March 14, 2007 06:00 AM

PEOPLE critic Tom Gliatto thinks Lakisha and Melinda have competition in Jordin…

Episode 20

We now embark on our three-month journey as the Top 12 get whittled down to Mr. or Ms. Idol. It was a pretty mediocre night, maybe because the singers hadn’t quite figured out how to make their vocals work with the bigger band, bigger crowd, bigger platform and so on.

Diana Ross was the week’s group “mentor,” and most of her pointers turned out to be dead-on. Didn’t she warn you against swallowing the lyrics on “Love Child,” Gina Glocksen? And you did anyway! Several points:

1. Jordin Sparks: Melinda Doolittle and Lakisha Jones were both, as always, excellent each in her own distinct way. But Jordin Sparks, consistently the strongest female singer behind them, finally began to stand out on her own, even though it was with a flabby ballad called “If We Hold On Together.” Her voice is strong but lyrical. She might win.

2. Haley’s hero: Haley Scarnato was saved for another week by none other than Simon. Her “Missing You” underwhelmed Paula and Randy – well, yeah, like, what was missing was singing! – but Simon praised her presence and her looks. And he made a point of acknowledging her name. (He’d said before he couldn’t remember it). He all but nominated her for the nation’s highest office – which these days would be Idol. Then Haley wept. Who’s going to vote off a gorgeous weeper?

3. Makeovers bad and good: Chris Sligh took off the glasses, and this was a strangely serious miscalculation. It was Clark Kent removing the specs and … he’s Clark Kent. Sanjaya Malakar got a very nice perm – who knows what he’ll do next with his hair? – but it was the wise Miss Ross who put her thumb on his unexpected resilience: “Sanjaya is love!” Again, who’s going to vote off love?

On the other hand, I suspect Chris Sligh is not going to get the chance to put those glasses back on again another week. Maybe Gina Glocksen will go too.

For more from last night, see AOL’s Idol coverage.

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