A couple weeks ago, on what was THE weirdest episode in "American Idol" history, a bug-eyed, big-haired, booty-poppin' lady named Zoanette Johnson delivered perhaps the most controversial televised National Anthem performance since Roseanne Barr's...and somehow, against all odds and logic, she was granted a golden ticket to Hollyweird. And this Thursday, zany Zoanette wowed America again, when she shockingly advanced to this season's top 40.
Yes, dear readers, Zoanette Johnson is now only one round away from making it to the live shows. All she has to do is sail through Vegas--where she'll fit right in, I am sure--and it's a done deal.
Combining the feistiness of Fantasia Barrino (I'm talking about the Fantasia that appeared on the "Idol" Season 11 finale in a Cher wig and side-slit catsuit), the kookoo-for-coco-puffiness of Season 8 class clown Norman Gentle, and the terrifying unhinged-jaw singing technique of Jennifer Holliday dueting with Jessica Sanchez, Zoanette is undoubtedly one of the most interesting (read: bizarre) contestants in "Idol" history--at least among contestants who made it out of the audition room with an actual golden ticket. But you know what? Somewhere behind that Merle Norman warpaint, Pointer Sisters hair, and Mack Truck-sized personality lies some actual talent.
Zoanette proved that this Thursday, during the girls' solo round, when she shocked and awed everyone by channeling Sheila E./Lenny Kravitz drummer Cindy Blackman and sang WHILE PLAYING THE DRUMS. On a song she made up on the spot during rehearsals, yet. It may have been one of the most original "Idol" Hollywood Week auditions ever; it certainly was something viewers hadn't seen in the past 11 seasons. (The only singing drummer I can recall ever being on "Idol" was last year's also-wacky Reed Grimm. But a female singing drummer? That was something new, and something cool, for this show.) Was it weird? Yes. Was it perfect? Heck no. But it was 100 percent Zoanette.
"Seriously, I think people are going to be looking at this performance for years to come," proclaimed judge Mariah Carey. Added Nicki Minaj: "I am bowing down at your feet today. I am honored to be a part of 'Idol,' just to say I was part of The Zoanette Era."
It was at that point that I happily obeyed Zoanette's "LOVE ME" necklace, and I became grateful to be a part of "The Zoanette Era" myself. Yes, Zoanette's scatty performance was totally scatterbrained, but this dynamite lady surprised me, and she may keep surprising me, and the rest of America, if she makes it to the live shows. At the very least, she'll be good TV. I never thought I'd say this, but I think Nicki Minaj may have finally met her match.
The show's other resident weirdo, flame-thrower Kez Ban, didn't fare so well. Zoanette tried to help Kez out by taking her shopping at the local mall for some less hobo-ish stagewear (Zoanette and Kez shopping together should seriously be an "Idol" spinoff series), but even all gussied up in a rhinestoned Forever 21 tank top, Kez tanked in the solo round. I was hopeful when she announced that she'd be doing another original (her first original-song audition had been so fantastic), but the meandering tune she did this time wasn't as fun/fabulous/fly as Zoanette's, nor was it as flat-out fabulous as Angela Miller's original (more on Angela in a minute). So Kez Ban the fire-dancer crashed and burned, but since the self-declared "square peg in a round hole" freely admitted that she'd only auditioned to please her mom, I suspect she was happy to get this far and no farther. (Kez actually said she'd rather be a gaffer or production assistant on the show than a contestant. Come on, Nigel Lythgoe, give the girl a job!) I also suspect Kez ripped off that sparkly clubbing top the moment she left the set.
As I mentioned earlier, Angela Miller also performed an original. (Side note: Were any of the boy contestants allowed to sing originals last week? I know Papa Peachez wanted to. Peachez must be peeved right about now.) Angela's piano ballad, "You Set Me Free," was truly magical; it was reminiscent of Sylvia Yacoub's breakthrough piano performance of "The One That Got Away" on "The Voice" last year, and it earned a standing ovation from all four judges. "If that was recorded right there, I would play that in my car," said judge Keith Urban. "That's a top 40 song right now," raved Nicki. With a superb performance like that, Angela's advancement was all but guaranteed. Now her only concern is peaking too early. (Remember how Season 9's Andrew Garcia stunned everyone with "Straight Up" during Hollywood Week, but then it was all downhill from there?) However, if Angela is ever able to top "You Set Me Free," she could win this whole thing
And I am sure that's what the "Idol" powers-that-be would like. The blatant pimping of the female contestants continued full force this Thursday, from the "IT HAS BEEN SIX YEARS" cold open reminding viewers of the halcyon days when singers like Kelly Clarkson, Fantasia, Carrie Underwood, and Jordin Sparks actually ruled the "Idol" roost, to Randy Jackson's gauntlet-tossing statement, "Girls, if this is going to be your year, then today must be the day." The fact that several girls were shown singing originals--something we didn't see really on the boys' shows--also revealed the producers' female favoritism this year.
Will it work? Maybe. Eight more guys from last week's surviving 28 contestants got the axe this Thursday, and the judges definitely cut a couple boys who could've given this season's girls some serious competition--including poor little David Leathers Jr. (he was robbed last year, and now he's been robbed again), repeat auditioner Devan Jones, and a little-seen cutie named Peter Garrett (not the Midnight Oil frontman), whose floppy hair and baby face could have courted a million tweenybopper votes. The flamboyant Adam Sanders also got the boot, and let's face it, he probably had the potential to out-crazy Zoanette. (But on an exciting related note...Country Queen's JDA is still in the running!)
Among the early-standout female contestants who got cut were Obama girl Kiara Lanier, foster-family caretaker Ashlee Feliciano, "Maury" singer Briana Oakley, and Stephanie Schimel, the girl whose pink eye shadow once famously displeased Her Minajesty. As for those who did make the top 40, I was delighted to see Candice Glover and Janelle Arthur--two stellar singers from this Thursday, and two memorable returning contestants from past seasons--in the mix, but there were many less recognizable names on the list, due to "Idol" editors' puzzling decision to leave many of these contestants' auditions and Hollywood Week footage on the cutting-room floor. (Where was my beloved Isabelle Parell? Where did she go?)
Seriously, who are all these people listed below? Maybe when we see them compete in Las Vegas next week, it'll all be clear, as Phillip Phillips might say. Here is the full list of Season 12's top 40, listed alphabetically, with my personal favorites in bold:
TOP 20 GIRLS
Jenny Beth Willis
TOP 20 BOYS
Curtis Finch Jr.
Gurpreet "The Turbinator" Singh Sarin
Joshua "JDA" Davila