"American Idol" 2013: Sudden Death, Round 3 (Top 10 girls revealed)


I barely know where to begin. Three-quarters of the way through this new semi-final format, in which we culled the contestants from Top 40 to Top 20 (meaning we still have to lose half again before the finals), I feel I can safely say that this is the worst crop of singers we have seen on this show in a long, long time. The judges kept talking about how the level of talent made their decision so hard. And that may be true, but not in the way they were saying it. The overall vocal competency tonight was back to Season 4 levels ��" most of these girls were barely above karaoke level. Yes, there were one or two solid vocals. But one of the better ones didn’t even make the cut.

Someone asked me if I thought the problem was the talent pool or the judges, and I initially said both. But now I actually think it’s the latter. Part of the issue with an almost completely new panel is that these people don’t really have anything to compare these singers to. So when they, for instance, praise and praise Candice Glover ��" who did turn in the best vocal of the night ��" and wonder why she was cut in the previous year, they don’t understand that comparatively, Candice is not bringing anything new or different to the table. We have seen Candice Glover, or vocalists exactly like her, again and again on this show.

Ideally we should be elevating the talent level in the competition each year (and that has mostly been true, with the notable exceptions of seasons 7 and 9, which were DREADFUL). It’s virtually a certainty that this year will be a massive step back. All but maybe two of the girls tonight had significant pitch issues, but almost none of them were critiqued about it. Several totally forgettable, generic girls made it to the Top 20 despite completely forgettable performances. And we got one of the most egregiously unfair judging decisions in recent memory when a contestant who flat-out bombed tonight made the cut while others who performed better were sent home. Meanwhile, in the first group of girls, at least one if not two legitimately talented singers were cut because there weren’t enough spots. Mess messmess.

So yes, I blame this on the judges. Keith Urban is astonishingly incompetent. Randy has returned to his blathering idiot setting. Mariah Carey has literally nothing of use to say. The only hope we have is Nikki Minaj, but she gets so distracted by pretty, marketable girls and anything with a penis that her normally incisive critiques often go wildly askew. This is going to be a long haul of a season…

Anyway, here’s how the ladies fared:

Melinda Ademi, 19, from Yonkers, was apparently featured on Season 10, with her story of emigrating from Kosovo. I vaguely remember this. She was appallingly bad singing a song I didn’t recognize. It was totally unsupported for the first verse and pitchy throughout the chorus. This would have been booed at a karaoke bar. She was trying so hard to be a cool pop star, bopping all over the stage and throwing back her hair, that she completely threw away the vocal. She sounded fine when she went into the softer part at the end, but it was way too little too late. Keith Urban was out of his mind when he said that it was a great way to start the show. He thought Melinda’s nerves came out, but said she still has tons of raw talent. Nikki Minaj pointed out that Angela sang that song (apparently it’s by Jessie J.) last week (there’s an Angela?) and she thought it paled in comparison to Angela’s version. Randy Jackson didn’t think there were enough “moments” to send her through. Mariah Carey and her breast shelf also brought up nerves, but said that Melinda reached her potential by the end. Way, way too kind to her.

Candice Glover, 23, from South Carolina went with “Natural Woman,” a smart but ultimately safe song choice. There were no real surprises here, but Candice sounded better than we’ve ever heard her. The pitch issues of her previous few performances almost all disappeared, although she wrestled with the key change. She has a solid, big r’n’b voice, but we have seen that exact performance from countless contestants on this show before. Keith called her “a natural singer.” Shut up, Keith. Nikki said that it boggled her mind that Candice didn’t make it last year. Well, given how shitty the talent is overall this year, of course she’s going to shine like a diamond in comparison. Randy said that it was good, but not her best, and he encouraged Candice to push her voice even further. Mariah got Candice to talk about how the arrangement of the song was all her idea. Well, that’s nice. I thought Candice came off a little full of herself there.

