Alrighty nerds, welcome back to a little show I like to call American Idol: The Search for a Superstar. The blissfully concise 12th audition cycle has officially come to an end, and after 6 nights in 7 cities, roughly 300 brave individuals have made it past the fierce, polycephalous beast guarding the trapdoor to Hollywood. (Lulling it gently to sleep with their beautiful music.) (This metaphor is spectacular.)

But before we start to take inventory of the latest crop of hopefuls, let’s take a moment to talk about said polycephalous beast, which lost two of its heads in the off-season and grew three more in its place. Of course we’re still stuck with Ye Olde Idiotface, because apparently he’s made a bunch of Horcruxes through the violent act of murdering the English language and as such cannot be killed. As for the other three, I’ve been enjoying them way more than I expected to thus far, though of course it’s impossible to predict how that’ll translate into the live rounds without the benefit of careful editing. I’ve actually found Mariah to be kind of accidentally hilarious in her superciliousness, and I can certainly see why they tapped Keith to bring the good ole Blake Shelton-style country charm. The biggest surprise for me thus far though has got to be Nicki Minaj – who I admit I was especially wary of in lieu of all the controversy – and uh, as it turns out she’s delightful? Like, witty, warm, charming, genuine… In the wise words of Alanis Morrisette: “Who woulda thought? It figgers.”

Okay look, so we all know the Idol judging panel has undergone many changes and has been the source of much intrigue over the years. Some people will forever maintain that this show ended when a certain crotchety Englishman left the judging panel. I say what sets Idol apart from its many competitors is that the judges are not the show; they’re just one part of a framework that encloses and supports the show. The true heart of Idol has always been the talented young folk who walk into that audition room all nerve and ambition and raw talent and grow over time into viable, radio-ready recording artists. They’re the ones that stick with me at the end of the day, not Dopey, Loopy, and Crotchety, or Dopey, Loopy, Jaunty and Mordacious, or Dopey, Sparkly and Stoned, and it won’t be any different with Dopey, Sassy, Charming and Magnanimous, no matter how well or poorly they wind up doing.

So let’s move on to what’s really important.

Here I’ve assembled my top 10 lady auditions of the season, arranged by my personal, purely subjective preference:

10) Tenna Torres

I was all ready to hate her after all the Mariah worship, but DAMN that girl can sing! She does have kind a put-on quality in her tone that I could imagine becoming grating after a while, but she gave a controlled, dynamic performance with runs that were, like, borderline-nonhuman. I like that she’s 28 too – she’s got that fire in her eyes, and there’s a depth and a soul to her delivery that only age and experience can provide.

9) Angela Miller

There’s something undefinable in Angela that makes me want to root for her. She seems super genuine and sweet, and damn if I can find one flaw in that performance. She was pitch-perfect, her tone is beautiful, she’s a dynamic performer, she wasn’t afraid to move… Angela is the kind of singer this show loves to take for granted and cut way too soon, but I hope she’ll stick around because I think we’ve only scratched the surface of her talent.

8) Seretha Guinn

Okay, so I hated the extended package about the husband, then the adorable daughter started to win me over, but what really sold me was the second she announced that she was taking on Fresh Prince of Bel Air. The choice to take Fresh Prince, change up the words, give it a melody, and sing it on national television was so bold in itself it almost didn’t matter what it sounded like, but what it sounded like was SO flippin’ cool! I’m can’t help wondering how much more she’s got up her sleeve – is it going to get any better than that? – but it was without question one of the most fun auditions of the season.

