"American Idol" top 12 girls: (Seated, L-R) Katelyn Epperly, Lilly Scott, Ashley Rodriguez, Lacey Brown, Janell Wheeler and Haeley Vaughn. (Standing, L-R) Didi Benami, Michelle Delamor, Katie Stevens, Crystal Bowersox, Paige Miles and Soibhan Magnus.

By Gina Carbone

It’s always interesting to see what fun new comically self-serious ways Ryan Seacrest will announce “This … Is American Idol!”

This time it was the classic sports team lineup with the top 24 glaring at each other as Ryan walked down a dark path between them.

I’d give it a 5 out of 10.

Which is basically what I’m giving the top 12 ladies after their debut.

“American Idol” season nine launched its live action on Tuesday with the top 12 girls performing top 10 hits from the Hot 100 chart.

The result was a classic mixed bag — some total rubbish, some mediocre stuff that could get better with experience, and some surprisingly good performances.

(I’m talking about you on that last part, Lilly Scott and Katelyn Epperly. Nice.)

But mostly it was rubbish.

I didn’t expect much — having followed the development of this top 24 with rising horror — and sure enough, watching the “Give me back that Filet-o-Fish” McDonald’s commercial 100 times would be better than even 10 seconds from some of these “Idol” finalists.

(I’m sorry, but I’m including you, sweet, pretty 16-year-old Haeley Vaughn. Ellen DeGeneres, you’re barmy. Even Paula Abdul would recognize that was not a good version of “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” And don‘t get me started on Lacey Brown.)

I find it very hard to believe this was the best America had to offer, especially in an Internet age where everyone’s cousin is in a band with the girl down the street killing it as lead singer.

Wednesday night the top 12 boys will perform and then on Thursday we lose two boys and two girls.

Eventually we’ll get down to six boys and six girls for the top 12.

But first we have to listen to the judges — and I have to say they gave some decent constructive criticism. Maybe the bar is just low because the songs were so uninspired.

They seemed to make an effort this time to build on each other’s statements, even if they agreed with each other and were just trying to find new ways to say the same things.

Isn’t that what singing top 100 songs is about — finding a new way to do what’s already been done?

But, as usual, Simon Cowell said what most of us were thinking, Kara DioGuardi was the technical one (and, technically, she didn’t need to whisper “bitch” even as a joke), and Ellen tried to be “the nice one,” although she forgot to ramble on about how the girls were beautiful enough to be models. (Paula, I know you never would’ve forgotten.)

Randy Jackson was just cool. As always.

Point of order: I’m tired of hearing how this season will go to the ladies. Not if the teenybopper voters have anything to say about it.

They make these calls (don’t they?) not the judges, and they chose David Cook and Kris Allen. They may pick another cutie this year.

And I can’t say that I would blame them.

Even Simon told the New York Post he regretted some of his choices this season. (Maddy Curtis, anyone? Or Matt Lawrence?)

At the judges table, Ellen sat on one end of the panel, with Simon at the other.

Ellen joked that it was because “We had a little problem … The problem is, Simon wants me… He’s got, like, a little thing for me.”

At least someone has a thing for someone on this show.


I’d take 10 “I’m on a horse” commercials over even the best of these singers.

Where’s my real “American Idol”?



I think on Thursday we’ll be saying goodbye to Lacey Brown and possibly Ashley Rodriguez or even my wispy friend Didi Benami.


1. Paige Miles, 24, Cypress, Texas (or Naples, Fla.)

“It’s All Right Now” by Free

She didn’t sound strong or loud at first. I hate the set with the weird fire and brimstone in the background. It’s like an evil screensaver.

She hit the big notes but the rest of the song wasn’t that good.

Simon Cowell: “I think out of all the girls you have the best voice.” But he wouldn’t have picked that song. It was a “wedding singer” type song. He thinks she’ll be fine, but the song was wrong.

Kara DioGuardi: Disagreed with Simon. She thought the song was brilliant and Paige rocked it. She slayed the verses and just needed help with the chorus.

Randy Jackson: Agreed and disagreed with both. It was not the right song but she showed she has this powerful, big voice.

Ellen DeGeneres: She said Paige must’ve been nervous to come out first but she was “so there” and “so present.” She liked the song. She was worried in rehearsals but Paige pulled it out.

