After seven audition cities, several hundred golden tickets, and approximately five billion renditions of “Jar of Hearts,” American Idol Season 12 is down to its final 20 men and 20 women. One of these people is going to be, at the very least, the next Lee DeWyze. Prepare yourselves.
Looking at our list of the top 40, this season’s publicity tilt towards the ladies, and completely unsubtle urging of the first female winner in six years, really stands out. More women than men have gotten the full Idol pimp treatment of being seen in the audition round and in both days of Hollywood. Of course, the voters will have their say as they always do, and it will be no shock whatsoever if a male we’ve barely seen so far ends up as our champ.
But Idol desperately does not want that to happen. Before we could meet the final 40, the 47 femmes who survived group night in Hollywood still had their final solos; and the producers crammed the three women who have been edited as being “the best” into the first dozen minutes of the show. This sort of heavy-handedness has been known to backfire before, and surely will again unless Idol pumps the brakes a little.
That opening segment of Thursday’s show did one important thing, however: it established Angela Miller (above) as the singer to beat in Season 12. The teaser at the end of Wednesday showed Angela at the piano and promised something special, and while this may never happen again, this one time at least, Idol delivered on its promise. Angela performed a song she had recently written called “You Set Me Free,” and while the lyrics weren’t too far beyond cliché, it was a remarkable effort for an 18-year-old. More importantly, Angela completely embodied the lyrics, giving a performance that seemed pro level (it was so good, I have to wonder if it was tweaked in post-production to give it a little more punch).
I agree with what Nicki Minaj said here: Angela began the night as someone who would probably make the finals, but hadn’t really stood out as something new and exciting. Now, she seems like a star already. Also: while her songwriting ability will be of little obvious use going forward, that and her piano playing will tend to mark her as an “artist” as opposed to the other mere “singers” – an image that our recent white-guy-with-guitar winners have all benefited from.
The other female frontrunners immediately followed Angela. Candice Glover did her best to breathe some life into the one recent song I’d really like to kill off, Alicia Keys’s “Girl on Fire.” It’s a credit to her talent that she made me not hate it so much, but Candice could eventually suffer from the Melinda Doolittle problem – being so uniformly awesome that she can never get credit for “growth.” Janelle Arthur, making her third trip to Hollywood, followed in an Idol champ’s footsteps with “I Told You So,” and while she’s never really captivating to me, she comes across as a fully-formed country warbler already, complete with “the Look.”
Also in this group: the possibly insane Zoanette Johnson. Her getting sent to Hollywood to begin with came across as a bunch of tired judges in Oklahoma City saying “What the hell, why not, she’ll be fun,” but every time she’s on that stage, she’s making enough of an impression that she’s been impossible to cut. What would she do for her final solo, her one big chance, her make it or break it shot? She got behind the drum kit, gave some instructions to the band, and grunted out what seemed to be a completely improvised series of observations about her time in Hollywood. Its title, and my spelling may not be exactly correct here, was “Ba Ba Dah Ba Buh.”Was it great singing? Well, no. Was it entertaining? Oh my, yes. For a minute or so, Idol seemed legitimately dangerous in a way it hasn’t been since Paula Abdul tried to speak without a script that one time. She’s obviously there for comic relief, but while a lot of people will disagree with me on this, what’s the harm in keeping her around?
Jett Hermano, who has been in the background throughout Hollywood (she was part of the terrible “American Boy” group on Wednesday), also moved forward out of this first group, and towards an almost certain early elimination. The odds might be a little better for 15-year-old Juliana Chahayed, who we hadn’t heard sing till now. Her version of “Landslide” was quite good, and though she doesn’t have the prodigy feel of a Jessica Sanchez, I think viewers might be protective of her.
They keep showing us enough of teen Shubha Vedula to keep us intrigued, without beating us over the head. More than anyone else this season, she’s been clearly influenced by Mariah Carey and her main imitator Christina Aguilera, and while that’s never been my favorite type of Idol contestant, she’s definitely a fine example of the breed. Mariah was charmed by Shubha’s version of “When You Believe,” the duet hit for the judge and Whitney Houston.
With one eccentric already through in Zoanette, would fellow weirdo Kez Ban join her? Kez was charming in her audition with “I’ve Got No Strings” and a neat original, but on this night, she either badly misjudged the caliber of her new song or simply had a shot voice from the exertions of Hollywood. She called the song “my very favorite original ever,” but it wasn’t any good and wasn’t sung well. Nicki curtly said “we appreciate your artistry” before announcing she was done. Kez admitted she had only auditioned to please her mother, but in the end, she finally seemed to warm up to Idol. “I’m very sad to leave this family so soon,” she said, before asking Ryan Seacrest, aka The Most Powerful Man in Show Business, to give her a job on the crew.
Ashlee Feliciano, the very likable young woman with the big foster family we saw in the New York audition, appeared to get sick at exactly the wrong time. Or maybe it was just that “A Thousand Years” was a boring song choice, one that couldn’t be saved by a strange falsetto run at the end (Christina Perri and Gotye: the dual bad luck charms of Season 12). She wouldn’t make it through this round. Others cut at the last second who we didn’t hear sing this night were Kiara Lanier and, shockingly, Briana Oakley, who had seemed so strong the night before. Briana might be a contender to win a future Idol season, if she doesn’t get a better offer in the meantime.
