American Idol recap: Which three contestants earn a spot in the finale?
It seems truly bonkers that we are already selecting our final three contestants for American Idol‘s season 17, but also, somehow, I am completely ready to crown someone a winner here. Probably Laine. The season felt like it had so much promise, but by the time we hit the live shows, many of the eliminations felt both predictable and disheartening—no, I’m still not over Dimitrius, okay? If you can believe it, next week is the FINALE, so tonight, the Top 5 contestants have three chances to prove why they deserve a shot at the title. They’ll be singing one song chosen by mentor Bobby Bones, one from the Elton John songbook (it feels truly criminal Jeremiah was cut before this theme), and one dedicated to the contestant’s hero. That’s a lot of singing before two hopefuls are let go! Let’s find out who’s singing what, how they sound, and who’s, ahem, still standing after tonight. Yes, that’s an Elton John pun, you are welcome.
ROUND 1: BOBBY BONES’ PICKS
Wade Cota // “You Are the Best Thing” by Ray Lamontagne
I mean, yes, of course. Wade should always be singing Ray Lamontagne, his songs are perfect for the Wade Rasp. I love that Wade’s personality is shining through his performances more and more—remember when he was so angry and sad all the time? I feel like his stint as Andy’s Toy during “Disney Night” did him well. I like this more upbeat, romantic Wade. The judges do, too. Luke especially loves how Wade seems so much more confident than he did when we started. The guy’s just happy to be here!
Laci Kaye Booth // “The House That Built Me” by Miranda Lambert
I’m really waiting for an outside-the-box pick from Bobby, but again, this is fine. Bobby says selfishly he just wants to watch Laci sing this one. Sure! It’s very much in her wheelhouse—a little country and a lot of storytelling. I wish she had gotten to do another acoustic version of a pop song—put a Laci Twist on something to remind us why we loved her in the beginning. This is a little safe. Even Laci knows she shouldn’t have made it past last week and probably won’t earn a spot in the finale, so this feels like a farewell celebration tour. Live it up, girl!
Alejandro Aranda // “No Woman, No Cry” by Bob Marley & The Wailers
Bobby loves to see Alejandro tackle well-known songs, and this Bob Marley classic seems like a great song to let Alejandro get his hands on. He keeps things subtle and cool, per usual, and it’s one of my favorite Alejandro performances of the season. Katy Perry tells him that he “just stepped into [his] power” which is A LOT but also, feels very Katy. For the first time Alejandro’s treating himself like a serious contender on this show, she says. I think our Idol Matriarch might be right. He’s on the fast track to the finale and it seems like he finally believes the hype.
Laine Hardy // “Can’t You See” by The Marshall Tucker Band
Once again, Laine delivers a solid performance, but as Katy points out, it’s lacking the fight that some of the other contestants less sure of their spot in the finale might have. Lionel wants real attitude. We all know he can sing and that the ladies are clearly ready to Party with the Hardy (don’t hate me, that tagline makes me laugh every time), but he’s yet to really move us. We need some emotion! Some grit! Just something!
Madison VanDenburg // “What About Us” by Pink
Bobby picked this song in hopes of getting Madison to let go and give us the emotion she’s been lacking in most of her performances. A Pink song is all about emotion. There’s no hiding in this one. Like Laine, she is solid every week—her voice is gorgeous, we all know this—but the emotional connection is still not fully there. It’s interesting that the judges’ critiques are all about how insane her vocal range is and not one peep about her growing in emotional depth. That’s very telling.
ROUND 2: THE ELTON JOHN SONGBOOK
Wade Cota // “Rocketman” by Elton John
This is the kind of song choice I’ve been craving tonight! You wouldn’t necessarily pick an Elton John song for Wade Cota, but I’m so glad he was forced to go there. “Rocketman” sounds great on him. Also, I’m always here for some Elton fashion. It’s no sequin Dodgers uniform, but bedazzled sunnies will do. Papa Lionel calls him “right and perfect” which, like, if Lionel Richie said that about me, I’d put it on my tombstone. But what he’s really getting at is that Wade is embracing songs and characters and that really helps in showing off what Wade can do. Luke’s critique is that Wade should’ve kept his sunglasses on the entire time and it is officially my favorite critique I’ve ever heard on this show.
Laci Kaye Booth // “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting) by Elton John
This…is not what I would’ve guessed Laci would’ve selected from all the Elton songs out there. I was hoping for a quiet, sultry “Tiny Dancer.” In my dreams, perhaps. The performance is definitely a departure for Laci—and when you’re singing on borrowed time, why not just go for it—but her voice doesn’t really have the power to stand up against the band. The judges disagree and seem to love seeing this side of Laci—what don’t they love at this point though? All the awards for that jumpsuit always and forever.
