Idol duets makes you ponder: Can a coronation song performed by another contestant sound as sweet?

By Justin Kirkland
February 12, 2016 at 03:48 AM EST
Michael Becker/Fox
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Hello, you little American Idol fans. It seems like just yesterday that we were together, and that’s because we were. Let’s cut to the chase: Last night there were some good performances and some decent performances and then some performances that were super good if you were feeling really supportive at a karaoke bar after drinking a vodka Red Bull or eight. I put it like that because we’re here to be supportive and kind and don’t need to point out that people are awful. This is American Idol, and if there’s one thing you can do in America, it’s follow your dreams, even if you’re probably not going to succeed. But before we begin, let’s chat about the whole premise of this episode: the judges’ vote. Well, that and the Idol duets.

For some reason this season, the judges are allowed to push the top 14 through, and that seems questionable at best. It pretty much means that we have no say on who should go to the live rounds, but it also eliminates that big question of “What did you do America?” because apparently America gets no say-so. But, I’m sure we’ll discuss that later. Tonight is Idol duets, which is where veterans come back and perform with the newcomers. I stay pretty chill about it until I hear that Fantasia is showing up, which is when I start walking around my living room, bouncing on the balls of my feet, and yelling, “I BELIEVE IN THE IMPOSSIBLE.” Let’s meet the pairs:

Emily Brooke, “Flat on the Floor”

Partner: Lauren Alaina

Rank: Eleventh

Poor Emily needed a good showing tonight because last night was tough. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen for her. Emily Brooke was one of my very favorites, but one of her first notes tonight was flat as a fritter, as Lauren Alaina might say. And putting her next to Lauren does nothing but highlight the disparity. The judges point out the difference in voice maturity, which is a nice way of nearly confirming that she will not be moving forward to the live rounds. Yikes.

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Thomas Stringfellow, “Man in the Mirror”

Partner: Nick Fradiani

Rank: Fourth

Stringfellow reminds us that his girlfriend broke up with him right before the competition, and Nick tells him that the same thing happened to him during his season. It’s like they’re the same person, but not. Stringfellow is still sticking with that hiccup gimmick at the end of all of his words, which nearly works with Michael Jackson, but it didn’t quite get there. Against Nick, he’s able to hold his own, but he would improve a million times over if he’d stop the squeak at the end of each line. The judges knock him for the performance’s authenticity, though, so tough times for Stringfellow.

NEXT: Summertime isn’t the right season for everyone

Stephany Negrete, “Superstar”

Partner: Ruben Studdard

Rank: Eighth

I’m immediately devastated Ruben’s not wearing a “205” shirt, but that was 13 years ago, and he has a statement scarf now. So maybe I need to let it go. If any of y’all started watching Idol recently, Ruben is the perfect example of what this show could turn out in its prime. Stephany, however, struggles to hold her own. Actually, to be frank, Stephany felt like a really glorified backup singer, and I hate saying that because she is talented. But against Ruben…it’s a tough show. I’m sorry (2004).

Sonika Vaid, “Skyfall”

Partner: Caleb Johnson

Rank: Second

This is what I’ve wanted for Sonika. An interesting outfit and song and performance. I’m not saying that it was perfect. Actually, Sonika may have had stronger vocals before, but this is the kind of performance that makes me want to root for her. The combo with Caleb sounds nuts, but the moments she shined brightest were in working against Caleb’s vocals. Specifically, the low-range harmonizing she pulled off was insane. Sonika also gets bonus points for thanking the band. Rickey Minor is somewhere in the shadows feeling so validated.

Jenna Renae, “See You Tonight”

Partner: Scotty McCreery

Rank: Tenth

It’s still hard for me to process that Scotty McCreery sounds the way he does. The biggest thing that he has on Jenna is consistency. What I mean by that is that on certain notes, Jenna kills it, but on other notes, she completely flounders. Like many of the performances before her, Jenna fails to really capture the stage in the way that Scotty does. There’s likely only room for one Renae in the competition anyway.

La’Porsha Renae, “Summertime”

Partner: Fantasia Barrino

Rank: Seventh

Okay, I’m going to just say it: This combination is just too predictable. The fact that they’ve chosen “Summertime” has me saying, “This can’t be a good idea.” Fantasia does exactly what she did 12 seasons ago: dominates. La’Porsha, who I have nothing but undying support for, does not. She yells and grinds through the song in a way that Fantasia wouldn’t dare. Keith gives them a standing ovation, but that performance was not season 3, and La’Porsha is not Fantasia. Not yet. I still believe in the power of La’Porsha, but I don’t believe in that performance.

