The top 10 may have performed, but it was the original American Idol who stole the night

By Justin Kirkland
February 26, 2016 at 04:49 AM EST
Fox
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In America, you are given the right to life. The right to liberty. The right to pursue happiness.

But on American Idol, you also have the right to go from being a Burleson High School graduate to the daughter-in-law of Reba McEntire. And honestly, isn’t that the dream we’re all shooting for? As I sat at my desk today crying while re-listening to MacKenzie Bourg sing (me) “Roses” on the YouTube, I took a second to seriously ponder, “Which of these tiny little Millennials is going to be the next and last American Idol.” I don’t know if I’m sold on any of them, but if I’m okay with anything, it’s that Kelly Clarkson, if only for tonight, is going to be instrumental in at least 10 of them getting there. Yep. It’s top 10 time. Four have been decided, but there are still six to be named.

After we say goodbye to Jeneve Rose Mitchell (y’all called it), Thomas Stringellow (MacKenzie Bourg Lite), Manny Torres (will miss the hip action), and Jenn Blosil (the most obvious mistake, in my opinion), we get a little refresher of who Kelly Clarkson is, in case you are an absurd person and don’t already know her. She’s pregnant (again!!) and joining the judging panel to grill our babies tonight. She’s still as silly and charming as ever. Tonight’s theme is “songs that have been out since Idol has been on.” Oh, theme nights.

Olivia Rox, “Unconditionally”

Rank: Third

Here’s what’s hilarious — we get to see baby videos of Olivia Rox watching Idol. But her package actually makes her more likeable, and her toned-down opening verse sets a perfect stage for what ended up being a way above average top 10 performance. I have not been an Olivia Rox fan, but this was a prime Katy Perry rendition. Jennifer encourages her to really focus in on the big notes, which is fair. Then she tries to show her vocally, which is just obnoxious. Oh, Jennifer.

Gianna Isabella, “Listen”

Rank: Tenth

Okay, I’m going to be harsh, but honestly, I’d make a hard trade and give Gianna to the Idol gods to have Jenn Blosil back. Anyway, in her lead up package, we find out that apparently Brenda K. Starr still tours. Isn’t that a surprising fun fact! Somewhere along the way, Gianna opted to sing Beyoncé’s “Listen,” and no one stopped her, so this is what we get. It showcases the lack of maturity in her voice, even in her stronger moments. During the big runs, she struggles to get on top of the note, but when you step back… isn’t choosing Beyoncé a little ambitious to begin with? Bonus points for the sparkly dress though.

NEXT: Dalton and the ladies

Lee Jean, “Skinny Love”

Rank: Seventh

If you hadn’t been reminded enough, Lee Jean is the same age as Idol. That means that we’re all practically dead. Lee takes on “Skinny Love,” and wisely doesn’t depart too far from the original. The performance is simple and trendy, but it’s not anything we haven’t seen from Lee. It’s just Bon Iver’s songbook instead of Ed Sheeran’s. Speaking of, my favorite Kelly Clarkson moment is when she begins with, “Do you do Ed Sheeran all the time?” and then she spends the next 45 seconds apologizing for calling him out. A true Southern approach, if there ever were one. FROM MY BRAIN TO LEE JEAN’S EARS, KELLY.

Avalon Young, “Stitches”

Rank: Eighth

Avalon, in my super expert estimation, is crazy nervous tonight. I’m not going to lie and say that she’s my absolute favorite, but up until tonight, I’ve felt that she was arguably the most consistent performer. But tonight, it seems like her nerves got to her. Her runs are filled with unintentional vibrato, and at the end, she legitimately seems relieved that it’s over. The judges note that once she made it halfway through, she rebounded, but still — Avalon isn’t the same ball of fire tonight that she usually is.

Dalton Rapattoni, “Hey There Delilah”

Rank: Fourth

Outside of the fact that I hate the song “Hey There Delilah,” I’m pleased with what Dalton does with it. He turns up the tempo and gives it that punk rock vibe that he’s inevitably going to come to be known for. All the girls in the audience scream for him for reasons that only generational gaps can explain. Regardless of Dalton’s hot-guy appeal, I can agree with the judges: Dalton’s style and confidence on the stage is above most of his fellow contenders.

