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Round three of SUDDEN DEATH, the Idol brain trust's leanest, meanest invention since Clay Aiken with a hangover. It was the girls again last night, with some favorites emerging alongside a fluke or two who are there to keep the contest interesting, but who will never in a million years, not if Taylor Hicks lives to be three hundred years old (so, not in four years), actually win the damn competition. In a season when the producers have made it clear that they'd like to see a girl win the whole thing for the first time in six seasons, I'm surprised they'd send even one novelty act through. But, oh well. What do I know? Not much.

Last week I went singer by singer, even though we all knew who got sent home and who was through to the next round. So this week let's try talking about the five ladies who are heading off to the next round first, and then we'll get to the losers when we can, K? Great. Let's goooooo.

Aubrey Cleland: Whaaaa! I don't remember seeing her before. Have we seen her before? I mean, I'm sure we've seen some snippet or something of her before, but she still kinda seemed to come out of nowhere last night, didn't she? And she is the real deal. She sang a Beyoncé song just like Beyoncé sings it! It was like going to your local Indian casino and seeing a Beyoncé impersonator who kinda looks like Rihanna. Which may sound like a bad thing — you promised everyone, friends and family, that you wouldn't go back to that casino — but it's actually quite good. Like, here's a pretty, poised, and talented young lady who could actually be viable on the capricious open market. Nicki was especially vociferous in expressing that sentiment, blatantly saying "You have the looks to be successful." Which is good! I mean, let's just be honest about how these things work, right? What's the point of lying? Aubrey clearly knew that she was the full package, but she nodded and smiled and thanked as graciously as she could. Everyone seemed pretty excited about her. And what's not to be excited about? She could make some of these jerks some money. At least the jerks behind the camera. It's been a long, long time since a lady has made money for the Idoljerks, and they are hungry, they are ready. Of course Kelly and Carrie have probably made more money for the producers than anyone else on the competition behind, and they are both ladies, but still. A third would be nice, wouldn't it? Three's a set. I predict big things for Ms. Aubrey.

Candice Glover: We've known for some time that the judges like them some Candice Glover. She's got a big, lush, bellowing voice, the kind that Idol has loved since time began. Even in the ancient primordial ooze and fire of Early Earth, the American Idol judges liked a voice like Candice's. She sang "Natural Woman" and it was perfectly nice, smooth as red velvet cake. But was it fresh? Was it contemporary? Was it young and hip and all the stuff someone needs to be to have the kind of big pop career this show is trying to set a few of these kids up for? No, not really. Maybe Candice was wisely holding back — using this pre-voting round to simply showcase her voice rather than doing a full Performance, a mistake made by several younguns last night — and will really let loose with the fresh 'n' funky come voting time, but I don't know. I think she's a cruise ship singer. A really talented, really lovely cruise ship singer, but her style goes better with crab cakes and the ocean slowly passing by in the window than it does with being crammed inside your friend's beat-up Honda as you head to some random field to drink with boys, y'know? I'm just not sure Candice is in the right range.

Breanna Steer: Another one who sorta came from nowhere and impressed. Like Aubrey, Breanna is pretty and commercial. But unlike Aubrey, Breanna isn't that great of a singer. She came out last night in that hopped-up jumpsuit, all pressed in there like vacuum-sealed meat, and she looked good, ready to rock. But then she sang — that dumb "Bust Your Windows" song about illegally destroying property for emotional reasons — and it was not very good! It was a bit rickety and wobbly and she was only grazing the right notes, never really slamming down on them the way she's supposed to. It was also too much of a performance at the expense of vocals, and it's too early in the game for that. Wait for the audience to vote for a fun performance, show the judges your good voice now. I felt sure that she'd be an easy dismissal, but then, nope. The judges were gooing their Gitanos over this Breanna character, Nicki once again praising her looks and marketability. This time it felt more shameless, somehow dirtier, probably because we were hearing it for the second time that night. And, y'know, I respect Nicki's honesty in praising someone's prettiness, vocally valuing it as an asset in the competition, but it's still sort of strange to hear out loud. Anyway, it doesn't matter now. She's through, glistening bodysuit and all. I hope that becomes her signature look; it would be fun to see lots of variations, with peekaboo holes and various glitters and whatnot. There's a lot to look forward to there, at least.

