The auditions are over.
Hollywood Week is over.
Finally, "American Idol" gets down to the episodes that actually count.
Finally, "American Idol" puts forth a selection of singers and lets the American People vote.
Finally, we have something invested in choosing our favorites and figuring out who we want to spend the next three months with.
Tuesday (Feb. 23) features performances by the "American Idol" Top 12 Women, all singing songs from the Billboard charts.
Click through to see who sang, what they sang, what I thought and what the judges thought...
Singer: Paige Miles
Song: "It's Alright Now"
My Take: Paige starts off flat. I'm not completely sure how this fits into tonight's theme. Is there a new version of this song on the charters or is the theme really Anything Goes? And if the theme is Anything Goes, why the blazes is Paige singing this song? She picks up OK, does an unnecessary key change going into the chorus because she only wants to do the things that let her yell. Oddly she lets the background singers do most of the chorus and noodles wordlessly. She hits a big final note, but did she sing any of the words after the first verse? No. Serious question: After the first verse, all she was doing was runs, wails and twiddling on the microphone with her fingers. And then she attempted to deep throat the mic on her final note. That's not singing, it's showing off.
Ellen, Randy, Kara and Simon Say: Simon is confused that he's starting first. I'm also confused. No judging order in which Simon goes first makes any sense to me. Simon tells Paige that out of all of the girls, she has the best voice, but that she chose a wedding singer song, rather than a good showcase. Kara disagrees and thought it was a "brilliant" song and that she "slayed" the verses and that her voice is ridiculous. Check it out, yo. Randy agrees with both of them. Randy thought she got us off to a good start. "I agree and disagree with all of them," Ellen says. She raves that Paige was "so present" and says she loved it. Nice. One performance and the judges and I are disconnected. Paige says that she's been waiting to pee for five hours. Talk about striking a chord with America. We've all needed to pee. Maybe not now. Maybe not today. But at some point. Everybody pees.
Singer: Ashley Rodriguez
My Take: The song starts too low. But it's only a note or two. On those deeper notes, Ashley gets a bit breathy and mumbly, but part of that is a problem with song. When it hits the chorus, she's much better. There are some nasally and sharp moments in the chorus, but to my mind, this is a much truer vocal than what Paige did. It's a pretty mediocre song, really and it wasn't set up as a good showcase in this 90-second segment. [Yes, I liked Ashley before and I kinda think she's better than this.]
Ellen, Randy, Kara and Simon Say: Kara starts off and says that it was a big song, but she hit the notes. But Kara adds that there were moments that weren't great. Randy agrees and adds Leona Lewis to that Mariah, Whitney, Celine group of artists who shouldn't be covered on "Idol." Ellen wants to see something shocking from Ashley, that she needs to take a risk. It's WEEK ONE, y'all. Who takes risks in the first week? Simon thought it was clumsy and didn't like the arrangement. Simon warns Ashley that she's going backward and that she may be in trouble. Hmmm... We're 0-2, the judges and I. Am I wrong to think that in Week One telling a female singer to be original and not just cover a female singer WHO WON A REALITY SHOW is a bit ridiculous? But no. Ashley wasn't really as good as I wanted her to be. But she sang the song, darnit. Paige did not and the judges raved.
Singer: Janell Wheeler
Song: "What About Love"
My Take: Seriously? What the heck did tonight's theme mean? And are the contestants not allowed to use instruments? The one time Janell was good, she had a guitar. Janell is mighty cute, but she sure doesn't have a big enough voice to do Heart, especially as she progresses from the under-control verse to the booming chorus. She sounds thin and uncertain on some of the notes, pulling in and out on some of the bigger notes and coming up hoarse -- but in-tune -- on the final note. This is not the kind of singer Janell is, but for certain viewers there will be enough to praise about her tight pants and her overall persona. Fortunately, I'm not superficial like that. Nope.
Ellen, Randy, Kara and Simon Say: Randy didn't like the song choice and that she didn't bring anything different or unique. But Randy still has vibes for her. Ellen thought there were a couple iffy notes, but she's much more enthusiastic. Simon says she gave 100 percent effort and delivered 65 percent. That's exactly right, actually. Simon thinks she's going to be OK. Kara likes Janell, but thinks the song was too big for her.
Singer: Lilly Scott
Song: "Fixin' a Hole"
My Take: Lilly Scott is an old 20, isn't she? But she's a good 20. While Janell missed out in leaving her guitar behind, Lilly brings her guitar out and takes over. She's unquestionably more distinctive and, well, awesome, than the three ladies who came before her. She's mixing up the song, completely making her own. [Whose arrangement is this? I'm not fool enough to think this is a Lilly arrangement. Cuz if it is, the season's over. But I assume this is a familiar update?] She sounds great. She understands the lyrics. Her phrasing is terrific. Her tone is tremendous. And she's in utter control with the stage and the crowd.