MacKenzie Bourg, “I Hope You Dance”

Partner: Lauren Alaina

Rank: Third

So this isn’t the pairing I would have chosen for my TV boyfriend, but it’s what the American Idol producers have blessed us with, so there. MacKenzie holds his own in a song that was basically chosen for Lauren Alaina. But it’s the first time that I feel like the new contestant wasn’t singing backup for a past victor. With that being said, it also felt like two separate renditions being performed at the same time. Jennifer Lopez says it’s “mismatched but feels right together,” which are my thoughts on peanut butter and bacon. 

NEXT: Coronation songs for days

Scott Borchetta makes an appearance (hi, Scott!) to talk about this new concept of Idol duets, and Scott isn’t afraid to tell it like it is: Some have stepped up, and others have failed. Way harsh, Scott. That’s why you’re wonderful.

Gianna Isabella, “Beautiful Life”

Partner: Nick Fradiani

Rank: Fifth

Did you know there’s a color called metallic eggshell? I choose to focus on the color of Gianna’s outfit because this arrangement is messy at best. I also think it’s bonkers that Nick’s coronation song was chosen, but we’ve heard “Summertime,” so who knows what the logic is. Anyway, I stand behind my assertion that Gianna has a strong voice, even if that performance was a little suspect. Meanwhile, she continues to ride out that mother/daughter narrative, while Brenda K. Starr jumps up and down in the audience, whisper-yelling, “I’m relevant!” I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Gianna, like it or not.

Avalon Young, “Flying Without Wings”

Partner: Ruben Studdard

Rank: First

Speaking of coronation songs, let’s talk about Ruben’s. The thing that Avalon has going for her is that “Flying Without Wings” is not a great finale song, so she has a chance to improve. The best part of Avalon’s performance is that her admiration for Ruben is palpable. At moments, I question whether she has what it takes to hang with Ruben, specifically when she bows to him mid-performance, but when the song climaxes and Avalon takes the reins, she feels like a true music artist. Also, big kudos for not looking like she just swung in from the gym. Avalon is growing on me.

James VIII, “Gimme Shelter”

Partner: Caleb Johnson

Rank: Ninth

James VIII opened up the song’s first verse, and I think that’s the only time I clearly heard his voice. I really like James VIII’s style, but it is almost immediately swallowed up by Caleb and the music and maybe even my typing of this recap. The more I hear of James VIII, the more I am reminded that he’s better suited as a really relatable bar singer. I would absolutely sit through his entire performance and at least three whiskey sours, but at the end of the day, I don’t know if he’s ready for the big stage.

NEXT: Jeneve’s first crush GONE WILD

Jeneve Rose Mitchell, “Gone”

Partner: Scotty McCreery

Rank: Mauve

Jeneve Rose Mitchell totally came into her own tonight, y’all. However, Jeneve Rose Mitchell’s “own” is literally out of control. You see, what’s super misleading is that in rehearsal, Jeneve was REALLY GOOD. But on stage, that performance felt like the visual manifestation of what it feels like to have your first crush. She’s like running around and yelling and doing little finger guns and blushing. In short, Jeneve singing “Gone” is me every time I go to the club and try to flirt. Similar to Keith’s critique, I have no further comment because I love Jeneve Rose Mitchell, and I’m going to forget that happened. I won’t even rank her with a number. Just the color of her aura tonight.

Jordan “Ex-Man Bun” Sasser, “I Believe”

Partner: Fantasia Barrino

Rank: Sixth

Y’all. This is my third favorite coronation song (behind “Home” and “A Moment Like This,” because duh). I close my eyes when Fantasia sings it, and I see her bouncing about with an open blazer with little to no care for what anyone thinks. And then Jordan gives it his best go, which means he oversings it. And then he goes there. He starts to bounce-sing like Fantasia, and it’s that point that I simultaneously invest in and give up on Jordan Sasser. I understand his spirit, but his execution doesn’t take me to the same place that Fantasia does. As the song ends, Fantasia literally palms Jordan’s face, as if she’s blessing him and condemning him. The judges agree that he oversings it, which doesn’t bode well for moving forward.


The judges announce their top seven, in the following order:

La’Porsha Renae

Sonika Vaid

Avalon Young

Gianna Isabella

Thomas Stringfellow

MacKenzie Bourg

Jeneve Rose Mitchell (!!!)

And that means no more James VIII, Man Bun, Emily Brooke, Stephany Negrete, or Jenna Renae. Did America the judges make the right decision? Do you feel like the contestants kind of didn’t stand a chance against the former contestants? Hit the comments, or shoot me your thoughts on Twitter @justinkirkland4 until we can do it all again next week.

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