American Idol: Week #1, Top 12 Girls

There are those out there who prefer the audition shows to the actual American Idol competition, and tonight’s first live broadcast, on which the Top 24 girls competed, proved that those audition lovers might be on to something this time. Oh, yes, it’s ladies night, oh, what a night... if you enjoy maudlin, uninspired singing over lugubrious arrangements, followed by awkward prattle from the judges. It was a very disappointing night from the girls, especially since the ladies are, by and large, a far stronger collective than the boys and Simon had made news this week by predicting that one of the girls would win the whole thing. And what’s up with the tacky set changes, with the judges sitting in front of an under-the-sea backdrop that cuts out the audience? Boo. Then again, perhaps that nautical motif is appropriate, if only because the evening indeed felt like watching a sinking ship. In any case, here are the evening’s awards:

Best performance: It’s tough to come up with anything here, as none of the 12 singers flashed anything truly special. The night was dominated by mid-tempo songs and, call it nerves, every performance was oddly distant. I’ll give last night’s edge to Ashley Rodriguez’s version of Leona Lewis’s “Happy”, although with reservations. She’s one of the only girls who has the chops, the performance skill, and the presence to be taken seriously as a potential star. If anything, she pushed a little hard last night; if she relaxes, she’ll be a standout. Runner-up: Crystal Bowersox has a chance to catch fire. Advice: Lose the harmonica. She can’t really play it, and it just got in the way when she needs to be leaning into that mike and belting with power.

Coolest song pick: Three girls chose Beatles covers, but the most surprising was Lilly Scott’s quirky take on “Fixing a Hole”. It was a WTF arrangement, but after the judges harped about the importance of originality, Scott showed some. However, her signing brings up another category…

Worst trend: The quivery, post-Norah, neo-lounge, 1940s, side-of-the-mouth, gangster’s moll vocal affectation that so many young girls imitate these days. Lilly Scott and, especially, Didi Benami are both grievous offenders.

Most misjudged: Haeley Vaughn. It’s funny to see the judges piggyback on things like Vaughn’s supposed “pitchiness”. In actuality, Vaughn’s intonation was fine, and she was one of the few last night to get after it with clear confidence, and she remains one of the best pure singers in the group.

Worst judge: Ellen. Bless her heart, she means well and remains a likeable personality, but she had next to nothing to offer last night, and it’s excruciating to have to listen to all four judges strain to find something to say after every performance. I’ll cut her some first-show slack, but AI producers must have been cringing. After all, if Ellen isn’t going to be funny, then what is she doing there? Dennis Miller used to script a few zingers in advance of Monday Night Football games. Ellen may have to start similarly pre-loading some comedy up her sleeve, or this gamble is going to go bust.

Worst Lisp: Kara’s. (Runner-up: Haeley Vaughn.)

Worst Makeover: It’s been weeks since the auditions, and some of the contestants were noticeably transformed in the meantime. It would have been next-to-impossible for Lacey Brown to be wearing more makeup than she was last night during her dreary dismantling of “Landslide”.

Flop of the Night: Again, plenty to choose from, but I’d say Katie Stevens laid the night’s biggest egg. She sang a Michael Bublé song, which started as a sedate murmur and built to some throaty bellowing. Simon’s comment -- that she looked and sounded like she’d been dressed and coached for her mother’s birthday party -- was right on. Can Stevens prove that she can overcome her young-choir-girl image enough to make a serious run?

Who Should Get Voted Off: On Thursday, two of these girls will get the boot. In terms of singing alone, one of them ought to be Janell Wheeler, the weakest overall vocalist in the group. She is telegenic and is dating Florida QB Tim Tebow, so she’ll be of some interest as a burgeoning subject of celeb gossip. But her version of Heart’s “What About Love” exposed fatal flaws. The other early exit should be Katie Stevens, who’s been badly overrated so far.

Who Will Get Voted Off: Paige Miles will have trouble getting enough votes, through no fault of her own, but due to her receiving short shrift from the producers during the audition phase. (The audio for her vocals even crapped out during the show's summarizing medley at the end -- girl can't catch a break.) Last night was the first genuine look we’ve had of her, and I doubt that her take on Free’s “All Right Now” was good enough to make any believers on such short notice. Lacey Brown is a better singer than she demonstrated last night, but she fills no discernible niche, and the judges carved her up mercilessly enough to convince most voters to give her the cold shoulder.

Next up: The Top 12 boys tonight.

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