Michael Becker/FOX (2)
Tom Gliatto
March 03, 2011 08:20 AM

“They’re supremely talented,” Jennifer Lopez said of American Idol‘s top 12 girls at the start of Wednesday’s 90-minute showcase, which will lead to the announcement of the season’s finalists on Thursday.

Overall, the male performers on Tuesday were more supremely talented, but the female voices were never less than professional, never just sloppily over the top. In fact, it’s harder to determine which five will survive. I could move blocks of texts up and down all night, but after awhile it’s like trying to assemble a bowl of fruit for a perfect still-life painting. So, we start with five I liked:

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Thia Megia gave the night’s least fussy, most effective performance, standing still in a spotlight for “Out Here on My Own.” Steven Tyler’s comments firmly nudged the audience toward keeping her in the competition, and Randy Jackson loved the tone of her voice – he even invoked Michael Jackson. Dawg was right!

Pia Toscano, at the very end of the show, meticulously built a powerhouse ballad out of the Pretenders’ “I’ll Stand by You,” and inspired a standing ovation from all three judges. But I’m not sure it’s the sort of singing Idol needs – it feels very old-fashioned, even stately – but she’s lovely.

Lauren Turner caused Randy to nod his head in little rhythmic bops, like a bobble-head version of himself, with a fun, rootsy “Seven Day Fool.” Dawg suggested she could be Amy Winehouse meets Florence and the Machine. But it was just “Lauren Turner meets Lauren Turner,” according to Steven, who added, “It was a perfect, full, complete sentence.”

Lauren Alaina had the right country-chick strut for Reba McEntire’s “Turn on the Radio.” Jennifer: “Amazing.” Randy: “You can sing anything.” Steven: “You kill me,” although he added that she didn’t always have to sing all the way to the stratosphere. Before leaving the stage, Lauren told the audience that she calls Ryan Seacrest “Peaches” – because they’re both from Georgia.

Haley Reinhart ranged from a baby-girl voice to a torch-song throatiness for Alicia Keys‘s “Fallin’,” with several other vocal tricks along the way, and she seduced both Jennifer and Steven. Randy shrugged it off, to which Steven responded, “If I agreed with you we’d both be wrong.” (Steven, you’ll have noticed, can be pointedly corrective of Randy’s assessments.) I wonder, though, if she’s going to trip over her own mannerisms.

And the Rest

Karen Rodriguez sang a pretty, smooth and bilingual version of “Hero.” Jennifer just kept saying, “Wow.” Randy “thought the Spanish was even better than the English.” But she and Pia seemed very similar, too similar, as performers.

Naima Adedapo, striking in a yellow gown she designed herself, sang a theatrically jazzy “Summertime.” Her voice has a kind of raw oomph to it. “You’re like an exotic garden in a rose garden,” Jennifer said. Randy thought it was a bit lounge-acty, but concluded she’d pulled it off. Steven invoked the name Ella Fitzgerald.

Kendra Chantelle, looking something like Jane Krakowski under a cloud, was better than passable singing Christina Aguilera‘s “Impossible.” The judges were unanimously favorable. Randy liked her vibrato, and Jennifer went out of her way to let viewers know of her support: “You belong here.”

Rachel Zevita sang Fiona Apple’s “Criminal” as the ballad of a femme fatale – it was very Chicago. She got a firm consensus of no from the judges. Bye bye.

Ta-Tynisa Wilson led off the hour sounding nervous and not really in control of her chosen song, Rihanna‘s “Only Girl.” Steven “liked it a lot,” and Jennifer told her, “I loved the groove that you had.” But Randy laughed with a curt, bitter knowingness – actually, he just laughed – and said it was “just okay.”

When Ashton Jones sang Monica’s “Love All Over Me,” you could almost sense an ideal version of her performance floating above her head. But the judges, with quibbling from Randy, were again upbeat. “You have all the makings of a diva,” Jennifer said. Steven called her “Jonesy,” which was cute, in a Steven Tylerish way.

And Julie Zorrilla, who has a better camera presence that most of the contestants, was underwhelming with “Breakaway.” Jennifer thought she wasn’t putting enough heart into the lyrics, and Randy compared her unfavorably to Kelly Clarkson. Even Steven wasn’t positive. Ah well.

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