American Idol Recap: This Is 40 [Updated]

melinda-ademi-american-idolThirty-nine talented young singers stand on the precipice of superstardom. And so does one kinda crazy chick who has only one drum stick (musical, not chicken) as well as the potential to turn American Idol bandleader Ray Chew’s job into the kind of situation that might pique renewed interest in a revival of Discovery Channel’s recently departed Dirty Jobs.

Yes indeed, tonight’s final installment of Season 12 Hollywood Week put the women through their final paces, narrowed their numbers to a lean 20, and — if the “we need a girl to win this year, PLEASE!” intro is to be believed — gave us a glimpse at the show’s Great Y-Chromosome-Free Hope.

Certainly, the Season 12 women’s solo round contained some eyebrow-raising standouts: Melinda Ademi displayed a pop sensibility without the need for an Auto-Tune sponsorship; Kree Harrison proved that the best way to activate viewer tear ducts is by singing from the gut; and the Holy Trinity of Angela Miller, Janelle Arthur and Candice Glover continued to live up to the moderate-to-heavy pimpage to which they’ve thus far been entitled.

To paraphrase the last-named contestant’s solo number, “These! Girls! Are! On! Fiy-yahhhh!” Mmmkay?

We also saw a couple of last-minute singoffs that allowed the judges to cut four final ladies and eight final gents, leaving us with a gender-balanced Top 40 that are now headed to Vegas for the “Sudden Death” rounds in front of a live audience.

For the record, Fox has released the names of all 40 contestants advancing to Vegas, as follows:

Melinda Ademi
Janelle Arthur
Juliana Chahayed
Cristabel Clack
Aubrey Cleland
Candice Glover
Rachel Hale
Kree Harrison
Jett Hermano
Amber Holcomb
Brandy Hotard
Zoanette Johnson
Adriana Latonio
Angela Miller
Kamaria Ousley
Breanna Steer
Tenna Torres
Shubha Vedula
Jenny Beth Willis

Lazaro Arbos
Charlie Askew
Nick Boddington
Curtis Finch Jr.
Kevin Harris
Josh Holiday
Paul Jolley
Johnny Keyser
Elijah Liu
Vincent Powell
Cortez Shaw
Gurpreet Singh Sarin
Jimmy Smith
Bryant Tadeo
Burnell Taylor
Mathenee Treco
Devin Velez
Chris Watson
David Willis

So let’s do a quick rundown on what we saw over the course of the one-hour telecast. Since I just finished a Glee recap and don’t want to wind up face-down on my keyboard, drooling with sleep, I’m gonna keep my descriptions to a Twitter-esque 140 characters (or dang close to it).

Angela Miller, “You Set Me Free” | Have to respect a gal who can write a powerful piano-driven (worship) ballad. Could our new judges make Idol history and regularly praise a female contestant for her “artistry”?

Candice Glover, “Girl on Fire” | Took some lovely liberties with the melody, and I think I may have detected Keith Urban on the brink of throwing a Gospel hand. Amen, brother!

Janelle Arthur, “I Told You So” | For the first time this season, I thought I heard a few nerves creep in to Janelle’s vocal, but by the time she hit the final third of the number, she’d utilized that angst to vividly paint the song’s woman-done-wrong picture.

Zoanette Johnson, “Ba Da Ba Da Dah” | Q: Was this drum-playing mess really yelling at the Idol band to keep up with her on a song she was making up on the fly? Also: Is she approaching the competition as a comedy act or an actual singer? Because I’m starting to feel like the split focus is guaranteeing she’ll succed at neither. Either way, Mariah was way too generous when she said “people will be looking at this performance for years to come” — unless by “people” she meant “Zoanette” and by “looking at” she meant “repeatedly playing on YouTube during breaks from her inevitable desk job.”

Shubha Vedula, “When You Believe” | Oh dear. If this is the kind of maudlin, animated movie soundtrack cut to which Shubha is going to gravitate, then she’s going to get suck being Rated H: For Hell to the No!

Juliana Chahayed, “Landslide” | We heard all of, like, nine seconds of Juliana’s Fleetwood Mac cover, but her tone was tastier than the Barefoot Contessa’s truffled mac and cheese. (Ugh. I think I just wasted two Weight Watchers points on that description.)

Melinda Ademi, “Price Tag” | Not only does she have a spectacular pop voice, but the Season 10 audition-round standout proved that sometimes, a couple extra years of development can result in vastly improved stage presence and lyrical interpretation skills. Bonus points for excellent “hair-ography,” too.

Kree Harrison, “Stars” | Kree brought something incredibly moving to Grace Potter’s mournful anthem — and not just because the show’s producers shared her story of losing both her parents by the time she’d turned 19. Could Kree be Season 12’s dark horse? All signs point to “mmm-hmm.”

Kez Ban, “I’m Flyin’ on a Cloud” | When Kez said she was going to bring out another original track, I optimistically dreamed we were about to get a companion piece to her sensational audition-round “Azure Sky.” Alas, though, the new ditty simply didn’t have the same railroad-tracks blues or lyrical heft. Not that getting cut right before Vegas was enough to derail Kez’s outré-ness. On her way out the door, Kez said she’d auditioned for Idol because her mother’s a big fan, then tried to score a gig as Ryan’s errand-runner. You can’t say she’s not enterprizing!

Also ousted with little/no video evidence: Ashlee Felciano, Briana Oakley, Sarina Joi Crowe and returning vets Lauren Mink and Ariel Sprague.

Finally, the judges called back the 24 women and 28 men who were still standing at the end of solo rounds, and winnowed each gender down to 20 apiece. To ensure one guy and one gal endured the pain of knowing they’d essentially finished in 21st place, or maybe just to make for “Good TV,” the producers staged a final-act sing-off among those competing for the final slots.

On the ladies’ side, it came down to Rachel Hale vs. Stephanie Schimel — or was it Haley Reinhart vs Phillip Phillips? Interestingly, Rachel chose Haley’s “Undone,” but proved that bigger isn’t always better when her belty approach scraped up against the guard rails; Stephanie showed a light, lilting tone on P2’s smash, but wound up getting cut, perhaps because her total body of work didn’t match up to Rachel’s?

On the guys’ side, Josh Holliday split open his pant leg while dropping to his knees on a “Georgia on My Mind” that only made me long for Kendra Chantelle’s and Matt Giraud’s and Casey Abrams’ superior renditions. But it was enough to outlast Adam Sanders, whose “Taking Chances” cover wound up as gory as an average episode of The Following.

Other notable last-minute cuts included David Leathers Jr. (who also got ousted around this point last season), Devin Jones, and Marvin Calderon.

And with that intel dropped in your ear, let me turn things over to you. What did you think of Night 4 of American Idol Season 12 Hollywood Week? Did any of tonight’s singers sound like potential winners to you? And which members of the Top 40 are rocking your world? Sound off in the comments, and for all my Idol-related news, recaps, interviews and videos, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!