For this first round, the girls could sing any song.
Ta-Tynisa Wilson was rough from the start on a very 80s-sounding version of "Only Girl (In the World" by Rihanna, wearing a black and white mini dress with a flouncy skirt and white high-heeled short boots. She was prancing around like a high-stepping pony. The vocals were really pitchy. Steven Tyler said, "Beautiful way to open the show... I liked it a lot." Jennifer Looez said, "You started out a little bit shaky, but you brought it all the way home." Randy Jackson said, "This is going to happen to me a lot this season. I kind of differ from them. I think that it was just OK." He told her that it paled in comparison to Beyonce's version. [Ta-Tynisa's performance]
Naima Adedapo, wearing a brocaded yellow dress that looked like something you'd wear to the MTV Awards, sang a mysteriously upbeat version of "Summertime," complete with 1970s style flute licks. Listen to the lyrics, and you'll understand how wrong that is. She got very jazzy with it, something that Simon probably would have hated, but it was refreshing after the previous performance. J. Lo said, "I love to see someone nail a note like that." She called Naima an exotic flower in a rose garden. Randy said it was a little disappointed, because Fantasia had sung that song years before and "just killed it." He enjoyed the second half more than the first half. Steven said it was like early Ella Fitzgerald and that "this is what America needs right now." [Naima's performance]
Kendra Chantelle wore skin-tight black plether pants and a black and white bodice with some chain necklaces as she sang "Impossible" by Christina Aguilera. She was clearly trying for a diva vibe, but she trouble reaching for her higher notes. Otherwise, the performance was just OK. Randy said he'd been worried about her doing this song because of the comparison to Christina Aguilera but that he liked it, and it made him feel "warm and connected to you." Steven said the voice was hot, her style hot, and that she had the whole package. J. Lo praised her for her heart and said that "there's more in you" and she hopes Kendra gets a chance to show viewers. [Kendra's performance]
Rachel Zevita wore a slinky red and black beaded minidress for her wildly off-melody version of Fiona Apple's "Smooth Criminal." I'm not sure all of her changes to the melody were deliberate. It was an interesting effort, but ultimately, it left me cold. At least it was interesting, but I was disappointed. Steven loved her swagger and her moves but said it was a "little too Broadway for me." Rachel answered him back: "I think that's the only thing I've never done." J. Lo reminded her this was America's first chance to see you. "How do you want them to see you?" She told her that she belongs on the stage but wished she had showed a different side. Randy told her, "It wasn't great; it wasn't good." He didn't even recognize the song (I'm with you, Randy.) [Rachel's performance]
For her performance, Karen Rodriguez was wearing a teal evening gown that looked like a prom gown as she sang a bilingual version of Mariah Carey's "Hero" that reminded me of a high-school talent show. At the bridge, she finally put a little more into it, and she definitely knew how to find the camera. By the end, she sounded more like the person I'd seen glimpses of in the audition process. J. Lo said, "Wow, that says it all." She liked that Karen changed from English to Spanish. Randy liked that she "found a way to make it you." He even liked the Spanish better than the English. Steven thought she was one of a kind and ought to team up with Jacob Lusk for a duet of that song. Karen replied that Jacob is her best friend in the competition. [karen's performance]
Lauren Turner also offered up a retro vibe, with a soulful performance of "Seven Day Fool" by Etta James (Jully Black's version), wearing a two-tone silver and gold tight-fitting dress. We didn't see much of her in the audition process, but she's one to watch. Randy liked it: "That's how you do it, man." He liked the "whole bluesy, soul-flavored thing in you." Steven found it spectacular. J. Lo thought her voice is "undeniable" but thought she was physically holding back. [Lauren's performance]
Ashthon Jones wore black pants, a blue boustier and some necklaces as she sang a version of Monica's "Love Over Me" that seemed straight off of a local cable version "Soul Train." She was apparently channeling Diana Summer, playing with her hair and giving the camera smoky looks. I didn't buy it; it was distracting. Steven thought she had the confidence of a queen and sang "so sweet." J. Lo thought she had the making of a diva: the big hair, the body, the moves... and Ashthon interjected, "I got it from you." Randy liked her stage presence but didn't love the song. He thinks she's bigger than the Monica R&B song that Ashthon sang. He'd like to hear her sing Diana Ross, instead. [Ashthon's version]
