American Idol Season 12 Review “Semifinalist Round, Part 3”

Last week, I wondered exactly how well the “American Idol” producers would line up the contenders in each of the groups of ten in the “Semifinalist Round,” and this week I got my answer: pretty well, overall. As it turns out, the stacks were well-stacked on both ends, with roughly the same amount of quibbles I had about last week’s group occurring here, too- at least in terms of the ladies.

If I had to choose, I’d say that this week’s group of ladies was slightly better than last week’s (the winners are seen above) but overall, they did a good job of splitting everyone up, at least among the ladies. We shall see if the fellas are likewise well-split on Thursday night.

In the meantime, things kicked off with the super-cute Melinda Ademi and her adorable outfit. This was not Melinda’s first rodeo, as she previously auditioned in Season 10. By her own admission, she wasn’t yet ready, but was she now, at the ripe old age of 19? Not so much. A cute outfit does not a good audition make, and Melinda made the dreadful mistake of covering the same song as last week’s stellar stand-out Angela Miller, Jessie J.’s “Nobody’s Perfect.”

It wasn’t that she was terrible- though she was clearly nervous- but by virtue of the fact that Angela did such a good job with it, Melinda’s version couldn’t help but pale in comparison. Given that she had a week to prepare and pick something else, I can’t help but feel she only had herself to blame when she was ultimately cut. Maybe next year?

Next up was Candice Glover, another return contender, who was cut in Vegas last year. Would she fare better this one? As a matter of fact, she did. Tackling the behemoth that is Aretha Franklin (albeit by way of Carole King); she covered “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” with quiet authority. Though vaguely underwhelming, perhaps the judges sympathized with her plight of being a returning auditioner and let her slide a little. Though at least one performer should have made it through in her place, in my opinion, based on tonight’s performance, neither did I think it was undeserved. This was one of those where overall talent was taken into account, and Candice certainly has that, so I won’t complain.

Juliana Chahayed was next and, at only 15, she was pretty obviously a bit overwhelmed. Her previous rendition of “Landslide” on Hollywood Week was pretty stellar and wonderfully ethereal, but her similar take on Demi Lovato’s “Skyscraper” didn’t fare well with most of the judges, which is a shame. I thought she could have been a contender, and I’m really sorry to see her go.

Though there were others that I disagreed with more, I would have definitely been happy to see her make it, but alas, she did not. The good news is that she’s super young, so it’s hardly the end of the road for this young star-in-the-making. I’ll be keeping an eye out for her in the future.

Cristabel Clack followed, and this 29-year-old Texan’s take on Alicia Key’s “No One” was the very definition of shaky. You’d think that a seasoned performer with some bonafide stage experience singing with a gospel group would be a little more polished, but her Über-tremulous take was shockingly amateurish. The reaction from the judges was surprisingly positive, save from Nicki, who rightly thought her vocals needed reining in, which made me fear she’d get a pass, but she was indeed cut, so no argument here.

Jett Hermano followed her and she did a very mellow take on Rihanna’s “Only Girl in the World” that never quite took off, though it was uniformly solid and comparable to Juliana’s, down to both of them playing an instrument. Keith liked it best, but everyone else felt it needed a big finish, save Mariah, who said there was something to be said for restraint, which is something coming from her. Though I liked it, it was also a bit underwhelming, so I didn’t shed a lot of tears when she was cut.

Aubrey Cleveland followed, and once again, we were treated to a solid, but level performance of a mid-tempo track slowed down for “Idol” purposes. Despite the fact that her take on Beyonce’s “Sweet Dreams” was practically the same as Jett’s take on Rihanna- only minus the instrument- she got mostly rave reviews, with Randy even going so far as to say he’d sign her immediately to a record deal.

Though easy on the eyes, certainly, and looking way sexy in her figure-hugging outfit, I was underwhelmed with her, and a little surprised when she made the team. Of these three last contenders who all tackled slow renditions of mid-tempo songs, I would have undeniably chosen Juliana.

Next up was one of the biggest upsets of the night, in my opinion. The super-appealing Rachel Hale, a small town girl who moved to Nashville to pursue her dreams, did a wonderful take on Grace Potter’s “Nothing but the Water,” which in addition to being a wonderfully left-of-center choice, she delivered with gusto and much-improved vocal skills. As the whole idea is that contestants are supposed to improve from week-to-week and she did, I was more than a little upset, and I’m going to suspect that I’m not alone in this, when she was ultimately cut.

Had the competition been a bit stiffer, this would have been understandable, but her chief competition in the country girl section was Janelle Arthur, who, while cute and appealing in her own right, positively paled in comparison to Rachel, even amongst the judges, who uniformly disliked her song choice.

And yet, she nabbed the last space over Rachel in the end, which is ridiculous. I’m not sure I understand how a performance that every judge criticized got her on the team while another that was comparatively well-received did not, but I’d have liked to have heard the judges justification of it in light of what happened. This was the big upset of the night, in my opinion, and I’m still a bit miffed about it, and I’ll just bet others are, too. Rachel, you were robbed.

Next up was Breanna Steer, who looked like she was poured into that dress of hers, and definitely in a good way. As with Rachel, she picked a worthy left-of-center song, in this case, Jazmine Sullivan’s “Bust Your Windows” and did a nifty flamenco-style arrangement of it that intimidated Keith in a favorable way. It was sort of like the slow-burn version of something like “I Hate You So Much Right Now” by Kelis, aka a tale of revenge in light of love gone wrong.

Nicki thought she was ‘sexy on a stick’ and she ain’t never lied. Randy made her the second performer he’d sign in a heartbeat, and this time, I agreed. Though the delivery was kind of one-note and subtle almost in the extreme, this girl definitely has stage presence to burn, and I had no problem with her making the team. Just stay away from my windows, girl!

After the aforementioned Janelle debacle, came what I’m guessing is by far the most polarizing performance of the night, Zoanelle Johnson’s nutty take on Elton John’s “The Circle of Life,” which almost had me busting out a copy of “The Lion King” for old times’ sake. The wonderfully tribal arrangement was something, and really did do an amazing job of summing up all that’s great about her as a performer- and all that is spectacularly over-the-top.

As a native Liberian that moved to the States at any early age, it also did a great job of feeling like a tribute to her homeland, but let’s face it: it was a bit over-baked. It’s called restraint, Zoanette, and you really need to acquaint yourself with it. Soon enough, the votes will be in the viewer’s hands, and if she doesn’t shear off those rough edges and soon, she’s a goner. Of course, it’s those very rough edges that the judges like, so naturally, she was the first through the gate. I will allow that she’s a wild card and there’s a certain degree of fascination with what in the world she’s going to do next, but simply being eclectic doesn’t make her good, either.

So, a mixed bag at best. I thought this was a much stronger team than last week, but based on these performances, I’m still firmly on Team Angela. I will miss Rachel and Juliana and to a lesser extent, Jett. Of the three, I think Rachel absolutely has an immediate future in the business, and may well become the one that got away, a la Jennifer Hudson. For shame, “Idol,” for not practicing what you preach.

What did you think of “American Idol” this week? Did you agree with judges’ choices? Who would you have saved? Do you get the whole Zoanette thing? Sound off below in the comment section!