Blogging while watching (on delay, after painfully slow restaurant service), and my faves for the final 12, after the jump ...
Jordin leads off with Pat Benatar's "Heartbreaker." Already we're better off than on last night's show. Not that great, but she's in control from the beginning, which is something most of the guys can't manage. B minus. Randy says it's better than all the guys. Simon not as excited but still positive.
Ryan chats in the red room. I'm not really listening. May do some fast-forwarding. Sabrina's film clip discusses that she wanted to be Katie Couric. Don't care.
Sabrina's song: "Don't Let Go (Love)," En Vogue. A litttle screechy but still respectable. The guys should just go home. Another B minus, with some B-plus parts. Paula also thinks she looks beautiful. Not a good sign. Simon hears a hotel-resort performance without personality.
Antonella. Skipped the personal stuff. She still stinks, and doing Corinnne Bailey Rae's "Put Your Records On" is that big a test. D as in Dump 'er., F as in Fire 'er.
The judges sound as if they're afraid of criticizing her because of voter backlash. Tepid praise from Randy and Paula, Simon exasperated and insisting "you are surrounded by some pretty amazing girl singers and I don't know how much more you can do." He's sympathetic about her taking "a lot of stick in the media" (with applause from audience) but "I just wish you could sing better."
Ryan asks if she should be in the top 12 and Antonella says she should, then whines about being compared to other people. Simon gets cranky, Randy chimes in, Paula asks to go to "a warmer place."
No warmth here. When I listen to Antonella, I am reminded of Robert Christgau's description of Kris Kristofferson: "He's the worst singer I've ever heard. It's not that he's off-key -- he has no relation to key. He also has no phrasing, no dynamics, no energy, no authority, no dramatic ability ..." and there's more, but you get the parallel.
Haley. Faith Hill's "If My Heart Had Wings." Tepid start, moderately good spots but nothing to speed-dial about. C. Randy says "that's kind of who you are" but "no pizazz." Paula mocks Randy but remains kind. Simon calls it "horrible. ... like some terrible, ghastly high-school musical performance." Simon pins the other judges on whether they even know Haley's last name.
Ryan to the rescue -- giving her a chance to slag Simon. But Haley says "you gotta clock in, clock out." Simon admits that he likes her -- though she's not one of the best singers.
Stephanie. Mary J. Blige's "Sweet Thing." Pleasant, but raw when she tries to emote. And I keep thinking how it's not up to Mary J. C plus. Randy wasn't with it, pondering the Chaka Khan version. (And I think Stephanie's closer to Chaka in quality.) Paula thought she was "darn near flawless." Simon says she's one of the best they've got and she's done enough to get in the final 12.
LaKisha. "We need to bring the energy up in the house," says Ryan, in his outfit from the Don Webster collection. "I Have Nothing." Not a fabulous start, but then she takes over. B plus. Judges in her corner. Simon even likes her outfit.
Gina, her moment interrupted by Ryan having a pillow fight with contestants in the red room. Ryan really jams her about the pressure. She's singing Evanescence. I like her style but every now and then I get too much of a Nikki McKibbin vibe; she's a better singer than McKibbin, but not all that good. Still, a good bit of variety for the show. C plus. Judges OK. Simon considers her "a breath of fresh air" but wants "better, more melodic songs." Which would kind of be what she isn't. Ryan gives her a lot of cheery chat. Feels like the show wants to keep her a lot.
Melinda to close. "I'm a Woman." Ah, Peggy Lee. Oh, Lieber & Stoller. Solid but she hasn't burned it up yet. Second verse ... little stronger on the chorus. The backup singers give her something to play off of, and play she does. My favorite performance of the night. A minus. "You little tiger!" says Simon.
OK, so whom do I want to see next week? Based on all performances thus far, I'm going to do this first as King of the Forest, where I throw out the gender quota and the need for 12.
Not necessarily in ranking, I pick Melinda, LaKisha, Gina, Jordin, Sabrina, Stephanie and Haley -- in other words, everyone but Antonella; I would bring back people already voted off rather than let Antonella continue. From the guys, I would take Chris R, Chris S and Blake, and content myself with a top 10 instead of 12.
Now, if I have to play by the "Idol" rules, I take Melinda, LaKisha, Gina, Jordin, Sabrina and Stephanie, then Chris R, Chris S, Blake, Phil, Brandon and ... well, Jared, I guess. Hate Sanjaya, Sundance is a poser, so Jared gets the last slot by default. But I don't like it. And would hope for some of the minor guys getting picked off early, leaving us a real -- the words were used again tonight -- singing competition.