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Round of 24: Women - February 21

Holy crap, the set blew up!

No, but seriously, it's time for the top 24 phase of the competition, and the "club" set grew into something more akin to a small ... well, if you've ever been to UNC's Gerrard Hall, it's kinda like that. The Red Room itself has grown into more of a skybox.

But the objective is still the same: weed out the posers, and put the talent through to the top 12 at Television City in Hollywood later in the season.

First up, the ladies... Arrrrr... Anyway, we say hello to the guys, who'll perform tomorrow. We also say hello to the judges, who'll just be advising from here on out. Simon claims that he's normal (I'll believe that). Paula thinks that the audience is hard to impress (I'll believe that). Randy thinks that it's a dude's game to lose. The ladies say... "OH YEAH?!"

Mandisa and Kellie are the first up to the island, but first... a montage of their road to Hollywood... This is rather unnecessary, isn't it? Let's get to the performances, shall we? First up, Mandisa, who had since making the Top 24, dropped the surname and made Simon
apologize on national television. She's one of the early favorites both on this site and with online bookies. Tonight, she'll prove that sisters can rock with Heart's "Never". She likes tricking'em out. And we like her for it.

What they say: Randy saw her personality. "This me, I'm hot, I can sing. I think you overproduced a bit, bit it was a'ight." Paula says she "broke the record on magnificence" over Carrie Underwood's version of "Alone"... Not hard.... Simon agrees with Randy in the imperfectness, but says that she has thrown down the gauntlet.

What we say: She's sure got some pipes on her. And she's got an attitude to match. She picked the perfect song to trick out here, and I expect her to go far in the contest. Although the last note left little to be desired. But who cares. She has thrown down the gauntlet
like... *mimes throwing down gauntlet* Who wants some?

Next, Kellie Pickler from Albemarle, NC... She's better known around these parts as "the waterproof mascara girl". But she was a bundle of nerves. Didn't cost her the big prize, though. She'll be singing "How Far" by Martina McBride. Which is weird, because she admittedly
doesn't have a love life and will be singing this for her dad.

What they say: Randy thought it was good, but not the best. Paula says that she's likable, but she says that she has to carry the song through. Simon agrees with Paula, as it felt heartfelt. "You're not a stage-school monster. You're a nice girl. You look great. I actually thought you did very well."

What we say: I think Simon and I are reading different lines from the same book here, because if I was Kellie's dad, I wouldn't have thought much of that performance. She doesn't have the right tone for this type of song, and the vocal really suffers for it. She strains toward the end, and ends up sounding tired.

Or as we say in Carolina, "it sounds 'tard'". Becky O'Donohue is ready to "shine" again. Auditioning without her twin in Boston, she was put through by Paula and Randy. The rest is history. Tonight, she's singing "Because the Night" by Natalie Merchant. It was the first CD
she ever got. And the twin is there watching.

What they say: Randy likes the performance, but he liked the whole package. "I actually thought it was better than it was going to be... Right, Dawg Pound?" (C-Note: If Randy calls the dudes "the Dawg Pound", does that make the ladies "Kitty Litter"?) Paula likes the charm, but hated the vocal. Welcome to the Dark Side, Paula. Simon thought it was slightly better than he thought. "Visually, you are a 10. The voice is a 6 and a half. And the last note was so off."

What we say: Not a fan of the song. Not a fan of the original singer. Not a fan of this performance. Becky runs into a few bum notes... Okay, more than a few. And the last one was a killer.

Next, it's the contestant most likely to bring about an inadequacy complex from your host... so much that he needs a wooden block brought... Ayla Brown. She was originally "robotic", but she grew from that to sing "Reflection" by Christina Aguilera.

What they say: Randy didn't expect it to be so good, but she "did it good. I was actually pleasantly surprised." Paula agrees. "It's a very ambitious undertaking." Simon thinks Ayla is a hard worker with limits... and this song showed it. "I thought for the first time for me, I saw some emotion."

What we say: For the first time, Pinocchio became a real girl. We saw some emotion and we heard a second-rate Christina Aguilera impression... But we saw some emotion, right? Perhaps next week, we'll hear her sing for reals.

Speaking of "for reals", Paris Bennett is next. Singing's in her genes, as we discovered. She wowed in Greensboro. She killed in Hollywood. Today, she's singing "Midnight Train to Georgia" by Gladys Knight.

What they say: Randy wants to know what the moves were all about. Meanwhile, "this girl's amazing". Paula: You're my idol. "You are a show woman!" Simon says that she didn't play it safe, and that everyone will remember it. "That was great."

What we say: Damn! I am looking for the vertical hold button on the TV; only to discover that it isn't the TV: It's HER! In that, she reminds me of Fantasia. But she's having fun, and she's playing it up, and she's sounding great doing it. And we know that she's wearing antiperspirant. I didn't want to know that.

