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American Idol: Top 12 girls aim to break boys' 5-year streak

Jodi BradburyThe Christian Science Monitor

There has been a lot of talk about it being a "Boy's Season" this year – and before Wednesday night that seemed like a safe statement.

With standouts like Phil Phillips and Creighton Fraker, who left an indelible impression throughout the American Idol early rounds, few girls could say the same thing. The one who seemed to generate a huge amount of buzz early on, Lauren Gray, vanished as quickly as she emerged. But on Wednesday, the Top 12 girls made it obvious that it is way too soon to make assumptions because if America voted for passion alone, the girls just left the boys in the dust.

They proved they are not faint of heart and took to the stage with fire in their bellies (and a few butterflies). There were some sharp notes, some flat notes, and some nerves. But there was a great deal of gumption, and it was heartening to see the women hungry for the American Idol title.

And while they never officially announced it, Wednesday's episode must have also been a tribute to Adele. With three contestants choosing to perform her songs (two Wednesday night, and one Tuesday night) and the American Idol judges tossing her name around like it was PeeWee's word of the day, the British superstar must have felt like she had finally arrived. The six 2012 Grammy awards were clearly just a warm up to this monumental Idol achievement.

The Best:

Erika Van Pelt: OK so the song isn't current, but at least "What About Love," is a power ballad and it was obvious that Erika was really feeling it as she delivered a strong, confident performance. If all of the girls identified with their song choices like Erika did with this one, the boys may as well pack their bags. Well, except for Phil . . . of course. B+

Hallie Day: Hallie is one of those unassuming people who somehow don't recognize their own potential. Here's hoping that after delivering the best vocal performance of the night (possibly both nights) she starts to understand what a gift she has. When she began "Feeling Good," Hallie captivated the audience not only with an amazing vocal but with the look and presence of a star. Of course, then Randy Jackson has to go and be a buzz kill with his inane questions about what kind of artist she is. Go ahead, tell him, Steven Tyler, "She's a beautiful artist." A-

Skylar Lane: With her performance of "Stay with Me," by Faces, Skylar Lane turned everyone in America into a country fan for a minute. She, out of all the others, showed just how bad she wants to the be the next Idol. Her fearlessness and abandonment was such a complete pleasure to watch, she had me on my feet doing the two step (or she would have if I knew anything about the two step other than the fact that its a country dance consisting of, well, two steps, I suppose.) A-

Hollie Cavanagh: If you watched last season, it is hard to not have a soft spot for Hollie Cavanagh. She has come so far from the trembling girl who could barely get through her audition. Now, with her nerves under firm control, Hollie's voice is shining through and what a voice it is. Impossibly rich and deep for one so diminutive, her performance of "Reflection," was excellent. B+

Elise Testone: Elise is quickly becoming a favorite in this blog. In addition to reminding me of a dear friend (shout out to Dpop!) she is one of the very few who can take on Adele and make it work (see the Jen Hirsh review below.) Her performance of, "One and Only," was simply riveting. In a previous write up, I questioned how Elise's vulnerability would translate in front of a live audience. Well her vulnerability was evident, especially when she began to get choked up mid-song, but her emotion only drew you deeper into her amazing performance. A-

The Rest:

Chelsea Sorrell: Chelsea kicked the show off with Carrie Underwood's, "Cowboy Cassanova." Beginning the show is not an enviable position to be in but Chelsea really set the tone of the show with her performance. It was by no means pitch perfect but she threw herself into the song wholeheartedly and a current song was a refreshing choice. B-

Jen Hirsh: It's so hard to be objective when a contestant reminds you of someone your husband denies having had a crush on even though you know better. Jen didn't make that objectivity any easier to obtain by choosing an Adele song. There is a reason why Adele is the "it girl" right now and it's not because she has incredible songs, which she does, but because she sings those incredible songs with an unparalleled voice. Unparalleled being the operative word. Jen tried and may have even had a few moments but she didn't do herself any favors by having viewers draw comparisons between her and the original. B-

Brielle von Hugel: Brielle has not been a likable contestant. From her (and her mother's) antics during group performances right down to her accent, Brielle has offered little reason to stand behind her but Wednesday night she went too far. One might be willing to forgive the awful dress or the mediocre performance of "Sitting by the Dock of the Bay," but any hope of leniency was lost when she started her performance cozying up to Phil Phillips (sure the rest of the guys were there as well, but anyone could see they were mere pawns in her wicked game) and then, as if that wasn't enough, then she . . . it's almost to painful to recount . . . then she touched his hand!!!

The judges tried to mitigate the outrage by telling Brielle she gave a beautiful performance but Steven's going to have to come up with a more original word if he hopes to divert the wrath of this blogger . . . C+ (and yes, the grade is for the performance alone, otherwise she'd be the flunky of the night!)

Baylie Brown: For what is easy to imagine was the first time, everything went wrong for Baylie Brown Wednesday night. Her rendition of Lone Star's, "Amaze," did just that, but not int he way she was hoping for. From the very first (and very off-key) note, the cocoon of perfection that seemed to surround Baylie up to this point, crumbled. Thankfully, even the judges who seem to be in a constant state of denial (though Randy did admit that they had been too lenient with the boys the night before) had little to say other than how beautiful she is, which basically tells one all they need to know. D

Haley Johnsen: Haley's performance of "Sweet Dreams," was as Randy so accurately put it, "a nightmare." It was like a pit of vocal quicksand, the more she struggled to save herself, the deeper she sank into the depths of disaster. Jennifer Lopez made a valiant but futile attempt to put a positive spin on Haley's performance by suggesting that it might have been hard to the untrained ear to detect the special qualities of Haley's voice. Let's face it JLo, the only positive thing about Haley's performance is that it made Baylie's seem almost pleasant in comparison. D-

Shannon Magrane: Shannon took to the stage looking like she stepped out of the final scenes of the Princess Diaries, complete with diamond headband, ball gown and tear-drop earrings. Talk about lacking any relevance, Shannon chose the obscure song, "Go Light your World," and gave a dreadfully old-fashioned performance. Needless to say, none of the judges called her on it though you can be sure Simon would have. C-

Jessica Sanchez: It's no secret that Jessica Sanchez has an incredible voice, with or without the swollen vocal chords that kept her from rehearsing this week. It's also no secret that the judges love to give excessive praise. Mix the tendency to give excessive praise and an incredible voice together and what do you get? You get a panel of judges who are squirming in their seats with self-congratulatory delight over discovering the next superstar. Was Jessica that good? Meh. She can sing, no question, but the song, "Love You I Do," was uninspired and reminiscent of something one would hear on a corny variety show hosted by Bob Saget. B-

The Predictions:

The Top 13 (in no particular order, otherwise Phillip would be first):

Jessica Sanchez, Elise Testone, Skylar Lane, Shannon Magrane, Jen Hirsh, Phil Phillips, Josh Ledet, Deandre Brackensick, Reed Grimm, Creighton Fraker, Colton Dixon, Aaron Marcellus, Hallie Day

Thursday night Idol returns for yet another two hours . . . anyone else feeling a bit burnt out with this schedule?