Tristan McIntosh, “Nothin’ Like You”

Rank: Ninth

I actively want to like Tristan, so much so that I find myself dissecting her performances for the best moments. But what’s hard is that Tristan’s best moments are oftentimes tangled up in Tristan’s worst moments. She tackles songs that demand a lot out of her, and this week, it was simply keeping up with the song. Tonight, it seems like her voice is stuck in the back of her throat, and when she goes for the big runs, her voice gets trapped and can’t make it forward. The judges comment on the fact that maybe she should just try and be 15 instead of attacking a song like an experienced artist. Tough times.

NEXT: Kelly picks a favorite, y’all

MacKenzie Bourg, “I See Fire”

Rank: Sixth

Ugh. I can’t stand how much I love my TV boyfriend. And of course, his favorite Idol moment was William Hung’s audition. CLASSIC MAC. In a subtly shady turn of events, he takes on Lee Jean’s initial audition song. Separating my personal love for MacKenzie from my critical ear, it’s clear that his performance tonight isn’t as strong as his song last night. With that being said, his struggles seem to be focused on the higher notes, and the bulk of the song is on point. “I See Fire” may not have been MacKenzie’s best song, but in the trendiest boy in town competition, it’s fair to say that MacKenzie trumps Lee Jean.

La’Porsha Renae, “Diamonds”

Rank: First

That power cape. That standing mic performance. That vague throwback to Whitney Houston Boydguard jewelry. I’m completely here for La’Porsha’s look tonight. And her rendition of “Diamonds” is just nearly spot on. If I’m being nitpicky (which I am), I could live with, like, about 10 seconds less of runs. But other than that, La’Porsha showed up to win tonight, and with the momentum behind Kelly Clarkson saying, “You’re going to win. I love these guys too, but…” it would appear that La’Porsha has a jump on the game.

Sonika Vaid, “Bring Me to Life”

Rank: Second

This is my favorite floor length gown that Sonika has worn to date! Very haute couture, but without trying, ya know? But let’s get to what’s important, which is this: Sonika finally went after something that isn’t a modern day standard. She takes on Evanescence, crushes the beginning, and then stops being a Disney princess and starts getting real. Not every note was perfect, but Sonika’s performance and approach should be lauded enough that she glides through to the top 8 next week. If she continues at this pace, I would not be disappointed to see Sonika win.

NEXT: How a real Idol does it

Trent Harmon, “Like I Can”

Rank: Fifth

You know those weird water snake toys that kids played with in the early 2000s? That’s kind of how I feel about Trent’s performance tonight. For me, I think that Trent should end up in the final five (at minimum), but tonight, it seems like Sam Smith’s song was continuously slipping away from him. His runs were good, but almost slipped away from him. Similar to Jenn Blosil’s approach, I think that Trent has something unique about him that is best used in calculated doses. Tonight felt a little saturated. With that being said, Trent still rose above most of the rest tonight.

And then there’s Kelly…

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Kelly Clarkson, “Piece by Piece”

Rank: All the gold and silver coins and the diamonds, too

Kelly Clarkson is that really painful reminder that even with all the Ryan Seacrest magic in the world, we’re never going to relive that first season. There’s not much to say about Kelly’s vocal because she’s just incredible. She warned us that she might cry during her performance, and for a moment, she has to turn away from the mic to collect herself. Keith is crying. La’Porsha’s crying too. Back in my apartment, I have to blow my nose on what used to be a nice throw pillow. It’s an emotional night for all involved. Kelly Clarkson is, and always will be, the American Idol.

That’s it until next Thursday, where we go back to one episode a week. Until then, tell me your thoughts! Who are the two that should part ways next week? Where were you when Kelly Clarkson donned giant curls and took the inaugural title? Do you think Jeneve is excited to go back off the grid? Hit the comments or let me know on Twitter @justinkirkland4.  

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Ryan Seacrest hosts as Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan guide aspiring singers on their way to superstardom.
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