Juliana Chahayed, 15, from California played “Skyscraper” by DemiLovato while accompanying herself on guitar. It was very breathy for the most part, although there were some nice strong moments in there. The whole thing came off watered down in an attempt to feel Serious and Authentic. Keith again talked about the nervousness ��" I feel like that is a bullshit rationalization at this stage ��" but he likes the purity of her voice. Nikki thinks she already has a recognizable signature voice, but mentioned the timidity could get her swallowed whole in a competition of big voices. Mariah used the terms “angelic” and “celestial,” but then Randy cut her off to say that Ryan Seacrest couldn’t have done that at 15. What the hell kind of a stupid comment is that?

Jett Hermano, 25, from Seattle is a total mystery to me. Have we ever seen her prior to this? Jett sat at the piano and did a slow, slinky version of Rihanna’s “Only Girl in the World.” It was really cabaret, and beyond that, the high notes of the verse were hitting her in a very awkward part of her range, making it sound like she was straining (even though she clearly can go higher). It wasn’t bad, Jett can really sing, but again, it felt like a lounge act rather than an “American Idol” contestant. And it was pretty sleepy, too. Keith was pleased with her musicianship. Nikki liked the arrangement and the breathy vocals, but felt the song never climaxed. Randy said that he was hoping she would get up halfway through and rock it ��" the same thing he skewered a contestant for last week. Mariah said that she finds Jett different and intriguing. Not intriguing enough to get her any airtime prior to this, apparently.

Cristabel Clack, 29, from San Antonio is a worship leader and she really likes god and her family. She went with Alicia Keys’ “No One.” Cristabel has an interesting voice that I suspect might work really well on modern pop radio, but here it came off squeaky and like it was cracking left and right. It just did not sound pleasant for a good chunk of the song. Her performance was also really cheesy, and Cristabel never met a vocal run she didn’t like. Keith continued his string of terribleness, just ladling on the praise, even as he called her voice “croaky.” Nikki picked up on the unique voice and the rasp, although she felt it went out of control today. Yes, that’s true. Randy called her a “racehorse singer,” that she oversang the song a bit, but it still sounded “great.” Mariah encouraged Cristabel to do…something. I don’t know. Mariah did nicely give a shout out to the back-up singers.

Aubrey Cleland, 19, from Oregon seems vaguely familiar to me, but she’s so generic that it’s hard to know. Aubrey is very skinny and tall. She went with Beyonce’s “Sweet Dreams” and it was a solid vocal, but she was just skirting the edge of flat, and it got worse as it went on (noticeably when the band was louder, so I’m guessing it was a monitor issue). Another very sleepy number, though. And I don’t think it was terribly memorable. Keith seriously was off tonight, talking about the “diversity of artists and songs” (at that point we’d had Beyonce, Alicia Keys, Rihanna, Jessie J, and DemiLovato ��" all artists you could hear right now on Top 40 radio), and how Aubrey made the song her own despite it sounding pretty much exactly like the original. Nikki said that she was obsessed with Aubrey. Really? Nikki said that for the first time tonight someone came out looking and sounding like a current artist. I think it’s telling of the crop of the night that the judges were fawning over her as much as they were. Randy babbled some nonsense about being obsessed with himself and everyone. Shut up, Randy. He thinks Aubrey has the complete package. Really, guys? She is SO generic to me. Mariah simply said that Aubrey is “limitless.” What an absolutely useless panel of judges, minus Nikki Minaj.

Rachel Hale barely made it into the Top 40, if you remember. She went with “Nothing But the Water” by Grace Potter, and the first half of the song was actually pretty strong. Decent lyric, some swagger, the whole thing. But holy cats did she go off the rails in the last third of it. Really off pitch and really awkward. Keith felt that the song got on top of Rachel in parts, but he liked her spirit. Nikki wondered where the burst of crazy confidence came from, and Rachel said it came through prayer. Randy was glad that Rachel had a goddamned pulse, and then Randy and Rachel talked more about the power of prayer. Sigh. When did this show become “The 700 Club”?

