Top 40 – the female side of the draw

 I spent several enjoyable hours this afternoon, looking up video of these kids and letting Youtube take me places. I found someone I’d never heard of named Lucie Silvas (British artist, I love her voice and her style) doing a video with a contestant, I found a world class concert pianist playing with his two kid sisters (one of them a contestant), I found another contestant singing Adele (surprise), said contestant actually sang it as well as Adele (that was a surprise). I discovered a young Rhianna, a young Jewel, and possibly a couple of young Loretta Lynns. Add in a possible young future clock tower sniper, a Barbie doll who plays the piano, and we’ve covered about half of them. It’s a talented, talented bunch. I’m ranking them according to their chances of making the tour (top 5 girls), not to win. Call it a “safe to in danger” list.

20: Zoanette Johnson It doesn’t bother me so much that she’s a whack job. Some of the greatest artists in the world have been whack jobs. Amy Winehouse was a whack job, but she was able to put out some memorable art before her mental struggles (and substance abuse issues) got the best of her. Edgar Allen Poe, Ernest Hemingway…. great writers, but you wouldn’t let them hang around your house without supervision. Steve Earle might be the best pure Americana songwriter since Woodie Guthrie, and nobody will ever describe him as a bastion of mental health. No, Zoanette’s weakness isn’t that she’s batshit crazy. In a way, that’s her strength.

Zoanette’s weakness is that she hasn’t completed one single performance without losing her temper, her composure, and her bearings. She isn’t a candidate to have a train wreck, she’s a lock to have a train wreck. Every single time she gets in front of a camera a train wreck follows. Get her some horse tranquilizers, a couple years of therapy, and see what we have then. For now, though, she’s pretty much Amy Winehouse – the later years.

19: Rachel Hale– It’s hard to rank her any higher when she nearly got dumped in the 21 hole.

18: Adriana Latonio– She’s a tiny Pilipino teenager from Anchorage, Alaska, basically a weak carbon copy of Thia Megia. She will have to be quite a bit better than she was in her videos to be a real contender.

17: Aubrey Cleland This is her third year in the system; she made it to the top 90 in 2011, 40 in 2012, and now 40 this year. She has been improving steadily, and she’s probably ready to make the live shows now. If it was up to me, though, I’d wink at her and dump her one more time. She’s still really young, and she isn’t smooth with her new chops yet like she will be in another year.

16: Breanna Steer– I was surprised she made it this far, but that doesn’t mean I’m disappointed. She doesn’t have an amazing voice or much experience, but she doesn’t suck; she has a little Tina Turner in her she might be able to channel. She looks sort of like E.T. got together with Jessica Rabbit.

15: Brandy Hotard– I dismissed her after her audition, since she sang out of tune. She sang out of tune again during Hollywood week, but not badly out of tune and she had some other things going for her. She looks like Valeri Bertinelli a little, and she sings like Tanya Tucker – a little. I’d compare her overall to Jen Hirsch from last year; bad intonation, but a good voice and she’ll leave it all out there on the stage.

14: Cristabel Clack- She did Alicia Keys at her audition, which threw me off  (I dismissed her chances). If she’s smart, she’ll stick to rhythmic stuff and stay the hell away from Alicia, because she sounds just enough like Alicia to demonstrate that she’s clearly not as good as Alicia at singing Alicia. Her best features are her super-strong rhythmic sense, a joyful manner in her stage presence, and a bit of a scratch in her tone. If she does some salsa, or some up tempo gospel, we’ll be amazed. If she sings a ballad, she puts herself at risk because she is merely a good ballad singer, not a great one. She has potential to be great up tempo.

13: Jenny Beth Willis–  She fronts a bluegrass band named “Straight-Laced” back in Owensboro, Kentucky; her style is old school country, and being from Kentucky it’s natural to compare her to Loretta Lynn. I would too, but there is another singer here who sounds much more like Loretta.

12: Tenna Torres Remember Aaron Sanders? He tried to make the live shows for several years, just missed over and over, then finally made the final 24 only to get dumped right away. Tenna is the new Aaron Sanders, too polished and experienced to dump, but not memorable enough to advance.

