Not that one single person is surprised, but we kick off American Idol Season 18’s Final Judgment Part 2 (it just sounds so dramatic, doesn’t it?) by learning that Dillon James has, in fact, claimed a spot in our Top 20. Of course he has! Dillon James has a great voice, is extremely likable, and can legitimately rock a cowboy hat — if this kid doesn’t sail right on into the Top 10, I will be extremely surprised.
Now that Dillon’s fate has been decided, that means nine contestants have made it through to the next round in which America will be voting on who continues from there. We still don’t know when exactly that will be happening, but it feels good to have something to look forward to eventually. So, who nabs the remaining 11 spots after their Hawaii showcase performance and who leaves paradise heartbroken? Let’s find out.
Genavieve Linkowski, 20, Goodrich, Mich.
“Say” by Lauren Daigle
No offense to Lauren Daigle because this has nothing to do with the actual song, but if I never have to hear “Say” performed by a contestant in a reality singing competition again it will be too soon. The entire music catalog that has been approved to sing on this show and everyone just keeps picking the same song. Maybe this uninspired choice is what does Genavieve in. Sure, the judges note that Genavieve has really grown since the last time she auditioned for the show and we’ve even seen her improve as a performer just throughout Hollywood Week, but there is a serious lack of emotional connection in this Hawaii performance. That, plus some less-than-stellar vocals (remember how good “The Prayer” was?), means this is the end of the road for Genavieve.
Franklin Boone, 27, Durham, N.C.
“Daughters” by John Mayer
Oh, Franklin Boone, our little music teacher that could. As soon as he opens his mouth to sing the first few notes of this song directly toward his baby daughter Zoe, Katy Perry says, “okay, show’s over.” This guy is so good! He has some great texture to his voice that really sets him apart from his competition, plus makes great artistic choices. We hear most of his performance only in the background of his Final Judgment segment, which is a ding-dong shame, because from the snippets we get, it sounds like one of the best of the 40. Why is Idol holding out on us like that? Anyway, the only person surprised when Katy yells “you’re going through to the Top 20, honey” is Franklin Boone.
Julia Gargano, 21, Staten Island, N.Y.
“Glitter in the Air” by Pink
Okay, Julia Gargano. Unlike Luke Bryan, I found myself wishing Julia had performed this one behind the piano because I think it would’ve upped the emotional connection, but Luke loves that Julia really put herself out there. It’s a great performance and she shows off some new power behind her vocals that we hadn’t seen before. The judges can tell her voice is getting hoarse — you really hear it toward the end of this performance — but that doesn’t matter one bit. In her audition, Katy Perry told her she was so good she could be in the Top 5, here in Hawaii the judges call her a front-runner. Julia Gargano easily makes it into the Top 20.
Aliana Jester, 19, Tampa, Fla.
“This Is Me” by Keala Settle from The Greatest Showman
Aliana here is a bundle of nerves. It doesn’t help that she had to come to Hawaii by herself. She misses her dad, her biggest supporter, a lot. And then, do you guys know what happens? Aliana’s dad and stepmom surprise her right in the middle of one of her interviews! It’s such a nice, joyful moment, and I will take all the nice, joyful moments I can get. Aliana sings the hell out of this song, which is not an easy thing to do. Her stage presence and her vocal performance have never been better. Yep, she’s in the Top 20.
Sophia Wackerman, 20, Long Beach, Calif.
“Levels” by Nick Jonas
Who is this person? This hair-tossing, playing-to-the-crowd, dancing phenom? Surely not our little Sophia Wackerman, is it? Guys, it is. Sophia arrives at her Hawaii Showcase looking to show a completely different side of herself and then she arrives, if you know what I’m saying. Katy’s jaw drops to the floor. Sophia works her big vocal range and then she works the stage. The judges love that she decided to really hone in on her stage presence at this point in the competition. It was a risky performance, but it pays off — Sophia has claimed another spot in the Top 20.
Robert Taylor, 27, Donaldsonville, La.