Janelle Arthur: I suppose the judges felt they needed to have a girl like Janelle on the show this season. Pretty as a pecan, blonde and smiley like a summer day, Janelle is a fine little country corn delivery system in the vein of so many dull contestants before her. She's generic American-made chewing gum, a stand-in for something else, the answer to the question "Where's that breeze coming from?" There's not much to say about Janelle. She beat out another country girl who had a little more character, but was not as blonde and featureless, was not the photo staring blankly back at you from the picture frame before you head to the Walmart checkout line to buy it. The other girl had a little pepper 'n' salt to her, Janelle is just the bland potato buds, sitting in a sack on the bottom shelf. She's the cheap necklace glowing dimly under the glass at the arcade. "That'll be two hundred tickets" the arcade guy says, and then hands the necklace over to some sweaty, rat-faced kid, who later puts the necklace around his girlfriend's chubby neck before they do it in the backseat and she gets accidentally pregnant. That's Janelle there, bouncing up and down on Ashli's chest, glinting like a faraway star winking in the night.

ZOANETTE: Yes, they let ZOANETTE through. Though she is mostly a crazy shaman priestess lady, though she is never that on key, though the judges would never want her to win, never in a million billion years, ZOANETTE has made it to the next round. Granted, when she first released that huge "Naaaaaants ingonyama bagithi Baba," I got chills. She should absolutely play that part on Broadway. I actually think that part was based on her. She should go play herself in The Lion King. But she should not be making it to the semifinals of Idol, no sir. But ZOANETTE did, horking out the rest of "The Circle of Life" like she was both trying to kill it and raise it from the dead, tongue waggling with furious fury, eyes like gumballs glistening with spit, hair proud and wild. Don't get me wrong, I think ZOANETTE has great spirit and character and does have an interesting voice and is probably lots of fun to be friends with, but for me, for you, for this show? I'm just not feeling it. I think season twelve is too g.d. late in the game to be having these novelty carnival acts in the mix. That's all. I wish ZOANETTE every bit of luck in the world, but I don't think it's going to do much good.

As for who went home? Oh, y'know, a few assorted dopes and underwhelmers, people who faltered on notes or did things in a dull way. I thought Jett Hermano, who gave up a Bill Gates scholarship to the University of Washington to pursue music, could have done a few interesting things, but the judges disagreed. And really, who would she have replaced? I guess maybe Breanna, because we already have Aubrey, but oh well. The real injustice of the eliminations, though, was that they sent little cartoon-eyed warbler Juliana Chahayed home. I really liked her! She had a nice tone to her voice — a trembling, windswept plains sound — and could play a guitar and obviously had musical sensibilities, and yet she's only fifteen. That's interesting! I mean, hello, she could be the next Hunter Hayes! I mean Taylor Swift. She could be the next Taylor Swift. Hunter Hayes is the next Hunter Hayes. And Hunter Hayes is also the next Juliana Chahayed. It's difficult to explain. Anyway, the point is they sent her packing and kept ZOANETTE and kept Breanna and kept Janelle and it just doesn't seem fair.

I suppose because Juliana is so young there was that feeling that there's always next year, but, uh, is there going to be a next year? It's hard to say. This might have been her shot. And now they've relegated her to auditioning for stupid The Voice. It was a bum decision. Oh well. It's over with now. Now it's onto the last round of gents and then they're throwing this thing to us. Maybe the ratings will pick up then? I mean, they'll still be asking us to watching ten singers in two hours, which is one singer every twelve minutes, which is ridiculous, but maybe people will get involved with the voting? Who knows, who knows. We'll just have to wait and see, won't we? In the meantime here's this, a little song humming tinnily on a radio in a waiting room, the dull cream and peach colors on the walls thrumming with lonely ache. It's a Janelle song, come to lull you into a glazed and becalmed stupor. That way when ZOANETTE comes to do her magic experiments on you, you'll hardly notice. So listen, let Janelle's mild intoxicant fill your ears, let her whisper you away to a place with no edges, where no one goes through or goes home, where everyone and everything is perfectly, utterly still.

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