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They say anything can happen on live television, and never was that old adage more apt than it was this Tuesday—and not just because judge Nicki Minaj complimented busty contestant Tenna Torres’s cleavage on the air (a bold move that would make even flirty old man Steven Tyler blanch), or because she told the viewing public that another contestant, Kree Harrison, was her "wife." No, the most unpredictable part of “American Idol’s” first live episode of the season actually came during its first five minutes, courtesy of—who else?—zany Zoanette Johnson.
Tuesday’s top 10 girls show opened with Zoanette, the wild lion queen of Season 12, so of course it was time to expect the unexpected, no matter what. But c'mon, even with that being said, I had at least expected Zoanette to remember her lyrics.
At the start of the show, Zoanette, resplendent in a new Ronald-McDonald-red wig, strutted out singing Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got To Do With It.” At least I think that's what she was singing. Honestly, I'm not even sure if she knew what she was singing. While the Tina classic should have been the perfect showcase for Zoanette’s natural fire and funk, she unfortunately turned the tune into “What’s Words Got To Do With It,” mangling the verses beyond recognition and sounding even less coherent than she had during her infamous Hollywood Week improv.
Wow. Just wow. I’d witnessed similarly egregious acts of lyric-flubbing during earlier phases of the competition—I still wake up with night sweats from bad dreams about the horrific performance by the Turbanator’s B Side during this season’s group rounds—but not at this crucial stage of the game. A performance like this in the TOP TWENTY live semifinals? This truly was bizarre.
Zoanette’s ridiculously mushmouthed, seemingly unrehearsed performance will most likely be her undoing, since she was polarizing to begin with and she got the “death spot” this week, singing first. You see, this is the week that America’s voters, not the judges, will finally start making the decisions, and it seems pretty improbable that viewers will be as forgiving as judges Keith Urban and Mariah Carey were this Tuesday. (Keith and Mariah oddly didn’t mention Zoanette’s lyrical memory lapses at all, and instead gently, somewhat passive-aggressively called her “interesting,” “special,” “exhibitionistic,” and, um, “a bundle of festivities.”) Randy Jackson and Nicki Minaj were more brutal—Randy told Zoanette, “That was a MESS, babe,” and Nicki, usually Zoanette’s most vocal cheerleader, told her, “You know I love you, but that wasn’t it. You gotta really be on key and stuff.” (Editor’s note: And remember lyrics and stuff, too.)
Nicki did add, “I still am rooting for you!”...but I doubt voters will be rooting for Zoanette, after this disaster.
It’s really a shame; I was actually rooting for Zoanette after her show-closing “Circle Of Life”/Lion King tour de force last week, which I believe won over many doubters (including myself), at least temporarily. Miss Z was fun, free, fearless, and on a show of blandly pretty cookie-cutter balladeers, she was EXCITING. She stood out, wig-topped head and shoulders, above everyone else. But now it seems that Zoanette's head is on the “Idol” chopping block. We’ll find out for sure this Thursday, when the votes are tallied and this season’s top 10 finalists (five girls, five boys) are announced. But I suspect this lion queen's reign will come to an end that evening.
But who else is at risk this week? That’s a much tougher prediction, since out of the 10 female contestants who performed on Tuesday, at least seven of them were strong contenders. Maybe this really is a “girls’ season to lose,” as Randy declared. (Side note: I could not believe that Randy actually claimed, with a straight face, that he “hadn’t said that in a long time.” He said that last season. He said that last week!) Really, anyone other than Zoanette—maybe even poor little Adriana Latonio, who had a rough night—has a shot of making the top 10.
Let’s run down the other nine performances, and separate the women from the girls and the maybes from the sure things:
Breanna Steer – Breanna’s cover of Beyonce’s “Flaws And All” wasn’t as fierce and swaggy as her “Bust Your Windows” triumph last week—at times it just seemed like a really good Bey impersonation, which Keith later pointed out when he told her, “There’s already a Beyonce; I want to know who Breanna is.” But Breanna was sexy, and current, and not at all “pageanty,” an unfortunate adjective that would be used to describe a couple less interesting girls later in the night. Keith praised Breanna’s “tremendous control and beautiful poise.” Mariah loved the “raw and real song choice.” Nicki and Randy, quickly shaping up to be the meaner half of the judging panel’s good cop/good cop/bad cop/bad cop act, were less impressed. “I think that song was so wrong for you. You sounded like you were straining throughout the song,” said Nicki. “I was looking for more big moments; I liked it, but I wasn’t jumping up and down. It was a little safe,” said Randy. I think Breanna is one of the on-the-fence contestants this week. If she makes it through, she needs to bust out more feisty performances like “Bust Your Windows" going forward.
