As an "American Idol" blogger, I often wonder if I can put my musical tastes aside and truly take an unbiased approach to rating each night's singers.
Wednesday night, I learned the answer: yes. Because I liked Zoanette Johnson.
You read that correctly. And to be clear, I'm referring to the same Zoanette Johnson who inexplicably advanced in earlier rounds after butchering the national anthem and performing an "interesting" original song. Remember this?
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Zoanette was the final singer on the Las Vegas episode that aired Wednesday. She wore animal print while singing "Circle of Life" from "The Lion King." It was dramatic. It was slightly over the top. And it was actually good.
It's hard to summarize the performance in a sentence or two. Just watch the video. My best summary? For the first time this season, Zoanette showcased genuine potential and emotion on stage -- the kind that makes you believe she's more than just a pleather-clad ratings ploy.
Do you agree, or did Zoanette somehow hypnotize me?
Five more women entered the "American Idol" Top 20 Wednesday night: Zoanette Johnson, Aubrey Cleland, Breanna Steer, Janelle Arthur and Candice Glover.
The judges eliminated Melinda Ademi, Juliana Chaheyed, Jett Hermano, Cristabel Clack and Rachel Hale.
It was a night of solid performances -- many of the singers could've advanced in a weaker season. My biggest gripe with the final decision: Rachel Hale should've advanced instead of Janelle Arthur. Rachel had a much stronger night.
We'll complete the Top 20 with five more guys Thursday. Here's a full recap of Wednesday's show.
Melinda Ademi, 19, auditioned two years ago and showcased her family's story about Kosovo. She performs "Nobody's Perfect" by Jessie J. Yes, Angela Miller performed this song last week...and advanced. The beginning of the song is a little rough. It seems like Melinda can't keep up. But she gets into her groove as the song progresses and hits her power zone by the end. Is it the performance of a lifetime? No. But I still think Melinda could be a marketable recording artist. I want her to stick around. ELIMINATED
Keith: "I really loved that performance...I just think that you have so much talent and so much raw potential."
Nicki: "I know Angela sang that song last week and it was so much more connected when she did it."
Randy: "It was OK...I don't know if you had enough moments to make you really sail through."
Mariah: "Your nerves got to you a little bit."
Candice Glover, 23, is an "excursions coordinator." She's also a judges' favorite who's back from last year. She sings "Natural Woman." Groan. I'm not a big fan of this song being performed on "Idol." I mean, there's only so much you can do with it. Candice's performance is predictably solid. She's a strong belter who hits some good power notes -- especially that big note at the end. AWESOME. But this performance makes me wonder if Candice will encounter the longtime "Idol" problem of technical strength, but little personality. ADVANCES
Keith: "That was a great song choice."
Nicki: "You definitely were born to do this...Clearly, you have one of the strongest voices in the competition."
Randy: "You now believe you belong here."
Mariah: "Very nice, darling. Very nice."
Juliana Chaheyed, 15, writes a lot of original songs. But she performs a cover tonight: Demi Lovato's "Skyscraper." She plays the guitar during her rendition of the song, which is slowed-down a bit and it's almost haunting in some parts. Sure, some people might argue it's too sleepy to deserve a spot in the Top 20. Yet I'm strangely fascinated by this performance. Juliana is cute and I love how she thanks the band. Still, she needs some practice. Maybe she should have waited another year or two to audition. ELIMINATED
Keith: "There's a purity about the tone of your voice that I love."
Nicki: "You have a certain easy thing about you...I like it, I just don't know how it's going to pan out here."
Randy: "You gave us exactly who you are."
Mariah: "There was an angelic quality that I felt."
Jett Hermano, 25, is a legal assistant who left college to pursue a career in music. Good move? You decide. She plays the piano and performs a slowed-down version of Rihanna's "Only Girl (In The World)." Well, I give her points for originality. Kind of. On paper, this performance seems great. She changes up the arrangement. Doesn't over-sing. Picks a current song. But something's missing...and I can't really put my finger on it. I feel strange saying I got bored during the performance, but that's what happened. ELIMINATED
Keith: "You brought out the sexiness in the song."
Nicki: "I thought it was going to climax to something and I never felt that."
Randy: "The first part of it was absolutely beautiful."
Mariah: "I did enjoy the first half of the song a lot."
