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American Idol Recap: Paul F. Tompkins on the Top Twelve Women

Aw, yeah. It’s LADIES' NIGHT! Ryan begins the show with a little speech, emphasizing every word equally. It’s not easy to do. Try it. I kind of have to give it up for him. He introduces the judges, and J.Lo is dressed like a cavewoman from the future. This is not a criticism. She looks amazingly hot. Other judges also appear.

First up is Ta-Tynisa, who has mysteriously acquired a hyphen. I swear I never saw that there before. I would wager she didn’t realize how the producers were spelling it until the shows started airing and she got it sorted out. Good thing it has been corrected because this is probably one of two times it will appear on television. She sings Rhianna’s “Only Girl (In the World)” and it is tough stuff, listening-wise. Man oh man.

JUDGES: Steven likes it! J.Lo tells her she started off shaky, but brought it home. Randy realizes he’s going to be the wet blanket this season, telling people who sang poorly that they sang poorly.
ME: Of all the people in the top 24, Ta-Tynisa is probably the weakest. It does not help that she registered Randy’s criticisms with a mask of pure confusion, as if he couldn’t have been talking about her. “That’s odd — I was just singing the same song this guy is saying wasn’t good!”

Naima sings “Summertime” and uses every inch of the stage. I mean, she is all over the place, singing an uptempo version of this song written from the perspective of a sad person lying to a child about the future.

JUDGES: J.Lo thinks Naima’s an exotic flower in a rose garden. Randy thought it “lounge act-y,” but liked the second half and thinks Naima’s someone to look out for. Steven likes it!
ME: I thought it was all right. I did not think it was lounge act-y. I thought it was more cruise ship-y, because the stages are much bigger on cruise ships. I keep hearing cruises are actually good, have you heard that, too? Maybe this isn’t the time or the place for that discussion.

Kendra sings Christina Aguilera’s “Impossible.” There is something happening on this show that I have not yet discussed in these recaps, but I can remain silent no longer. Steven Tyler’s checking out of the female contestants grosses me all the way out. When the girls are singing, and the shot stays on him for more than ONE second, you will see his eyes drift downward, and he gets that “dude appraising she-meat” expression on his face. Is it better to think he’s unaware of the cameras? Cold comfort, friends. Cold comfort.

JUDGES: Randy liked it and was reminded of Lauryn Hill. Steven liked it! Yeah, I’ll bet he did. J.Lo thinks Kendra has heart and feels there is more in her.
ME: Kendra has a nice voice but a somewhat awkward stage presence; she knows she’s supposed to do more than just stand there and sing, but that’s as much as she’s thought it through. In the end, she most often opts for that hand-on-the-stomach resting position that is very popular with a lot of the contestants. I like it. It adds a touch of danger to a song — “I am entertaining you now, but at any moment I may be overcome by my intestinal bleeding.”

Rachel torches up Fiona Apple’s “Criminal,” with a Broadway-vian arrangement, and the key is all wrong for her. I do not recall hearing Ryan mention, as he did the night before, that the contestants had their pick of songs, and I find it hard to believe all of these kids would be choosing stuff ever-so-slightly out of their range. But maybe they like a challenge! All of them!

JUDGES: Steven doesn’t like it. J.Lo also wasn’t crazy about it and wants to know: Is this who Rachel is? Randy says it wasn’t great and complains that he “didn’t even half-recognize the Fiona Apple song ‘Criminal.’” Keep in mind that the night before, Randy was chastising a contestant for not bringing enough of himself to a cover song. So there is a cap on how much of yourself to bring to a cover. Okay. I am trying to follow this.
ME: I thought the arrangement was okay, but again, a bad key. Perhaps Rachel was nervous. She is just a wee slip of a thing, and the last of her race to dwell on this mortal plane of man. So I’ll cut her some slack.

MySpace’s Karen Rodriguez is not blocking band requests tonight as she takes the stage for a stirring version of “Hero” by Mariah Carey. I am not familiar with the song, and as MySpace’s Karen Rodriguez sings, I am not quite sure if she sometimes is singing in Spanish.

JUDGES: J.Lo is wowed and confirms for me that part of the song was in Spanish. That is a relief. What if I were having a stroke? Do you hear other languages sometimes, or do you always just smell toast? Randy thought the Spanish was even better than the English. Steven likes it!
ME: It’s funny, not knowing these songs at all, I am free to concentrate solely on the quality of the voices. MySpace’s Karen Rodriguez did all right. I was not as enamored of her as much as the audience or judges were. Her range might be a bit limited and she will soon be overshadowed by more Facebookish contestants.

Lauren Turner sings the old Etta James tune “Seven Day Fool” and absolutely goes for it. During her performance, I notice that she has a tattoo on her wrist of a G clef. Do you like music? Sure, everybody does. Guess what, not as much as Lauren. She likes it so much she got a tattoo of it. Of music.

