Zoanette Johnson is a crazy hot mess. So why did I just watch 'Circle of Life' five times?

Zoanette Idol Lion
Credit: Michael Becker/Fox

We’ve got our Top 10 ladies for season 12! The judges have put through nine excellent singers and one polarizing loose cannon who took last night’s Vegas opportunity to embody the spirit of Africa and breathe it back out in a rare form of leopard-print, trashy nail polish-infused fire. Many people would hesitate to call this fire “decipherable,” or “a song,” or “pleasing to the ear.” But love her or hate her, this creature is compelling. And hey, the producers needed there to be a reason for you to tweet at them during the show about how much you disagreed with the judges. So everyone wins! Except most fans.

I relish any reminder to go ahead and re-watch The Lion King on YouTube as part of my job, so I found the whole Zoanette thing very funny. Of course, I have to. It’s a self-preservation thing, you see. Enough seasons filled with bizarre choices have floated by that at this point, if I let myself get offended by Zoanette’s advancement in the place of purer, better-trained vocals, I am going to have a terrible time.

Cheers to season 12! Through despaaaaaaair, and hoooooooooope….


Cristabel Clack — She left a more lasting impression during her Coke-side chat with Seacrest — the worship leader said she’d been personally assured by God that American Idol was where she was supposed to be — than she did with her cover of Alicia Keys’ “No One,” which Randy called “a little sleepy” and Nicki called “out of control.” Mariah Carey took the opportunity to pull a “Can we hear it for the background singers?” (Cristabel herself has worked as one) and obliviously urged Cristabel to “please come back.” She can’t, silly! At 29, she’s about to expire!

Jett Hermano — This I find to be a real shame. We’ve barely seen Jett, 25, who showed some natural musicianship on her piano-driven cover of Rihanna’s “Only Girl (In The World)” and seemed like a genuinely cool person. There was an understated sexiness to the performance that you don’t see much on reality TV, and even if this particular song wasn’t her best….how would we know? I’d have liked the chance to make a more informed decision. No worries, though! The judges would never steer us wrong. I find it annoying that last week Randy told Shubha Vedula he’d have loved if she’d stayed at the piano, but tonight when Jett did exactly that, he complained that he wanted her to get up midway through and “just rock it onstage, wear it out vocally.” No! Why?

NEXT: Poor Rachel Hale!

Juliana Chahayed — I loved where she was going, or better yet, where she will go in the future with her breathless, baby-soft re-imagining of popular music. The problem is she’s just too young and inexperienced and, as NIcki pointed out, timid up there right now at 15. “Skyscraper” had some really shaky notes and during the last 20 or so seconds, you could see it in Juliana’s cute-as-a-vintage-button face that she was horrified she’d just messed up. There’s so much potential with this one, though. And frankly I’m surprised Idol gave up the chance to hold onto a 70-pound forest sprite in a virginal white cotton dress. She even had a freaking gap tooth! But oh well. It is Juliana’s own fault that she doesn’t look like Rihanna.

Melinda Ademi — “Nobody’s Perfect” and that includes Melinda on this flat Jessie J cover. If you focused really hard on trying to figure out which year her bizarre outfit (purple leggings, leather bike shorts, print blouse) was from (1988), you could avoid cringing at the off-pitch vocals and awkward dance moves. I want to give her credit for going uptempo, but at the same time that song didn’t show off her “rawwwwwwr talent” (Keith Urban, of course) too much and I’m still left wondering what she can really do. And so I will wonder forever! At least Melinda knows now for sure that she’s cute and Nicki Minaj loves her. That is all that really matters.

Rachel Hale — Clearly the producers had already picked their country-singing teachers’ pet of the season and there apparently wasn’t room for both Rachel and Janelle Arthur. Rachel outsang and (perhaps more importantly?) out-performed Janelle by far tonight — she hit some bum notes in “Nothing But the Water” by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, but I marveled at her crowd engagement and general sense of fun. She also loves God and proclaimed the importance of praying — “IT WILL CHANGE YOU, I’M NOT KIDDING!” to the audience after Randy noted her sudden bout of fearlessness. She’s skinny, smiley, 21…I’m actually shocked they passed this happy little Idol spirit animal up.

NEXT: The five girls to advance are…. MOVING ON

Aubrey Cleland — Well hello, heavenly creature. We haven’t been formally introduced, so would you mind standing there with your hip cocked so that the cameras can get a slow, sweeping pan of your 19-stories-high legs? Most excellent. The mixed-race Oregon native is stunningly pretty and didn’t try to oversell Beyoncé’s “Sweet Dreams” — not that she’d have any chance of pulling that one off, of course. Her voice is nice and she didn’t mess up, but that’s about all I can say. The judges blah-blahed about Aubrey’s “complete package” nature — to reiterate, that means that Randy “would sign her right now because she looks amazing.” I can’t argue with any of this, really. She has a lovely, unassuming stage presence and a face expressly created for an album-cover closeup. Did you see that exquisitely placed off-center forehead mole? Well done, God.

