Ten more girls faced sudden-death elimination in Las Vegas last night as American Idol culled its top 40 down to a lean 20.
The first half of the night was filled with solid if not particularly memorable performances by talented singers with bright futures ahead of them. Randy Jackson described the evening's performances as a "mixed bag" verging on "sleepy" while resident optimist Keith Urban applauded the evening's "diversity." Perhaps the biggest surprise was the elimination of Cristabel Clack. The happily married worship leader belted out Alicia Keys' "No One" so well that Randy gave her standing ovation. While in other seasons of Idol, her performance would have guaranteed her a slot in the top 20, it wasn't enough to keep her safe this year.
Things perked up in the second hour, when singer after singer wowed the judges with stellar performances, culminating in Zoanette Johnson's eye-opening version of "The Circle of Life." Yes, the song from The Lion King. Ryan Seacrest called Zoanette "unique," but that was undoubtedly a euphemism for "completely bonkers," a reputation she lived up to by belting out the song complete with the opening yell, which may never have been performed on Idol before. Nicki Minaj, Keith and Randy were on their feet at the end of the simultaneously bewildering and impressive performance, while Mariah Carey declared to Zoanette, "Your spirit is too big to be contained!" The performance was certainly memorable, but it will be interesting to see what America will make of Zoanette. Luckily, America will have their chance to vote (or not) for her, because she is in the top 20.
Here's what else happened last night on American Idol:
Nicki thanked Aubrey Cleland after a string of so-so singers sent the judge into her own personal Twilight Zone. Aubrey was the first artist to unite the judges as a certain yes. However they couldn't agree on whether or not Beyoncé's "Sweet Dreams (Beautiful Nightmare)" was the right choice for her. Luckily, she'll have a few more chances to nail the difficult task of picking the right song.
Nicki thinks Breanna Steer should start a girl group with Aubrey. Breanna's choice of Jazmine Sullivan's "Bust Your Windows" was perfect, and she brought enough drama to it that Randy was certain Keith thought she "was gonna bust the windows out of his damn expensive car." In other words, he liked her so much he said he would sign her right then and there.
Melinda Ademi learned the valuable lesson that it's never a good thing when Nicki tells you that you are cute or when Mariah tells you "good luck with the rest of the competition." It's also not a good idea to sing the same Jessie J song as standout performer Angela Miller. But, as Jessie J says, "Nobody's Perfect." Farewell, Melinda.
Candice Glover did justice to Aretha Franklin's version of "You Make Me Feel (Like a Natural Woman)" – so much so that Keith felt the need to sing back, "You are a natural singer!" The performance "boggled" Nicki's mind, so it wasn't a surprise that Candice made it through.
The judges were torn by Jett Hermano's performance of "Only Girl." Keith applauded her arrangement and musicianship on the Rihanna song, but Nicki and Randy both wanted more fireworks from the otherwise solid performance. Mariah didn't mind the lack of musical apex, but still gave Jett the kiss of death (Read: she wished her good luck). Jett didn't make it to the top 20.
Juliana Chahayed, a sophomore in high school, sang Demi Lovato's "Skyscraper," accompanying herself on a guitar that looked two sizes too large for her. The seemingly timid 15-year-old's voice was unlike anyone else on the show, but her shyness held her back. She thanked everyone, even Nicki, who told her she was going to get buried alive by the bigger vocals. However Mariah wrote "celestial" on a piece of paper during her performance. Maybe Juliana can sell it on eBay now that she is going home.
Competition for the last spot turned into a country-crooner showdown. It was a squeaker, too: While the judges were all rooting for Janelle Arthur, they weren't fans of her decision to sing Lady Antebellum's "Just a Kiss," because it didn't let Janelle show off her stuff. Rachel Hale came out of the blocks like the heir-apparent to long-ago Idol winner Carrie Underwood, and when the cameras cut to the judges' panel halfway through her performance, they were all grinning. However when it came down to choosing, the judges opted to give the shot at the stars to Janelle, who despite suffering an off night, is Randy's favorite country singer in the competition.
Most Nicki Moment: When the camera cut back from commercials, we saw that Nicki has a giant hand mirror sitting next to her.
Most Mariah Moment: When someone in the audience shouted "I love you!" Mariah blithely answered, "I love you, too" barely acknowledging the interaction.
Best Reason to Come Back Tomorrow: Ten men learn their fate on the last installment of Idol's sudden-death round.
Previously: Nicki Minaj Gets Flirty in Vegas