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February 18, 2009
'American Idol': Who will be the first to crack the Top 12?


Last night's first round of live competition on "American Idol" featured 12 of the 36 finalists (six guys, six girls) singing for the first time for the fans' votes. On tonight's elimination show (8 p.m. on Channel 40), the top male vote-getter, the top female vote-getter and the next in line (either gender) will make up the first three of the elite Top 12.

Got that?

It sounds complicated but, as far as Tuesday night's performances went, nerves and (natch) bad song selection made for an easy vote - unless "Idol" fans are rebelling against good singing.

Alexis Grace, (pictured) 21, of Memphis is my top pick for the girl to make it through. Her rendition of "Never Loved a Man" was soulful and sultry and she's a natural with the camera.

New judge Kara DioGuardi said Alexis "released something inside. You're a new girl!"

Simon Cowell said she was the best contestant by a mile.

"You remind us of someone else who performed eight years ago by the name of Kelly Clarkson," he quipped. "You're definitely one to watch. The darkhorse."

Sentimental favorite guy Danny Gokey, 28, from Milwaukee, is my pick for the male to advance. His version of the Mariah Carey hit "Hero" was called "stellar" by Paula Abdul. And, because Danny sang last, Randy Jackson hailed him as the "redeemer of the night."

That's because the other 10 contestants were, well, pretty much a mediocre mess. In some cases a singing train wreck. Song choice slayed some singers who might otherwise have had a shot: Jackie Tohn ("A Little Less Conversation"- Elvis Presley). Stevie Wright ("You Belong With Me" - Taylor Swift), Casey Carlson ("Every Little Thing You Do" - the Police), Stephen Fowler ("Rock With You" - Michael Jackson) and even Anoop Desai ("Angel of Mine" - Monica) were blasted for their choice of songs and even arrangements.

Ricky Braddy, 26, of Elizabeth City, N.C., got very little face time during the auditions and Hollywood Week. Last night, he tackled Leon Russell's "Song For You." The judges liked the vocals but thought he lacked charisma. Guys like Brent Keith, 29, and Michael Sarver, 27, got stuck in the country music genre and failed to demonstrate versatility. And Ann Marie Boskovich, 22, got one of the first seasonal Simon jabs after singing "Natural Woman."

"It would work if we were searching for the best hotel singer in California," he said. "Your voice is not good enough for that song. It was irrelevant."

And then there was the laugh-track nightmare that is Tatiana Del Toro, 24, of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Either the show was doling out mood suppressors or Tatiana has a twin because the girl who sang last night was not the same "roller-coaster ride" we've all experienced. So said judge Kara.

When Tatiana said she was singing Whitney Houston's "Saving All My Love for You," (in a flowing caftan no less), I was sure the judges would eviscerate her. But they were more concerned that the long-lived drama queen had bitten the dust.

That said, we could be in for a shock and see Tatiana as the third winner tonight. Stay tuned!

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