To vote for Paige, call 1-866-IDOLS-01 (43657-01)


2.  Ashley Rodriguez, 22, Chelsea, Mass.

“Happy” by Leona Lewis

Almost too breathy at first. They need to get used to making their voices translate above the background music. Too soft.

I do love this song, but it just highlights how much better Leona Lewis is.

But Ashley added some kind of Alicia Keys attitude to it.

Seemed short.

I’m not thrilled. And she was my favorite. Ugh.

Kara: Big song to take on. Contemporary diva. There were some nice moments, but there were definitely moments that weren’t great. She thinks Ashley will go forward but she hopes they show something different.

Randy: Agreed. You’re always going to be compared to those big singers so it didn’t do well for her. He didn’t hear Ashley.

Ellen: Agreed. She loves Leona and loves the song but it was predictable for her. She wants a risky choice they would be shocked by.

Simon: “I thought it was clumsy, your version. I didn’t like the arrangement. … I think you’re going backwards.” He didn’t feel her as a contemporary recording artist. He sees her as someone who sings other people’s songs and not particularly well.

Dang. that was harsh, but she took it like a pro. Who needs four bad reviews? Three would’ve been more than enough.

Paula Abdul, where’s the soft side?

To vote for Ashley, call 1-866-IDOLS-02 (43657-02)


3. Janell Wheeler, 24, Orlando, Florida

“What About Love” by Heart

She is very pretty and commercial and I do like the sound of her voice. It’s reaching over the music, anyway.

It’s not distinctive, though. She and her voice are sort of generically nice.

To vote for Janell call 1-866-IDOLS-03

Randy: It wasn’t his favorite song choice for her. And he likes her different, interesting voice but she didn’t bring anything unique to this. “But I still got vibes for you.”

Ellen: Did like the song choice. She liked the song and felt she sang it well. She thought Janell moved easily on stage, although there were a couple of off notes.

Simon: She gave it 100 percent effort and probably delivered 65 percent. (Boos from audience) She started to go off-key in the song. But there were moments in the song when he did like the choice. It’s song choice and doing something original. But he thinks she’ll survive this week.

Kara: “I like you, but I have to agree that song was too big for you.” With a song that big it takes everything that’s distinct about you and it goes away.

That’s actually pretty good advice.


Ryan asked Randy what song someone should pick.

Randy said his rule is pick something interesting you can bring something different to and not something where you will be compared to the original.


4. Lilly Scott, 20, Littleton, Colo.

“Fixing a Hole” by the Beatles

She broke out the guitar for this one. I’m tired of the guitar songs, but she was probably the most original and interesting one. She’ll never make it. Too edgy with that hair and sound. What is she even doing here? Then again, Chris Daughtry and Allison Iraheta didn’t look that typical and they made it pretty far.

Ellen: I think that’s what we’re talking about. … It’s such a random song choice and you did such a great job with it.” She has such a distinctive voice and present. “I loved that. I loved it.”

Simon: Definitely the best so far. He felt she sang that song because she liked the song and it portrayed her as an artist. But he’s still not feeling much star power from her.

Kara: “You’re believable. You come from your heart.” The best thing you can do as an artist is stand on a street and busk for money. She could felt Lilly was comfortable on stage and everyone will remember her tonight.

Randy: He loves that she’s more of the indie artists. She’s not affected. He loved the honesty.

To vote for Lilly call 1-866-IDOLS-04


5. Katelyn Epperly, 19, West Des Moines, Iowa

“Oh! Darling” by the Beatles. Again.

I loved her little black dress. And her hair. Her whole look is cool and her voice is good, but the song didn’t do much for me.

Still, given a different song she could kill it.

I would vote to keep her around for another week. I don’t mind her.

Simon: Even though it was messy and there were elements where she screamed the song, he likes her. He thought it was a good choice of song. “You’re going to need an awful lot of work, but I like you an awful lot.”

Kara: “You know your voice very well.” When she was switching up her voice and her register, she could tell Katelyn had been singing a long time. Kara didn’t like her makeover. She liked her more natural.

Randy: He liked the makeover. He felt like everyone was concerned with doing runs but she pays attention to the tone and the melody. He liked her whole vibe. “I think you could go places and do stuff.” (!)

