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'American Idol' Recap: Crystal Bowersox Shines

Crystal Bowersox performs on "American Idol."

Billboard's Ann Donahue breaks down every live performance of "American Idol" Season 9, from the top 24 contestants to the last one standing.


Now "American Idol." After what seemed like countless audition weeks -- which, to me, put the zzzzz in crazy -- we've finally reached the part of the show where those with some talent get the spotlight. (Or at least, those who maintained the illusion of talent long enough to get in the Top 24.)

Tuesday night was ladies' night, and the theme: Hits from the Billboard charts (woo!). Without further ado, here's my critique of each top 12 girl -- from Paige Miles to Katie Stevens -- in order of performance. Hey, everyone's auditioning for Simon Cowell's job, so why can't I?

1) Paige Miles: "All Right Now," by Free

What a weird song choice. The whole arrangement seemed set up for that glory note at the end, but the problem, of course, is that it's the chorus of "All Right Now" where everyone expects the singer to kill it. Let's flash forward to what the judges will say five weeks from now (because rest assured, Paige Miles will be safe until then): Is this the kind of artist you want to be?

2) Ashley Rodriguez: "Happy," by Leona Lewis

I kept willing Ashley Rodriguez to move the mic about an inch further away from her mouth -- and not just because I feared she was going to smear her Kim Kardashian-esque makeup. Could you hear her gasping for air, too, especially at the beginning? Or maybe she was just a little too breathy in her phrasing? Her voice also seemed a little thin at times, which is something I never noticed in her audition footage.

3) Janell Wheeler: "What About Love," by Heart

Oh, Janell Wheeler. There's a rule I established in previous seasons, and now you're making me amend it. The rule originally was this: Don't sing Janis Joplin. Now, it's this: Don't sing Janis Joplin or Ann Wilson. You may have a lovely voice, but it's just going to sound wavery when compared to the original. Also, you're a wine sales rep? That's my dream job. Don't feel bad if this doesn't work out for you.

4) Lilly Scott: "Fixing a Hole," by the Beatles

Thank you, Lilly Scott. "Fixing a Hole" was a good song choice, and I'm glad someone busted out an instrument this early in the competition. It's always great to perform a hugely familiar song this early in the competition when the voting audience is still trying to differentiate one contestant from another. They may not know Lilly's name yet, but they know the Beatles.

5) Katelyn Epperly: "Oh! Darling," by the Beatles

Hey, it's the Beatles again. Katelyn Epperly's rendition was fine, but I think it suffered just by proximity to Lilly's, which was much more unique and subtle. Katelyn has a killer voice, for sure -- I just didn't find this memorable. And I totally agreed with Kara DioGuardi that she's a cute girl, but she needs to lose the British royal family hair accessory.

6) Haeley Vaughn: "I Want To Hold Your Hand," by the Beatles

Ok, really now. The producers obviously gave this Beatles mini-set some degree of thought, since they didn't put Lilly and Haeley Vaughn's guitar-based performances back-to-back. Still, did they think it would be a good idea to show three songs by the same artist in a row? Ugh. Again, it just invites unwelcome comparisons -- and I think Haeley's wobbily but enthusiastic take will make it an even rougher road for competent but dull Katelyn.

7) Lacey Brown: "Landslide," by Fleetwood Mac

This is one of my favorite songs ever, so, yeah -- I kind of hated this. I'm sure Lacey Brown was trying to avoid getting dinged for sounding karaoke, but the change of the phrasing drove me crazy. It was like putting the emPHAsis on the wrong sylLABle. And the changing of the, er, notes. And the arrangement was wonky. Oh, God. Going to the iPod to cleanse my mind.

8) Michelle Delamor: "Fallin'," by Alicia Keys

This is how you perform one of my favorite songs without making me want to hide under the couch. Michelle Delamor's rendition walked perfectly on that fine line between being an homage to the original and being entirely derivative. Ellen DeGeneres was right when she said that Michelle made it look easy. Given all the abominable Alicia Keys covers we've seen on this show, that is a high compliment, indeed.

9) Didi Benami: "The Way I Am," by Ingrid Michaelson

Apropos of nothing: God, Didi Benami looks like Brooke White. Tears and all. Mad props to the stylist that put her in a crocheted sweater. This was a really sweet rendition of "The Way I Am," one that gave Didi a chance to show off her unique voice without putting her in a position where it could falter. Well done. (And, for the record: Shut up, Simon.)

10) Siobhan Magnus: "Wicked Game," by Chris Isaak

The chopped up arrangement of "Wicked Game" was yucky, but I like Siobhan Magnus' voice, and I always like it when women sing songs by men and vice-versa. It's an easy way to do a different spin on the song, which the judges are always harping on. (Awesome story with no relation to "American Idol" whatsoever: Chris Isaak threw me a rose at a concert once. I took it home, and the next week when people asked me who gave me the rose, I was just like: "Oh, you know, Chris Isaak." Anyway.)

11) Crystal Bowersox: "Hand In My Pocket," Alanis Morissette

Oh, the pressure of being the presumptive favorite going in. But dang, it's no wonder that's the case because Crystal Bowersox is just so cool. Loved the guitar, loved the harmonica, loved the momma bear "I'm only doing this for my kid" attitude. And a perfect song for her. Maybe, just maybe, I'd even allow her to sing Janis in later rounds.

12) Katie Stevens: "Feeling Good" by Michael Bublé (Among others, I nitpick.)

Katie Stevens gets the pimp spot -- the last performance of the night, and traditionally the time when the most people are watching the show. Katie can sing, but I'm going to quibble with the song choice. "Feeling Good" works for, say, Nina Simone because she had some life experience when she sang it. Katie's 17, though. What's she feeling so good about? Getting an A in pre-calc? She's safe, but dang, I hope she does some Taylor Swift next week.

My prediction: I think it's the end of the road for Lacey and Janell. There were too many good singers tonight, and these ladies' nerves got the best of them.


Check back with Billboard after every "American Idol" performance night for our recap and predictions, and follow us on Twitter @billboarddotcom for our live blow-by-blow of each episode.