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'American Idol' recap: Top 12 'ladies' take their turns

March 3, 2011 |  9:28 am

MB1_9117 "Ladies' night" on "American Idol" was a surprisingly low-voltage affair, paling in comparison with the overwhelmingly electric men's performances the night before. But it wasn't clear what to attribute the energy dip to: Was it just a day-two semifinals slump? Was the sound mixed in a way that made the voices seem subdued? Were the unrelentingly positive judge comments flattening the proceedings?

Or were we -– and perhaps the contestants -- just pacing ourselves for the long haul ahead, despite the fact that the judges did their best to boost the stakes at the outset by noting that the women would need to sing, as Steven Tyler put it, "like there's no tomorrow ... like they're going to the moon."

Some of the singers seemed as remote as the moon on a cloudy night. But several managed to break through the mist to emerge as clear favorites. They stood, they sang, they conquered. One small step for women, one giant leap for "Idol"-kind.

Or something like that.

One thing is certain -– now that they're launched, the contestants this year are going to have to navigate without much direction from the judges. Jennifer Lopez pronounced what felt like nearly every performance to be "amazing." Steven returned frequently to the adjective "beautiful," which he also uses as an adverb. And Randy Jackson just doesn't seem to have the vocabulary to carry out the role of critical judge, reverting back to his not very descriptive "I don't know, dawg," "For me, it was just OK," and "That's how you do it!" repertoire.

At one point, I confess, I actually felt a little sorry for Randy, who has been tasked with ensuring continuity at the judges' table but who seems to have decided that the best way to do that is to continually compare performers -– favorably or unfavorably -– to "Idol" singers past. After he told one singer, whom the other judges praised, that her song choice did nothing for her, he even pleaded with host Ryan Seacrest for help. "The judges are disagreeing, Ryan," he said. Ryan, dawg, anyone? A little backup?

So who are my picks to continue to the next round (only sort of in order of preference -– with very little distinction between numbered and wild-card picks)? They are ...

1. Pia Toscano: Where did she even come from? Barely on my radar before, Toscano, who was given the night's final "pimp" spot, is squarely on it now. She sang the Pretenders' "I'll Stand By You" with full-throated confidence, earning a standing ovation and high praise from the judges, who honestly seemed as startled by her sudden, powerful break from the back of the pack as I was. (Did you see it coming?)

2. Karen Rodriguez: Her English-Spanish version of Mariah Carey's "Hero" was not my favorite performance from her. (The song was a little schleppy, though her voice came across as controlled and strong and she made navigating the notes sound like no sweat.) But I've liked her since the beginning, and her call-out to her mom as she wrapped up her performance was pretty cute. I'd like to see her move on to the next round so we can see what else she's capable of.

3. Lauren Alaina: I responded to her charisma during the auditions, but this is the first time I really believed that the judges might be right in pegging her early as a potential winner. She did feel like a natural onstage as she sang Reba McEntire's "Turn on the Radio." But I think it's time for her to turn down the flirting. Ryan was not as receptive to the teasy advances of a 16-year-old as Steven, which make us like Ryan a little more and Lauren a little less.

4. Ashton Jones: On this night, her stage presence and killer looks were on display. Her voice, less so. But she's shown us before (on "I Am Telling You" during Hollywood Week) that she has the vocal chops to go with what the judges apparently see as her "diva" destiny. Like the judges say, she could go bigger, or, as Jennifer put it, "You're Diana Ross, baby." Next time, I'm hoping for something a little more ... supreme.

5. Naima Adedapo: I cannot get that image of Naima Adedapo cleaning toilets and dreaming of stardom out of my head. And so, whenever she dresses up in one of her brightly colored gowns and sings so soulfully in her smoky voice, I feel like I'm seeing Cinderella waltz with the prince at the ball. I don't want the clock to strike midnight for her just yet. I hope America gives her the chance to keep her carriage from turning into a pumpkin for at least one more dance.

Wild-card picks: Lauren Turner and Thia Megia: I don't know if Lauren Turner reminds me, as she apparently does Jennifer, of a young Bette Midler, but I know I like her and her no-nonsense, sellin'-it energy.   also liked the way she warned us that she was sarcastic -– and sounded so sincere about it! I'd love to see more of her.

Thia Megia's "Out Here on My Own" from "Fame" is the number that's stuck with me the day after, which maybe means I should have moved her higher up on the list. (Though how was it any less Broadway than Rachel Zevita's song?) My gripe with Thia is that she almost sounds too polished. Her performances lack suspense. "Sometimes a person's pitch can be so perfect, it doesn't matter what song they sing," Steven said. But I don't know, somehow I think it should matter.

And you? What do you think? Do you agree/disagree with my picks? Which women do you think should go through, and which ... not so much?

-- Amy Reiter

Photo: Pia Toscano performs on "American Idol" Wednesday. Credit: Michael Becker / Fox