Aubrey Cleland – I find Aubrey a little dull and (wait for it) pageanty myself. “I just have to show more of my personality,” she told Ryan Seacrest backstage, ironically sounding like a personality-free Stepford Child. But, the girl can sing, and she’s pretty. And that will probably be enough—at least enough to get her to the top 10. Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry” was a smart song choice that fit her sweet image, and Keith said he could hear her personality in her performance. “But I wish the song allowed you to soar more at the end,” he lamented. Nicki basically loved it, and loved Aubrey, though she advised Aubrey to hold the mic a little further away from her mouth, which didn’t sound like a compliment to me. Randy compared Aubrey to “Rihanna when she’s in her tender moments”—which also didn’t sound like a compliment, although he apparently meant it as one. Mariah was the most effusive, saying, “There’s something very current and very infectious about you that I really like. You so obviously have multiplatinum potential.” Aubrey almost seems like a lock for the top 10, but “Idol” voters have been known to shut out too-pretty, too-sweet girls before, so we shall see.
Janelle Arthur – Janelle, a three-time “Idol” hopeful, seemed to blow her third shot at TV stardom last week when her cover of Lady Antebellum’s “Just A Kiss” fell completely flat and received some of the judges’ harshest critiques of the night. If America had been voting last week, Janelle would probably already be gone. But the judges, based on Janelle’s overall impressive body of work this season, put her through anyway—at the expense of some other girls who’d performed better that night—giving her the benefit of the doubt. Thankfully, Janelle took advantage of the opportunity and really rebounded this week with her lovely performance of Elvis Presley’s “If I Can Dream,” a song that allowed her voice to go to places that “Just A Kiss” did not. “I’m so glad America gets to vote now, because you give me a very ‘America’s sweetheart’ type of thing,” said Mariah. “I love that you have this really classic country voice and you blend it with some modern vocal runs. Great song, and a really good performance,” raved Keith. “That’s my girl! You’re back! You are a little marshmallow that I wanna eat! Best vocal of the night so far. I think the sky’s the limit for you,” proclaimed Nicki in about three different accents. Randy praised Janelle’s “old throwback voice” and even compared her to the late, great Patsy Cline. (Incidentally, Tuesday was the 50th anniversary of Patsy’s tragic death. R.I.P.) I would not put Janelle in the same esteemed company as Patsy, at least not yet. But this was solid. However, it may not have been enough to get her into the top 10, unless America votes for TWO country girls, because later in the night there was another, even more amazing country performance that really upped the ante and changed the game.
Tenna Torres – Last week, I thought Tenna was the weakest link among the 10 girls who were picked for the live voting rounds, but this week she impressed me a bit more. I appreciated that she put an R&B spin on a country song (Faith Hill’s “Lost Lyrics”), and so did this season’s resident country judge, Keith, who said: “I love that you did a Faith Hill song. It’s a big thing, tackling a song like that, and I think you did a really good job.” However, Keith pointed out that the camera distracted Tenna sometimes, and warned her, “Don’t let the camera pull you off the emotion.” Nicki complimented Tenna’s hair (a big improvement over her matronly Stacy Francis ‘do last time) and her “boobs,” then told her: “I don’t know if your personality jumps out.” (But apparently something else jumps out, amirite? Heh.) Randy and Mariah were the most pleased with Tenna. Said Randy: “You took on this song, and you had to make it your own. I liked the restraint; you gave it just enough. Sometimes these songs can be oversung, and you didn’t do that." (Ironic, coming from a man who constantly craves more big runs and “moments,” but hey, consistent critiques have never been Randy’s strong suit.) “I love you, and I hope America loves you too,” gushed Mariah. I think America will like Tenna, but I doubt viewers will love her enough to keep her around for another week.
Angie Miller – Apparently it’s “Angie” now, not Angela. Okay, then. I missed that memo. But what's in a name? Whatever name she goes by, Angie sounds just as sweet. Taking on “Never Gone,” a CCM ballad by last season's seventh-place piano man Colton Dixon, Angie returned to her own piano to do what she did best, and she gave an authentic and emotionally rousing performance. It sounded like she could have written this song herself. “When you play the piano, that’s when I hear the real Angie. People know they’re watching a true artist,” said Keith. “America, a star is born on that stage, right there. She’s going places!” said Randy. “I was so happy to see you back at the piano. All of us were blown away,” said Mariah. “It’s safe to say that there’s one vote that’s already accounted for. Can I just get your album? Can [producer] Nigel [Lythgoe] just let you off ‘Idol’ so you can make an album?” said Nicki. I’m pretty sure Nigel said no. This show needs Angie. And Angie ain't going nowhere, because she really is a lock for the top 10.
