‘American Idol’ top 12 girls: the rise of Hollie Cavanagh, Shannon Magrane

Hollie (and her accent) rocked the night.

After watching an uneven live show on “American Idol” with the top 13 boys, we really didn’t know what to expect from the ladies. Ryan Seacrest was front and center this week from the get-go, though, reminding us that it has been FIVE YEARS since we have seen a female winner. Translation — producers really want a woman to win this season.

The problem we were having going into this show is that while the guys have Heejun Han and Phillip Phillips, there’s really no woman on this season who is getting the sort of buzz we saw from Crystal Bowersox and Lauren Alaina at this point in their seasons. Translation here? There is a serious need for someone to step it up.

Thankfully, more of a few of them did — and may even rival Joshua Ledet at the top of our rankings when we post them this weekend.

Chelsea Sorrell – The country girl with the smallest amount of airtime out of all the country stars hit the stage first, and she started things out by practicing the dance moves that she learned apparently from watching Lauren last season.

As for her rendition of Carrie Underwood’s “Cowboy Casanova,” we could take it or leave it. It was like someone with a little bit of music experience jumping up and singing at a line-dancing club. It just felt karaoke, and there was nothing original about it at all.

Erika Van Pelt – This was someone we were excited to see on the show this week. Minus a rather dreadful performance during the Green Mile, we’ve loved everything Erika has done this season. Thankfully, the Green Mile Erika did not show up this time.

While we are nervous about her going so early in the show — and we wish that she had held some notes longer before the last one — Erika gave a pitch-perfect rendition of “What About Love” that showed that her voice is even more “beautiful” than Steven Tyler tells just about every contestant on this show.

How did Jen do?

Jen Hirsh – In this modern day and age, even trying to tackle Adele is an achievement in itself. If you fail at it, you fail spectacular. (Ask Eben Franckewitz.) Thankfully, our daughter of wine makers (is it wrong that this makes us think of “The Bachelor” now?) did not disappoint with either her vocals and her performance style.

For the first time during the night, we really enjoyed a performance here that felt like something more than just a cover. The thing that we loved almost as much as her performance? The goofy dance she busted out when Ryan was giving out phone numbers.

Interjection – Randy Jackson admits that the judges were too nice on the boys! It finally happened!

Brielle Von Hugel – Brielle has the hardest road to staying in the competition. Why? Her mom comes across as one of the angry moms from “Toddlers & Tiaras,” and somewhere Kyle Crews is probably throwing tomatoes at his TV as Brielle says that she wants to just “inspire people.”

But enough about why you shouldn’t vote for Brielle. In reality, her performance of “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” was not terrible. She hit the right notes, performed pretty well, and then Randy proceeded to follow up his claim that the judges were too nice with comparing Brielle to Janis Joplin. Ugh.

Hallie Day – We weren’t sure how to feel about Hallie going into this show, mostly because she has been a ghost pretty much since her opening audition. We like her story of struggle, and how she now relies on her boyfriend for emotional support. We also like her voice, even if Hallie’s rendition of “Feelin’ Good” did not bring anything new to the pantheon of covers.

The one thing that Hallie needs to work on is trying to improve her stage demeanor just a little bit much. She comes across like someone who doesn’t smile much, and while this is fine for everyday life “Idol” voters typically opt for the smiling kiddies over more serious players.

Skylar Laine – What we like about Skylar is despite being only 18 years old, she at least knows how to act on stage. She looked like she was excited to be on stage, and she treated this like it was an actual concert versus just a performance for the judges.

It’s really this sort of attitude on this show that we can get behind — and this is with us being relatively sick of country music on “Idol” after last season along with Chelsea’s from earlier in the night. Of course, Randy spent a good percentage of her critique dropping various names.

Baylie Brown – After seeing all three country singers perform, we officially think that Skylar is the only one worthy of staying for another week. Baylie is a talented singer (we’ve seen it on the show before), but she picked a song in Lonestar’s “Amazed” that perhaps is too close to the hearts of everyone who have ever been to a high school dance in the south in the past ten years.

Baylie was slightly out of tune the entire performance, and she never really figure it out. We were also a little put off by her trying to blame nerves for her errors … just as we were put off by Steven trying to make her feel better about underwhelming by talking about her appearance.

Hollie Cavanagh – Considering that Hollie is from a town that was about thirty minutes from where we grew up, it’s fair to say that we want to root for her and whatever sort of bizarre accent she was rocking out during her introductory package.

We always prefer it when contestants live up to these expectations, and Hollie did in delivering what may be the closest thing the top 25 had at this point in the show. At first, we were worried that this cover of “Reflection” (another song from “The Voice” coaches!) was stuck too far in the past — but then, she picked it up with one powerful note after another.

Haley Johnson – Going into this episode, Haley was one of those people we had on the list of singers that could go far on this show, but it all depended on song choice and whether she gets her personality out there.

Unfortunately, Haley was a bit the victim of her own track this week, as her version of “Sweet Dreams” may be the sleepiest version of the song that we have ever heard. There were some nice moments, but they were mixed in between some flat singing, weird pacing, and runs that didn’t quite work.

We actually appreciated Randy being honest about this performance. For us, part of the problem may be the Kitty Brucknell absolutely slayed this song on “The X Factor” over in Britain last year, and this just didn’t compare.

Shannon shined.

Shannon Magrane – We find it weird and rather hilarious that “Idol” has not let Steven Tyler forget about what he said to Shannon during her audition earlier this year — but it may have been the weirdest transition ever to talk about the Aerosmith rocker calling the teenager “hot,” and then have her go out on stage and sign a contemporary Christian song.

We have a feeling that Shannon is going to be in the competition for a long time. She’s got mainstream appeal, a voice that will make you fall over with excitement, and a personality that is perfect for the TV. Is it too much to ask for people to vote, and for Jennifer Lopez to stop using the word “goosies” in her critiques?

Jessica Sanchez – There’s no question that Jessica is a tremendous singer, and vocally she did more with her song this week than just about everyone else on the show.

If there is anything we are concerned about here, it’s that the same thing bugs us about Jessica that bugged us about Thia Megia last year. She’s already had a major shot courtesy of “America’s Got Talent.” If “Idol” does not allow singers with a major label history on the show, why do they bring people on with reality TV history? We could listen to Jessica’s voice any day, but it still seems a bit like an unfair advantage.

Elise Testone – Two performances of the same Adele song in one night? Was the catalogue really that thin? We’re actually worried about Elise and Jen Hirsh canceling each other out in the vote now since not everyone will remember their two versions of the song.

Like Jen’s, Elise’s performance was strong but not necessarily spectacular. It’s a cut above most of what we have seen in the top 25 … but is having the final spot going to be enough to get her votes in a competitive field?

What did you think about this episode? Take our handy and occasionally witty poll below, and of course check back Thursday for our analysis of the live results show. Our picks? Here’s who we think should advance.

Guys – Joshua Ledet, Phillip Phillips, Heejun Han, Jeremy Rosado, and Creighton Fraker

Girls – Hollie Cavanagh, Skylar Laine, Jessica Sanchez (based on talent), Erika Van Pelt, and Shannon Magrane

Wild cards – Colton Dixon, Elise Testone, Jen Hirsh

Photo: Fox

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