Ellen: She couldn’t tell at first if she was pushing too hard and working too hard, but it was interesting and it made her want to pay attention to her. “I felt like it was pushed… but you have an amazing voice.”

To vote for Katelyn call 1-866-IDOLS-05

(We got a “bitch” word bubble moment from Kara! On live TV before 9 p.m. Take that, Heartland!)


6. Haeley Vaughn, 16, Fort Collins, Colo.

She got her nose pierced the day she made it to Hollywood. She sounds very high school.

“I Want to Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles. Again.

She brought out the guitar, too.

This is painful. Talk about the wrong song choice.

She seems cool and I like her white outfit with the red guitar, but this isn’t right.

Nice range to her voice, but this is the wrong way to show it.

Kara: From a technical standpoint she was all over the place, but when she gets on stage everyone around her has fun. She is pure and she makes up for what she can’t do with her vocals. But she has to work on technical abilities.

(Nice way to put it.)

Randy: What he loves about her is that unpredictability. But the top of her vocals when she hits her high notes is not so pleasing. Maybe drop it down a note or key…

Ellen: She is 16 and has so much presence on stage. “You just shine.” As someone who just likes music, she enjoyed it.

Simon: He thought it was verging on terrible. She’s like a windup doll that never stopped smiling throughout the song. “It was just for me a complete and utter mess.”

To vote for Haeley call 1-866-IDOLS-06


7. Lacey Brown, 24, Amarillo, Texas

“Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac

From the first note I’m disappointed.

She sat on stool and sang right into the microphone as some weird golden screensaver image took over the background.

Not good. Not quite terrible, but it was only tolerable when her voice was blending with the backup singer.

Randy: He didn’t think it was the right song for her. He though it was terrible, pitchy and all over the place.

Ellen: “I think you’re better than that.” There were some moments she got lost. She felt herself pulling for Lacey to come back on, but she

Simon: He thought it was quite depressing. After a few seconds he was working out how much longer they had to listen to it. He thought it was indulgent. He got the impression she’s trying to figure out who she is. “It was just boring, sorry.”

Kara: She usually hits her notes, the falsettos, so easily, but this time it was forced. “Kiss Me” from Sixpence None the Richer would’ve been more in her range, for example. She hopes America gives her another shot.

Simon: You’ve got nice eyes.  (Yes, a Paula type comment! When you can’t think of anything nice to say, call them pretty!)

To vote for Lacey call 1-866-IDOLS-07 — You’d better vote ‘cause I think she’s leaving


8. Michelle Delamor, 22, Miami, Fla.

She works at a clothing store and was a “corporate singer,” whatever that means.

She is truly beautiful — she would deserve Paula’s model comment. She seems older than the other contestants. More mature and “together.”

“Fallin” by Alicia Keys

She has the look for this, for sure. But on this song I could hear the backup singers almost as much as her.

I want to hear something distinctive from her. Something like what Lilly did, because right now she just has a generically good voice.

Ellen: “Now that was fantastic.” Her only criticism is she thought it was safe, because it was so easy for her. She knows Michelle has more in her.

Simon: he thought she did very well. She’s a professional singer. There wasn’t one moment in the performance where he thought “wow.” He felt like he sounded like a broken record but they have to do something original. He thought she looked great.

Kara: “You’re very commercial looking.” When she hits it right she sounds great, but it wasn’t always great. She’s going for that diva spot, so she has to be on all the time. Kara wants her to be more unique. Believability is big with her.

Randy: “Show me something no one’s shown me yet.”

To vote for Michelle, call 1-866-IDOLS-08


9. Didi Benami, 23, Hollywood, Calif.

“The Way I Am” by Ingrid Michaelson

She has that quirky Brooke White thing going on.

I think this was probably the best choice of song for her. She doesn’t have a strong voice but she has a distinct voice and it fits this song.

I like her.

Simon: “I think you are a good singer, but here is my problem tonight. There’s too many people trying to sound like the same person.” If he shuts his eyes he could confuse her with a bunch of singers. “What I’m missing is a spark here. Something which excites me.”

Kara: She thought the song was good but while her voice has some derivative things, she at least made some changes to the original recording. ‘

Simon: No one’s going to remember that.

(I will! I liked it.)

Randy: “Where’s the star factor? “There’s no outward oomph.” It was a bit sleepy.

