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‘Idol’ women take things slow

Night of ballads, risky song picks fail to impress judges. By Craig Berman
/ Source: contributor

This probably wasn't the ideal night to be in the studio audience at “American Idol.” The first half of the show was ballads and slow country songs, and the second was mostly strange song choices and risks that didn't pay off. Paula Adbul, Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson were back in critical form, but it looks like the contestants took the criticism hard last week, because host Ryan Seacrest was always there this time around with the positive message afterwards. Telling contestant after contestant to be happy with the positives and learn from the criticisms to get better next week, he was a just couple of pom-poms away from being a full-fledged cheerleader.

Aloha Mischeaux, 19, St. Louis: The sassy Mischeaux started the evening off with a little Alicia Keys and "You Don't Know My Name." It didn't do much to make the audience remember hers. Mischeaux never really got it going, and though she had the confidence of a top contender, she didn't come through with that kind of a performance. Even Abdul was unimpressed.Grade: CStay or go? An A-plus last week, Mischeaux lost a lot of status this time around. Going first won't help her either. She could be a candidate to leave if not enough voters believe in her potential.

Lindsey Cardinale, 20, Ponchatoula, La.: Cardinale needed to make up some ground after a mediocre showing last week. Her version of Patty Loveless' "I Try to Think About Elvis" was much better, and she looked much more confident on stage. The judges reacted with a whole lot of "eh," and none of them were thrilled with the song choice. Cardinale thus got the same lesson as most of the female contestants this week — when the judges don't love a performance and can't figure out why, "song choice" is usually right behind "pitch problems" on the excuse list.Grade: B-Stay or go? Cardinale improved from a week ago. It's not enough to give her smooth sailing to the finals, but will probably keep her from being voted off.

Jessica Sierra, 19, Tampa, Fla.: Sierra needed a big performance after last week, and she got it. Picking "Broken Wing," the country hit made famous by Martina McBride, allowed her to really nail a difficult song. Simon even called it "without question the best female performance we've heard so far," which translates to "everyone out there be sure and write down the right phone number so she moves on."Grade: A-Stay or go? Sierra showed a nice voice, certainly enough to make it another week. She'll need to be equally strong to have a shot at the final 12.

Mikalah Gordon, 17, Las Vegas: It's a good thing for Gordon that this competition has judges. She took a big risk in picking "God Bless The Child," made famous by the legendary Billie Holiday. The audience looked like it didn't know what to make of it, with everyone clapping hands with a "what in the heck is this?" look on their faces. But the judges could not possibly have been happier.Quote of the night: "I want to be famous because I can't cook, I can't clean, and I can't walk my own dog."Grade: B+Stay or go? The judges did everything but tell the American public that Santa Claus wouldn't come this Christmas if everyone didn't run to the phones and vote for her. That will overcome a song choice that was probably better suited to different demographics than Fox's.

Celena Rae, 29, Fort Worth, Texas: Rae joined a number of her fellow contestants on the country bandwagon, singing Faith Hill, "When the Lights Go Down." She did much better than last week, but not enough to impress the judges.Mark it down: Simon thought of the day regarding Rae: "The truth is that there's a fine line between being a pop star and singing in a hotel. I think you're going to wind up in the latter."Grade: B-Stay or go? Rae sounded OK, but the judges clearly don't love her and would not be heartbroken if the voters send her home. She'll be an interesting test case to see how many voters base their picks on the comments, because she wasn't one of the bottom two this week in her performance, but she did get the biggest slam from Simon. On another note, Simon mentions music in cabarets and nightclubs every show, so if anyone has ever imagined what it would be like to date him, it's a safe bet that campy music would be on the agenda for the evening.

Nadia Turner, 28, Miami: Turner went with "My Love," by Paul McCartney — a song that's been covered by a whole lot of people in every bar in the country ever since. She definitely has her own style, and it didn't shine through as much here. Simon even said that it made her sound a little cabaret — though he hastily added "which I don't think is you!" lest anyone in the audience get the wrong idea about his overall opinion.Grade: B-Stay or go? It wasn't great, but the judges were gentle in their critiques. They would like her to stay. They will probably get their wish.

Amanda Avila, 23, Las Vegas: Avila finally got the crowd to move with her rendition of Gloria Estefan's "Turn the Beat Around." On the one hand, it was a lot better than her performance last week. On the other hand, it's the same kind of effort tourists can hear in most Vegas nightclubs. But the judges liked it, probably because it was the first performance all night to really pump up the energy.Grade: BStay or go? The judges would clearly like Avila to stay — there was a lot they could have picked on here, and all three let it slide. She probably did enough to advance.

Janay Castine, 17, Lawrenceville, Ga.: Castine's probably a few years away from being ready for this kind of stage — she looks and performs much younger than fellow 17-year-old Mikalah Gordon. Her rendition of Blu Cantrell's "Hit 'Em Up Style" was better than she did last week, but she still had that "where did all these people come from?!" look on her face. She looks like somebody's little sister with a karaoke microphone.They turn on you quick: Randy Jackson said the performance wasn't very good, then had to acknowledge that "You've even got my own dawg pound booing at me," as the "Idol" men took exception.Grade: C-Stay or go? Two mediocre performances in a row will probably be too much for Castine to overcome.

Carrie Underwood, 21, Checotah, Okla.: The judges are always telling contestants to take risks, but Underwood's may come back to bite her. On a night when several of her rivals sang country songs suited to her Oklahoma roots, she went in the other direction. None of the judges found her a convincing Janis Joplin in "Piece of My Heart" — her looks alone make that a tough sell, and she looked like she was trying to force it just to prove she could do it.Grade: CStay or go? Based on this week alone, Underwood would be in trouble, but she's done so much better in the past that the voters will probably be forgiving. Simon said she lost some of her star quality on Tuesday, which may be true, but it's probably not enough to send her packing.

Vonzell Solomon, 20, Fort Myers, Fla.: Solomon was the second performer of the night to break out Alicia Keys, singing "If I Ain't Got You." It was a stretch for her, and she couldn't quite get to all the notes. She was criticized for oversinging it, which was pretty fair, but the judges still had mostly nice things to say.Grade: B-Stay or go? It certainly didn't leave the audience racing home to text-message its love, but was good enough for now. Solomon should move on.