Alejandro Aranda // “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” by Elton John
Alejandro is not playing around—the guy is out to prove he deserves to be the Idol champ. After these first two rounds, if I were Laine—the clear front-runner—I’d be a little nervous. Does America love Alejandro as much as the judges? Luke tells him he’s “owning the night” and Lionel tells him flat out (and his friend Elton will agree) that he “killed that.” Katy thinks Alejandro finally believing he has a shot has completely transformed him. Is it enough? Guys, can you imagine Alejandro as an American Idol? I demand an Alejandro-Kelly Clarkson collab immediately.
Madison VanDenburg // “Your Song” by Elton John
Okay, this is the part of the program when I really started missing Jeremiah. The kid would’ve been at the piano the entire time CRUSHING THIS SONG. We know Madison can play instruments, why didn’t she utilize that here? Again, she gives a technically great performance, but man, can you imagine how moving it would’ve been if she had really dug into it from the piano? Move me, is what I’m saying! Katy gets her ketchup and mustard (sure?), I want my tears!
Laine Hardy // “Something About the Way You Look Tonight” by Elton John
Oh, okay, Laine Hardy. Lose the guitar and slow it down a bit, I see you. We needed to see something a little different from Laine and this is his answer to that request. Immediately, Katy asks if he went to a vocal coach because it shows. He seems a little lost without a guitar to hold onto, but he sounds great. Dare I say, a little swoony? I’m sure the old Laine will be back by the end of the night, but it was nice to see him stretch himself, even just a little.
ROUND 3: CONTESTANT DEDICATIONS
Wade Cota // “Hard Luck Woman” by KISS
I was not ready for this. Wade writes a long, heartfelt letter to the heroes he’s dedicating his performance to—his mom and stepdad—and they read it aloud in front of him. WHAT IS THIS. I take back ever asking for tears. Now I need them to stop. If Wade doesn’t go any further than tonight, this is such a great song for him to go out on. You can tell it means so much to him and his mom—also, he sings the crap out of it. That’s really all you can ask for on this show. Well, aside from winning, I guess.
Laci Kaye Booth // “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac
Did I will this performance into existence? It’s all I’ve ever wanted from Laci—flower crown included. Laci is dedicating this gorgeous performance to her grandma, whom she thanks for making her such a strong woman. Similar to Wade, if this is Laci’s last performance on the show, it’s the perfect finale for her. The Laci we’ve loved all along is back! Luke thinks we witnessed a “complete visual” of Laci’s future career—stick to the Fleetwood Mac vibe, girl! It will never do you wrong.
Madison VanDenburg // “Make You Feel My Love” by Bob Dylan
Um, where has Madison’s mom been hiding all season, she is amazing. Get this rocker chick on the stage! Madison’s dedication to her mother is not a big rock anthem, but rather Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love” done in a style reminiscent of Adele’s version, but very much Madison’s own. It’s her best of the night. Katy calls her “timeless,” Luke calls her a “powerhouse” and Lionel wants her in the finale. I don’t think he’ll be disappointed. America loves Madison.
Laine Hardy // “Hey Jude” by The Beatles
Laine dedicates this song to his older brother and before he sings we get to see the two country boys rehashing memories and talking about their relationship—you guys, I’m so proud! Little Laine talking about his emotions! Also, I love Laine singing The Beatles? I pose it as a question because I never put that together before and now I want a whole season’s worth of Laine singing The Beatles, even if I do wish he had pushed a little harder with this song. Also, I amend my previous statement about my favorite critique in the history of this show because Luke Bryan just told Laine Hardy he came in here “looking like a whole snack.” I think we’re done here.
Alejandro Aranda // “Blesser” by Alejandro Aranda
An original would’ve been all well and good for this round—an original song dedicated to musical mentor, Twin Shadow, who pushed him to get his songs out there? That makes sense—but after Alejandro was allowed to use an original as a “showstopper song” this is getting to be a lot! If we’re not adhering to Idol’s cheesy themes—meant to push artists outside of their comfort zones, mostly—what are we even doing here? That’s not to say I’m not into this song or that it doesn’t show off Alejandro’s artistry—because I’m very into it and it does just that. Luke sums up the entire panel’s feelings when he says he doesn’t think he’s worthy to judge talent like Alejandro. I mean, that’s their job but, yes, Alejandro is very good.
And so we arrive at the anointing of our season 17 Top 3. It seems like the writing’s been on the wall for some time, but ahead of the finale, we say goodbye to Laci Kaye Booth and Wade Cota. They both had great runs on the show, so keep dreaming or whatever Lionel told you to do. You’ll both be fine!
That leaves us with Laine Hardy, Madison VanDenburg, and Alejandro Aranda to sing their little hearts out in hopes of winning this whole thing. Who do you think takes it? My heart says Alejandro but my head says Laine. A true battle for the ages!
Ryan Seacrest hosts as Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan guide aspiring singers on their way to superstardom.