11: Kree HarrisonThis is a tough group, but even in this group her tone stands out. She sounds sort of like Jewel, but her style is more mainstream Nashville. Her stage presence isn’t the best (she tends to look distracted, even when she is singing), so she is still maybe a bit of a sleeper more than contender. What a voice, though….

10: Juliana Chahayed– At 15 years old she can’t be expected to go deep, but she is far from your typical teenager. Her older brother is a concert pianist, her father a renowned percussionist, her younger sister a singer/guitarist in her own right. Juliana herself is maybe the best guitarist the show’s had since Casey James. Vocally, it’s hard to really describe her, since she’s too young to have developed a go-to style. She has a sweet voice, and as a well trained musician she knows what to do with it.

9: Melinda Ademi–  When I think of these young kids with their own websites, their own “labels”, who post dozens of home videos of themselves covering every song Adele ever did, Melinda is one of the first I think of; Melinda or Brielle Von Hugel. Sooner or later, one of them will go get a degree and come back to win Idol, not just show up at 16 or 17 and be not good enough yet. Melinda was the poor kid that the mean vocal coach famously tore up, singing with Thia Megia (I think they were singing “Here Comes the Sun”) in Vegas during season ten. She has oodles of talent, but she’s still too young and inexperienced to win.

8: Shubha VedulaAnother talented, precocious kid who could be a serious contender with a few years of high level training and experience. She is too good already to just dump, so I’m afraid she’ll end up in no-man’s land like Shannon Magrane or Brielle Von Hugel did; losing their eligibility but missing the tour, ending up Idol has-beens before they are old enough to vote.

7: IsabelleMaybe it’s the pretension of giving herself a one word name, but I don’t like her as much as the judges seem to. She repeated her audition song in Hollywood, which to me is a red flag; it tells me that her repertoire is limited. She isn’t a kid, she’s an adult. She should have more than one impressive song in her pocket. I rank her this high because the judges love her so much. Based on my personal preference, she’d be 19th.

6: Kamaria Ousley– Lil Rounds type, maybe not quite as strong a voice but in every other way the new and improved version. She sounds mature, educated, and centered. The stage shouldn’t be too big for her, like it was for Lil. I hope she wears the crazy glasses she wore on Group Night again, that’s a cool look for her.

5: Amber Holcomb– She might end up being my favorite, like Hollie or Siobhan were. She has that sort of huge, racehorse wild voice, full of life and potential, that can create moments – or the occasional train wreck from trying to do too much. She is the one who nailed Adele.

4: Jett Hermano- Jett is short for Bridget…. Another tiny Pilipino teenager, she seems to have designs on being the next Rhianna. She’ll be compared to Jessica Sanchez a lot, but don’t buy it. She is a very different type of performer. Her resume is impressive, and varied. She is extremely intelligent, too. Scary prospect.

3: Janelle Arthur– Loretta Lynn, Loretta Lynn, Loretta Lynn. For Janelle’s sake, lets hope the voters love Loretta Lynn….

Aside: Janelle’s been on Idol for three years now, never making it past the Group Night before this year. She was her own worst enemy, holding back air in fear of going out of tune, so she couldn’t compete once the competition started to get fierce. I called her “parking brake girl”, and we never really got to know her other than a few notes here and there. This year, the light came on. She sings freely now, and suddenly she is a serious contender to win the whole thing.

Every time I see a teenager talking about how this is their “only chance” and that they have to make it this year, I remember Haley Reinhart (3 times), Josh Ledet (5 times) – and now Janelle Arthur (3 times). Haley and Josh finished third; you do the math.

2: Angela Miller– She seems more like a Miss America contestant to me than an Idol contestant; after her dominating performance last week, though, she is a virtual lock for the live shows. I think of her as the new Brooke White; Brooke finished fifth, and that’s about where I think Angela will finish.

1: Candice GloverIdol cast her in the Colton Dixon “we screwed you last year, so we are going to pimp you relentlessly this year” role, so she’s golden until they go live. Once the live shows start, we’ll see what America thinks.

My favorites are Juliana, Janelle, Shubha, Kamaria and Amber. Next up will be a recap of the Hollywood shows, then things heat up for a couple of weeks as everyone gets to present us a full, live performance.

Rest in peace, Mindy McCready, and thanks for the music.

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