From Hollywood to Hawaii, my friends! After a grueling Hollywood Week, the Top 40 have landed and are ready for some surf, sun, and singing. Also, probably some sobbing. Half of our contestants are getting cut tonight! They’ll each be performing with a live band in front of an audience on the beach before making that long walk to the judges to learn if they’ve done enough to make it through to the next round. Only 20 will survive! We have three hours of competition to get through and zero time to discuss how much I truly appreciate Katy Perry’s commitment to an Island theme. To the stage!
First up is an old pro at this stressful walk: Alyssa Raghu. She was cut last season because of her lack of stage presence, but her showcase performance of Meghan Trainor’s “Dear Future Husband” is all presence. Okay, and some decent singing, too. It’s not my favorite of hers, but she owns this. Plus a white jumpsuit? Yes, child. The judges are so proud of her growth and Katy tells her that they “don’t see a Top 20 with [her] not in it.” That’s judges’ speak for “she’s in.”
One big hurdle singers have to deal with at this stage in the competition is going up against someone with a similar voice. The judges aren’t likely to fill the Top 20 with people who check the same boxes. That issue comes up for Madison Vandenburg and Myra Tran, both big belters. Madison’s wowed the judges every step of the way, whereas Myra had some shaky moments during Hollywood Week, so it’s not a huge stretch to guess who gets picked between the two of them. Madison performs “Who’s Lovin’ You” by the Jackson 5 and although it’s not the best we’ve seen her, her talent is undeniable at this point. Unfortunately, Myra picks “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana. Listen, I love this song, but it’s not the right pick for this moment. The judges feel the same. Madison gets a spot in the Top 20, but Myra gets sent home.
Song choice, people! It’s always about song choice. Look at Logan Johnson, a teen heartthrob in the making. He decides to sing Justin Bieber’s “Sorry.” A perfect song for him as is, but he also tosses in some Spanish just to add a little sparkle. This dude is smart. This dude is also in the Top 20.
Nate Walker hasn’t had the easiest road to the Top 40, what with his Group Round illness and all. He needs to bring everything he has to this performance. He selects “Still” by the Commodores, which, hello, is a huge risk and his fate will rest in the hands of Papa Lionel. Lionel approves of his vocals, but the judges just don’t think he’s connecting with the music or the audience. Nate is out. His fellow contestants are truly shocked, but also probably like “thank God,” let’s be honest.
Call me old fashioned, but I’m not here for these fakeouts. I want to see a contestant perform, watch them chat with the judges, and find out if they’re in or out. I know, I know, we need DRAMA. But, like, do we? The fighting for your dream is the drama! Anyway, we get the fakeout treatment with Dimitrius Graham. We haven’t heard a ton from Dimitrius, aside from his tear-inducing “Wind Beneath My Wings” while his mom was in surgery — and that is a dang shame. DIMITRIUS IS SO GOOD. He sings “Latch” by Disclosure featuring Sam Smith and I want to live in it. As if we could really be fooled with this guy’s fate: He’s clearly in the Top 20.
Another obvious yes: Ashley Hess. Both she and the judges agree that she should’ve performed H.E.R.’s “Gone Away” on the piano, but her vocals and previous performances are enough to give her a pass.
Unfortunately, not everyone can skate by on previous performances. Drake McCain needed a real moment during the showcase round, but he strains to reach some of the higher notes in Maroon 5’s “Girls Like You.” Not a great time to have an off night. Drake is sent home!
Aw, you guys, look at Kai the Singer. Katy says it best: She’s “transforming before our very eyes and ears!” She’s never looked more comfortable on stage than here, doing Alessia Cara’s “Wild Things.” Unfortunately, her vocals don’t quite match up with her performance. During her Final Judgment, Luke points out that although they love her, she’s never completely nailed a performance throughout this process. She has work to do. Goodbye, Kai the Singer! Keep doing you!
Kai seemed like a tough “no” for the judges. Do you know who is an easy “yes”? Laci Kaye Booth. Has she had a bad performance yet? It certainly wasn’t “Georgia on My Mind” at the showcase, because she showed up everyone else we’ve seen so far with that song. I mean, this girl has to be flying into the Top 10, right?
Someone the judges are a little less sure about is Nick Townsend. I thought he sounded very seasoned up there, rocking to James Bay’s “Hold Back the River” but the judges are less impressed. He needed to be perfect and he wasn’t. This cut seems like the first big surprise of the night.
We run through a few other big cuts without much pomp and circumstance. So, say a quick goodbye to country ginger Clay Page, strawberry farmer Kason Lester (I guess I won’t be moving to the farm, two people’s dreams have died tonight) and the newly-engaged Johanna Jones.