Ellen, Randy, Kara and Simon Say: "It's such a random song choice and you did such a great job with it," Ellen says. Simon says it's definitely the best we've had so far. He points out that the song meant something to her, but he wants a bit more star power. Kara says that busking has paid off for Lilly, that she feels comfortable and at ease. Randy loves that she's like a real indie artist. Uh-oh. Is that what "American Idol" is about?
Singer: Katelyn Epperly
Song: "Oh Darlin'"
My Take: Katelyn is singing a song from 1967 and dressing like it's 1982. He hair is frizzy, with a dead pigeon sticking out of it. Her dress is short and leathery. And she's distracting me from what isn't a bad vocal performance at all. Tonight, she's looking like "Desperately Seeking Susan" era Madonna, though frankly she has a much bigger voice than the Madonna of that era.
Ellen, Randy, Kara and Simon Say: Simon warns her about screaming, but praises her quirkiness, even calling her brave. He says Katelyn will need a lot of work. Kara praises Katelyn for knowing her voice very well, that she sings like a veteran, but she doesn't like the makeover. Randy likes her tone and melody, as well as her whole vibe. Ellen was impressed with how much personality she put into it, but she suggests Katelyn may have "pushed" it. I... um... Don't know what that means, Ellen. There's a funny exchange between Katelyn and Kara bout Kara's fashion critique.
Singer: Haeley Vaughn
Song: "I Wanna Hold You Hand"
My Take: This is our third straight Beatles song. And the second straight singer where I can't begin to adequately describe her attire. It's almost a naughty nurse costume, but possibly a mismatched angel? It's fashion chaos, but it matches the performance. The arrangement is all over the place. There's a little country. There's some semi-yodeling. And there are places where Haeley's voice sounds darned good and places where it sounds darned awful. There's no sense, though, of logic to the arrangement and therefore no sense of consistency to the performance. But everything we've seen from Haeley leading up to this suggests that she may just be all over the place as a performer.
Ellen, Randy, Kara and Simon Say: Kara says we all feel that Haeley's having fun, but she points out there were some technical problems with the vocals. Randy loves her unpredictability. Randy warns her about the hight notes. May I pause to say that Kara and Randy have both been cogent and useful tonight? Ellen says Haeley shined, but has nothing technical she can say. Simon, though, calls it "verging on terrible," calling her a wind-up doll. It was most certainly a mess. Ellen chips in by saying it was a "hot mess," a phrase I really can't stand. Thus far, Ellen has been the least substantive judge on the panel tonight. I'm getting concerned for her.
Singer: Lacey Brown
My Take: Yikes. Does Lacey have a big enough for Fleetwood Mac? Well, it helps that she's not doing it Fleetwood Mac-style. There's a cutesy babydoll tone to some of her phrasing that I don't particularly like. She goes into a whispery upper-register at points, losing the melody entirely, or wandering off to her own place. The interaction with the backing vocalist isn't very good either. It's like they've never sung together before or like Lacey has decided that accompaniment is a battle she has to win. But there are parts where I like her tone. It's still so low-energy, just Lacey on a stool, head cocked to the side mooning.
Ellen, Randy, Kara and Simon Say: Randy loves the song, but it wasn't the right song for her. He even calls it "terrible." Ellen thinks she's better than that. She knows she's better than that. Simon calls it "quite depressing" and "boring." Kara thinks tonight was off and the song was bad. "You've got nice eyes," Simon says. Boy, when Simon has to play the "You're a pretty girl" card, that's a bad sign.
Singer: Michelle Delamor
My Take: Michelle is high-personality. She's energetic and bubbly, but not annoying yet. But was she this skinny before? Alicia Keys is another of those iconic singers Randy doesn't think you should be allowed to sing. And it's hard to disagree. Michelle is just FINE. I would say she's even GOOD. But every word she sings just makes me appreciate the original more. She closes with a high, pure and thin note, the sort of note Alicia slays arenas with and Michelle barely is able to fill the small "Idol" stage.
Ellen, Randy, Kara and Simon Say: Ellen calls it "fantastic," but safe. Simon thinks it sounded close to the original, but it lacked a "Wow!" The curly ringlets run in the family. Kara thinks there were some moments that weren't technically immaculate. Kara wants more uniqueness out of Michelle. Ryan goes with "pretty good," calling her look "hot and dope and cool."
Singer: Didi Benami
Song: "The Way I Am"
My Take: Didi's like an upgraded version of Janell and, like Janell, she's made a decision to eschew the guitar for the night. This is a mistake, ladies. "Idol" wants Taylor Swift. Please give "Idol" Taylor Swift. Didi's connection, with either the audience or the camera, is fantastic. She's all coy smiles and nose wrinkles. It's going to play well, because she sells the song utterly. I don't think this is as good as the original, but I could listen to Didi for another four months without any problems. I'm a bit smitten.
