LOS ANGELES — If the "American Idol" judges hold sway over viewers, contestants Katie Stevens, Paige Miles and Katelyn Epperly should be nervous about making it into the top 12.
The three received uniformly negative comments from the judging panel after performing Tuesday night, while the other five female singers all hit high notes.
Stevens' version of "Breakaway" sounded close to karaoke, Randy Jackson said, while fellow judge Kara DioGuardi suggested that the 17-year-old from Middlebury, Conn., does not know herself as an artist yet.
Epperly, 19, of West Des Moines, Iowa, seemed like she was just "going through the motions" on her version of "I Feel the Earth Move," DioGuardi said. Cowell compared her performance to request night at a restaurant, but added that he did like her full, curly locks that evoked the song's composer, Carole King.
Miles, of Houston, sang "Smile" and came in for the harshest drubbing.
Jackson told her the song was "way too big" for her. Ellen DeGeneres said the 24-year-old turned an inspiring song into something sad. DioGuardi added, "They've just said it. It was all wrong."
Miles told the judges that she was overcome by emotion because the song was recorded by a favorite artist, Michael Jackson.
Crystal Bowersox, who took the stage with an electric guitar to belt out Tracy Chapman's "Give Me One Reason," drew nothing but bouquets.
"Love that, love you, love the song, love the honesty," said Jackson.
Simon called the 24-year-old from Elliston, Ohio, "the one everyone has to beat."
Lilly Scott also earned kudos from the judge for her performance of Patsy Cline's "I Fall to Pieces," on which she accompanied herself on a mandolin. But Cowell suggested that her offbeat approach could prove to be a risky one when it comes to viewers and their votes.
Siobhan Magnus, 20, of Marstons Mills, Mass., scored with "House of the Rising Sun" and Lacey Brown, 24, of Amarillo, Texas, did the same with "The Story."
The eight male semifinalists will perform Wednesday (9 p.m. EST), with the top six vote-getters from the men's and women's groups to be announced Thursday.
On Tuesday's show, DeGeneres, who has joked about reports she and Cowell are feuding, provided "Idol" with one of its trademark quirky moments: She sat on Cowell's lap and nuzzled his cheek, making sure the camera caught them.
"Oh, I didn't know we started. I'm so sorry," she said, feigning surprise before slipping back into her seat between Jackson and DioGuardi.
"I liked that," said a smiling Cowell, who has denied any problems between them.
"I think Ellen's taken," host Ryan Seacrest informed him, a reference to her wife, actress Portia de Rossi.