For some reason, Julie Zorilla chose an old-fashioned updo to go along with her shimmering party dress. Her performance of "Breakaway" by Kelly Clarkson had energy and, but paled to the comparison; I didn't even recognize the song. She needs to ease up, too, on the rising hand gestures. It reminded me of what my baby used to do when he was five months old and just discovering his hands. J. Lo liked it but didn't feel it was the best thing they'd seen Julie do. She felt a little more heart in this performance but urged Julie to connect to the words so people can believe the performance. Randy pointed out that Kelly Clarkson had once sung that song and that Julie's version wasn't nearly as good. "You want to show yourself in the best light." He told her to figure out what will make her special and stand out. Steven thought it was the wrong song for her and that maybe she should have taken it up a couple keys. [Julie's performance]
Haley Reinhart chose the Alicia Keys song "Falling in and Out of Love," a frequently sung song on "American Idol." She wore a tight black minidress and tried to be sassy/sexy with some exaggerated gestures and even caressing her thigh. Her hand gestures and hamminess were distracted from what were actually quite good vocals. If she makes it, she ought to watch this performance back and learn from it. Randy said it's a great song but didn't do anything for her. He compared it to a karaoke version, which made Haley's voice fall. Steven disagreed: "Just the right amount of style, just the right amount of sexy." He told Randy, "If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong." J. Lo saw a "lot of different colors in your voice." She told her to get out of her head just a little bit, and observed she seemed hung up about moving on stage. Afterward, Ryan egged Haley into responding to the judges, and she just said that "It's your opinion. You're entitled to it." Not the most gracious response, but not back-talk, either. [Haley's performance]
Thia Megia, 15, the youngest female, started a capella in a spotlight, wearing a dress that had a tan top and short, copper feathered skirt. Her vocals were strong and captivating, tender at times and heartfelt. She sounded more mature than her years, and the song was perfect for her. Steven said some people's pitch can be so perfect it doesn't matter what song they sing. "You just did that." J. Lo loved the quiet moment, which "captivate(d) every single person in this room." Randy said that the mark of a great singer is the quality of the tone of the voice. "Your tone when we first heard you reminded me of the late, great Michael Jackson." He said, "This is what hot singing is about." [Thia's performance]
Steven Tyler fan Lauren Alaina chose an upbeat song, wearing a white T-shirt with a heart on it, black leggings, high-heeld boots, and a black bolero jacket. Her rendition of "On the Radio" was kinda country, and she had fun shaking her butt to it, trying to get the audience to clap along. It was high energy, for sure, but perhaps not the best showcase for her voice. J. Lo called her "my little Lauren" and said she looked beautiful. She thought the performance was effortless and that Lauren is a natural. Randy said she has a natural gift but "I don't even believe you know how good you are." He thought she reminded her of a combination of Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, and J. Lo agreed. "I am a fan," Randy declared. Steven told her that just because "you can sing into the stratosphere" means you should do it every time. "I love you; you're the best," he told her, and her eyes got really big momentarily. While Ryan was talking to her afterward, she introduced Ryan as "Peaches," apparently because she's from Georgia. He backed away from her hand, clearly not pleased with the name, although he kept smiling, ever the professional. [Lauren's performance]
Pia Toscano did one of my favorite songs, The Pretenders song, "I'll Stand By You," wearing a sparkly black minidress with spaghetti straps. She did a great job of building to the chorus and ended the song with a sustained high note and a run that was just enough to make it her own. She wasn't on my radar before, but she showed her potential. Randy called it the "first standing o" of the new season (which wasn't true, since Casey Abrams got one the night before). He called the performance "unbelievable." Steven agreed, saying it was "gorgeous." J. Lo said, "I think you're a little tricky, because you were saving that... for when it counts." She told her it was "out of this world." [Pia's performance]
Kudos to Pia, Thia and Lauren Turner with a nod to Naima. The four of them should get through easily, with the fifth spot being a toss-up between Lauren Alaina, Karen Rodriguez and Julie Zorrilla. The judges can be counted on to put through whichever favorite doesn't make it, which means that those in the most danger are the ones who got negative reviews from the judging panel: Ta-Tynisa Wilson and Rachel Zevita.
You only get one chance -- or in "Idol" a couple chances -- to make a first impression.