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Round of 12: Diana Ross - March 13

It was all in good fun before, but now the competition REALLY gets hot. The top 12 are united on the live stage. Who'll be America's next big thing? The quest for Idoldom... starts now.

The singers are ready, the judges are ready, the bigger band with string sections is ready... All we need now is a theme. This week, it's the original dreamgirl, Diana Ross.

A little bit of bio. At the tender age of 15, she fronted an all-girl group that would come to be the most successful of its kind in the 1960s... of course, it's the Supremes. Later, solo success as a singer and actress would come, winning acclaim for her later works and an award for her performance in "Lady Sings the Blues." She's also won a Tony, 12 Grammys, two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and a Billboard award for Female Entertainer of the Century. This week, Miss Diana Ross will take some time out to mentor the top 12. "I was able in my career to have great mentors. My mother. Berry Gordy. I'd like to see you all be successful past this show."

First on the Idol stage is Brandon Rogers, who calls Diana "the star to which a lot of stars are compared to." Diana says Brandon grew up on "You Can't Hurry Love" (1966). Diana tells him to look to his center. So he will on that song.

What they say: Randy says he came out as he reverted back to a background singer, but the last two notes were good. Paula tells him it's all nerves, and there are many things he does right. "You'll warm into this." Simon calls it a complete letdown, very predictable, coming over as a background singer for a background singer. Not good enough.

What we say: Math time! Pitchiness + forgotten lyric + overall staidness + need for a lozenge = a quick exit.

Quick real time with Melinda Doolittle. Her question: what do you consider the hardest part of the contest? "The high heels and the dresses." Ryan asks Simon for advice on the heels. "You should know, Ryan." Ryan: "Stay out of my closet." Simon: "Come out!"

Before this gets any more wrong, let's see how she did with Diana. Melinda fancies herself an old-school Motown girl. She thinks about her world changing when she sings "Home" (1978).

What they say: It wasn't really a favorite for Randy, but she gives a point to the ladies. Paula's reduced to tears. Simon, swearing he's sneezing, is reminded of a young Gladys Knight.

What we say: That was everything Brandon's performance wasn't. Absolutely delightful. She knew how to tell the story. And boy did she ever!

Next, Chris Sligh. Diana thought he was a little bit nervous. He's going to do "Endless Love" (1981)... with a throw to Coldplay, but Diana warns him that it's about going to the heart of the matter.

What they say: The bad part for Randy was that the melody changed it a bit. He's got a good voice, but that was a mess. Paula: "That song is so recognizable. Sometimes I worry that you're trying ultra hard to be ultra hip and cool." Stop trying to fit in. Simon calls it murder. "And the boos are light. It was unemotional, uninspiring, and I'd keep your glasses on."

What we say: Well, it didn't take much to kill that song and drag it down to contemporary dreck, did it? 

Next, Gina Glocksen is starstruck. She's singing "Love Child" (1968), like she did when she was 4. Diana says she's got incredible vocal ability, but needs to work on enunciation. "The song is a story, don't leave any words out."

What they say: Randy: "It wasn't my favorite performance from you. I didn't feel any excitement from that song." Paula thought that the song was exciting, but Gina is much better than how she did. Simon thought it was just okay and forgettable.

What we say: She's got the attitude of the song, and she commands the stage, but it's the whole enunciation and pronunciation that only makes this a middle of the road performance.

Next is Sanjaya Malakar. "Sanjaya to me is love. You care about him." Sanjaya compares being mentored by Diana to "Van Gogh teaching you how to paint." He'll sing "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" (1970).

What they say: Randy... doesn't even know what to say. "Dude, it wasn't very good." Paula calls him the sweetest soul. "It wasn't that you sang on pitch. You have to grab the audience. You have to just let go." Simon? "When you hear a wail in Beverly Hills, that is where Diana Ross is watching this show. The only similarity is the hairstyle." He is very brave, though.

What we say: Michael McDonald did it so much justice. Sanjaya is just not vocally there. He's weak, flat, and that thing with his arms... I don't get it at all. Oh and he rushed the beat and was sharp at the end.

On deck is Haley Scarnato. Question: Where's the craziest place you ever sang? "It has to be here." Ah. Over to Diana. Diana says Haley has a recording studio voice. Haley's singing "Missing You" (1984) for her fiancee, while Diana was thinking of Marvin when he died.

