'American Idol': Top 12 Girls Fight to Stand Out

American Idol Top 24 group photo - H 2015
Courtesy of FOX

American Idol Top 24 group photo - H 2015

American Idol returns to the Fillmore in Detroit Thursday, and this time it’s the top 12 girls taking the stage for their first shot at singing for the viewers’ votes. Overall, the girls take more risks with their song choices than the boys did last night, but some of those choices receive mixed reactions from the judges.

As the first performer, Lovey James sets the energy bar high with “Love Runs Out” by One Republic, which shows off her vocal range and also lets her rock out. She’s followed by Adanna Duru, who goes the ballad route with “Rather Be” by Clean Bandit, but it’s another song choice that allows for huge vocals and Duru hits every single one of them. As Keith Urban puts it, she packs so many of her skills into a short performance.

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Between her spoken ad libs and her confidence once she starts moving around the space, Alexis Gomez already seems like a seasoned country star when she takes the stage singing “Gunpowder & Lead” by Miranda Lambert. The judges suggest she still needs to figure out her voice as an artist though, with Harry Connick Jr. cautioning her against singing with a country twang if it’s not authentic and Jennifer Lopez again encouraging her to play around with bringing her Latina identity to the genre.

Leave it to Joey Cook to deliver one of the most innovative performances of the night with her funky indie spin on Urban’s own “Somebody Like You.” Along with Daniel Seavey on the guys’ side, Joey Cook has one of the most interesting and distinct voices in the competition. Close your eyes and you’ll always be able to tell it’s her. With the help of her accordion, she’s crafting a signature sound that really brands her as an artist, and that’s going to make her stand out.

Connick questions Katherine Winston’s song choice when she picks Taylor Swift’s Hunger Games ballad “Safe and Sound,” and he’s definitely right about it being a pretty safe choice that won’t necessarily make voters excited. But Urban gets to the real problem with the performance: She doesn’t seem emotionally connected to the words, and it doesn’t feel so much like a performance as someone just singing at the camera. She’s undeniably a talented vocalist, but so are all the contestants in this stage of the competition.

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The judges also tell Shannon Berthiaume, who sings Pink’s “Who Knew,” to work on her stage presence. Part of Berthiaume’s appeal is how new she is to singing in front of an audience. That gives her a sense of earnestness when she’s on stage. But as Connick points out, that could wear off. 

Loren Lott, on the other hand, brings a whole lot to the stage with “Note To God” by Charice. “It was powerful,” Connick says succinctly.

The judges question a lot of the song choices tonight, including Shi Scott’s decision to sing “Umbrella” by Rihanna. According to the judges, it doesn’t play to her strengths. But her rendition of “Umbrella”—which brings more of a rock than pop sound—is certainly memorable. The judges also have some issues with Maddie Walker’s less memorable performance of “Love Gets Me Every Time” by Shania Twain.

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But Sarina-Joi Crowe is right on the money with her song choice. “Mamma Knows Best” by Jessie J suits her voice so well that Lopez comments that she might even sound better than Jessie J on it.

Jax Cole, who has been a consistent surprise in the competition, goes big with “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down),” and it really works. “I love what you do. I love your artistry,” Urban says. It’s the best overall performance of the night.

She’s followed by the also stellar Tyanna Jones, who rocks Meghan Trainor’s “Lips Are Movin.” Even Ryan Seacrest comments on how fun it is to watch her.

Next week, the group gets narrowed down from the top 24 to the top 16. Who are you hoping makes the cut?