'American Idol' Recap: Zoanette 'Finds Her Place' as Singer to Beat

AMERICAN IDOL: Zoanette Johnson in the Sudden Death Round of AMERICAN IDOL airing Wednesday, Feb. 27 (8:00-10:00PM ET/PT) on FOX. CR: Michael Becker / FOX. Copyright / FOX.

Michael Becker/FOX

A lackluster episode last Wednesday preceded the 10 girls who took the "American Idol" stage last night to sing for a spot in the top 20. Though a few singers, like Kree Harrison and Angela Miller, stood out, it wasn't incredibly reflective of the claims that the remaining female contestants were a talented crop, possibly the best chance the gender has had in years of actually winning the entire competition.

After last night, to say the girls have a shot at beating the boys still might be a stretch; right now, it seems more even between the two than anything. But man, was it a step up.

Rather than the five contestants picked to move on by the judges being relative no-brainers, the eventual elimination was not as evident from the start. Sure, I guessed the five that I figured would move on at night's end -- and was correct. But were they the five most talented singers that had the five best performances last night? Absolutely not, which I think could have tripped up some people once the results were revealed.

More on who went home after we talk about each performer individually.

Melinda Ademi - "Nobody's Perfect"

There's been an influx of Jessie J this year on the show (and it's not even "Domino"!), and it worked well for Ademi before. But this time, it just wasn't all there. The judges blamed nerves, which could certainly be the culprit -- or it could simply be that her voice didn't and wouldn't fill out the song enough. It was simply too thin to make an impact, to the point where she was a bit overpowered by the backing band, and that's not always the band's fault. Plus, Angela Miller sang the song last week, and you're probably going to pale in comparison to her on most days.

Candice Glover - "Natural Woman"

I was surprised to see Glover so early in the order; after all, she had been arguably the strongest female in the bunch up to then, at least certainly of those 10 ladies. But now I get it: her performance didn't do much. It was great, and she rarely -- if ever -- missed a note. But it also felt like she was sailing in on autopilot, knowing she was going through as long as she didn't screw up royally. Refer to previous performances for a better look at her, but "Natural Woman" was still perfectly in her wheelhouse.

Juliana Chahayed - "Skyscraper"

The original "Skyscraper" is done by Demi Lovato, whose vocal on the song is admittedly a bit thin. That's what made this work so well for the 15-year-old Chahayed. Playing the acoustic guitar for accompaniment, she floated through the song with a breathy, hushed vocal. Not technically brilliant, but as an artist, very solid -- the kind of song that, if she does all her songs in this manner, could be a staple of her live show, wherever she ends up after "Idol."

Jett Hermano - "Only Girl (In the World)"

Just like Chahayed before her, Hermano is best seen as a viable artist, someone whose voice isn't powerhouse but could carve out a nice niche for herself with the right moves. Her take on the Rihanna song was intimate and hushed, a foil to the grandiose original. But some of the higher notes definitely caused concern, and by song's end it just wasn't as up to par as Chahayed's. The arrangement, however, was lovely, and she's a nice pianist.

Cristabel Clack - "No One"

The singer of whom I've been most reminded while watching Clack this year has been Alicia Keys, so it just made sense to hear one of her songs coming from one of the competition's older ladies. While trying too hard in places, Clack's vocal was incredibly solid, with a rasp that added a nice edge. Had she been on the other night, I think she would have gone through without much pause. But with what was to come, it put her performance in a bit more jeopardy.

Aubrey Cleland - "Sweet Dreams"

Suddenly, the night really ramped up, and it started with the 19-year-old Cleland. Honestly, she flew under the radar for much of the season for me before now, and I'm left wondering how -- she's got a great voice for ballads, singing the heck out of the Beyonce song while maintaining great control and not allowing the song to get away from her. Lots of potential here.

Rachel Hale - "Nothing But the Water"

I love this Grace Potter and the Nocturnals song. Love, love, love it. So I was appropriately excited when I heard Rachel Hale start into it. The result? Actually fairly good. Hale sang with a confidence we hadn't really seen yet from her, and while not on point on every note, really picked it up with a solid ending when the song itself started moving. I could definitely stand seeing more of this from her.

Breanna Steer - "Bust Your Windows"

Steer, like Cleland, kind of came out of nowhere for me; she wasn't featured prevalently in the preceding shows. Wednesday night was a great introduction to the Louisiana native, who sang the vengeful Jazmine Sullivan tune with such conviction that she had Keith Urban convinced she might really mess up his car. Great vocal, with some slight Rihanna vibes in there for me.

Janelle Arthur - "Just a Kiss"

The night's other country lady played it remarkably safe with this Lady Antebellum tune -- or, if she wasn't playing it safe, she sure sounded like it, and the song choice didn't help, because the song doesn't really go anywhere vocally (it's better as a duet or even a trio). Plus, while I've liked her twang in the past, it almost sounded overstated, too much. But even without a great showing, the judges made it evident they love her, so there's that.

Zoanette Johnson - "Circle of Life"

Every week, Zoanette Johnson does something else to just utterly blow my mind and leave me at the edge of my seat wanting more. Guys, she sang the opening song of "The Lion King." "THE LION KING!" It's theatrical, and as the song's supposed to be, it's big. Really big. Johnson's still as weird as she was, but she's keeping better control of her vocal, so it's not just a hit here and a miss there. As usual with her, this is the performance we'll still be talking about in a week.

So, 10 singers, five spots. Who went through? I figured it would be Johnson, Steer, Cleland, Glover and Arthur. The latter was tough to stick in there; after all, I thought Hale and Clack both outperformed her, and I really liked Chahayed's artistry. But once I saw how much the judges liked Arthur despite a poor showing, and at the moment they brought her and Hale as the final two looking for one spot, you just knew how it was going to go.

And I was right. Zoanette Johnson, Breanna Steer, Aubrey Cleland, Candice Glover and Janelle Arthur join Angela Miller, Kree Harrison, Amber Holcomb, Tenna Torres and Adriana Latonio.

The 10 guys who haven't sang yet battle for five spots tonight -- and by battle, I mean sing, although something out of "Gladiator" would be cool. Or "The Lion King." Something like when Scar and the hyenas fight Simba and the lionesses for control of Pride Rock. Can you tell I've got Zoanette on the brain still? Wow.

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