“American Idol” Sudden Death Recap: The Twilight Zoanette

Ten dames stepped up to the mic on Wednesday night. Nine of them sang. One of them exploded. 

And was rewarded for it. 

And… I’m fine with it? Let this be a lesson to everyone: If you are a fine singer who gets an opportunity to wow the nation on American Idol, but you choose the lite-FM nonchalance of Alicia Keys‘ “No One,” maybe you deserve to finish between 20th and 40th place. Maybe I think that’s justified, Cristabel Clacky. And maybe if you’re a howling claymation clown sorceress named Zoanette Johnson who sets the bar for unthinkable camp monstrosities with a performance of (wait for it) “The Circle of Life,” maybe you really do earn your place in the Top 20 — even if you can’t sing, control yourself, or really do anything except blubber and wail like a watercolor-drenched Pagliacci. Maybe.

Actually, I’m not sure. Zoanette Johnson was so insane last night that my rankings this week feel useless. I want to rank everyone except Zoanette, then rank Zoanette separately among her true contemporaries like three-headed serpents, earthquakes, and Sanjaya. But oh well. Here we go. (I note whether the judges saved or eliminated each player at the end of each critique.)

10. Melinda Ademi, Jessie J’s “Nobody’s Perfect”

I think I’ve said it before, but I’m not convinced of the emotional power of Jessie J. Her lyrics are chockablock with platitudes, and coming from the mouth of an awkwardly strutting Idol hopeful like Melinda Ademi, the “message” of the song withered into weepy sentimentality. She also just withered in general. This performance was a case study in unimportance. I actually adored her last note, but I resumed indifference once she defended herself against the underenthused judges by claiming, “I tried to use my artistry.” Grumble, grumble. VERDICT: Eliminated.

9. Janelle Arthur, Lady Antebellum’s “Just a Kiss” 

Ugh! I am a Janelle sympathizer! It shouldn’t be this way.

See, Janelle’s the kind of self-proclaimed “country girl” who at least has some rascal in her. Her local sheriff has almost certainly described her as “a firecracker” at some point, and you know what firecrackers don’t do? Sing the hits of Lady Antebellum. Lady Antebellum is the Mount Everest of nothingness. It’s as if some producer had the brilliant idea: “Hey! What if we tried slowing mediocrity down?” If you want to not matter, please sing Lady Antebellum. Weirdly, the song gave Janelle neither the chance to exhibit her nervy stage presence or even the opportunity to thrill us with poignant notes. It was just Beige: The Experience. Get this woman a Dixie Chicks hit, something “Goodbye Earl”-adjacent, and steer her tractor back onto the rutted dirt road of rebellion. VERDICT: Survived.

8. Cristabel Clacky, Alicia Keys’ “No One”

I famously believe Alicia Keys is the nadir of hip-hop soul, the most Hallmark-brand songwriter of the past 10 years, and possibly the murderer of Blu Cantrell. Blu, come back to us! If your dismembered limbs aren’t buried beneath Arista headquarters, that is.

Which is why “worship leader” Cristabel Clacky’s song choice was so disappointing for me. First of all: The only worship leader I know is my copy of Ray of Light. Secondly, though Cristabel does have an interesting, even provocative croak in her voice, I felt her performance hinged on that gimmick rather than benefited from it. I wish Alicia Keys would try croaking too, namean? VERDICT: Eliminated.

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