In one legendary three-minute interval, poor Juanita Barber squeezed as many mistakes as is humanly possible into her brief American Idol appearance.
The Memphis native, who'd replaced the wildly popular Frenchie Davis after her controversial disqualification, chose to perform "What About The Children" by gospel legend Yolanda Adams – a song that we'd guess no more than one viewer in 30 was familiar with. Strike one. She belted it out in a full-contact, over-the-top style; even Paula Abdul, after groping several seconds for a more polite term, dubbed it "...a lot of oversinging." Strike two. Barber's vocals were nasally and her enunciation noticeably poor throughout the song (no shortage of reviewers whimsically dubbed it "Whaddabout The Chil'run.") Strike three.
But Barber didn't head back to the dugout just yet. When Simon Cowell mentioned politely that he thought she'd chosen the wrong song, Barber snapped "Well, I think America chose the wrong judge!" A testy exchange with Randy Jackson followed in which she questioned his musical credentials (Randy: "Do you know who I am?" Barber: "Well, do you know who I am?") She finished by turning on her heels and stalking offstage angrily. The only two words in the English language that can begin to express how well all of this went over with the Idolsphere are "lead balloon."
According to a piece on the very fine Idol blog Rickey.org, Barber later told an interviewer that she hoped, by fighting back to the judges' criticisms, that America would take her side. To say this strategy backfired would be an understatement.
With an approval rating of 2, "What About The Children" currently occupies the bottom rung in the WhatNotToSing.com database. Given how many off-tune, off-tempo, off-kilter performances have followed without coming within two points of it, it's possible that "Children" will never relinquish its spot.
What's remarkable about this disaster is that, while we'd agree that Barber's vocals were comfortably in the 1-star range, we think this is far from the worst singing that any Idol has unleashed on America in competition. In fact, whatever else one might say about the performance, the vocals were more or less in tune. Some of the factors that caused it to be received so poorly were beyond Barber's control: singing in the slot that Davis would have occupied, and the incongruous backdrop of flowers as she sang (which we presume was the producers' doing, not hers.) The exceptionally unwise song choice and the sloppy diction squashed whatever little chance she had to advance. But the abysmal approval rating is a reflection, more than anything else, of Barber's lack of composure in the face of the judges' criticism. And that, we'd say, is "Children"'s legacy to future contestants.