What they say: Randy says it was a valiant effort. But all in all, it was a little shocking. Paula says that forgetting the words is never a good thing, and the pitch... Simon didn't think it was that bad. Haley calls herself a schmuck.

What we say: I get what Diana said about having a recording voice versus having a stage voice, because her tone is nice, but she's sharp in singing. Aaaaand she forgot a lyrics. I'm not totally in love with how Haley sang it, but there's potential.

We meet Ryan's nana in the crowd. Next, Phil Stacey is up. He didn't have much of a game plan. He just wants to get the song right. Said song: "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me" (1968). "Just look at the audience. They're really real people."

What they say: Randy thought the performance was boring, but the vocal was hot. Paula agrees, but she wanted to hear something up tempo. Simon thought he chose the right song, but still, it was just "okay". "It's like you're shouting at my ear. It wasn't outstanding, it wasn't awful."

What we say: Points for stage presence, but Phil has to control not so much what he sings and where he sings, but how he sings it. There were numerous breaks in the action that didn't have to be. It wasn't bad, but oh could it have been better.

Next, LaKisha Jones visits Diana. "KiKi" never sang "God Bless the Child" from "Lady Sings the Blues". She asks an important question... Mic stand or no? She goes without.

What they say: Randy thought it was perfect for her and an unbelievable vocal. "That was sensational." Paula says her heart comes through. Simon: "You either got it or you haven't got it. You got it. You two are in a different league. It was a very controlled performance, and you didn't look like it was intimidating. Outstanding."

What we say: long and flowing... like her dress. And what a way to end it.

Next, Blake Lewis' question: what type of music do you listen to? He likes underground hip-hop. Favorite artist: Michael Jackson. To get prepared for Diana, he got onto his computer and basically made it into his own wreck. What, exactly? "You Keep Me Hangin' On" (1966), hopefully making it into a fresher version.

What they say: Randy is a huge fan. "You don't have to worry about Blake-izing every song. Sometimes, let the vocal do your thing. Let the classics be the classics." Paula says there's a difference between what Blake did and what Chris did. Blake could have a big hit with that song. Simon didn't get it all. "I understand why you wanted to put your own take on it. But if you heard that version in isolation, you wouldn't like it." Overall, the judges agree that you don't really need to change anything.

What we say: He took the Erasure version. This is coming from my compatriot Gordon. But yeah, props for bring it into the 2000s, but the vocals needed work. Charisma makes up for it, though.

Stephanie Edwards is on deck now. She's in love with Diana. She's singing "Love Hangover" (1976). Diana stresses bringing the sexy.

What they say: Randy cites more word issues. "It was a good vocal and a perfect choice, but I was waiting for the up-tempo part." Paula says she has strong vocals, but strive for better. Simon thought it was a tease. "What you sang what an intro. You were completely outsung."

What we say: I defer to my brother... "She Megamanned Diana Ross!" A common problem, and it's not going to win any fans that see her compared to Melinda and LaKisha.

Chris Richardson is next with "The Boss" (1979). He was also starstruck. "He needs to work the song. This is a work the audience kind of song."

What they say: Randy says he's holding the line for the guys, but warned him not to overdo it. Paula says Chris nailed the blend, comparing him to Dan Hartman. Simon listens to the dreadful... and called it dreadful.

What we say: he's working the stage, no doubt, but the song overwhelmed the vocals. He was flat all over the place.

Last song of the night is "If We Hold On Together" (1988) from "The Land Before Time". Diana called Jordin absolutely gorgeous, telling her to tell the story. With tonight's closer... here's Jordin Sparks.

What they say: Randy: "At 17, I'm so very impressed with you. Tonight with that, you just made it a three-girl race." Paula: "You are a natural gift." Simon: "It was a little bit gooey. But having said that, I thought it was a very good vocal, and absolutely you've put yourself with a shot at the finals of this competition."

What we say: the softer side of Jordin. A bit sharp from time to time, but when she got into it, she really got into it and told the story.

So who reigned Supreme and who... well... didn't?

"I Hear a Symphony": Melinda, LaKisha, Jordin
"I'm Gonna Make You Love Me": Gina, Haley, Phil, Blake, Mega... err, Stephanie, Chris R.
"Home": Brandon, Chris S., Sanjaya

Find out in 23 if this is an accurate portrayal of your votes...

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