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Sudden Death, Week Two: The 'American Idol' recap

10:55 AM, Feb 28, 2013   |    comments
Zoanette Johnson performs during Wednesday's Sudden Death Round of 'American Idol.Michael Becker, Fox/AP
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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.

For some 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.

Though 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.

Two 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.

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