The Washington Post

‘American Idol’ 2011: Top 12 girls perform


Julie Zorrilla performs in front of the judges on “American Idol.” (Michael Becker/Fox)

The Top-12 chicks sing for 5 spots on “American Idol” tonight.

Ta-Tynisa Wilson attempts Rihanna’s “Only Girl (In the World).” Well, anyway, she’s leggy. Actually, her legs are stronger than her voice. On lower register she fades out almost completely.

New judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez like her for reasons they don’t quite pinpoint. I mean, “the song sang you - you sang the song beautifully”? Really Tyler? But Randy, reading from his Simon In My Mind playbook - specifically, the chapter entitled, “What Would Simon Say?” -- announces: “I got a feeling this is going to happen a lot this season -- I kinda differ from them” and proceeds to speak the truth: Ta-Tynisa’s performance was nothing special. “Being a good performer is about moving the crowd and she moved the crowd,” JLo snaps back at Randy. JLo, sweetie, we’re talking about the “Idol” crowd here -- they’re as movable as cardboard boxes.

Naima Adedapo takes a conventionally jazzy approach to “Summertime” -- a song that should be banned from “Idol” because we’re sick of the Fantasia comparisons. On the bright side, Naima is dressed as a banana - designed the costume herself, she tells show host Ryan Seacrest. JLo mistakes the banana for an “exotic flower.” Naima says her name means “exotic flower.” What are the odds? Tyler thinks she’s “early Ella Fitzgerald.”

We want to like Kendra Chantelle, but her “Impossible” is not memorable. Frankly, she needs to develop a more dangerous image if wants to sing Christina Aguilera numbers. The leather pants just don’t cut it -- we think maybe a tattoo is called for. Tyler, on the other hand, raves about her “voice hot, clothes hot, style hot,” while JLo likes her “heart.” See, that’s the difference between men and women judges.

Rachel Zevita launches into Fiona Apple tune “Criminal” while tossing off her black wrap, brushing aside the microphone, and staging a Judges Table Runaround -- a maneuver usually not tried by “Idol” contestants till later in the competition. Rachel falls behind schedule and has to keep singing while running back up the steps (don’t try this at home) to to her mark on stage for the final notes.

It’s all too weird and, according to Tyler “too Broadway.” “I think that’s the one thing I’ve never sung,” Rachel retorts, which leaves Tyler speechless. “It didn’t work,” Randy concludes. “Now I know why you didn’t make it to Hollywood Week that other season,” Simon Cowell tells her -- in our head.

Karen Rodriguez does a Miss America-competition version of Mariah Carey’s feel-better-about-yourself song “Hero.” But Karen’s got a twist, performing it in English and Spanish! It’s a button-pushing move that successfully knocks out the judges.

“Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow!”says JLo, adding, “it showed who you are and what your flavor is”. Randy: “you made it your own with that.” Tyler: “You’re one of a kind!” Karen will run straight back to her room and started translating bits of “My Heart Will Go On” and “I Will Always Love You” into Spanish. It’s moments like this that miss Simon Cowell most. What would Simon have said? “You did sound like Mariah Carey -- with a head cold.”

We’re inclined to like Lauren Turner because of the whole house cleaner background and when she comes out singing about a hard working woman with “Seven Day Fool,” the Etta James number, she had us at whatever was the first chore in the lyrics. Lauren has a good strong bluesy voice and a likeable delivery, but please get her a new wardrobe consultant.

Ashthon Jones has got attitude, she’s got head bob, she’s got swagger, she’s got a great figure, a beautiful face, incredible hair. Unfortunately, she also has to sing. She can’t handle Monica’s “Love All Over Me.” Because she’s got all the diva trappings, but not much of a voice. And we can’t shake the feeling she’s ordering us to like her.

“You’ve got the confidence of a queen, and you sing so sweet,” Tyler says, predictably, while JLo congratulates her on having all “the makings of a diva” and suggests she needs to ditch the Monica and go for Diana Ross. We resist the urge to gag. “Its’ cool, but I think you’re broader and bigger than that,” Randy says. No, she’s not.

Dressed in another of her fabulous party dresses, Julie Zorrilla looks ever more like the chick the other Girldolettes try to trip when she walks by. The producers can’t trot her out with out nudging us all that she’s supposed to be the winner. She’s pretty and poised but when she gets on stage her performance of “Breakaway” is too pretty and poised. She makes a strategic mis-step in choosing a song by Ur-Idolette Kelly Clarkson, and gets kicked for it by Randy, who lies in wait for anyone who doesn’t different-up on a cover song.

“You didn’t bring anything different or new,” he tells her. Tyler agrees it was the “wrong song for you” and would have been better if she “took it up a couple keys”-- which would have put her in James Durbin territory.

Haley Reinhart’s performance of “Fallin’,” the slow-moving Alicia Keys song, works well enough but only reinforces our suspicion that this is going to be the guys’ season on “Idol.”

Anyway, Randy -- still with Simon In His Mind, is down on her and it; “didn’t do anything for you” he says and “almost like a karaoke thing”. We want to know what karaoke club Randy hangs out at, because they must not let just anybody take the mike. Anyway, he seems a bit abashed when the other judges contradict him.

Thia Megia, though just 15, has more guts than the others: she sings with just with a piano to back her up, instead of the usual “Idol” full-band-and-chorus safety net. The song, “Out Here On MY Own” is from “Fame” - the “Glee” of its day. It’s a smart choice for this high schooler to come out and do a poignant girl’s song.

Lauren Alaina’s got a powerful voice, great phrasing, no jitters, and is just 16. She’s sometimes hard to hear as she sings “Turn on the Radio,” what with the ear splitting accompaniment of the “Idol” house band’s wall of sound. But in the moments when the band takes a break to catch its breath, she sounds great. Did we mention she’s just 16? The judges heap her with praise - most particularly Randy who describes her as a cross between Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. And then, Lauren introduces us to “Peaches” - who is, in fact Seabiscuit. He’s from Georgia - she is too. A new nickname is born.

Pia Toscano wraps things up with a version of “I’ll Stand By You” that’s as polished and smooth as the performance of Karen Rodriguez who we saw earlier and - hey, wait a minute, aren’t they the two Girldolettes who attended the performing arts high school in New York? Of course, they both spent hours polishing delivery in shop class! Unlike Karen, she obviously didn’t take Bilingual Lyric Singing Class so she’s not really “making this her own,” as the judges might say, but she’s building The Pretenders tune up and up, to a very big finish that’s loud and sustained enough to wake even Charlie Sheen in the morning.

The judges are up on their feet and applauding. “After a Monday and a Tuesday, even a week says WTF!” Tyler observes. OMG - has Tyler hired Ellen DeGeneres to write his “Idol” judging comments in advance? And the roar from the audience appears to have blown the whole Simon In His Mind clean out of Randy’s head, because he begins to gush: “Yo, this is our first Standing O of this new season Idol 10! I’ve been here 10 seasons and we’ve had some amazing performances, but let me tell you something, you just put yourself in the top with those amazing performances that have gone on to do amazingly good things!”

Okay, she was good but - did we miss something? Was that really up there in the Great Moments in “Idol” History? Well, one thing’s for certain: Julie Zorilla can breathe a sigh of relief because the other girls won’t be trying to trip her any more.

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