'American Idol': Pia Toscano, Lauren Alaina & Thia Megia Wow the Judges

'Idol's' Pia Toscano Debuts First Single 'This Time': Listen

Wow, what a difference a TV mix can make. Watching last night's broadcast of "American Idol's" Top 12 guys was a good reminder of the stark contrast between how the performances feel in the studio and how they actually sound to the viewer at home. It may be something

Seeing as we're still getting to know these contestants, the Bette Midler-esque Lauren Turner was another who had shown promise in the early episodes but was really an unproven entity. So it makes sense that she pulled out all the stops, delivering a pitch-perfect rendition of "Seven Day Fool" by one of her favorite artists, Etta James. Her gritty delivery prompted another standing ovation, with Randy declaring, "That's how you do it, man!" He compared Karen to Amy Winehouse meets Florence Welch meets Etta James. Said Steven: "Spectacular."

Ashthon Jones didn't fare much better with her take on Monica's "Love All Over Me," even though Jennifer told her she had all the makings of a true diva: "big hair, the body, the moves." Ashthon's response: "I get it from you!" Well played. But sucking up to the judges didn't do all that much when it came to her critique. Randy said he didn't love the song, but more than that, she had to work on her stage presence. "You're Diana Ross, baby," he said.

Julie Zorrilla must not have watched much "Idol" in her past because if she did, she would know better than to try a Kelly Clarkson song. But alas, that's exactly what she did, taking on Kelly's hit "Breakaway" and not really delivering. The definition of pitchy, she was all over the place for much of the song and never really got it together. In the end, Julie felt like a pale comparison, which is, of course, the kiss of "Idol" death.

Now, if this were the Simon Cowell-era "Idol", Haley Reinhart's choice of Alicia Keys' "Fallin'" might have done her in right then and there. Cowell, after all, loathed the song and pretty much had it banned. As it was, many of the journalists sitting in section G let out a collective groan, but it's a new time and, in the end, Haley pulled it off. Jennifer's advice: "get out of your head just a little bit." Steven, on the other hand, insisted the formula was spot-on. "It was just the right amount of sexy." Have to hand it Haley for giving props to bandleader Ray Chew, who worked with Keys in her formative years. Someone did her homework!

The anticipation had been building for Thia Megia, one of the youngest contestants to take the "Idol" stage this year, and like Scotty McCready before her and Lauren Alaina after, she did not disappoint. Thia's choice of "Out Here On My Own" from the original "Fame" couldn't have been more perfect. It was also brave. Thia started off a cappella, adding a piano accompaniment after the first few verses, and sounded great all the way to the end. James Durbin was so wowed by Thia's turn that he literally stomped his feet in applause, causing even the judges to look around wondering, "Where's that pounding noise coming from?" Her performance prompted perhaps the most coherent critique Randy has ever given. "The mark of a great singer is the quality of tone," he said, before comparing Thia to "the late, great Michael Jackson."

With only two slots left, it was time for Lauren Alaina to take the stage. The sixteen-year-old had been the buzz of season 10 for much of the past two months, would she impress on the big stage? Yep. Her take on Reba McEntire's "Turn on the Radio" had the crowd on its feet and clapping along while she line danced her way up and down the circular platform. Her last note lingered long after as this room was genuinely tickled. Perhaps Jennifer put it best when she told Lauren, "You don't even have to try. The voice is just so effortless." Randy took it a step further, comparing Lauren to previous "Idol" winners Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. Said Steven: "You kill me. I love you. You're the best." And there you have it. Presumptive winner, anyone?

Last on the girls' line-up was the lesser-known Pia Toscano, who took on the Pretenders' "I'll Stand By You" and got the first judges' standing ovation of the season. Was it good? Yes. Great? Up for debate. In the studio, Pia's last note sounded more piercing than pitch-perfect, but between the energy of the crowd and the loudness of the band, it's easy to get carried away. Certainly plenty of contestants are all too familiar with the sensation. Still, Steven, who by this point had his knee up on the arm of his chair, fully embracing the laid-back rocker vibe, thought it was "gorgeous," while Jennifer commented, "I knew you were a standout, you were saving that for when it counts. It was out of this world."

And there you have it. Five of these girls will go through based on highest vote totals, and at least a couple will have a chance to compete again in a wild card round. Who do you think earned a guaranteed slot on the Top 10? And who deserves a second shot?