Whether they're better than the guys or not -- and so far, on the whole, they do seem more talented -- the young women competing on this year's "American Idol" are all long shots for the win. After all, as we were reminded in the show's opening moments, there hasn't been a female winner in six years, not since Jordin Sparks took the contest in Season 6.
Of course, that didn't keep the 47 women who survived Hollywood Week's group round from doing what they could to position themselves for an eventual win by making it, at the very least, into the top 20 women -- on a night the guys would suffer cuts too.
Solo night for "the ladies," as the show calls them when it's not calling them "the girls," saw some standout performances:
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Angela Miller's performance of an original song, on which she accompanied herself on the piano, opened the show. It was about the baggage we all carry, she explained, and was called "You Set Me Free." Randy Jackson couldn't stop saying "really" and "wow," and Keith Urban's face said what he later put into words: If she recorded the song right now, he'd surely be grooving to it in his car. The judges all gave Miller a standing ovation. And after Miller had left, Nicki Minaj, who had told her she'd made her mark with her "amazing" performance, said, "That's a top 40 song."
Candice Glover also earned a "wow" or two from Jackson and appreciative faces from Urban with her take on Alicia Keys' "Girl on Fire." "Well done, Candice," Urban said. "I really like her," Minaj added.
Janelle Arthur continued her streak of solidly understated country performances, singing "I Told You So." "I love that you always keep it subtle," Minaj said after repeating "Janelle" too many times to count. She called Arthur a "country superstar." It's Arthur's third season trying to make it all the way to the live rounds on "Idol." Perhaps the third time will be the charm.
Also separating herself from the crowd was Zoanette Johnson, though perhaps not in a good way. Stripping down to a leather bustier on top, Johnson sang a nonsensically named song she'd made up onstage the day before -- or perhaps (more likely) improvised right on the spot. She also accompanied herself on drums and at one point lost a drumstick. Mariah Carey observed that the performance probably would long be remembered, and Minaj was even more enthusiastic. "I am bowing down at your feet today," she told Johnson. "I am honored to be part of 'Idol' this year, just to say that I was a part of the Zoanette era."
Shubha Vedula performed Whitney Houston's and Mariah Carey's "When You Believe," a song choice Urban called "brave ... and rightly so." Carey, apparently moved, thanked her for singing it. Juliana Chahayed also got props from the judges for her song choice, Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide."
After a slew of serious songs, Melinda Ademi lit up the stage, prompting Urban to call her performance "effortless" and "energetic." And Kree Harrison staked her claim by singing "Stars" by Grace Potter, which she said reminded her of her mother, who died when she was 19. (Her father died in a plane crash when she was 12.) Urban got goosebumps and disclosed that he had repeatedly fought for the judges to keep Harrison around, since she had one of his favorite voices in the competition, but it sounds like Urban can rest a bit easier. Both Carey and Minaj praised Harrison's authentic, genuine vibe and the purity of her voice. "I feel like today you became a star in front of me," Minaj said.
Ultimately, the judges got it down to 24. Sadly (or not), that didn't include kooky Kez Ban, who finally turned them off with an unimpressive original song, which she called her "very favorite original ever." She accompanied herself on guitar, mostly by knocking on it. Minaj said the judges saluted Kez Ban's "artistry," but then they sent her packing. Turns out, Kez Ban had been only too acutely aware she was a "square peg in a round hole" at "Idol" but had only wanted to make her mom, who loves the show, proud. Aw.
So the final two dozen women were called back to the stage. Three -- Lauren Mink, Holly Marie Miller and Ariel Sprague -- were let go right away. Then Stephanie Schimel and Rachel Hale were asked to sing again with the band. Ultimately, Schimel got the bad news, and Hale, who for once looked more petrified than blissed out, was allowed to remain as part of the top 20.
The 28 remaining guys went through something of the same drill. Adam Sanders and Josh Holliday were asked to sing. Sanders sang a Celine Dion song, but not very well. And Holliday put so much into his performance of "Georgia on My Mind," he split his white pants right down the inseam. Poor dude! "We won't forget that one," Minaj observed.
But Holliday's pants-ripping performance paid off. Sanders, not he, was asked to step forward and join seven others -- Peter Garrett, Marvin Calderon, Devon Jones, Kenny Harrison, Will White, Tony Foster and (oh no -- not again!) David Leathers Jr. -- also leaving the competition.
Next week: Vegas, where the top 40 will perform a sudden-death round in front of a live audience.
What do you think of the top 40?