American Idol gets off to a weird start, with Ellen DeGeneres sitting in Simon Cowell's lap and whispering in his ear. Oh, whatever, the important thing as far as I'm concerned is that the show is only an hour!
Since it's only an hour, they get things started quickly. I'm barely ready when Katie Stevens hits the stage and starts singing Kelly Clarkson's "Breakaway." She starts out kind of flat, but I kind of feel like it's that she isn't used to singing with the backup singers. And she gets over it about halfway through. I like her (especially since we started getting glimpses of her dry sense of humor and a little more personality last week), but this song seems a little nasally for her. But will the judges find it youthful? Let's see. Randy Jackson says she paled in comparison to the original and that it just didn't work for him. Ellen says she loved that Katie listened to them and sang a more youthful choice, but she didn't see Katie feeling the song. Kara DioGuardi says she has a great radio voice, but she doesn't quite know who she is as an artist yet. Simon says this has been confusing her her because she's gotten so much advice, and she's listening to their advice, but she (hey, didn't we just hear this?) doesn't know who she is as an artist. But he gives her 10 out of 10 for trying to listen to them.
Siobhan Magnus says she is singing "House of the Rising Sun" by the Animals as a surprise for her dad, who used to sing this for her while he played the piano. Aww, that's sweet. And dang ... she is good. I was a little thrown off by her big note last week (the one that all the judges loved), but this is just excellent. She has amazing tone and range, and even though it's a slower song, it's still kind of exciting. Randy says she surprises them every week, and he loves what she does and the risks that she takes. He tells her to keep ignoring all their advice. Ellen says Siobhan is why she loves music. She says she was captivated and calls her spectacular. Kara loves the a capella vibe at the beginning and her uniqueness. Simon says he wasn't quite as much of a fan because it was all a bit weird. He says she didn't do anything with it or having any "moments" with it. Kara goes all broken record and says the only thing she doesn't know is what kind of artist Siobhan is.
Lacey Brown is next, with Brandi Carlisle's "The Story." She sounds nice, but it's kind of subdued. Brandi's version kind of kicks it up after the first couple of lines, and I was waiting for Lacey to do that, and it didn't happen. Randy says it was a "a little sleepy," but still her best performance in a while and very cool. Ellen says it sounded like it was written for her. Kara says performances like this are why she's here. "This is the kind of record you need to be doing," she goes on. Because Kara is all about saleability. Simon says he didn't love it, but she did a great job with it. But he still hasn't heard "the right song connection yet."
Katelyn Epperly takes on Carole King's "I Feel the Earth Move." She's playing the keyboard, too. She's in key, and she's into it, but I'm kind of bored. And I'm waiting to hear that we don't know what kind of artist she is. Randy says it's a great song, but he didn't feel any connection, so it felt put on. Yes, that's exactly how I felt. Ellen says she has a great voice and a great look, but this wasn't a wow performance. "It just wasn't enough." Kara says she didn't feel like she was competing, she was just going through the motions. Katelyn says she was trying to be less corny. Simon says he likes her hair. This is going to go downhill, isn't it? He says it was kind of like request night at a restaurant if you were working there. He says it's a simple song and she didn't do much with it, so this might have been a mistake.
Didi Benami goes a little Stevie Nicks on us with "Rhiannon." I'm starting to wonder what year it is. But this works with her voice really well. Though, still: sedate. Randy says she was a whole lot better than last week, though there was no wow moment. (Now the judges are all repeating one another.) Ellen says, "Yes, indeedy, Didi!" She says she was torn apart last week, and she returned and sang again and did a good job. Kara says this was one of her favorite moments of the show so far this season, even though when she saw she was singing this song, she thought Didi was out of her mind. Simon agrees with Kara and says this was head-and-shoulders above anything else so far tonight, and he thinks the whole performance was a wow moment.
Paige Miles sings "Smile," and right off the bat, I'm wondering if she is sick or something. She, who has been described as having the best voice this season, does not sound right. Off key, low key. Randy says that is one of his favorite songs of all time, and this didn't work at all. He says it was completely flat. Ellen says the song is supposed to be uplifting, and instead it was sad and heavy, and she showed no personality. Kara says everyone has said everything, and it just went wrong. Simon says it was a horrible choice and an awful arrangement. He calls it a shame because she has so much potential because she has a fantastic voice but ... has no idea who she is as an artist.
Crystal Bowersox hits the stage with Tracy Chapman's "Give Me One Reason," and she's also playing the electric guitar. And finally, finally someone is breaking out and SINGING. Yes! Randy says he loved it, loved that, loved the song, loved the honesty! Ellen says she needs new adjectives because she's tired of saying she's amazing. Kara says it's easy for her because Crystal knows who she is, so now she can see what her record would look like. Simon says she's 1 million billion percent going to be in the Top 12 next week. She's the one to beat, he says.
Lilly Scott closes the show with "I Fall to Pieces." She sounds good, and on a relative scale tonight, she sounds good (but Crystal was better). The judges rush through, but they loved it. Kara says she made Patsy Cline feel current. Simon says she's brave to choose that song. He says it was cute and quirky but didn't have the wow factor they'd want in a closing performance.
So what do you think? Weigh in in the comments and/or vote in the poll below.