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'American Idol': Ladies look to pop divas for inspiration

March 3, 2011 |  7:56 am

MB1_9038“American Idol” is in dire need of a reigning diva capable of winning. 

The aging competition hasn’t crowned a female winner since Jordin Sparks in Season 6, leaving guitar-strumming, singer-songwriter boys with scruffy hair and coffeehouse-friendly tunes to walk away with the title.

Will this season allow a lady to get one step further than Crystal Bowersox did last year and come out on top?

When the top 12 ladies took the stage Wednesday night, the question was whether they had gleaned anything from watching some of the boys squirm as the judges picked apart their song choices. Did they take note of what worked and what didn't with the boys’ performances and choose songs worthy enough to begin the conversation about who they are as singers, and whether they'll stand a chance at winning over America's vote?

“This is the first time America is seeing you ... how do you want them to see you?” Jennifer Lopez asked Rachel Zevita early in the night, after she completed her performance of “Criminal.” 

Though Zevita took a risk with the sultry Fiona Apple number, a Broadway-esque arrangement left a sour taste in the judge’s mouths. Randy Jackson thought the song “just didn’t work,” and Lopez wished Zevita had shown the audience why Lopez has continued to champion for Zevita in the competition.

Zevita, however, may be saved by the voters at home. She was one of few girls to abandon the original composition of her selected song -- something that historically wins over viewers. Though it didn’t pan out so well for Zevita, Naima Adedapo got high marks from the judges for her piano-jazz revamp of “Summertime,” a song so synonymous with “Idol” diva Fantasia Barrino that it has remained largely untouched. Adedapo’s lounge-acty spin on the standard -- something that usually gets heavily criticized -- prompted Steven Tyler to compare her to early Ella Fitzgerald, but will that be enough for her to advance? 

As some girls put their own swagger on songs –- Karen Rodriguez, for example, blew away the judges by  sticking to her roots and performing a bilingual rendition of Mariah Carey’s “Hero” -– others struggled to find their footing.

Ta-Tynisa Wilson, Haley Reinhart, Kendra Chantelle and Julie Zorrilla didn’t completely win over the panel by leaning on more contemporary singles from top 40 divas like Rihanna (“Only Girl (In The World”) Alicia Keys (“Fallin’ ”), Christina Aguilera (“Impossible”) and Kelly Clarkson (“Breakaway”), respectively. 

Jackson, in his 10 years, has seen and heard it all before -- and he reminded the ladies of such. Jackson continued to reiterate to the hopefuls that plucking songs from modern pop divas doesn’t particularly allow much room for them to do anything to make the song their own, even telling Reinhart that although her performance of Keys’ oft-covered single (a track he said he wished they could ban) was fine, “It doesn’t do anything for you.” 

The girls who pulled inspiration from more seasoned divas ended up benefiting the most. Both Thia Megia and Pia Toscano scored big with the judges with Megia taking on Irene Cara’s “Fame” ballad “Out Here On My Own” and Toscano trying her hand at the Pretenders' “I’ll Stand By You” (another “Idol” staple). 

Favorite Lauren Alaina didn’t get the coveted first standing ovation from the judges (that went to Toscano), though she did receive the most praise. The 16-year-old added some youth to Reba’s single, “Turn On The Radio” -- a song, like a couple of others, that's actually currently on the radio. Lopez stressed that Alaina doesn’t “even have to try. The voice is just so effortless," while Jackson pegged her as a combination of Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. 

Thursday night the contestants find out which five boys and five girls won over America, and the judges reveal their wild-card selections.

-- Gerrick D. Kennedy


Photo: Lauren Alaina performs in front of the judges. Credit: Michael Becker / Fox