American Idol Recap: The Top 12. Let's get it started!

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Are you ready to rumble, AI fans!? The real show starts with the Top 12 on the big stage with the screaming fans who give everything a standing ovation and boo every Simon critique, no matter how accurate. Oh, yeah baby!

We're back with the slavish praise of celebrity coaches, the blinding white Simon teeth, the strange gay banter between Simon and Ryan, the stylistic makeovers of contestants...sometimes for the better and sometimes for the much, much worse, and occasionally, when they find the time, some actual talent on display.

This is what I've been waiting for, haven't you?

The Top 12 are tasked with doing Diana Ross songs, and she's on hand to be a loving coach with mostly positive reinforcement and only occasional gentle hints for improvement. Diana has three head's worth of hair, but she really looks quite fabulous.

So here we go:

1. Brandon sang "You Can't Hurry Love"

Brandon is warm and has a warm, pleasant voice, but he has not stepped out to take the spotlight like fellow back-up singer Melinda has. The band was overpowering him sound-wise, and the stage was overpowering him presence-wise. He had a bad night all the way around with a major vocal crack and a major brain-freeze on the words. Actually, although he thought he was doing well until he forgot his words, the converse is true. After he forgot his words the stress and shock gave hima sense of urgency and intensity that he had lacked until that moment.

The verdict: Very much at risk.

2. Melinda sang "Home"

I agree this is a treacly, boring song. I agree that she did more with it than I would have imagined. I continue to find some of the arrangement choices these guys are making to be odd. Starting in some weird middle place of this song didn't help it any. But Melinda has the interpretive skills to make a story out of it anyway. Before Simon compared her to Gladys Knight, I had written that down in my notes. She has a great voice, great heart...and impressively great technique. Note how her chin does not wobble to match the rhythm of her vibrato (one of my pet peeves in singers.) She has staked her claim as the one to beat on pure talent...vocal and interpretive.

The verdict: Oh, so very safe.

3. Chris S. sang "Endless Love"

You could tell that among all the contestants Diana didn't seem to like Chris and his approach that much. She had a slight curled lip of disdain when discussing his choices. And his choices were very bad. For one, trviail thing: wear the glasses (and yes, I wrote that down before Simon said it too.) Chris has a strong, pleasant voice, but that arrangement and his approach to it were robotic, non-emotional and just weird.

The verdict: Well, he did a poor job, but I don't think America's sick of him yet.

4. Gina sang "Love Child"

I hate to tell Miss Ross, but "pronunciate" is not a word. Paul Abdul hates to tell her too, so she just made sure to say it correctly: "enunciate." Because, it's true, you couldn't understand a word Gina said. It actually did sound like the song had more intense lyrics than I really realized, but who knows? Gina has a strong enough voice, but this was a nervous, uncomfortable performance...lots of pacing and bouncing about, lots of yelling.

The verdict: I think Gina may be at risk, at least to be in the bottom 3.

5. Sanajaya sang "Ain't No Mountain High Enough"

Oh. My. God. can someone make this nightmare stop. First, can we talk about the hair. From Farrah Fawcett feather, to an unfortunate run-in with a flat iron, to his scariest choice yet: ringlets. With that curly top, too much make-up and a pair of sparkly earrings I swear he looked like a woman...it was truly strange. But how did he perform, you ask? Well. He started out by exhorting his audience to "come on", trying to coerce a little enthusiasm and energy out of the crowd before he had actually done anything to deserve it. Anoter one of my pet peeves, in case you haven't noticed. The he sang the song like he has sung every other song...like he's only "marking it" vocally, not really singing full-out. If he doesn't go home tonight I will really have lots all idea about what America is thinking. He's a nice boy, good for him and good on his parents, but it's painful to watch him!

The verdict: PLease let him be at risk, please, please!

6. Haley sang "Missing You"

I didn't have high hopes. Haley had on this clown dress that was pretty unflattering, and she started off very quiet and unassuming. But she also started with some real emotion and connection to the song. She has a Katharine McPhee winsome quality (and beauty) and she probably also has some real potential inside her. She's just not nearly polished enough in this crowd to get as far as Katharine did. This performance fell apart, though, I have to say. She forgot her words, she went consistently off-pitch. It was really quite dreadful, but she may just get the sympathy vote because she was genuinely affecting in the beginning of the song, and of course after it was over, and she knew how badly she had failed.

The verdict: Quite at risk, but might pull it out.

7. Phil sang "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me"

His vocal was a bit tight, but it may have been his best overall vocal yet. He really let go; he smiled a bit; he exhibited some energy and enthusiasm. He does have the same blank-eye problem that many of the guys do, but this was far better than his previous week's performance.

The verdict: He's probably safe.

8. Lakisha sang "God Bless the Child"

Great song choice for her, and it's absolutely true that she avoided over-singing it. The vocal was stellar as well. my only critique was going to be that she had sort of a generalized emotion in the beginning, like she understood the overall feeling of the song, but wasn't really telling a specific story. But even that went away about half-way through, and she really started to make specific emotional and interpretative choices. Great job.

The verdict: Obviously safe.

9. Blake sang "You Keep Me Hanging on"

OK, I don't get what all of the hubbub was about him changing the song. it sounded exactly the same to me. They didn't really turn the rhythm section into either a house music or electronica feel. It sounded like, if anything, a slightly disco version of the original. The only thing really modernized about the whole performance were his Justin Timberlake dance moves. And the strings? they make everything sound cheesy so far. It was only an OK vocal, he sounded a little weak, and his falsetto didn't quite make it.

The verdict: Oh, I think he's safe, but he can do a lot better than that.

10. Stephanie sang "Love Hangover"

Again, I don't get what the fuss is about her not doing the uptempo part of this song. To be honest I can't really remember what that is. She did a nice job of toning things down, but keeping her intensity to give us sultry, not sexual. Frankly it wasn't her best vocal either (the theme of the night) but she has an undeniable confidence and presence on stage.

The verdict: I hope she's safe, although she may continue to be outshadowed by Lakisha and Melinda.

11. Chris R. sang "The Boss"

Can I hear another "not his best vocal"? Yeah! He started out pitchy and strangely quiet, but he did manage to power up midway through. For the first time his nerves showed. And it's kind of a werid song choice too.

The verdict: Still safe, don't worry.

12. Jordin sang "If We Hang On Together"

So, the judges and I had a major disconnect here. I did not get their enthusiasm for this performance. She sounded really nervous in the beginning. The vocal was a cominbation of several bad things to me: some pitchiness, some screaming at the top of her range, some shaky use of falsetto. And she looked overly made-up and done up. Let he look young and fresh and not tarty, please, OK? That being said: obviously she's a talnted girl. I really don't feel she's been shown to her best advantage yet, and it's time to start picking songs that will do that!

The verdict: Still safe, mostly on the strength of a charming presence.

Bottom Line:

If I could choose, the Bottom 3 would be:
Sanjaya
Brandon
Haley

And I'm sure you know I'd send Sanjaya home, yet again.

I think America will choose:
Haley
Gina
Sanjaya

And will probbably send Haley home.

but what do you think?

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