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Ladies show guys how it’s done on ‘Idol’

Simon says the top four women contenders are LaKisha, Sabrina, Stephanie and Melinda. By Craig Berman
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

The two girls who get sent home Thursday night won’t just have the American people to blame for their early exit. The “American Idol” producers will have to accept a large chunk of the responsibility as well.

The culprit? A ridiculous quota system that mandates that six men and six women be selected to the final 12. Never mind that this season the women have left men in the rearview mirror when it comes to talent and showmanship. Two of the eight female semifinalists will be sent home anyway, even though at least seven women would be among the 12 finalists if the voting could cross gender lines.

In contrast to the men, the women generally offered strong performances. The judges praised almost everyone, but Simon tipped his hand by saying that Stephanie Edwards, LaKisha Jones, Melinda Doolittle and Sabrina Sloan were a cut above anyone else in the competition. Of course, given the voting system in place, one of them could be sent home tomorrow, while someone like Sanjaya Malakar moves on to the final 12. Only in America.

Jordin Sparks, 17, Glendale , Ariz.: As far as revealing secrets go, Sparks came through very small by saying she loved football. No kidding. Her dad’s a former NFL cornerback, and she loves the sport? Who woulda thunk it? She rocked out to begin the show with Pat Benatar’s “Heartbreaker,” though she seemed to run out of breath towards the end. It wasn’t her best vocal, but the energy level alone was a million times better than any of the guys, and set the stage for what was to follow. Grade: BStay or go? The judges all said they expected her to stay, and maybe they’re right. But someone good will have to go, and it’s never a plus to lead off.

Sabrina Sloan, 27, Studio City , Calif.: Former high-school news anchor Sloan has a big voice and a lot of talent, which came through in her version of En Vogue’s “Don't Let Go.” Randy did her no favors by starting the commentaries with tepid praise, and Simon called it something akin to a hotel resort performance. But though the judges may have thought it too mechanical, all three quickly said she deserved to be in the top 12. Grade: B+Stay or go? Sloan deserves to be among the final 12, and likely stood out enough that she doesn’t need to worry. But like Sparks, she can’t be happy about having to sing so early in the show on a night as big as this one.

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Haley Scarnato, 24, San Antonio , Texas: The injury-prone former gymnast went a little bit country, singing Faith Hill’s “If My Heart Had Wings.” The judges felt it lacked pizzaz (or in Randy’s words, a “Yo!”). Then she got the dreaded, “but you looked great up there” from Paula, which is what she says when she doesn’t have anything else nice to say about someone. And Simon all but begged America to put down their phones by saying he didn’t even know her name. Grade: C+Stay or go? “Every week I’ve gotten bad comments — you’ve got to clock in and clock out,” Scarnato said afterwards.  But this was probably the last Wednesday she’ll need to worry about punching the “Idol” timecard.

Stephanie Edwards, 19, Savannah , Ga.: Edwards claims she used to be shy, though viewers have seen no evidence that this is the case.  Randy gave her an A for effort for her version of Rufus and Chaka Khan’s “Sweet Thing,” but wasn’t thrilled with the vocals. Simon also called her a bit of a copycat. Paula called her almost flawless, and all three think she should be in the final 12. Grade:  BStay or go? Edwards stood out enough that she’s probably safe.

LaKisha Jones, 27, Fort Meade , Md.: Jones said she’s terrified of animals. That may be so, but she clearly has no fear of the judges, the stage, Ryan Seacrest or anything else associated with “American Idol.” She sang Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing,” though clearly if the subject is talent, she has a lot. The judges all expect her to sail through to the finals. Simon even said she looked beautiful after criticizing her appearance last week. Grade: A-Stay or go? At this point, the best bet for getting Jones off the show may be to make one of the next few theme weeks a “Singing at the Zoo” road trip. Beyond that, she’s in no danger.

Gina Glocksen, 22, Naperville , Ill.: Glocksen has a troll, a stuffed pickle and a pillow she relies on for luck.  She must have thought she needed all the knickknacks she could get when she found out she’d be singing between early favorites LaKisha Jones and Melinda Doolittle. But the charms apparently worked, because she went out rocking to Evanescence’s “Call Me When You’re Sober.” The judges were thrilled to see her with an edge, and Simon shocked her with a compliment: “This is the girl we wanted at this stage of the competition.” Grade: A-Stay or go? Glocksen isn’t safe by any means, and if the teenage-boy vote keeps Antonella Barba around for another week, she may well be the one who gets voted off instead. But if that happens, at least she’ll have gone down swinging.

Melinda Doolittle, 29, Brentwood , Tenn .: This just in: Melinda Doolittle can sing. Oh, wait. Everyone knew that already. It’s becoming routine to hear her sing well, and she closed the show with a flourish with her version of Peggy Lee’s “I’m a Woman.” She might have borderline OCD issues, as she said in her introductory video, but they sure don’t affect her pipes. Nor did they hinder her performance. Simon called her “A little tiger … I thought we had a pussycat.” Grade: A+Stay or go? “A million percent we’re going to see you next week,” Simon said after the song. He’s right.

Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C.