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It was girls’ night on Wednesday’s American Idol as the 12 lady semifinalists faced off for a much-coveted slot in the finals: a handful of frontrunners emerged while others fell flat. Everyone either sang Adele, or got compared to Adele. (Our verdict: too much Adele.)
Let’s begin with Shannon Magrane, 16, a shoo-in for the top 10 with an undeniably powerful voice and Faith Hill looks. She performed Kathy Troccoli‘s “Go Light Your World” — a maudlin song with a cloyingly inspirational message — looking like a Miss Teen USA hopeful with a too-prim, too-precious dress and … we nearly fell asleep. But despite Magrane’s too-mature music selection and appearance, the judges unanimously praised the pageant-y performance, giving new meaning to the term “overrated.”
“You gave me goosies. My first goosies of the night!” cooed Jennifer Lopez, while we threw things at the screen (not really).
Meanwhile, Jen Hirsh and Elise Testone both performed the same song by the ubiquitous, aforementioned force of nature known as Adele. Hirsh sang “One and Only,” from the Grammy-winning 21 album, at the top of the show while Testone closed it with a stirring rendition of her own.
Hirsh, 25, reminds us of that Perfect Girl in high school who’s valedictorian, Homecoming Queen, the lead in the musicals and the star soprano in the choir; in video footage of her life back home in Agoura Hills, Calif., she comes across as a nice person with a nice boyfriend and a nice family that owns a vineyard. She’s competent and likeable, for sure, but lacks an edge that makes 28-year-old Testone, a Lady Gaga lookalike from South Carolina, so appealing.
While Hirsh’s “One and Only” was on-key and pretty with a jazzy feel, Testone took to the piano to belt out a messier, bluesier version. The judges loved both takes, but Lopez — who called Testone “maybe the best singer here” — urged Hirsh to “let loose” next time.
Another show-stopping standout: Jessica Sanchez, who received a standing ovation from the trio of judges, not to mention thunderous applause via the studio audience. It’s hard to fathom that the poised music prodigy A) is only 16 years old and B) can sing the Dreamgirls song “I Love You I Do” better than Jennifer Hudson. (Readers, we envision you rolling your eyes. But Sanchez, like Hudson circa 2004, is going places. And with that level of talent, does she even need a show like Idol to become a star? Well, the exposure certainly helps. No doubt about that.)
“You are so unbelievably talented,” raved Jackson, adding: “How old is she?” He compared Sanchez to Beyonce, while Lopez commended Sanchez’s “swagger” and “growl.”
Skylar Laine, meanwhile, pulled off a star-making performance of the Faces’ “Stay With Me” that will surely gain the aspiring country singer a bigger fan base.
“It’s like Tina Turner went country right now,” gushed Lopez of the bubbly Laine, who commanded the stage like a pro. Jackson, however, called Laine’s look-at-me bravado a mixture of the crowd-pleasing styles of Reba McEntire and Kelly Clarkson. (In the Idol judges’ handbook, a comparison to Clarkson, the show’s true one-and-only, is practically the highest compliment beyond “you’re like Adele and/or Beyonce and/or Christina!”)
Rounding out the judge favorites: Erika van Pelt, belting out “What About Love” by Heart, Carly Smithson-style; Brielle von Hugel, giving off Haley Reinhart vibes with a rousing, raspy cover of “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”; and big-voiced Hollie Cavanagh doing major justice to Christina Aguilera‘s “Reflection.” Tyler’s sole, semi-creepy complaint for Cavanagh, whose blonde tresses were pulled back in a tight bun: “Let your hair down.”
Not every contestant drew kudos from the panel. Jackson, usually laid-back and somewhat diplomatic, totally panned Haley Johnsen‘s intrepretation of the Annie Lennox classic “Sweet Dreams,” sniping, all Simon-like: “It was a bit of a nightmare for me instead of a dream. … Trainwreck-y.”
Jackson’s critique happened to be spot-on, not phoned-in. As for Baylie Brown, the self-aware Nashville knockout who might secretly wish the show’s viewer demographics skewed more male, delivered the snooziest performance of the night. She crooned Lonestar’s “Amazed” in a dress that appeared more suited for the Oscars red carpet than the Fox reality show, complete with a low-cut neckline and tight bodice that showed off her, ahem, assets but appeared to inhibit her singing ability.
Brown’s gown was “so tight,” said Ryan Seacrest, and “she couldn’t get her heart to stop racing.” Indeed, the judges agreed she seemed nervous, shaky and off her game.
Chelsea Sorrell, a country cutie with a Mariah Carey-esque effervescence, drew a tepid response for attempting (and failing) to channel Carrie Underwood on “Cowboy Casanova.” Hallie Day, the film noir-ish Baltimore waitress with a Lana Del Rey pout, sang Nina Simone‘s “Feeling Good” to lackluster feedback.
With the exceptions of a few duds, the girls mostly proved a solid match for season 11’s crop of dudes. But only five will make it into the top 10, with five guys rounding out the finalists. The judges also have three wild-card picks: so after America votes, Tyler could very well bring a potential castoff/middling performer like Brown back for yet another shot at Idol stardom.
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