Even Simon Cowell gets it wrong sometimes -- maybe. He has touted this as the year of the woman on American Idol, but viewers wouldn't have known it from Tuesday night's debut of the top 12 female singers on the top-ranked Fox show. (Olympics? What Olympics?) The infamous opening-night jitters seemed to get the best of most of the contestants, and no one was spectacular. The promise we had seen in many of the vocalists during auditions didn't translate to the live stage. It's too early to tell if Cowell is wrong in his forecast, but let's hope he is. After all, if Tuesday night showed the best Idol has to offer -- and the performances fell far short of expectations -- how bad are the top 12 guys going to be when they debut tonight?
Here's my take on how the Idol women stack up after one live performance, neatly falling into three groups:
Haeley Vaughn (pictured): It's hard to dog on a 16-year-old girl who smiles so much that her lips never touch, even when she's singing (which is never good for enunciation). Her bright-eyed, sometimes-screechy performance of the Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand" was arguably her best showing to date, and it sill sounded like a bad novelty act. She got into the top 12 (apparently) solely because of her potential as a black Taylor Swift who likes crossover country. And she chooses a song that's nearly 50 years old? If she doesn't leave the show Thursday night, I'll be surprised -- and disappointed that I'll have to hear her another week.
Lacey Brown: Ah, Lacey. You barely missed the top 12 cut last year and then finally got through this year, only to squander it away with a timid performance of "Landslide" that, like the song's title, was founded on shaky ground.
Ashley Rodriguez: I'm thinking that she doesn't know that Cowell discovered Leona Lewis. Her performance of the star vocalist's "Happy" was an off-pitch disaster when compared with the original -- and that's all anyone can do.
Janell Wheeler: She scored in the auditions with an acoustic performance that blew everyone away. So doing a rock power ballad such as Heart's "What About Love?" was a disaster waiting to happen, especially when doing a slavish arrangement that begs comparison to one of rock's greatest singers, Ann Wilson. Wheeler is much better than this, and that star potential is the only thing that might save her - if she can stop visibily shaking from nerves while she sings.
MIDDLE OF THE PACK
Paige Miles: Not sure what the judges hear in her, but she did OK on a poorly chosen "All Right Now" (by Free), which didn't have any of the passion or styling needed for an R&B interpretation. But she gets props for trying.
Michelle Delamor: She already looks like a cover girl, so she has that going for her Idol potential, but her rendition of Alicia Keys' "Fallin'" was unoriginal and uninspired, if semi-competent.
Didi Benami: I really want to place her in the top group, because I think she has that potential, but her performance of Ingrid Michaelson's "The Way I Am" was too safe and low-key -- although pitch-perfect. (She has great control.)
Katelynn Epperly: The Iowa powerhouse checked in with the Beatles' "Oh, Darling," a poor song choice delivered too earnestly. But she can definitely sing.
SOLID, IF UNSPECTACULAR
Crystal Bowersox: She could win it all, but her indifference toward Idol could scuttle her chances. Saying repeatedly that she doesn't watch the show is fine; we get it. But her ignorance steered her toward doing an exact rendition of Alanis Morissette's "Hand in My Pocket," right down to the harmonica solo, because "they told me I couldn't do original songs." Obviously, she needs to attend the David Cook, Kris Allen and Adam Lambert School of Song Interpretation. And saying that you're just using the show for the exposure will alienate voting viewers. But she's incredible.
Lilly Scott: She's a lot like Bowersox in style, but she's smarter in her choices, doing a more contemporary version of the Beatles tune "Fixing a Hole," a la Cook. Not sure how young girl voters will respond to a 20-year-old woman who looks as if she stepped straight out of the '60s, but we'll find out.
Siobhan Magnus: She's just goofy -- a glass-blowing apprentice? -- and I'm really starting to like her. After being shown a clip in which she tore up the auditions in Hollywood with a smoking Stevie Wonder tune, viewers would have expected her to do the same in her live debut. Even Cowell noted that her final audition performance is what saved her. So she comes out and does the dark ballad "Wicked Game." That was totally unexpected and beautifully delivered, amid some blips in the lower register. It just wasn't exciting.
Katie Stevens: She's here solely on potential, because her choice of Michael Buble's "Feelin' Good" was completely wrong, right down to the lounge-y arm gestures and vocal nuances. But the end-of-the-show recap made it obvious that she has the biggest voice among the women, maybe challenged only by Magnus down the line.
Finally, Tuesday night was Ellen Degeneres' debut as a judge for the live show, where her comments can't be neatly edited to make her look as good as possible. As Randy Jackson would say, it was "just awight." She repeated herself virtually every time she spoke and relied on too many vague generalities. Worse, she noted that she didn't know much more about music than the average listener. That might be true, but she should never point it out. I adore Degeneres, so I hope she improves.
And your thoughts?