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'American Idol': Top 11 perform

Here we go again: The Top 11 are performing tonight on American Idol. As they get paraded out, some things occur to me: Who has dressed Haley Scarnato in tiny shorts? When did Gina and Melinda get their hair bobbed? Are they trying to make Phil Stacey look bad by having him sing between LaKisha Jones and Jordin Sparks?

Ryan asks Randy if there is any excuse for forgotten lyrics at this stage of the game. Short answer: No. Paula is asked about how to deal with nerves, and she says to "shake it out" and to picture Simon naked, and "laugh it off." Simon of course then asks Paula if that's what she thinks about when she is nervous.

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The evening's theme is the British Invasion. Beatles, Rolling Stones, the Who, the Kinks and more. This could be a good one. Peter Noone and Lulu will be the mentors of the evening.

Haley Scarnato is going to sing "Tell Him." She says her goal is to be more aggressive, not so sweet, which cuts directly to her singing sweetly for Lulu. She tells her to shorten her phrasing and take it more staccato. She also tells her that it's not only about "big voices," that there is a place in the competition for everyone. (Well, almost everyone.) She looks pretty fearless out there, working the whole stage, dancing and singing. It's good, but definitely still on the sweet side. Randy says, "It was the perfect song for you, and America, Haley's back in the competition." He says it's her best performance to date. Paula, crying, says it was the perfect song, and it worked well with her girlish side. Simon: "You naughty little thing. ... It was fun, young, a bit shrieky in the middle. I think people are going to be talking about a lot more than your singing tonight." I think he means her legs. Right? Ryan asks her about negotiating the stairs in her high heels, just opening himself up to more comments from Simon. That doesn't happen, however.

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Ryan stops to talk to a girl in the audience who's crying, but he doesn't identify her. Weird.

Chris Richardson will sing "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying." This seems like it could work really well with his voice. Peter Noone says Chris looks like a star, but he hasn't heard much from his voice, "because he keeps singing those songs that are ... [unintelligible breathy noise]," making this face:

Peter Noone tells him to keep an eye on the vibrato and not to mess with the melody. In the interview, he says Chris wasn't showing off the melody very well. Chris is on the stage with an acoustic guitarist, and a few more instruments come in later. Parts of it seem kind of flat to me, but after he gets warmed up, it's pretty good. Randy says it was another great performance, one that showed a different side to him. He said since he wasn't pushing it, every note was in tune. Paula says it's all about being smart with his choices, and that all of it was sexy and charming. Simon says that was his best performance so far, that he made it sound modern and not old-fashioned (but a bit nasally, which he needs to watch out for). Chris tells Ryan it was tough to do because he wants to just run all over the stage, but he thinks it went well.

Stephanie Edwards takes a fan question. (Yawn.) The question is, what is the hardest part of preparing for each week. Stephanie, who clearly has already heard the question, say choosing a song. She says the vibe backstage is a little more focused. She will be singing "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me" by Dusty Springfield. Lulu says she is grounded and amazing and reminds her of Beyonce. I start to wonder if she is trying to sing more like Beyonce because of Lulu's comment -- her enunciation seems a little more affected than it did during her performance for Lulu. Ooh, also, bad last note. Randy says it was a great song choice, "it wasn't my best performance for you for me." (NO! The return of my least favorite phrasing ever. Just say: "I don't think it was your best performance." Sheesh!) He says it was a little pitchy and that singing a ballad after singing so many up-tempo songs might be harder because the notes are longer. Paula says: "Great news first, I love what you're wearing." She said the song choice was right, "minus a little bit of some notes that fell off." She wants her to have more fun. Simon asks how she thinks she did, she says, "well." He says she is losing her edge, and that it was a little nightclubby.

Blake Lewis vs. Zombies after the break. (Mmmm, brains. Oh wait, not those Zombies.) He's going to sing "Time of the Season." Peter Noone says he likes Blake and how current he is, but that he needs to make sure "the business" doesn't get in the way of the song. In an interview, Peter says all the youngsters will vote for him, and if he sings like he did with the piano, "all the oldsters will," too. This performance I can get behind. He sings it well, and the beatboxing isn't that jarring, since most of it comes out of the sound effects in the song. Randy says he's a huge Blake fan, and this performance was "vibey, cool, massive 'yo factor' version of the song. ... That was brilliant." Paula says he's raised the bar and that she felt like she was at a concert. Simon says it was "a million times better than last week." He says he made the song contemporary without messing with the melody. He adds that it was his "strongest performance so far." Frighteningly, Ryan dances and sings for a moment. Witness:

Now, it's LaKisha Jones. She says her history in British music is "absolutely nothing." She says they narrowed it to "Diamonds Are Forever" or "You're My World." Lulu thinks the latter will be better. Ryan says if we want a hint about which she chose, "She's wearing about a million dollars worth of diamonds right now." She's also wearing a super-flattering green dress. She's still great, as usual, though some of the lower notes in the song seem to be giving her a little trouble. But she closes very strongly, with an amazing last note. Randy says it was a good choice, but that he didn't "feel enough LaKisha in it." Paula says she made the right choice, and "You're a very, very smart girl" because any time you are going to sing about diamonds, they will let you wear the real ones. Simon: "LaKisha, we know, and it's evident that you are a fantastic singer, however, this was LaKisha in 50 years time, in my opinion." He says everything -- "the hair, the dress, the mannerisms, the choice of song" -- was too old. He is on crack about the dress. Ryan asks if she is surprised about the feedback, and she says, "You take the good with the bad with the ugly." She adds, "If I sound like 45 years from now, I think I look good." Ryan asks what he doesn't like about the dress, and Simon goes: "Your subject!" Uh, dude, you brought the dress into it. Randy says she looks fantastic, but she needs to put a little more of herself in the song.

