Audition City: Baton Rouge, LA (Last Week No. 19)
Adorably awkward teen has major raw talent, but I heard a couple wobbly notes on his "Breakthru"/"Nature Boy." Makes the countdown, however, because my Idology cohost Melinda Doolittle might bonk me over the head if I snubbed the kid.
20. Angela Miller
Audition City: New York City (Last Week No. 18)
Likeable beauty with partial hearing loss in one ear didn’t miss a note on Jessie J's "Mama Knows Best," even if her delivery could’ve used a little less blasty-ness and a little more finesse.
19. Savannah Votion
Audition City: San Antonio (New This Week)
Docked two points for unfortunate sequined tube top, but displayed patience, timing and nuance on the too-frequently-heard-on-Idol "At Last." Single mom could be a real diamond in the rough.
18. Seretha Guinn
Audition City: Charlotte, NC (Last Week No. 15)
Brought jazzy deliciousness to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme — all while propping up her adorable 3-year-old daughter. (Side note: Little London bringing a bear called Dun-Dun for her idol Nicki, whom she'd also dubbed Dun-Dun, has to be among the Top 10 most unabashedly adorable moments in Idol history, yes?)
17. Micah Johnson
Long Beach, CA (New This Week)
What a shock the way his lisp (the result of nerve damage from a tonsillectomy) disappeared when he performed a soulful cover of "Chicken Fried." (No, Randy, that's not called a "fake out," it's an unfortunate medical condition, you imbecile!) As Mariah noted, Micah's lively delivery and sweet tone would've been stirring without any backstory.
16. Isabelle Parell
Audition City: Chicago (Last Week No. 14)
Lured Keith Urban into a sweet duet of "Baby It's Cold Outside” that showcased a smoky-jazzy tone and an appealing hitch on her high notes.
15. Christina "Isabelle"
Audition City: New York City (Last Week No. 12)
Not sure about the quotation marks in her “last” name, but this gorgeous Berklee student who admitted to battling body-image issues took smart risks with the melody on “Summertime” — and walked away with a Golden Ticket.
14. Ashley Smith
Audition City: Charlotte, NC (Last Week No. 11)
Dubbed “Blondie” by Ms. Minaj, Ashley looked like she was getting set up as a joke contestant when the show's producers introduced her eating a sandwich and praising its deliciousness. But her "Cowboy Casanova" had effortless soul and rhythm — and Mariah was right, girlfriend's got an "effervescent" personality to boot.
13. Lazaro Arbos
Audition City: Chicago (Last Week No. 10)
The most emotional moment of Season 12 thus far came when this Cuban-born cutie wowed the judges with a spotless “Bridge Over Troubled Water” right after revealing the crippling stutter he faces when he’s speaking. Miraculous stuff.
12. Ashlee Feliciano
Audition City: New York City (Last Week No. 9)
Part of a family that fosters medically challenging children brought a delicate upper register and groovy lower tone to the often overdone "Put Your Records On." Has the requisite confidence and charisma balanced out by an undeniable sweetness that will help her win votes.
11. Frankie Ford
Audition City: New York City (Last Week No. 8)
Subway singer needed a second start to overcome nerves on Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams,” but when he hit his stride, he displayed great creativity and control in terms of melody and pitch.
10. Nate Tao
Audition City: Oklahoma City (New This Week)
Handsome, self-deprecating guy with two deaf parents showed fantastic range and control on “For Once in My Life” — providing the lone bright spot in the lackluster Oklahoma City episode. Even those trademark Stevie high notes came across effortlessly.
9. Megan Miller
Audition City: Baton Rouge, LA (Last Week No. 7)
Pageant queen + crutches = joke? Think again! Her "Something's Got a Hold on Me" was spring-water clear. And her righteous sense of humor didn’t hurt, either.
8. Burnell Taylor
Audition City: Baton Rouge, LA (Last Week No. 6)
Reticent cutie brought Fantasia-like ferocity to "I'm Here." Mariah found herself in tears, but Keith chimed in with some valid constructive criticism: Dude needs to ditch the shorts-with-workboots sloppiness and "dress for the occasion" the next time he’s on TV.
7. Brandy Neelly
Audition City: Chicago (Last Week No. 5)
The country chica's rendition of "Your Cheatin' Heart" combined genuine feeling, moments of restraint, gut-busting glory notes and even a hint of gravel toward the finish. Good taste in song choice helps, too!
6. Ja'Bria Barber
Audition City: Charlotte, NC (Last Week No. 4)
Teenager who got a lot of airtime for her "frog-giggin'" hobby (code for stabbing bullfrogs on a spike, then cutting off, frying and eating their delicious legs) hit every note of "Pride and Joy” while adding some sway and sass despite the limitations of an a capella audition. Doesn’t seem to have the typical robo-teenager personality that often hinders young Idol hopefuls, either.
5. Jesaiah Baer
Long Beach, CA (New This Week)
Her jazzy phrasing and stellar scatting on Kimbra's "Slow Down" were well beyond her 16 years, but so was her composure in the face of a fire alarm that interrupted her audition. These kids nowadays!
4. Janelle Arthur
Audition City: Charlotte, NC (Last Week No. 3)
Veteran of Season 11 Hollywood Week delivered a pretty mesmerizing take on "Where the Blacktop Ends" (mashed up with "Walkin the Country" for good measure). Quiet charisma + pitch perfection + country wheelhouse could make her a legit hopeful to be Idol‘s first female winner since Season 6.
3. Rachel Hale
Long Beach, CA (New This Week)
Rachel appears to be one of those rare singers whose voice can transition from the delicacy of a kitten's cough to the roar of a lioness standing over a fallen wildebeest. This fast-talking Arkansas cutie took her sweet time with the classic melody of “People Get Read,” and made me feel like I was hearing it for the first time. This is what Idol's all about (for me, for you).
2. Kez Ban
Audition City: Chicago (Last Week No. 2)
Kez herself hilariously admitted that a perky teenage girl, and not herself, should probably win the Idol crown. But holy hell, her original track “Wandering” showcased a hypnotizingly textured voice — and some enviable writing skills. If Kez’s spacey artiste persona doesn’t get far in Hollywood Week, here’s hoping some of her original music finds its way to iTunes: That’ll be a Season 12 victory we can all get behind.
1. Candice Glover
Audition City: Charlotte, NC (Last Week No. 1)
The only reason to find solace in Candice being inexplicably cut after an epic rendition of “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” (with Jessica Sanchez and DeAndre Brackensick) in the Season 11 Vegas Round is the joy of getting to hear her tremendous Season 12 cover of “Syrup and Honey.” The flawless phrasing! The balance of power and finesse! Candice’s almost tactile emotional connection to the song! Let’s get Nicki Minaj’s take: "I'm obsessed with you. I wanna skin you and wear you. I'm not even worthy to critique you." Preach!
Who are your favorites from the Season 12 audition process? Is any stellar contestant egregiously missing from my countdown? Take our poll below, then hit the comments with your thoughts!