The Top 12 Girls busted out prom dresses and boring song choices, with few exceptions

By Annie Barrett
Updated March 03, 2011 at 10:11 AM EST
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Michael Becker/Fox

American Idol

S10 E14
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“WHO DO YOU LOVE?” bellowed Ryan Seacrest. Could it be Lauren Alaina, standing to his left with a huge heart on her shirt — the only girl basking in Ryan’s typically selfish spotlight? Nah, couldn’t be her. It’d be a huge coincidence if it was her. Nope. The judges squirmed in their swiveling spaceship seats, and in one of the most pronounced departures from American Idol in seasons past, Randy Jackson “woo”ed (Steven) instead of booed (Simon). “Get on your feet and let’s go to the moon,” suggested Steven Tyler from his perch on, somehow, an entirely different planet. And we’re off!

Ta-Tynisa Wilson jerkily slid around the stage like low-grade butter in a busted skillet while sputtering out “Only Girl (In The World)” by Rihanna. Was this a joke? (EW has confirmed exclusively: No.) Were those leg warmers or were they boots? Oh, this was so hilariously bad. To be fair, Rihanna might sound like this live, too. But since Randy only knows one thing to say, he told Ta-Tas that she didn’t bring anything special or different and paled in comparison to Rihanna’s version. “It wasn’t unbelievable,” he claimed. But it was! In its HORROR. J. Lo actually offered the best critique before rushing to complete her sentence in a sweet and reassuring way. “It’s good that it’s over,” she began. Amen.

Me-lance fashion designer Naima Adedapo fluttered into our orbit to sing an oddly energetic version of “Summertime,” and then she flapped her lacy golden wings and scooted on back to her cozy nest on Sesame Street. I still think it’s weird for “Summertime” to sound so upbeat and wacky, but that’s probably because I’m more acquainted with the more melancholy versions of the classic Gershwin tune. After listening to Billie Holiday’s a few times, I was able to better appreciate the liberties Naima took with the song, but it was still too showy and cutesy-faced for me. Randy called her “lounge-acty.” (Whatever, spell-check. You stop that.) I think the bottom line here is that I was hoping she’d be…cooler. Overall, Naima’s voice sounded much stronger than I’ve remembered. Fantasia she is not, but I’m glad she’s not just the judges’ token “exotic flower in a rose garden” based on looks alone.

NEXT: Rachel Zevita a.k.a. Dita Vonabee Teese needs to be redeemed

I’m glad we’ve been made so well aware that Kendra Chantelle “used to sell bathtubs” before she hit it big on reality TV. Ryan’s informational voiceovers were rather sweeping and inclusive last night — Lauren Turner was “our former maid” (um, I wish), and Pia was “our former makeup artist.” So they’re just done working now? This must be new for season 10. I don’t recall hearing about any “former” paint salesmen. Ryan may want to tone it down and manage their expectations. Perhaps the hardest part of the Idol experience is not one’s elimination, but rather the realization after sitting around eating HoHo’s for a week that one may need to get a job because one has run out of HoHo’s.

I really like Kendra, whose voice transitioned seamlessly from squawky grunt to softer alto to powerhouse high note during “Impossible” by Christina Aguilera. I liked her little “Whew!” face at the end. Randy attempted a terrible “vibrato,” but redeemed himself by saying Kendra reminded him of Lauryn Hill, which “makes me feel warm and connected to you.” I don’t think he even knew where he was going with that, but this could be the kindest and most valuable comment Randy has ever made. I mean, go back and read that again. J. Lo or S. Ty to the max, right? They’re the feelers. No sir. On a side note, it was impossible not to love Kendra’s all-leather outfit with a thinning cutout pattern. Wow. Good stuff.

I admire what Rachel Zevita tried to do with Fiona Apple’s “Criminal,” even though it was very clearly 1-800-TOO-MUCH. The dreamy over-achiever just had too much to remember — key changes, a terrifying balancing act near the judges, dramatic head tilts, choreographed hand gestures, pregnant pauses, and more. More. It wasn’t realistic for her to rise to such a carefully planned challenge in the first performance show, but in a way, I’m glad she went for it anyway and suspect she could have even pulled it off had the tempo not have been so freaking fast. Randy complained that he “didn’t even half-recognize” the song, but any Fiona Apple fan can respect Rachel’s musical intuition here. I shocked myself by rewinding her performance twice (!) to listen to how she worked Fiona’s signature wandering lilt near the end of the song into the word “love” — it was quick and unexpected and clever. I’m really surprised Randy didn’t get it. Still, what a mess.