7) Jesaiah Baer

Jesaiah has a few rather distracting bad habits that I’m anxious for the Idol vocal coaches to beat out of her, but she’s got such a cool, unique vibe about her I could see her growing into something really special given the chance to advance and grow over the course of a season. I love the song choice, I love her delivery of the song, I love that she’s a little crazy, but of course most importantly I love the scatting (which just so happened to be the most on-point part of her whole vocal performance, so that’s a pretty awesome sign). Anyone brave enough to scat on Idol earns a free pass into my heart. *sigh*

6) Taisha Bethea

I’ll admit, I may be a little more excited about the potential for this one than the audition itself, but MAN does this chick have some exciting potential. First of all, she’s got that great awkward/dorky Siobhan Magnus confidence thing so I already adore her. Then she’s got that smooth tone with the cool breathy rasp, and she auditions with J Cash and Alanis, so ya know the girl’s got taste. She strikes me as the real f-ing deal, and she seems like she’s got a good head on her shoulders. I’m not daring to get my hopes too high, but I’d love to see this girl make it far. I like to have at least one rockin’ underdog to root for in the live rounds.

5) Kez Ban

Oh I fucking LOVE me some Kez Ban. I don’t even know what to say, I just love it. She’s fuckin looney toons but in the best possible way, and she’s got THE most unique sound to grace the Idol stage in quite some time. She’s quirky, she’s interesting, you just know she’s going to have the greatest sound bites ever… Thank GOD for Kez Ban. Why isn’t Kez #1? First of all, I need her to dial it back with the abrasiveness if I’m going to fully jump on board – be witty and self-deprecating, but don’t be hostile. Play to the fans, not the haters. Channel your inner-Daria and learn to put your inner-Janis Ian away. That aside, I do find myself sort of agreeing with what she herself said – at the end of the day I’d prefer the the winner of American Idol to be… not some starry-eyed 16-year-old kid, but someone who WANTS it a little more than Kez seems to want it. But like she says, even if I don’t necessarily want her to win, I DEFINITELY want her to go to Hollywood… and then Vegas… and then the live shows…

4)  Rachel Hale

Mark my words: Rachel Hale is one to watch. It was a pretty straightforward, unassuming audition, but by god if this girl doesn’t scream superstar in the making. She’s got a big, booming country-radio-ready voice with such a rich, refined tone. She’s also got that great endearing, wide-eyed, small-town energy about her that made Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood so instantly beloved, adorable country twang and all. I hate to channel J-Lo, but I must admit this one really did give me some goosebumps. (goosies! *VOMIT*)

3) Kiara Lanier

Oh COME ON now. First of all, the girl is fucking drop-dead stunning, so let’s just get that out of the way. Not only that but she’s got a fantastic natural charisma and an ease in front of the camera that makes me think this aint her first rodeo. For sure this girl has done some modeling or child acting or something, amiright? And she can SANG. She’s got a rich full tone in her lower register and a stupid gorgeous falsetto with crazy control throughout. She proved she can do the ridiculous runs, she proved she can utilize restraint, her rendition was emotionally resonant… Just give the girl a fucking crown now.

2) Janelle Arthur

I’m so pumped about this girl!! Janelle had one of my favorite auditions of season 10 but she got cut in one of the first Hollywood rounds. Then last season I got all excited when I spotted her in the crowd in Hollywood, but they never showed her again, so she’d better be going places this time around or I’m going to have a Carrie Mathison-sized shit fit. Her season 10 audition was a little softer and showed off a gorgeous, buttery tone, this most recent outing she gave power and grit, and throughout both she showcased a natural artistry, mastery of her craft, and a charming, captivating disposition. Third time’s the charm???

1) Candice Glover

Candice’s ouster last season after this ri-donk-u-lous Vegas round performance was absurd enough that I still remember (and get mad about) it a year later. But I must say, after this I may almost revoke some of my initial indignation, because I do believe that having taken a year to grow into herself and her voice may just have taken Ms Candice from a gone-too-soon 8-12th place finish to a true, true contender for the top spot. If she keeps on crushing it like she did here… J Hudson: watch ya back, girl!

So there we are, through the trap door and onto Hollywood; the conveniently-placed benign, squishy plant directly below said trap door. Except… what’s this? The plant is moving! It’s binding our hands and feet! This is not a benign, squishy plant at all – it’s a DEVIL’S SNARE!! Ladies and nerds, we’ve got a long and arduous journey ahead of us.

Til next time,