The women went first this week on American Idol and Crystal Bowersox continued to prove herself a front-runner. The show began with Ellen DeGeneres sitting in the lap of Simon Cowell, whispering sweet nothings into his ear as he giggled. (It was a reference to his comments on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno in which Cowell said she would probably end up in his lap by the end of the season.) Why waste time? Ellen seemed a little more relaxed and succinct while Kara continues to unveil a new look every night. But on with the eight performances.
KATIE STEVENS -- Sang Kelly Clarkson's #6 hit "Breakaway," which Randy declared was one of his favorite pop songs of the modern era! (If any Clarkson deserves that praise, surely it's "Since U Been Gone.") As with the very young Haeley Vaughn, Katie just seems way way too young to be performing on this show. Katie was flat and off from the get go in a painful vocal; even Simon felt bad for her and said she took notes well, giving her a 10 for 10 for effort. But what exactly is Kara DioGuardi hearing when she says Katie has "a great radio voice?"
SIOBHAN MAGNUS -- Sang The Animals' first and only #1 hit "The House Of The Rising Sun." Though it's a song about a bordello, she began it a cappella (which Kara declared BRILLIANT, as if no one had ever heard Whitney Houston begin a song that way), making it seem more like a prayer than the rueful, world-weary tune it is. But she gained some steam and had some good passionate moments, though when she really went for a strong note it made me more tense than excited (is it a certain tension in her voice?). Only Simon pointed out how dowdy her outfit was.
LACEY BROWN -- Sang Brandi Carlile's sole Hot 100 charting tune "The Story," which went to #1 in Portugal. (Thanks, Wikipedia!) I'm unfamiliar with the song and found Lacey's performance very good, from her green nail polish to her poise and lovely, quirky vocals. She began sitting on the edge of the stage and was smart to stay put. (Too many try to get up and move around.) Let the cameras do the work. She was confident and her voice sounded cool. Her best yet.
KATELYN EPPERLY -- Sang Carole King's "I Feel The Earth Move," the two-sided single (with "It's Too Late" on side A) that went to #1 for five weeks and propelled her classic album Tapestry to sales of more than 22 million copies around the world. (You don't own it? You should.) Katelyn had a keyboard on stage, but the producers kept her instrument so low in the mix, it looked more like a prop than anything else. She was fine but dull, especially on the moments where King got soulful and she paled in comparison. Katelyn also ran out of breath towards the ends of some lines. Simon's critique was spot-on in its cruelty: she sounded like a performer taking requests. Competent.
DIDI BENAMI -- Sang Fleetwood Mac's #11 hit "Rhiannon (Will You Ever Win)" from their breakthrough album Fleetwood Mac. Stevie Nicks is so iconic, you might think the song HAS to be sung while twirling around in gypsy clothing. But Didi strapped on an acoustic guitar and kept the song simple and true. She was very good and one-upped Lacey, who sings in a very similar style. (There was a weird audience applause sound when she finished, probably due to the sound mix not being adjusted properly right away.) To my surprise, Randy and Ellen were slightly reserved, while Kara and Simon gave her the much stronger review she deserved.
PAIGE MILES -- Sang "Smile," whose melody is by Charlie Chaplin, with lyric authorship somewhat disputed. Paige has been confused from day one about what to do, which is especially telling right now when you're not even limited to a genre or songbook of an artist but can do virtually anything you want. Terribly dull, as the judges all agreed.
CRYSTAL BOWERSOX -- Sang the biggest hit of Tracy Chapman's career, the #3 hit "Give Me One Reason." (It stayed there for five weeks, thanks to a logjam at the top between Celine Dion and Mariah Carey.) The very first line was a tad tentative and (purposefully) diverged from the song's melody. I wondered for a moment if Crystal would maybe stumble this week. As if. On playback even the opener sounded fine and the rest of the song was excellent, with Crystal jamming on electric guitar and dirtying up the bluesy number to perfection. More and more, she seems like an heir to Bonnie Raitt and I can't wait to find out if she's a decent songwriter too. Head and shoulders above the rest: they're competing; she's performing. The funniest part of the song was a very glum Katelyn spotted on the balcony, clapping along mechanically and looking miserable. My only question is when will Crystal fix her teeth? My guess is she'll wait till after the finale so she doesn't lose any authenticity points.
LILLY SCOTT -- Sang Patsy Cline's very first #1 hit on the country charts, "I Fall To Pieces." She sported a mandolin, but just like Katelyn's keyboards, it was miked so low the mandolin looked like a prop. Her dress was country store cute but her hand-crafted earrings looked like pot holders or something. She sounded terrible at first but sort of righted the ship in the middle. Still she had a lot of rough moments. Another problem is that she and Lacey and Didi all sing in a quirky jazzy sort of style. Fans of the style will naturally gravitate to just one of them as their favorite. To my surprise, three of the judges gave strong praise with only Simon thinking she might have faltered with her "quirky" choice. (Simon, it's a great standard for a reason; not a strange choice or dangerous one at all. It was her performance of it that could hurt her.)
Obviously, half of them are vulnerable and only two have to go home, with Katie Stevens almost certain to be one of them. She'll be joined by Katelyn Epperly, Paige Mills or Lilly Scott. My guess is it'll be the two K's: Katie and Katelyn, with Paige giving a huge sigh of relief.
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