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When Zoanette Johnson first auditioned for American Idol with a wacky cover of the national anthem and a demand to be invited to the White House, befuddled viewers were shocked to see she earned a golden ticket.
She then stunned audiences with a frenzied improvised song behind a drum kit during Hollywood Week.
Still, could anybody have predicted what happened during Wednesday night’s American Idol sudden death round at the Cirque du Soleil theater in Las Vegas? With host Ryan Seacrest announcing that the show would be “doubling down,” the Fox singing competition continued its search for the next five singers to complete its top 10 batch of female semifinalists, which so far includes Angela Miller, Tenna Torres, Kree Harrison, Adriana Lotario and Amber Holcomb.
For most of the pre-taped show, viewers were treated to a typical night of maudlin ballads with very few upbeat moments. That is, until Johnson stepped forward and belted “The Circle of Life” from The Lion King. With her golden wig teased like a lion’s mane, a pre-packaged video was shown in which she discussed her Liberian descent and her desire for a star to rise out of the African country. The 20-year old Oklahoma health care specialist’s eclectic delivery of the Disney song officially catapulted the show into the “Zoanette Era” as both she and NickI Minaj got teary-eyed.
And just like that, Johnson is in the top 20 and a heartbeat away from making the final 10 as the show prepares to air live voting shows next month.
Make no mistake, Johnson is clearly a polarizing contestant. Half of the audience will likely embrace her zany artistry while the other half will question the judges’ decision to keep her in the competition. Randy Jackson already suggested that he knew the audience was doing this—and the results of a non-scientific Twitter poll shared on the Idol website revealed that 70 percent of the audience disagreed with the judges. But one thing is clear. She is not the kind of performer viewers will soon forget.
“It’s almost like your spirit is too big to be contained,” said Mariah Carey. “That is what you wanted to give everyone tonight.”
And once again, Minaj nailed it when she told Johnson, “You’re the person we are going to remember after tonight.”
Also through to the next round: Candice Glover, whose version of “(You Make Me Feel) Like a Natural Woman” caused Minaj to question last year’s panel of expert’s mental state when it denied the South Carolina soul singer advancement. (How fun was it watching Jackson try to squirm out of that one by praising Glover’s increase in confidence?)
Aubrey Cleland, a gorgeous girl who bravely took on Beyonce’s “Sweet Dreams,” sealed the deal with a beautiful falsetto and a stage presence that Minaj is “obsessed” with. “For the first time, somebody came out here looking like a current artist, sounding like one, feeling like one,” she said. Carey, who looked absolutely stunning herself, correctly called Cleland “limitless.” Minaj charmingly delivered the news that Cleland had made it to the next round, saying if she had her way she would put the contestant through. “Oh, look at that! I am having my way today!” Cute!
Did you all get a chance to check out the heels on Breanna Steer? They were to high heaven. Anyhoo, Steer, who Minaj dubbed “sexy on a stick,” gave the show a much needed lift with her sultry and playful take on “Bust Your Windows” by Jazmine Sullivan (whom Idol fans may remember had another one of her songs—“Stuttering”—covered by Jessica Sanchez last season). Jackson loved the drama and said he would sign her immediately. Keith Urban said he believed that she is the kind of girl that would “bust the windows of my caaaaaahhhh.” It’s interesting that the voting for her was three to one. I wonder who voted against her?
A decision that will most likely be debated Thursday was the one to keep Janelle Arthur despite her lackluster delivery of “Just a Kiss” by Lady Antebellum. It’s clear the judges want to keep giving her a shot, as this is her third go-round on the show. The judges acknowledged that it wasn’t her best performance. Minaj said the whole thing “fell flat” and Urban was disappointed that she chose a song meant for more than one singer, but she was still given a pass.
That said, did she deserve to advance past Rachel Hale, who came out swinging with a harp (paging Taylor Hicks) and a bluesy rendering of Grace Potter & the Nocturnals’ “Nothing but the Water?” Minaj was happy that her confidence shined through, but Carey expressed concern that it didn’t add up to other songs she had done in the competition. If only we had heard those, we would have known what she meant by that.
Also eliminated was Melinda Ademi, who opened in the regrettable first spot with Jessie J’s “Nobody’s Perfect,” which unfortunately was expertly covered by Miller last week.
Raspy-voiced worship leader Cristabel Clack had a unique tone on “No One” by Alicia Keys, but was greeted by an underwhelmed Minaj and a backhanded compliment by Carey, who applauded the background singers. Not a good sign, and she was summarily dismissed.
Jett Hermano tried to slow down the tempo of “Only Girl in the World” by Rihanna on the piano, but was done in by the “climax that never came,” according to Minaj.
We also said goodbye to “celestial” (nice word, Mariah!) guitarist Juliana Chahayed, who didn’t have luck with her earthy take of X Factor judge Demi Lovato’s “Skyscraper.” Maybe she can try her act out on The Voice next year.
Of note: The judges did not need Jimmy Iovine as a tie-breaker.
What do you think Worshippers? Are you ready for the “Zoanette Era” or do you think the judges are nuts?
Twitter: @Idol_Worship; @Michele_Amabile
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