You know what? I could have skipped that entire Rachel discussion and just posted this:

Just as good as a video series, right? I’m guessing this was sent immediately after Dita Vonabee Teese threw down her mic stand in defiance. Hello, crazy! We love crazy. Keep her in!

NEXT: Are you over Ashthon, or are you all over Ashthon?Karen Rodriguez stood perfectly still in greenish-blue drapes and sang part of Mariah Carey’s “Hero.” As soon as I’d decided she was the perfect representation of the Statue of Liberty in space, Karen switched it up and sang half the song in Spanish. Suck it, France! I find her voice to be pleasant, but aside from the bilingualism, Karen’s performance was just boring for me. I also think she aged herself terribly with that long ’70s gown. J. Lo channeled Randy here: “Wow. Wow. Wow. Yes Karen. Wow. Wow. That says it all, right?” Not really! Could you try saying it in Spanish? It would sound much more profound. Jacob Lusk might be able to help.

Lauren Turner picked Jully Black’s version of Etta James’ “Seven Day Fool,” which was perfect for her voice but maybe not so perfect for a viewership that isn’t aware of the tune. Worth a shot, right? Despite the sparkly silver-and-black Princess Rock frock, former maid Lauren was able to hit on a familiar theme (scrubbing dirty floors) while retaining the bluesy soul flavor we’d glimpsed from her during Hollywood Week. Her tone is very grunty about half the time, but she seems to know exactly what to do with her voice. I like her timing and the fact that’s not afraid to look scary during the dreaded/revered final-notes close-up. Randy loved L-Turn’s power and compared her to Amy Winehouse and Florence and the Machine — nice! I did not agree with J. Lo’s suggestion to get more aggressive and in-your-face with the cameras. That s— get’s real old, real fast, and always looks fake. L-Turn seems real. We must hold on to reality before it becomes “reality”! Whoops, too late. There she goes.

“I’m sarcastic, America,” said Lauren Turner, my new hero. “Just so you know.” I’ve been wanting to share this very secret with America for years. May I one day have the courage.

Okay, I kiiiiiind of love that Ashthon Jones chose a random, sexually charged Monica song, “Love Over Me,” for her one big shot on Idol. No, I really love it. I do. This is amazing. I mean, maybe it’s not a big deal. She’s stepped in your love, she has your love all over her, she is totally covered in your love, and she doesn’t want to clean it off. Ashthon Jones is just a huge fan of DNA. What’s the problem? Well, for one thing, this song choice, said Randy. She should have gone much bigger than Monica. “You’re Diana Ross, baby!” The supreme J. Lo agreed — Ashthon has all the makings of a diva: big hair, body, and moves. They are all you need. Just master the full range of J. Lo’s neck quirks and you will be a star.

NEXT: Thia Megia is an extraordinary machine“Have you seen your favorite yet?” wondered Ryan. “Maybe it is JULIE.” I doubt it! Julie Zorrilla, original stage dress-wearer and a steadfast supporter of A-line fashion, attempted “Breakaway” by Kelly Clarkson. Lord knows why. She does not have a powerful voice. How could this have made sense to her? It is really not a song for pretty princesses to sing, unless they are jumping up and down in a circle at the end of someone’s wedding, or the prom, because duh. (It’s been awhile since I’ve set foot in a high school, but I assume this is like a late-2000s requirement. I hope no one got a “restraining order” vibe from the first part of that last sentence.) Once again, J. Lo brought up Julie’s lack of connection to the song. “Do you really want to break away?” she asked. Julie just smiled and nodded. I wanted to yell Newsflash: She’s not getting it! at the screen, but what is the point when the beautiful people are so far away?