Amber Holcomb – Amber once again gave viewers some J.Hud realness. Her song choice, Whitney Houston’s “I Believe In You And Me,” was disappointing in its predictability, but she managed to make it enjoyable, because she performed it with such ease and grace. Why were the judges always saying that Amber suffers from some supposed lack of confidence? I never saw any insecurity from this girl. At least now the judges were willing to admit that Amber had arrived. “Good Lord, what a perfect song for you,” said Keith, who apparently hasn’t watched “Idol” enough to know how overdone Whitney covers really are on this show. “You had no shortage of confidence, and rightfully so.” Nicki called it a “10 billion katrillion gabillion [dollar] performance.” Randy told Amber she was "in it to win it," dusting off his tired old catchphrase from Season 10. “You are one of my favorite people in this whole competition,” said Mariah. Will Amber be one of America’s favorites? Probably—she should be, at least—but I’m not sure if she’s a shoo-in for the top 10. However, Randy hinted that Wild Cards may be used this season (contrary to previous reports), and if that happens, and Amber doesn’t get through on public votes alone, then I am sure there’ll be a Wild Card with her name on it.
Kree Harrison – For me (for me for you for me), the best vocal of Tuesday night was Kree’s. Her performance—also of a Faith Hill song, “Stronger,” although a more straight-up country version—was a revelation. What a VOICE! What chops! What emotion! What passion, paired with such seeming effortlessness! Color me all shades of impressed. This girl proved once again that she is the real deal, with raw talent. Keith gave Kree a standing ovation and compared her to all the country greats, from the aforementioned Patsy Cline to “Idol's” own country queen, Carrie Underwood. Randy praised Kree’s “natural gift” and surprisingly huge range. Nicki called Kree her “wife,” and then the two adorably bantered in fake British accents, which let Kree show off her big personality behind her big voice. And then Mariah told Kree that she could get a record deal the old-fashioned way, without “Idol,” and just “make an album and call it a day.” Hey, did you notice that was the second time on this episode that a judge told a contestant she didn’t even need “Idol” (the other time being when Nicki mock-begged for Angie to be let off the show and fast-tracked to the studio)? Hmmm. Interesting.
Adriana Latonio – Adriana was a breakout of the top 40 Vegas rounds, surprising everyone with a great out-of-nowhere performance after receiving little previous screentime. But this week, the element of surprise was gone, as she delivered a deadly-dull pageant performance while dressed in a catalog prom dress. It was just so forgettable, especially up against such stellar performances by Kree, Amber, and Angie. Adriana did Destiny’s Child’s “Stand Up For Love,” but no one was giving her a standing ovation after that. “I’m a little nervous about that song choice for you, in the midst of everything we’ve been hearing,” admitted Keith. “It was just very safe. It really was pageanty. You needed to come out here and slay it, and you didn’t do that,” shrugged Randy. “I would suggest you work a little bit and come back next year,” said Nicki, obviously unaware that contestants are not allowed to compete again on “Idol” once they’ve made it to the public voting rounds. Oh well. There’s always “The X Factor,” I suppose.
Candice Glover – Thankfully, there was one more performance left, so that the episode would not end on a bummer note (no pun intended), and Candice was just the right woman to close the show. Her cover of John Legend’s “Ordinary People” was far from ordinary; it was exquisite, and it had the perfect blend of old and new that could appeal to voters of all demographics. “You have this old soul thing, but you sound so current. Tonight was superb, baby,” said Keith. “That was ridiculous, because you sang notes people don’t even understand. You’re one of the best singers in this whole competition,” said Randy. “Thank you for that performance, and for sharing your gift with us,” said Mariah. Nicki, at a very rare and possibly unprecedented loss for words, merely saluted. And she’ll be saluting next week, too, because there’s no way Candice is not making it through.
So now, it is prediction time. Although anything can happen in television, as I’ve already pointed out way back in this article's first paragraph, it seems likely that the five contestants advancing to the top 10 will be Angie Miller, Kree Harrison, Aubrey Cleland, Janelle Arthur, and Candice Glover, with Breanna Steer and (hopefully) Amber Holcomb having good chances of pulling off a minor upset. I think the only foolproof prediction I can make, for sure, is that this week will be the last week for Tenna, Adriana, and—barring any VoteForTheWorst.com shenanigans—Zoanette.
But before we find out the girls’ fate, we have to do this all over again Wednesday night with the top 10 boys. See you then, and until then...Parker out.