Breanna Steer — What?! Not another one! Here’s a second absolutely gorgeous Rihanna look- and sound-alike we’ve never seen much of before, who delivered major sass factor in her cover of Jazmine Sullivan’s “Bust Your Windows.” I can’t tell if the drama-queen persona is a total put-on or if she really has an attitude. I sort of hope she has an attitude! Too many sickly sweet girls here so far.

Anyway, Nicki suggested that the Honduran/Black/Creole Breanna team up with Aubrey and “two more girls that look sexy” to form a supergroup. I ask again: What is this, The X Factor? Keep it in your pants, Minaj. This “Miss. Little. Lady. Bug.” wants to “Work. Work. Work.” on her own. At least for now.

Candice Glover — I’m not sure why I came out underwhelmed after the soul specialist’s cover of Aretha Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” I really appreciated the unique arrangement that gave her vocal more of an obvious power-note spotlight at the end (Candice said she came up with it herself) and marveled at some of her other little choices. I hope she won’t suffer from early-pimpage syndrome — she’s been mentioned time and time again so the idea of her as a frontrunner has been drilled into our brains almost as forcefully as Mariah Carey’s boobs. Maybe it just feels bizarre when it doesn’t seem like a contestant has to do much to prove herself. Most of them are still/especially so desperate at this point, you know? Anyway, Randy encouraged Candice to “do all kinds of stuff no one else can do” with her voice and not be afraid to take more risks. I liked how Nicki expressed shock at how Candice didn’t make it past Vegas last season, to which Randy protested that last year was “such a different time.” Really? Was everyone deaf back then, back in the olden days?

NEXT: Zoanette Johnson, infuriating people since the day she arrived on Planet Lythgoneus Janelle Arthur — Don’t get me wrong, I still think Candice is Top 5 material. But Janelle is another one who didn’t need to give the performance of a lifetime this week to plop into the season 12 Top 20 pool. I’d go so far as to say she was NOT GOOD on her meandering cover of Lady Antebellum’s “Just a Kiss.” It was mostly a song choice issue — the overall effect of listening to her try to get out in front of the melody was much like riding a Tilt-a-Whirl. It just never went anywhere and at the end you’re dizzy, annoyed, and want your two minutes back.

I find it weird that if she’s such a sure thing, there’s not a vocal coach who would gently suggest she try a song that’d be more of a showstopper for Janelle. Then again, the judges did have their “it didn’t give you room to soar” and “you know that you are a star” and “you don’t have to try hard” comments all keyed up, so I guess it’s just a plot technique. BAD PLOT.

Zoanette Johnson — There’s something about Zoanette, isn’t there? I’m not mad she’s in the Top 20. I get it. She’s crazy. I’m sorry; it’s good TV. There may be magic involved. I actually have no idea what she’ll “sing” next. I wouldn’t even call her style singing — it’s more like the unregulated channeling of power. She might hit a note, but it’s not in English. Or she’ll miss a note, and then…well, nothing. She’ll miss another one. But I don’t know! Maybe I sound absurd, but I like to think I haven’t been brainwashed here. Something about her whole janky-ass circus show draws me in.

Actually, “Circle of Life” is more of a religious experience than a song, so in many ways Zoanette’s performance wasn’t even fair. I mean, watch this s— on YouTube. It is impossible to not feel things!

Look, I’m really sorry if Zoanette ruined the song for you. I admit that listening to just the audio was a TERRIBLE EXPERIENCE. But are things really that bad? You just watched the best part of The Lion King at work! Any trigger is a good one.

I’d say this is a unique song choice she won’t be able to replicate. I mean, the point of “Circle of Life” is to be crazy and guttural and just shake it all out. What Zoanette did here was only forgivable because of the song. Eh, I just assume if no one can stand her, she’ll leave first and we can go back to complaining about something else. And at this point, I like the idea that she escaped from a war-torn Liberia at the age of 2 so that she could one day muscle her way into American Idol and FREAK EVERYONE OUT.

Your thoughts? Am I way off on The Strange Magic of Zoanette? Which five would you have picked to go through?

Read more:

Episode Recaps


American Idol

Ryan Seacrest hosts as Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan guide aspiring singers on their way to superstardom.

  • TV Show
  • 16
  • 574
  • ABC