in her hair and black high-heeled pumps. She started off a capella, which was sweet. She really seemed to get the song, taking a little liberty with it but not too much. She was a little off on the bridge but made up for it with a powerful last note. [VIDEO OF SIOBHAN]
Randy said, "I just love what you do, because you take every risk, every chance." He advised her, "Keep doing that, because it's hot." Ellen joked that she's from New Orleans and "I know that house." She gushed, "You are why I love music, because it's supposed to move you.... I was captivated." She liked that Siobhan made it current. "You're spectacular." Kara loved "the a capella vibe." She praised her for being "unique and different," adding, "week to week, I'm surprised by you." Simon, however, wasn't such a fan. He said that her interview, outfit and performance were "all a bit weird" and that "if this was the first time I'd seen you, I would have real doubts." He thought she didn't do anything different with the song and said he was "under-impressed." Finally, he called the performance "a bit ploddy, a bit boring, a bit dark."
Next was Lacey Brown, with her rendition of “The Story” by Brandy Carlisle. She was a bit uneven, I thought. At times, I really liked her tone, but at other times she fell off the melody, and her high note was off near the end. She wore a leopard-print shirt with faux pearls, green nail polish, a big rose-shaped ring, and jeans, seated on the edge of the stage. I thought she was trying to be sort of a crooner, and I'm not sure that's the right thing for her. It was, however, better than last week. Note: Listening to it again, and paying attention to the lyrics, I realize this is a song for a much older artist. Perhaps that led to the disconnect. [VIDEO OF LACEY]
Randy called the song a little boring but said "it was your best performance in a long time." He called it very cool. Ellen called it "your best performance to date" and called it a "perfect song choice." Kara said, "Performances like this are why you got here." She called it "effortless singing" and said, "This is the kind of record you need to be doing... You're back on your path." Simon didn't love the song, "but you sang it really, really well." He praised her for her stage presence; "You know where the cameras are, how to look." Still, he said he hasn't yet heard the right song connection from her.
Starting the second half of the show was Katelyn Epperly, who did the Carole King song "I Feel the Earth Move," standing up and playing keyboards. She looked somewhat '70s in a high-waisted jumper over a chocolate-colored leotard with a big seagull necklace, her frizzy blonde hair loose about her shoulders. Her voice was good for this song, and she seemed to be enjoying it. Still, there was nothing that exciting about it. [VIDEO OF KATELYN]
Randy liked her hair and said that "playing the Wurlitzer is cool." But he didn't feel the right connection and said there was "nothing special about it." Ellen, referring to her goof last week, where she referred to Katelyn's piano as a guitar, asked, "Is that a guitar?" Getting serious, though, she didn't know about the song choice. While she said Katelyn is "adorable" and has a "great look," that it "just wasn't enough." Kara "didn't feel like you were competing tonight on that stage" and said she was "just going through the motions." She asked Katelyn what happened, to which Katelyn replied that she was trying to be less corny. Simon started with a positive: "I like your hair." On the down side, he said "it was kind of like request night on a Friday night in a restaurant if you were working there." Ouch.
Didi Benami picked up her guitar for the first time since Hollywood week to perform Fleetwood Mac's "Rihannon," wearing a one-shoulder red dress with black stockings. Her hair also looked a little redder, sort of strawberry blonde. Her performance started out kind of gentle. I do like her voice. Her guitar needs to be tuned, though. On the chorus, the background singers come in, adding a little more depth to the song. I thought it was pretty but maybe a little forgettable. [VIDEO OF DIDI]
Randy thought it was "definitely a whole lot better than last week" but wasn't sure "there was a wow moment." Nevertheless, he remarked, 'That's the person we fell in love with." Ellen started out, "Yes, indeedy, Didi." She noted that "you were torn apart last week," by the judges, and "then you get up here and you're smiling and singing." She liked what Didi did with the song and gave her good advice, whether she wins or not. "You're always going to be torn apart by somebody. Everybody has opinions... Get back up." Kara called this "one of my favorite moments of the show so far this season," even though she'd initially had doubts about the song choice. Simon "thought that was head and shoulders above anything else we've heard tonight. I think for the first time, certainly since these live shows, you've proved you're an artist." Responding to Randy's comments, he said, "The wow moment was actually the whole performance." He called the performance "well balanced" and said it was a "brilliant choice of song."
