Zoanette Johnson performs during Wednesday's Sudden Death Round of 'American Idol.Michael Becker, Fox/AP
Who would have guessed when we first saw Zoanette Johnson back in
Oklahoma City, mauling the national anthem, that she'd still be around
when American Idol named its Top 20? Quite possibly nobody
but Johnson herself. And maybe Nicki Minaj, but she sometimes seems to
have her own unknowable reasons for liking what she does.
reason, though, the judges kept allowing the wild-haired 20-year-old
from Liberia to stay round after round -- perhaps because they found her
amusing, perhaps because they saw a gleam of mad, raw talent in her
performances that they hoped she'd learn to contain.
Wednesday, their patience with Johnson paid off, as she delivered a dramatic, polarizing performance of The Lion King's Circle of Life that was a game-changer the likes of which Idol hasn't seen in years.
Johnson's behavior throughout the season has been erratic and
completely unpredictable, she possesses an incredible amount of raw
talent and quite possibly the broadest vocal range of any singer in the
competition. But where Idol singers more often are promising
amateurs who need to learn the ropes, Johnson's challenge is to harness
her wild creativity enough to make it palatable to the viewing audience.
And she just about did that Wednesday, dominating a show that also
featured two early favorites who had been cut from Idol in
previous seasons. Candice Glover and Janelle Arthur both join Johnson in
the semifinalist round, Glover after a fine performance of (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman. Arthur had an off night, however, singing Lady Antebellum's Just a Kiss,
a song with a limited melody that didn't give her much to work with.
Arthur had apparently built up enough goodwill with the judges in
previous performances that they didn't hold her stumble against her.
singers who've seen little face time so far this season -- Breanna
Steer and Aubrey Cleland -- rounded out the night's successful
contestants, and both were praised for their contemporary looks and
approach to their material.
That left Cristabel Clack, a
raspy-voiced worship minister who showed a lot of early promise, out in
the cold, along with Rachel Hale, Melinda Ademi, Jett Hermano, and
15-year-old Juliana Chahayed.
Thursday, 10 guys get their shot.
But without the equivalent of a Zoanette Johnson in their midst, that
show doesn't promise to be nearly as interesting as this one was.