The more I think about what Haley Reinhart did with “Fallin,’” the less I appreciate her attempt to change the entire feel of the song. It was odd enough to hear Alicia Keys’ clear and determined original run through the gravely road of Haley’s vocal chords, but when you consider the actual lyrics and Keys’ intent, Haley’s seductive and breathless spin on “Fallin'” suggests that she might not quite understand the point of music. I like that she has fun with her voice and enjoys wiggling it around in the dirt, but this was just not the right song to interpret so lightly. “Fallin'” is ultimately sad, not sexy. It’s a woman coming to terms with herself, not a woman trying to turn on some guy or an audience. Cute kid; no thanks.

I am convinced 15-year-old Thia Megia is a robot. The dramatic lighting, the “pitch so perfect it doesn’t matter what song you sing” (according to Steven), the way she delicately touched her lips after exerting effort, the monotone recitation of “I just don’t want to let it go” during her intro package, the name “Thia Megia” — it just all seems so carefully and exquisitely programmed. Just like Ryan demands proof that Thia is only 15, I will not give up my robot theory without proof that she is human. That’s just the way it has to be. Ryan ‘n’ me, sittin’ in a tree. K-I-S-S-I don’t want Julianne Hough to beat me up. Anyway, holy outdated song choice with “Out Here On My Own” from Fame, but Thia made a smart move in starting out a cappella. Why not showcase the voice, if you only have a week to do it? The single spotlight and total silence also provided an extra-eerie atmosphere within which Thia could ask one of the eternal questions of robots: “Do I fit in?”

NEXT: Pia Toscano won’t let nobody hurt you Lauren Alaina had morphed into a young D.J. Tanner before our very eyes, and all the former civilian needed to do was have someone straighten her hair. “Turn on the Radio” by Reba McEntire was a brilliant song choice for Lauren, as none of the other girls chose country. With her natural stage presence and boundless energy, L’Alaina was able to shake her butt really hard and remind viewers that they really could listen to her on the radio, if only they would vote. She effortlessly made it seem like she was the song’s original artist — no small feat, to be sure. Still, I’m finding it difficult to enjoy Deej’s performances as long as the judges and producers keep dipping their fingers into a big vat of her sweet-16 magic and then smooshing it around in our cheeks during the telecasts. It’s becoming uncomfortable. No touching! I’d like the opportunity to enjoy the prodigy on my own and figure out over time if she’s really a hybrid of Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson. You’ll get a different perspective of Alaina in Adam’s on the scene report, but as someone who only sees the telecast, the level of producer manipulation for this girl has become brutal.

Pia Toscano scored the pimp spot with her confident and beautiful cover of “I’ll Stand By You” by the Pretenders. Good for her for snagging this one ASAP; I think it’s one of the most potentially perfect song choices for competent singers. Everyone knows it, it builds and builds, it’s sentimental, it’s not depressing. All good things! I always revel in a good Idol crescendo, especially when it comes as a surprise from a sleeper contestant. But I enjoyed the softer opening of Pia’s performance, too. It almost sounded like Belinda Carlisle singing the Pretenders, so I loved it already. Who wouldn’t want to hear Belinda pretend? After pretty Pia changed up the final chorus with some upward scales (“I’ll sta-a-a-a-a-and” by you…), the judges leapt to their feet. Ashthon was crying. I think Pia’s mom may have eventually passed out. This was a big-time Idol moment for our former makeup artist. I loved it. Also, I just love when contestants have to make their fingers add up to more than 10 (in her case, 12). A triumph.

‘Party’ Time: Recapping is a delight, but sometimes I do miss gabbing and gabbing and snacking and gabbing about American Idol with real, live humans. Be sure to tune into tonight’s premiere of Idol Party Live, which I’ll be co-hosting with MTV party weirdo Jim Cantiello at 10 p.m. ET on MTV.com. We’ll be sharing some of our favorite viewers’ Tweets live on the air, so if you’re into the whole Twitter/brevity thing, send your best Idol material in 140 characters or less using the hashtag #idolparty to either @mtvnews or Jim @jambajim. And if you think Twitter is lame, tune in anyway! Why not? 30 Rock will still be there on you DVR, I promise. It’s party time. Excellent! Zang.

And of course, I’ll see you back here tomorrow morning for my first results-show recap. Whew!

Follow Annie on Twitter: @EWAnnieBarrett

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American Idol

Ryan Seacrest hosts as Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan guide aspiring singers on their way to superstardom.
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