Cristabel Clack, 29, is a worship leader who spent a few years traveling with a gospel artist. She has three kids. She performs "No One" by Alicia Keys. Again...groan. Anyone else think Alicia Keys songs should be banned from "Idol"? She does a decent job with the tune, but she over-sings a lot and seems to be straining her voice toward the end. I'm not entirely sold on Cristabel, but I agree she has some contemporary appeal. When she's in her zone, it's easy to imagine hearing her voice on mainstream radio. Bottom line: This could go either way. ELIMINATED
Keith: "That was fantastic. Gosh, I love your voice."
Nicki: "I like that song for you."
Randy: "I love the rasp...what you allowed yourself is the freedom to just go...It sounded great to me."
Mariah: "Keep doing what you do...I wish only the best for you in this competition."
Aubrey Cleland, 19, wanted to be a veterinarian before she discovered singing. She performs Beyonce's "Sweet Dreams." Anyone remember when Jessica Sanchez sang this last year? She opts for the slow version of the song. I keep waiting for the dance track to surface, but it never happens. That's OK. This performance is pretty solid. Aubrey has some really great confidence and for the most part, she hits the important notes in the tune. Also, as much as I hate commenting on singers' appearances, Aubrey has amazing fashion sense. ADVANCES
Keith: "You came out and did your own thing."
Nicki: "I am obsessed with you...I felt like I was at your concert."
Randy: "You are a very great commercial artist...I feel like you have the whole complete package."
Mariah: "I think you're limitless and I hope you continue with us."
Rachel Hale, 22, is from a really small town in Arkansas, but lives in Nashville right now and attends Belmont University. She sings "Nothing But the Water" by Grace Potter & the Nocturnals. Immediately, I'm hooked on the performance. Maybe because it's the most uptempo song of the night so far. Either way, Rachel has great confidence on stage and a really good ability to interact with the crowd. Oh yeah, she can sing, too. Very strong performance overall...maybe my favorite of the night so far. ELIMINATED
Keith: "I haven't seen that side of you before...I felt like the song maybe got on top of you a little in parts."
Nicki: "I'm excited that you came alive."
Randy: "I was happy you chose an uptempo song."
Mariah: "I may have heard you more on other songs."
Breanna Steer, 18, evacuated during Hurricane Isaac and a lot of her house got destroyed. She sings "Bust Your Windows" by Jazmine Sullivan. I love this song. Breanna has a great stage presence and she kind of reminds me of Rihanna at some points during this performance. I wish she added a little more power to some of the big notes, but other than that I have nothing negative to say. And in fact, her big note at the end erases much of my criticism. It's a confident, entertaining performance. ADVANCES
Keith: "I liked the whole vibe you had going on."
Nicki: "I love that you chose Jazmine Sullivan because her voice matches perfectly with your voice."
Randy: "You've got the whole package...That song choice was perfect for you."
Mariah: "Wow...amazing job."
Janelle Arthur, 23, is a fitness instructor who once portrayed a young Dolly Parton. She's also a repeat "Idol" auditioner. She performs "Just A Kiss" by Lady Antebellum. I love Janelle. But honestly...I'm underwhelmed tonight. The biggest problem? Janelle totally over-sings this tune. It's not a song that's designed for country belting, but somehow Janelle doesn't get the message. It seems like she's trying too hard to create the elusive Moment. She should've performed something by Miranda Lambert or Carrie Underwood. ADVANCES
Keith: "The melody kept pulling you back down."
Nicki: "A lot of that fell a little bit flat...I think that you were disconnected...Don't ever try too hard."
Randy: "You are my favorite country singer in this competition...That song was not the right song for you."
Mariah: "Maybe it wasn't the best song choice...I'm really rooting for you."
Zoanette Johnson, 20, is originally from Liberia. She had to flee her country when she was younger. Ah, Zoanette...how will you entertain us tonight? She sings "Circle of Life" from "The Lion King." Yes, she is wearing animal print. And yes, she does the opening chanting part of this song. I'm baffled. I want to dismiss it as too Broadway for "Idol." But would you believe I actually kind of love it? I'm not really sure what just happened. Did I just admit I want Zoanette to advance? She gets a standing ovation from everyone except Mariah. ADVANCES
Keith: "I love that I have no clue what you're going to do...Kudos for the queen of the jungle."
Nicki: "You just served it...I am so proud of you...You're unforgettable, you're a superstar."
Randy: "That emotion is what it's about."
Mariah: "I'm so proud and happy for you."