Next to take the long walk to the judges is Walker Burroughs. I have one thing to say about Walker: Love his sock choice, confused by his song choice. He performs “Youngblood” by 5 Seconds of Summer, but at the piano. It’s not his best, and even he knows it. Like Ashley Hess, everything he’s done up to this point has been completely on point. He nabs the next spot.
You guys! We’ve come so far in this episode and I have been WAITING for someone to breakdown with joy and finally, Ryan Hammond delivers. Bless this man! Bless him both for his vocals (his take on Donny Hathaway’s “A Song For You” is his best performance) and bless him for his tears of joy when he hears he is in American Idol’s Top 20.
Two other contestants feeling the joy as well: Evelyn Cormier and Kate Barnette. Both kind of fill that cool vibe, unique voice slot so I can’t really see both moving forward to the live shows, but for now, these ladies are in.
The spots are dwindling and it’s clear that some favorites are going home. Like Emma Kleinberg, who nails her vocals on Bob Marley’s “Is This Love” but the judges don’t think she has enough stage presence to make it on this show. Emma is out. Speaking of stage presence, can we talk about Uché? The dude rocks a fur jacket and leather pants IN HAWAII. He also sings the hell out of “Play That Funky Music,” truly a weird sentence to write. The judges christen him “Mr. Entertainment,” tell him he’s never sounded better, and give him a spot in the Top 20.
Okay, friends, serious talk: I’d like to purchase Alejandro Aranda’s album today and it better include his cover of Coldplay’s “Yellow.” Is it better than the original? Discuss! There was no way Alejandro wasn’t making it through to the Top 20. He in no way seems like an American Idol contestant, but I’m so glad he’s here. Both for his music, and for the glee Idol producers must have felt when they got to play Lady Gaga’s “Alejandro” over his segment. Never change, Idol!
The next contestant up is quite similar to Alejandro. Sure, there’s a place for fur coats and leather pants, but as Alejandro and Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon demonstrate, there’s also something to be said for simply standing up there and singing your heart out. Jeremiah stands in the middle of the stage and delivers an emotional, moving, and as Luke points out, incredibly sincere performance of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.” Also like Alejandro, it was a given he’d be getting a spot in the Top 20.
How’s everyone doing? Since this Final Judgment is such a marathon, it’s time to breeze through a few announcements. We’re literally cutting half of our contestants tonight, so some of these are going to be incredibly tough for the judges. One of those tough cuts includes Shayy, who doesn’t sound her best on Adele’s “All I Ask,” no matter how inspiring she is. Also leaving are Payton Taylor, Mica Giaconi, and Idalis. None of these ladies got much screen time, so it’s not a huge surprise. Sorry, that’s how TV works!
On the flip side, Top 20 spots are handed over to Country Sweetheart (and youngest contestant in this competition) Riley Thompson, along with Shawn Robinson, Raquel Trinidad, and Bumbly. With those four singers firmly in for the next round, we’re down to three spots. Three, you guys. It’s exciting but also, I’m tired!
The first of those spots goes to Wade Cota, who after bombing his final solo during Hollywood Week had one last chance to win over the judges. He sounds great on Hozier’s “Work Song,” but more than that, you can tell he really connects to the song. Of all our Top 20, Wade is the most shocked to hear the news. Believe in yourself, dude! You did it!
With two spots remaining and four contestants waiting to learn their fates, Katy, Lionel, and Luke pair them off—one person will make the Top 20, one person will go home. What an awkward position to put yourself in as a judge, but again, DRAMA.
The first pairing is our zanier contestants, Eddie Island and Margie Mays. They’re both known for being goofballs and the judges wanted to see if they could connect with the audience on a deeper level. Margie’s choice of “All About That Bass” doesn’t let her do that (plus her vocals are off), but Eddie Island shows a more serious side to himself with “Don’t You Worry Child.” Well, serious for him. It’s a risk, but it pays off—Eddie is moving forward. In other news, Idol is still listing Eddie’s profession as “Unofficial Nashville Mayor” and I truly feel alive.
The final Final Judgment is between two country dudes: Tyler Mitchell and Laine Hardy. The problem here is that once they show both performances, it’s obvious where the judges are going. There is only one choice here. It pains me to say because Tyler’s been on a real journey, but Laine Hardy walks out on stage IN A SUIT and asks everyone if they’re READY TO PARTY WITH A HARDY. I’m not totally clear on the rules, but I think he just won American Idol? So, yes, Laine, after an electric rendition of the Beatles’ “Come Together,” gets the final spot in our Top 20. He also makes a huge push forward as a front runner for this entire thing. We might all be ready to party with a Hardy soon. What a world!
Bask in the glow of our season 17 Top 20 because we’re making more cuts ahead of the live shows. Before we get to that though, our remaining contestants will be singing for lives. I told you, Idol loves the drama!
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- American Idol recap: Dreams are made and hearts are crushed as Hollywood Week comes to an end