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Idol Watch: My Top Five Women (Or So)

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It was American Idol‘s turn to show off its dozen female semifinalists last night, and the ladies were… shiny. Arrayed in a sea of glitter and riding waves of curls (among men and women alike, this seems to be the Season of Hair on Idol), the women tried to sing their way into America’s top five. My choices for the five of the evening and a wild card after the jump—plus a few general thoughts:

Pia Toscano
“I’ll Stand By You”
Nothing groundbreaking here: an understated, stand by the mic reading of a ballad that probably needs to go on Idol’s Retired for Overuse list (see also “Hero” from earlier in the evening). But it’s a pretty lovely performance, as Pia puts her mark on the melody and phrasing without over gilding the song with a lot of embellishments. As she closes with a couple of athletically powerful notes, she’s probably booked herself on the show for several weeks already.

Thia Megia
“Out Here On My Own”
One challenge for the younger contestants on Idol is to choose material that doesn’t feel beyond their years or maturity, and this was an excellent song selection. Thia’s performance started a cappella and quiet, then built. I like that she has power in her voice but doesn’t feel the need to bludgeon us with it.

Lauren Alaina
“Turn On the Radio”
I want to reward Lauren in part simply for not going the Girls Are Supposed to Do Ballads route her first night—her vocal on this uptempo country choice is smoky and cocky, powerful without being shouty, and simply fun.

Lauren Turner
“Seven Day Fool”
Purely as a vocal, this is close to the best of the night (if a little shouty in a couple of spots). Like the other Lauren, if she’s feeling nerves she does a good job of not show it, in an earthy and gritty performance.

Naima Adedapo
“Summertime”
I’m torn on this one, because I think Naima is better than this performance. On the one hand, the arrangement is a bit lounge-cheesy; on the other hand, I like the choice of uptempo jazz, rather than a reprise of Fantasia Barrino’s cover. (Though the comparison came anyway.) I’d like her to choose better next time—and go easier on the hand gestures—but she’s a compelling performer and there are moments, especially on the ending notes, that suggest huge promise.

As for my wild-card, I’m going to go with Ashthon Jones, whose voice sounded a little thin, but threw in some nice flourishes and has real charisma, which could get her far if she survives this round. (I wish I could recommend Rachel Zevita, just for having the taste and guts to do a Fiona Apple song, but the actual performance was a dud.) I’m not nearly as confident in my picks here as I was for the guys Tuesday, though, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of surprises.

Now to the judges. What I was concerned about Tuesday now seems to be a definite pattern: Steven and especially J-Lo seem to have decided to let Randy be the designated bad guy, lavishing inexplicable praise on performances like Ta-Tynisa’s off-key disaster. J-Lo’s critiques need to come with subtitled interpretation: (“I liked it” = “I didn’t really like it.”) I’m fine with avoiding meanness, but judging means you gotta judge.

And Randy Jackson, God bless him, called them on it in a backhanded way, as his partners left him to do the dirty work on that first performance, to the booing of the crowd: “I’ve got a feeling this is going to happen to me a lot this season.” How does it feel to be Simon, dawg?

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