Melinda Ademi received praise for a rarity at this stage: an uptempo number, Jessie J’s “Price Tag.” She was smart to avoid a ballad that might have exposed her, because she seems limited to me. Melinda moved on, surpassing her effort of two seasons ago, when she got some audition love due to her family background (they were refugees from Kosovo).
The last featured singer was Kree Harrison, who has attracted some buzz from those whose job it is to buzz about Idol even though we didn’t see her until Wednesday, when she was shown briefly in her group. The judges have been skeptical of her star potential (Randy Jackson even voted no in her audition), and you can see why: she’s 22 but comes across as older, as introspective and not at all girly. Losing both parents before she turned 20 has apparently given a melancholy tone to her music, but needing a big effort at the end, Kree connected with a powerful “Stars” (Grace Potter’s songs are getting a big boost from this season’s contestants, which I applaud). Keith Urban is obviously behind her, but she’s going to need to pick the right song every single week.
So what became of some others who we saw audition and never again? The adorably old-fashioned Isabelle Parell, or the cute frog-gigger Ja’Bria Barber, or the jazzy sailor girl Jesaiah Baer, or Georgia nominee Isabel Gonzalez? Somewhere along the line, they went home without a trace, though all are teens and could easily return.
With 24 ladies making it to this point, it was time for more cuts. Lauren Mink (who went to Hollywood last year) and Ariel Sprague (who nearly made the Season 11 top 24) were cruelly trimmed here. The battle for the last spot came down to Stephanie Schimel and her bad makeup job vs. Rachel Hale, the Arkansas spitfire who I’ve been high on, but who apparently went off course with a ballad on her earlier solo. Rachel’s last chance solo on a Haley Reinhart song was still not up to her best, but she easily outperformed Stephanie, who made Phillip Phillips’s “Home” sound like a girlish seduction number. The only question here was whether the show was worried that another country-ish singer might steal votes from Janelle. Answer: I guess not.
Finally, it was time to pick up where we left off with the guys, who were standing at 28 last Thursday. The judges asked to hear from two singers at this point. Adam Sanders had seemed like a shoo-in when we saw his audition, but he had been getting more inconsistent; and his final song, Celine Dion’s “Taking Chances,” was a screeching, horrific disaster. Adam was pitted against would-be gospel singer Josh Holiday, who did a Vegas-y “Georgia on my Mind” that will only be remembered because of the huge rip in his pants that emerged when he went into a crouch. What would his church say about pants that tight?
Adam ended up leaving here with the cut to 20. The only other well-known wannabe to depart one step from glory was David Leathers Jr., who was literally one contestant away from making the final 24 a season ago. He sounded discouraged, and considering he’s losing his cheek-pinching cuteness and his higher voice in a hurry, it’s possible he’s peaked. Oh, to be over the hill at 18.
Here are the 40 singers moving on to Las Vegas, and the first performances before a real audience (still no public voting yet, though).
- Adriana Latonio, 17, Anchorage, AK
- Amber Holcomb, 18, Houston
- Angela Miller, 18, Beverly, MA
- Aubrey Cleland, 19, West Linn, OR
- Brandy Hotard, 26, Port Allen, LA
- Breanna Steer, 18, La Place, LA
- Bridget (“Jett”) Hermano, 25, Seattle
- Candice Glover, 23, St. Helena Island, SC
- Cristabel Clack, 29, San Antonio
- Isabelle (Pasqualone), 22, Duluth, GA
- Janelle Arthur, 23, Oliver Springs, TN
- Jenny Beth Willis, 17, Owensboro, NY
- Juliana Chahayed, 15, Woodland Hills, CA
- Kamaria Ousley, 29, Oakland, CA
- Kree Harrison, 22, Nashville
- Melinda Ademi, 19, Yonkers, NY
- Rachel Hale, 21, Prescott, AR
- Shubha Vedula, 17, Mt. Pleasant, MI
- Tenna Torres, 28, Queens, NY
- Zoanette Johnson, 20, Tulsa, OK
- Bryant Tadeo, 23, Hilo, HI
- Burnell Taylor, 19, New Orleans
- Charlie Askew, 17, Little Rock, AR
- Chris Watson, 25, Fords, NJ
- Cortez Shaw, 21, Dallas
- Curtis Finch Jr., 24, St. Louis
- David Willis, 21, Mount Dora, FL
- Devin Velez, 18, Chicago
- Elijah Liu, 18, Rowland Heights, CA
- Gurpreet Singh Sarin, 22, North Potomac, MD
- Jimmy Smith, 25, Waynesboro, TN
- Johnny Keyser, 24, Pompano Beach, FL
- Josh Davila (“JDA”), 27, Chicago
- Josh Holiday, 24, Celeste, TX
- Kevin Harris, 28, Montgomery, AL
- Lazaro Arbos, 21, Naples, FL
- Mathenee Treco, 26, Aurora, CO
- Nick Boddington, 27, Memphis
- Paul Jolley, 22, Palmersville, TN
- Vincent Powell, 29, Austin, TX