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American Idol, Top 12 Girls

Fox

And so it begins.

American Idol finally tossed some meat on the grill Tuesday, offering up the top 12 girls for their first live performances of the season.

One by one they trotted out like little lambs, some to be praised, some to be sheared—but actually very few to be slaughtered.

But at least the ladies who, according to Simon Cowell, are in trouble heading into Thursday's double elimination found a friend in none other than Ellen DeGeneres.

As someone who just "likes music," she seemed to be having a grand time...

Paige Miles: It's always tough to be first. But while Simon thought the 24-year-old from Naples, Fla., did her booming, soulful voice a disservice by choosing the "wedding singer" song "Alright Now" by Free, his fellow judges dealt solely in various levels of praise. "I agree and disagree with all of them," quipped Ellen, who weighed in last on this one.

Ashley Rodriguez: Better luck next time, Ash. The 22-year-old's too-close-to-the-original, unspecial version of Leona Lewis' "Happy" did not have the desired effect—on us or the judges. "I couldn't really see you in there," Randy Jackson told her, while Simon, who counts Lewis as a protégé, called the performance "clumsy," with "no originality." The student from Chelsea, Mass., is gorgeous, but… So are the other girls.

Janell Wheeler: A Heart song already! But "What About Love" was just too big for the 24-year-old from Orlando, who hit some decent high notes toward the end, but riddled the rest of the song with shaky notes. "You gave it a 100 percent effort and probably delivered 65 percent," Simon said. Kara DioGuardi and Randy both agreed that the song was too big for Janell, but, wouldn't you know… Ellen appears to be taking up the mantle abandoned by Paula Abdul. "I love that song and I thought you sang it very well," said the newcomer. "You moved easily onstage and tried to get into it…I liked it and I like you." (The compliments about fashion choices are probably just around the corner.)

Lilly Scott: The Beatles' "Fixing a Hole" doesn't generally jump to mind first when it comes to the Fab Four's most concert-ready tunes—but the 20-year-old street musician from Denver made it work. "I think that's what we're talking about," Ellen said, referring to Lilly's defined sound, confident performance and apparent comfort in her own skin.

Katelyn Epperly: Another Beatles song, but with a completely different approach. The 19-year-old Iowan gave "Oh! Darling" the torch-song, cabaret-lounge treatment—but not necessarily in a bad way. Simon couldn't quite explain why, but he really liked Katelyn up there, as did everyone else. "Don't box yourself in," Randy, who was uncharacteristically eloquent tonight, advised her in response to Kara's concern that Katelyn had overdone it with the makeup. (Only Kara's allowed to do that, apparently.)

Haeley Vaughn: Another something different, courtesy of Lennon-McCartney. Haeley, 16 and fiercely precocious, pulled out her guitar for a reworked, slowed-down version of "I Want to Hold Your Hand." Totally unexpected and interesting, but the screamin' indie sensibility didn't match the pageant-ready smile plastered across the teen's face the entire time. "Just as someone who likes music," Ellen enjoyed it. But Simon found it "verging on terrible." "It if was a mess, it was a hot mess," Ellen rallied on the teen's behalf.

Lacey Brown: We would think it would be hard to do an unlistenable version of Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide," provided one can sing, of course, but we didn't care for this. The arrangement was so… calculated. The 24-year-old church event planner from Amarillo, Texas, hasn't had an easy go of it, getting cut late in the game last year, and things didn't get any easier for her tonight. Even Ellen couldn't hang with it. "Terrible," Randy said flatly (after praising the awesomeness of the song), and Simon called it "quite depressing" and "kind of indulgent."

Michelle Delamor: Looking a little bit like Alicia Keys out there, the 22-year-old from Miami tried her hand at "Fallin'." Not bad, but not particularly inspiring, either. Was that because "it seemed so easy" for her, as Ellen suggested? No, it didn't pop because a serviceable version of a difficult song is not going to be good enough week after week.

Didi Benami: Reminiscent of Megan Joy but with a far more pleasing timbre to her voice, the 23-year-old L.A. waitress gave a very pleasing performance of Ingrid Michaelson's "The Way I Am." We'll take her the way she is, but the judges didn't see much star power tonight. "For that first impression, it was a little low-key," Ellen, perhaps disappointed because she couldn’t get up and dance, said. And Simon was downright bored, finding the song "dreary."

Siobhan Magnus: This 19-year-old glass-blowing apprentice (when are we going to get to write that again?) from Cape Cod, Mass., seemingly tried to channel Chris Isaak himself while singing "Wicked Game," kicking the tune off with a shockingly low register before bringing the requisite high notes to the chorus. Overall, it was...interesting. "You really are a funny little thing, aren't you?" Simon observed. "It's a beautiful song," Siobhan, sporting a Black Dahlia-reminiscent flower behind her ear, said in defending her choice. "It's haunting, it's memorable, I've always loved it."

Crystal Bowersox: And now we have a version of "Hand in My Pocket" we like better than the original. (All Alanis Morissette music pretty much defines the word indulgent, doesn't it?) The 24-year-old "musician and mom" got up there with her guitar and harmonica and instantly sounded as if she belonged. Of course, according to Simon, she belonged outside a subway station due to the lack of originality, but we would totally throw coins in her guitar case. "You were good tonight, Kara weighed in. "I think you have greatness in you, though."

Katie Stevens: That's a strong, mature voice the 17-year-old from Middlebury, Conn., has in her. Her affected sultriness onstage was a little off-putting, but, just listening to her do Michael Bublé's verison of "Feeling Good," the kid has potential. "A little old for you," is how Ellen described it. Simon, completely agreeing, put it more bluntly: "Like your mum and dad had dressed you and given you the song for this audition, so it started to become annoying."

And that about does it for Tuesday's Idol.

It's going to be a busy week, though. We'll see how the top 12 guys do tomorrow, and then two boys and two girls will be kicked off on Thursday.

There you have it: your top 12 girls, Ellen's neither-here-nor-there critiquing, some interesting song choices.

Discuss.

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