Next up, Stevie Scott, who looks like a Coca-Cola bottle. She's trained in opera, which she says sets her apart. She sings the operatic "To Where You Are", hoping to become the female equivalent of Josh Groban.

What they say: Randy liked the split between voice and falsetto, but he was not moved. Paula thought it was very brave and ethereal. Simon agreed with Randy. "You completely and utterly messed that up. I think you've got a problem."

What we say: ... I'm sorry, is the performance over already? I was busy sleeping. Anyways, to sum up... Bland. Uninspired. Flat most of the time. Forgettable. Say goodnight, Gracie.

Halfway home, as we move to Brenna Gethers, who made a reputation for standing out as ... to put it succinctly, a bitch. Tonight, she's singing... "You Are the Sunshine of My Life"?

What they say: Randy thought it was safe. "If you didn't sing that note at the end, it would've been like, 'you didn't have me tonight'." Paula agrees, but humility is needed right now, she thinks. Simon: "You are who you are, and that's what we like about you, HOWEVER... that was horrible." She's supposed to be the wild cat, and she's all spayed and neutered and everything.

What we say: Very safe, but very dangerous for her, since we know her as the one that licked that other chick. I mean, she's the girl with balls... but then she chooses this. She should've chosen something a little more ... dangerous. Interesting how that works, isn't it?

Heather Cox had stomach flu and laryngitis, not to mention every other excuse in the book during Hollywood Week. She needs to come out tonight. "When You Tell Me That You Love Me" by last year's AI finalists, dedicated to her parents.

What they say: Randy thought she'd slay 'em tonight. "It was really boring. I wanted to hear you go for it. It was pitchy and the key was too low. It didn't work for me tonight." Paula agrees with Randy. "This was not a great performance." Simon called it forgettable and horrible. "You just got it wrong. No one will remember that performance for anything good."

What we say: There were so many holes in that performance that the judges said it all... So I'll just add this: what the hell was THAT?!

Can Paula just shut up for one second? It's not that hard. Just close your mouth and make no words come out. Now to the beauty pageant veteran, Melissa McGhee. She was blonde in
Denver... and a six out of 10. During Hollywood Week, she changed her tone and her hair color, and as a result, came out with the best group performance. Tonight, she's singing one, solo, by herself, Faith Hill's "When The Lights Go Down".

What they say: Randy said it started rocky, but she started to lay it out to showcase her performance. Paula thinks it's a shining moment. "The tone is incredible, and you took a song that was impossible, and made it your own." Simon is in the middle here. This is actually Melissa's first performance in the series that we've seen, but Simon still thinks that it's lifeless.

What we say: She's overpacing the song all over the place. And when she's not overpacing, she's underpacing. Other than that, not a bad performance. If she can learn to control herself, then she just might survive this round of competition.

Another Denver auditionee in Lisa Tucker. She knows that expectations are high in Hollywood. She sings "I Am Changing" by Jennifer Holliday. "It sends a really good message."

What they say: Randy says that it was ambitious, albeit a little rough at the beginning. Paula: "You are a precious little gift." Simon: "You made girls that are five or six years older than you look ordinary."

What we say: It goes back to what Simon said in the Hollywood round: "If you're good, you're good." And you're good. Sure, she has a few problems with the pacing, but she's got polish, something only two others have. She's only going to get stronger as the weeks go on.

Kinnik Sky is next, as she joins Melissa in the "who?" column. She got the last space for the girls. Tonight, she sings "Get Here" by Oleta Adams. Risky choice considering the last person who sang it.

What they say: Randy thinks that a stylized choice, thinking that the middle was rough. "I'd have to give the performance a six. The dawg didn't get it." Paula thought it was lovely. Simon thinks the problem is that she's being outsung by teenagers. "You are being overshadowed
by the young contenders."

What we say: Another weird-face girl! That's going to be off-putting, I swear.. She went sharp after a solid beginning. And I wish she sang more of the song than she did. It was just an awkward performance all around. But at least she can grow from it.

Finally, it's Sherman Oaks' Katharine McPhee, who was very strong, even though Simon suggested that "less is more". She sings her idol Barbra Streisand's "Since I Fell For You", as she remembers her mother singing this for her students.

What they say: Randy thinks she's a natural talent. Paula thinks that she owned the stage. "Everything about you was fantastic. I think Randy has to take back what you said at the beginning of the show." Simon called Katharine the best.

What we say: It helps immensely that she looks like Rachael Ray and sounds like what Norah Jones would sound like if she kicked some ass once in a while. Easily one of the best of the night. Easily.

So how do I think they stack up?

Going On: Mandisa, Paris, Lisa, Katharine
Going Strong: Ayla
Going Down: Becky, Brenna, Melissa, Kinnik
Going Home: Kellie, Stevie, Heather

Hard to say who's going home, but easy to tell who stands a chance... Next time, the guys...



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