Breanna Steer recently survived a hurricane devastating her house. That’s terrifying and awful for her. She did “Bust the Windows Out Your Car” with some hideous Latin lounge beat that removed any teeth to the song. Breanna’s vocal had real pitch issues pretty much throughout and I never felt for a second that she was authentically feeling the emotions of that song. Honestly I found myself paying more attention to the back-up singers than Breanna. Really good final note, though, so way to leave a good last impression. Keith admitted that he had never heard the song, but he liked her delivery, which he found believable. Keith Urban is the worst. Nikki yelled at Breanna to “work, work, work!” She suggested that Breanna and Aubrey should get two other girls and form a girl group because there’s nothing like that right now. Randy babbled about “representing Louisiana.” He was happy Breanna brought the drama. These judges are so full of shit, you guys. And not ONE of them is going to mention the serious pitch issues?

Janelle Arthur, 23, from Tennessee has been trying to get on this show for three seasons now. She went with “Just a Kiss” by Lady Antebellum and it was karaoke. Not even good karaoke. I really like Janelle, but she wasn’t close to being on pitch for a good chunk of that song and her delivery was desperate and frankly embarrassing. I hated it. HATED it. And I sincerely like Janelle. Keith pointed out that the song really only works as a trio, because the melody is fairly restrictive for a solo artist. His first sensible critique of the night, at contestant 9 of 10. Nikki blessedly ��" blessedly! ��" pointed out her chronic flatness, the weird overforced performance, and told Janelle bluntly to never do that again. Randy said that Janelle is his favorite country girl of the competition, but the song screwed her. Mariah likes Janelle’s lack of pretension. Given how hard Janelle bombed, and that she was one of the only girls to get any serious criticism from the judges, I thought it was really inappropriate that they were all basically telling her that they would likely push her through anyway.

Zoanette Johnson, 20, from Oklahoma, gives me life. She told us that she was originally from Liberia, which her family fled when she was a baby due to civil war. Bless her heart! Zoanette came out singing the opening number to “The Lion King,” doing the African chanting and everything, and then going into “The Circle of Life.” Zoanette, ladies and gentlemen. That’s amazing. The song was way too low for her in the beginning. The lyrics were basically discarded in favor of various sounds that, thankfully, were mostly on pitch, and infused with Fantasia-like emotion. Like her original audition, the song actually got better as it went on. Zoanette is a mythical creature; she cannot be tamed. We must cherish every moment we have with her. She got a standing ovation from all the judges except, I think, Mariah. Keith loves that he has no idea what Zoanette is ever going to do, and wonders if she does half the time. Nikki dropped some “RHOA” lingo with “Who gonna check you, boo?” and said that she was so proud of Zoanette. She called her unforgettable and a superstar. Yes! She was very passionate about Zoanette, and I love her for that. Randy commended Zoanette for her spirit, which is really why she’s there. It’s not the vocals, although those weren’t terrible. Mariah talked about Zoanette being a giving person, and she thinks that Zoanette could be “gracing someone’s Broadway stage tomorrow doing something artistically that we haven’t even thought of yet.” What does it mean, people?

The results: Zoanette got the verdict first, and after Randy dicked her around for a hot second, she was PUT THROUGH! We get to vote on Zoanette! What will America make of her? Melinda was up next, and given that she was in the Death Slot, she was pretty much screwed; she got cut. Juliana, who the judges all slobbered over earlier, got the axe, which she dealt with very well given her age. The massively overpraised Aubrey, however, got the thumbs up and made Top 20.

Cristabel sounded even worse in the playback than I remembered, and somewhat surprisingly she was cut. She was pimped pretty hard by the show in early auditions and Hollywood Week. In retrospect Candice delivered the vocal of the night, which is kind of sad, but anyway, she was put through to the Top 20.

In hindsight Jett’s vocal stacked up pretty strongly over the course of the night, so it was unfair that she got the axe. But she was obvious filler. Breana’s vocal did not impress me, so of course, she did make Top 20, because it was crazy opposite night.

The final stool came down to Rachel vs. Janelle. Truthfully, neither of them delivered a fully good performance, but Rachel at least was halfway decent. Janelle full-on bombed. I would put it in the running for worst number of the night. So, yeah, Janelle got pushed right on through to the Top 20. Shenanigans. Absolute shenanigans.

Tomorrow: More boys. Hopefully they won’t suck as hard as the previous group, which was AWFUL.