Ellen, Randy, Kara and Simon Say: Simon thinks there are too many people trying to sound like Adelle and Duffy. He praises her, but calls the performance dull. Kara likes the changes to the original recording. Simon is maintaining Didi isn't memorable, which I disagree with. Randy wants to see star-factor. Honestly, I think Didi played to the camera and not the judges and this was a performance that played better on TV. Ellen just doesn't think this was the right performance for a first impression, too low-key. "It's like your first kiss. Your first kiss has to be something you'll remember," Simon explains. Ryan makes an odd comment about his first kiss, which Simon turns into something that may or may not have been their first piece of homoerotic banter of the season.
Singer: Siobhan Magnus
Song: "Wicked Game"
My Take: Oh my goodness. Siobhan is a glass-blowing apprentice. I like her. She's so awkward and clueless. Unfortunately, that cluelessness carried over into this performance, which isn't exactly right. Parts of it are so close. I love the flower sprouting from her ear and the tattoo peeking out from under her sleeve. Between the parts that are too low, the key changes and the dull arrangement, there are some moments where Siobhan's voice seems like it's on the verge of blowing the roof off. I suspect Siobhan may really have the biggest voice around for the ladies. I hope we get to see that.
Ellen, Randy, Kara and Simon Say: Kara kinda liked her, warning her about getting nasal. Kara says what sets her apart is the emotion. Wow. I agree with Randy, who says that he didn't really sense her pipes until the second verse. Ellen loved it. "You really are a funny little thing, aren't you?" Simon says, wondering why she chose the song she did. Siobhan's answer confuses Simon.
Singer: Crystal Bowersox
Song: "Hand in My Pocket"
My Take: Is this the Year of the Busker for "American Idol"? Because Crystal wouldn't be caught dead without her guitar and she plays with the same confident assertiveness that Lilly showed. She also spends a solid 10 seconds of her performance on a harmonica solo. Why? Because she CAN. I suspect the harmonica versatility is her way of flipping off her "Idol" rivals. She's so comically unapologetic. She's all, "Wash my hair? You wash your darned hair. I'm me." The vocals? Simple. Pure. Nicely inflected. Not anywhere near her potential.
Ellen, Randy, Kara and Simon Say: Randy loves her originality as an artist. Ellen's pleased that Crystal adds something fresh to the show. Simon warns Crystal that there are thousands of her performing in subways. Are there thousands? Hmmm... Probably not. But there really are dozens, perhaps. He backtracks on his criticism, though, and calls her "refreshing." Kara thought she was good, but she's capable of greatness, urging her to be more than a coffeehouse performer.
Singer: Katie Stevens
Song: "Feelin' Good"
My Take: Katie Stevens is not an old 17. She's a 17-17. Oh and "Feelin' Good" is not "From Michael Buble," Ryan. We've had more than a few performances of this one on "Idol" and this is an utterly acceptable version. The director obviously suspected this was going to be something great, because after basically sitting back and filming half of the show's performances from straight on, we're getting camera angles, editing, swooping moves. Katie sounds good, but this is a Miss Teen America performance. It was, frankly, DeGarmo-esque. Maybe Ryan emphasized that this song was "From Michael Buble" because he wanted to make it clear that this was a bland and mediocre (but finely sung) version of "Feeling Good" and not the Nina Simone version. Wanna see how to make "Feeling Good" your own on "American Idol"? I give you Mr. Adam Lambert. Giving Katie the pimp slot for this performance was not a good call for the producers, though I guess it was a song that ended on a crescendo.
Ellen, Randy, Kara and Simon Say: Ellen felt that the performance was too conservative for 17 and that she should be current and young. Simon agrees. "It was like your mum and dad had dressed you and given you the song for this audition, so it started to become annoying," Simon says. Kara thought Katie was pitchy, suspecting she couldn't hear herself. Randy says Katie came out a little sharp on most of the notes.
TONIGHT'S BEST: Lilly was leagues better than anybody else tonight. Leagues. I give Crystal credit for musicality and Katie and Siobhan deserve credit for their vocals as well. And I like Didi. There was a ton of middle ground tonight.
IN DANGER: Haeley's schizophrenic cover isn't going to mobilize anybody and I think she's in serious trouble. For the other slots, I think Lacey probably wasn't memorable enough to get much support, nor was Janell. I simply can't accept that Ashley could be in danger, but she may be. I'm guessing Haeley and Lacey go home.
What'd you think? Who'd you love? Who'd you hate? Who's going home?