Paige Miles went with a classic song, "Smile" by Charlie Chaplin. She walked out on stage looking like she was in pain from her shoes and wore a shiny silver top with a black bolero jacket and black pants. In the beginning, she kept getting ahead of the music, which felt rushed. Her tone was sort of nice, but she seemed unsure of herself. Then, after an unexpected key change, the tempo changed to more upbeat rhythms. Now, she really sounded off compared to the band. Did she even rehearse this? [VIDEO OF PAIGE]
Randy said it's one of his favorite songs but it didn't work. It was "way too big for you," which says a lot, because it's such a simple melody. He said that when the beat turned into a bossa nova, he felt like turning to the other judges and asking, "Where's the banquet: chicken, beef or shrimp." Ellen said, "That song is supposed to be inspiring. It was just sad and heavy." She lamented that Paige has "such a great personality, and we didn't get to see it." Kara said, "It was just all wrong. Tonight was not the night to do that." Then she asked her, "Do you know it was wrong?" Paige faltered for a response and said, "It's emotional." (Psst, Kara: when you're trying to squeeze eight performances into an hour-long show, don't interview the contestants during your commentary). Simon called the arrangement awful, saying it was "the sort of thing you'd hear in a Holiday Inn in 1974." He called it a "peanut performance," the kind of performance where "people are sitting at a bar eating peanuts and not paying any attention." To sum up, he said that she had a lot of potential but "no idea of who you are."
My girl Crystal Bowersox showed Paige how it's done with her rendition of the Tracy Chapman song "Give Me One Reason." She gave the bluesy folk song a country pop vibe, wearing big wooden hoop earrings and a black shirt dress over black pants. This girl has got the stuff. She takes a great song and makes it her own, and that's what I love about her. I also have to say that her song choices are very similar to my own taste, so I'm certain that I'd buy her album. [VIDEO OF CRYSTAL]
Randy loved it: "love you, love the song. I'm a fan." Ellen lamented, "I need new adjectives for you; I'm sick and tired of saying you're amazing." She called it the "best performance of the night." Kara said, "Every time you step up there, it's easy for you, because you know [who you are]. You know what to do." She thought it was a great song choice, because it was more contemporary. Simon said, "You are one million, billion percent going to be in the top 12 next week." He called her "the most improved," noting that "what you've got now is confidence." He added, "Right now, you are the one everyone has to beat." Hear that, guys?
Finally, Lilly Scott went with the Patsy Cline song, "I Fall to Pieces," strumming a little mandolin (I think: feel free to correct me), wearing a gray and black strappy dress with a sweetheart neckline. This was sort of old-time country, with a current twist. She could have changed it up a little, but I liked it. There's normally a sweetness to her voice that didn't get a chance to come through on this song, though. [VIDEO OF LILLY]
Randy liked the mandolin (I'm right!). He said, "I think it was hot tonight. I think you're in the zone." Ellen loved herr voice, originality, and style. Kara said, "You kind of made Patsy Cline feel current." She liked it. Simon said she was very brave choosing that song, but "what it didn't have was the wow factor."
Kudos this week to Siobhan Magnus and Crystal Bowersox, with a nod to Lilly Scott and Didi Benami.
So which two girls are going home? Will voters rally to keep the last African-American girl in the competition? If they do, Paige might squeak by. If they vote based on her performance only, she's going home. Lacey could be in danger, and so could Katie. But I think whoever takes the second spot, Katelyn, who's so far failed to wow the judges, will be going home.
In the event that these videos are removed, go to the official American Idol site, click on "VIDEOS" and then "PERFORMANCES" and search for the videos you'd like to see. Unfortunately, the American Idol site does not allow for direct links, which makes it difficult for me to embed their links in my write-ups.
Know who you are and own it.