JUDGES: Randy proclaims, “That’s how you do it, man!” He describes what he just saw as “Amy Winehouse meets Florence and the Machine.” Please don’t anybody introduce those two parties to one another. Steven likes it! J.Lo loves Lauren’s voice but advises her to get in the camera’s face. But really, this is just good advice for most occasions.
ME: Lauren is my favorite girl so far. She’s got a really good voice and great confidence. I also like that in her clip package, we see J.Lo say that Lauren is reminiscent of Bette Midler, but when Lauren recounts it, she says J.Lo called her “a young Bette Midler.”

Did you know Ashton’s name is actually Ashthon? Of course you didn’t. No one saw this coming. I don’t know if this is another Ta-Tynisa spelling revision or if I just never saw that extra H before. In any event, she sings Monica’s “Love All Over Me,” and it’s just okay. She is projecting a confidence that’s not commensurate with her slightly uneven vocals. I will tell you, I bet I am misusing “commensurate.” I feel compelled to look it up to make sure, but I also want to use it so badly! I’ll let it stand, and you all can discuss it in the comments section.

JUDGES: Steven likes it! J.Lo thinks Ashthon has all the makings of a diva. That’s now a compliment, everyone. Randy compares her to Diana Ross. That’s still a compliment, everyone!
ME: I thought Ashthon’s vocal was not so hot. Also not so hot: Ashthon’s awkward flirting with Ryan. She went for a moment of fun, but then, as happens with all unscripted moments involving Ryan Seacrest, it died upon arrival.

Julie sings Kelly Clarkson’s “Breakaway” and does something I absolutely despise: She closes by sweetly smiling into the camera. Oh! And I bet she was also taking J.Lo’s advice to a previous contestant, so I double-despise it! And again, the key is not good. What an entertaining program!

JUDGES: J.Lo liked it, but didn’t think it was Julie’s best. Randy thought she didn’t bring anything new to the song. Okay, so covers shouldn’t be too recognizable. Maybe two-thirds, with a “mystery third” for which the coverer is responsible. Steven didn’t like it.
ME: Maybe if the contestants tried singing the songs offstage before singing them onstage, they’d discover the key is an issue. It’s worth a try.

Haley presents Alicia Keys’ “Falling,” offering a very confident take on the song. She seems very confident and oversing-y.

JUDGES: Randy says the song doesn’t do anything for her, and he misses “the hint of Janis” that Haley must have manifested off-screen at some point over the past six weeks. Because I never saw it. Although Randy just said “Janis,” not “Janis Joplin,” so maybe he was talking about someone else he knew. Steven liked it! J.Lo thinks Haley needs to be more confident in her physicality. So I guess J.Lo and I disagree. Our first fight.
ME: I am not a fan of Haley, in large part owing to an unfair association I am making between her and someone I know that I don’t like. Sorry, Haley, the arrangement of your facial features has me rooting against you.

When Thia starts singing “Out Here on My Own,” at first I think it’s from An American Tail. Then I remember it’s by Irene Cara. Then I go to Irene Cara’s website. She looks good! She’s still singing and has produced a group of young female musicians and singers on a two-CD-set called Hot Caramel. I guess you could say I am not that invested in Thia’s performance.

JUDGES: Steven likes it! J.Lo thinks it was really special. Randy praises the quality of her tone, stating how important that is, and that Thia’s tone is excellent.
ME: I wish my tone receptors were as sophisticated as Randy’s, because hot caramel was I bored. After her performance, Ryan says to Thia, “I feel that after that performance, we need proof that you’re only 15.” It is nationally televised awkward. After what felt like an eternity of discomfort, Thia hugs him anyway.

Lauren Alaina sings Reba McEntire’s “Turn On the Radio,” the first song we’ve heard all season that mentions Twitter. Finally. Lauren sasses it up like the people in the audience are dying of a sass deficiency.

JUDGES: J.Lo tells Lauren, “You don’t even have to try,” because she’s a natural. Randy doesn’t believe she knows how good she is. He is like St. Thomas, who doubted Our Lord! Still, he thinks she’s Kelly Clarkson crossed with Carrie Underwood. Steven likes it!
ME: Something about Lauren rubs me the wrong way. Maybe it’s the previous attempts to curry favor with Steven Tyler that still linger like cigar smoke over her whole contestantship. I guess I don’t like when teenagers have a plan, any kind of plan. Lauren dubs Ryan “Peaches,” because they’re both from Georgia. Ryan reacts with his usual blank stare. R.I.P., little moment.

Finally, Pia sings “I’ll Stand by You” by the Pretenders. It’s a fine performance, but I feel it’s marred by this one big, loud note that is completely arbitrary and subverts the emotion behind the song, making a song of support into a demand for attention. So of course the judges give it a standing ovation.

JUDGES: Randy says she just put herself “in the top” with that performance, and again, “That is how you do it.” Steven likes it! J.Lo accuses Pia of saving this power up for now. Oh, Pia. What a tangled web we weave, when first we don’t yell out random power notes until just now! —Shakespeare.

Next: Night of the Long Knives as we say good-bye to a bunch of these people. For now: I say good-bye to you, bunch of people.

Good-bye.

Photo: Michael Becker/FOX