Ellen: For the first song to reach out to millions of people it was a little low-key.

Ryan said Simon looked frustrated.

Simon said it’s like your first kiss. You have to do something to make an impression, be unique and say you’re a star.

Ryan said he didn’t think of any of those things during his first kiss.

Simon: It probably went both ways.

To vote for Didi, call 1-866-IDOLS-09


10. Siobhan Magnus, 19, Barnstable, Mass.

Two Massachusetts girls this season! That’s great.

I’ve always loved the name Siobhan (pronounced Shi-VON)

“Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak

Started bad, picked up a bit. She hit the high notes well. The chorus was good, the rest of it was barely hanging onto OK.

I don’t mind her though. I’d put her on the list of people I can stand.

Kara: Wouldn’t have picked the song, but she kind of liked her on that song. She’s a quirky girl. It got a little nasal at times, but Siobhan is in the moment when she’s singing and it feels real. She feels a connection and that sets her apart from everyone else tonight.

Randy: He liked when she opened up in the second verse, but he wants her to reach for bigger things instead of smaller things. (He mentioned the Stevie Wonder song during Hollywood Week where she showed she can really “blow.”)

Ellen: For a minute she forgot she was in a singing competition and just let herself be entertained. “I really liked it a lot.”

Simon: “You really are a funny little thing, aren’t you.” He liked the song, he didn’t love the song. He didn’t think it was anywhere near as good as the Stevie Wonder song during Hollywood Week that set her apart.

Siobhan wanted to show that in addition to hitting really high notes she also has a softer side.

To vote for Siobhan, call 1-866-IDOLS-10


11. Crystal Bowersox, 24, Elliston, Ohio

“Hand in My Pocket” by Alanis Morrissette

Guitar and harmonica.

I like her and her voice, but I’m just telling you now, I won’t buy anything on iTunes or on CD with this guitar-and-harmonica folksy vibe. I need to hear something modern and exciting. Like Simon said of someone else, I didn’t have a wow moment.

But she’s fine. She’ll go through to the next round easy.

Randy: “You’re one of my favorites tonight for a bunch of reasons.” He loves her coming out with her honesty and her vibe. He wasn’t sure it was the right song for her but he wasn’t sure it mattered. It was about her. He’s a fan.

Ellen: She’s also a fan. “You add something fresh to the show. And if I’m at home watching I’m voting because I want to see more of you.”

Simon: It was good, we like you, love your little baby, like your story. The truth is there are thousands of you doing this outside subway stations.

(He’s so right!!!)

Simon: “You’ve got to do something that is you.”

Crystal said they are not allowed to do original songs.

Simon said they need to make songs their own and that’s how people have done well on the show in the past. Something like a David Bowie song, which Crystal said would be cool.

Kara: Crystal was good tonight, but she has greatness in her. She has the ability to take them on a journey when she’s singing. To go with what Simon said, she needs to break out of the coffeehouse performer style.

To vote for Crystal, call 1-866-IDOLS-11


12. Katie Stevens, 17, Middlebury, Conn.

Ooooh. Little Katie gets the final spot. The Adam Lambert Treatment. Are they grooming you?

“Feeling Good” by Michael Buble (although not really by him)

Hasn’t someone else already tried this song this season? Didn’t I hear it in previews? A better version, too.

Although as she got going her voice got stronger. Still, I like the preview guy better. This is not wow-ing me.

Ellen: It was good, but Katie’s 17 and Ellen felt it was very conservative. It’s a serious song. She wants to see Katie be 17 and play and be current and fresh and modern. It was a little old for her.

Simon: He agreed with Ellen. “It was like your mum and dad had dressed you and given you the song for this audition. So it started to become annoying.” He’s heard this kind of performance so many times. She needs to become a young recording artist, not someone who is going to sing at her mother’s birthday party. “Very pageanty.”

Kara: If Katie had killed the song he wouldn’t be saying that. She thought Katie couldn’t hear herself. She was pitchy and all over the place. Katie has ridiculous chops and she hopes America gives her another chance.

Randy: She was pushing so hard that all the notes were going sharp, a little higher above the note. But she reminds him of Jordin Sparks. Young it up, be 17.

To vote for Katie, call 1-866-IDOLS-12


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