Phil Stacey is going to sing "Tobacco Road." Peter says the song is "right in his pocket" and that the song was believable. He performs it with the band rocking out behind him. He definitely seems to be having more fun than he's had in past weeks. It gets a little weird when he goes super-low in a couple of parts, but he's better than he's been in a few weeks -- no bad start finally. Randy says he had a good time, that he had some pitchy parts, but "it was pretty good for me actually." Paula says it was "a real good choice of song." She says he showed off his range. Simon says he wasn't crazy about it, but it was "a third-division bar band performance" and that he didn't find it believable because he doesn't have any grit in his voice. He says he has a problem because he doesn't know what advice to give him, and that he's being outsung and might be in trouble tomorrow. He tells Ryan he did his best and had a lot of fun.

Jordin Sparks is subjected to another viewer question. "Name a song that describes you best." She says, "I'm So Excited," because she says it all the time. She's going to sing "I Who Have Nothing." Lulu says she loves the song because it has so much pleading. Lulu works with her with her timing and her delivery. And boy does it work, because she absolutely kills it. Randy says it was a very tall order, but that it was very controlled and probably one of the best performances they're going to see tonight. Paula says it showed off how great her range is and what an amazing performer she is. Simon says she sang it beautifully, but "I feel like jumping off a bridge because it was sooooo gloooomy." Remember all the hyperbole last week from the judges about how she was so amazing and great and had the chops to take on LaKisha and Melinda? I didn't buy it then, but I might now.

Ryan says that after the break, they are going to "unleash the wild side of Sanjaya." Jordin doesn't look like she buys that one.

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Sanjaya does:

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Hey, David Ian from Grease: You're the One That I Want is sitting behind Peter Noone.

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Sanjaya Malakar says that when he found out it was British Invasion week, he didn't know what he was going to do. He is split between "You Really Got Me" and "Something Good." He says he doesn't think he is the best singer in the competition. He goes with the former and starts growling his way through it. The cameras cut to the crying girl Ryan was talking to in the audience earlier, as she starts crying once again. I wonder whether they'll give us the story on that one. He sings to Paula and the crying girl, who cries some more. At least, he's finally singing more loudly, though he's kind of wrecking his lovely tone that got him this far in the first place. Randy says he shocked him tonight. "Dude, you came out of your shell tonight. This was your best performance to date." Paula says he went for it and it was fun. Simon says, "The little girl's face says it all." Here she is:

Ryan says the girl liked it. And she says yes, and she's a fan, and Sanjaya goes out into the audience to hug her. Her name is Ashley, but we still don't get the story about why she is getting so much camera time.

Next, Gina Glocksen is going to take on the Stones. First, she has to talk to Ryan and take a fan question. They want to know if it's made her stronger. Short answer: Yes. Ryan asks if they pay attention to what the media is saying. Short answer: I try not to. She is going to sing "Paint It Black." Lulu isn't sure it's the right key and asks her to try taking it up half a step, and also tells her to ramp up the drama. I think that was some good advice because lower would probably have been in less flattering place for her voice. But she rocks it out. Randy says she is the resident rocker, but it wasn't his favorite vocal, maybe a little pitchy. Paula says it was miles better than last week, and she'll continue to have more fun in coming weeks. Simon says there were moments of complete torture in that performance, but it was "just not very good." "That, for me, was style over content. ... Vocally, not good enough, sweetheart."

Chris Sligh is up after the break. (And have you heard all this controversy about whether he is too religious or not religious enough? Weird.) He says he's a huge British Invasion fan, and he's going to sing "She's Not There" by the Zombies. In front of Peter, he seems to be singing it pretty darned high. Once he starts singing it on the show, it doesn't seem as high. He sings the first third or so walking through the audience. He has some good notes, but part of it is a little shouty. (Hee -- one of his friends has a "Bringing Chubby Back" sign in the audience.) Randy says he performed well. He says it was a little rough when he started, but he ended it well. Paula says he should be more personable with audience, and that his vocals were good. Simon says he did his thing, and though it wasn't the best vocal of the night, he did really well. Ryan asks Chris if Simon really did try to take the mike stand away from him or something, and manages to make an inappropriate gesture (sorry, no pictures of that one), but he seems pretty oblivious about it. The judges, on the other hand, seem a little scandalized but don't want to talk about it.

Last is Melinda Doolittle. She is going to sing "As Long as She Needs Me." She says this song is the most out of her comfort zone that she has been thus far. She says working with Lulu was amazing. She sings, and she doesn't seem uncomfortable at all. They cut to the crying girl in the audience again. Did she win a contest or something? I'm so confused. Randy says, "We probably saved the best vocal for last." He says she has great relative pitch and takes her time, and she's a pro. Paula says she's in her own league, and she tells a story, and it's not forced, it just is, and it's beautiful. Simon wants to know if she really is as nice as she seems. He says when it started, it was boring, but she turned it into an amazing performance and impeccable vocal.

I forgot to mention it at the time that it happened, but at one point, Ryan stops to talk to Peter Noone in the audience, and he says it's a voting competition, not a singing competition, and Simon looks really sour when they cut to him. Later, Simon reiterates that it IS a singing competition and continues to look sour. So I guess there isn't any love lost between those two.

Best of the night? I'm going with Jordin, Blake and Melinda.

Worst? Sanjaya and Phil.

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At the end, Ashley (the crying girl) gets to come up on stage and hug everyone. Does anyone know the story?

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