“Take Me To the Pilot” by Elton John
Robert has a lot of ground to make up after his disastrous Hollywood Week Duet in which he chose to show off some vocal acrobatics rather than really giving the judges an actual performance. By the time Robert finishes his flashy, no-holds barred rendition of this Elton John song, the judges are pretty much in agreement: He didn’t listen to any of the notes they gave him. Katy, especially, is turned off by how “all over the place” Robert is. It’s clear he has talent and a truly insane range, but as Luke notes, he needs some “control.” In a surprising turn, this artist who really wowed with his “Natural Woman” performance in the Hollywood Week Genre Challenge is sent home. Robert is so upset by the news that he walks off from his post-Judgment interview and they have to go find Bobby Bones on his day off to come talk to the guy. Bobby was probably mid Mai Tai when the producers grabbed him off the beach. That’s Hollywood, baby.
Kimmy Gabriela, 17, Lakeland, Fla.
“You Don’t Do It For Me Anymore” by Demi Lovato
This is an interesting situation. Let’s be real, Kimmy Gabriela seemed destined to make the Top 20 from the moment she auditioned. Her vocal control is much more mature than you’d guess for a 17-year-old, and her range is well, big. She can sing. But, as the judges point out and as is evidenced by this performance, her stage presence and her song choices have been hit-or-miss. Although this big Demi Lovato ballad shows off her range, it gets repetitive fast and it’s hard to really connect. They want her to work on figuring out what the “whole package” is here. And she can do that in the season 18 Top 20.
Shannon Gibbons, 20, Bellport, N.Y.
Send My Love (To Your New Lover) by Adele
Poor Shannon here shows up at the end of a montage of people getting cut. The others included, Amelia, Elyjuh René, and Grace Lundy, have barely been featured in the season thus far and we don’t even get to see any of their Hawaii Showcase performances, they’re just sent packing. Shannon, at least, gets a little more screen time. Unfortunately, this Adele song doesn’t really suit her voice — even she knows that her vocal performance could’ve been better — and although the judges see a lot of potential in her, they think she needs more time to figure out who she is as an artist. Her Idol adventure ends here.
We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming for this, the Invasion of the Teen Girls. In case you hadn’t noticed, this season is very teen girl heavy. We already saw Aliana Jester and Kimmy Gabriela get put through, and then comes the rest of them: Cyniah Elise (18, Atlanta, Ga.) does “Lady Marmalade” — it’s definitely not one of her best vocals, but she is so freaking talented, it doesn’t much matter. She’s in the Top 20. Her duet partner Makayla Phillips (17, Temecula, Calif.), an Ariana Grande 2.0, is also put through after her “Sorry, Not Sorry” performance, which she does in a rose gold sequined jumpsuit, further reminding me that my high school years were the polar opposite of this child’s. They’re joined by our resident Canadian, Lauren Spencer-Smith (16, Vancouver Island, Canada), who has a texture to her voice of which I just cannot get enough. She does a sassy performance of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” in the highest of high ponies. But wait! If you can believe it, there is One! More! Teen!
Olivia Ximines, 17, Menifee, Calif.
“Proud Mary” by Tina Turner
In case you forgot, Olivia came into her audition flocked by her dance team and she wants to remind everyone with a “Proud Mary” performance, complete with full out dancing in a fringe bodysuit. Even Luke Bryan can tell that the trench coat she walks out in is “just a prop.” That thing comes flying off and the fringe starts flying up. It’s a lot of fun — there are definitely moments when the performance value get the better of Olivia’s vocals (a lot of moments), but there are some great moments, too. The judges love her energy, and she joins the parade of teens straight into the Top 20.
Arthur Gunn, 21, Wichita, Kan.
“Is This Love” by Bob Marley and the Wailers
Lionel’s compared Arthur to Bob Marely before, so this song choice feels fitting. Arthur is great, again. You can tell he’s improving every time we see him and that grit in his voice is just so, so good. He knows how to emotionally connect with a song and deliver a convincing performance. During his “Final Judgment,” Lionel tells him this was the easiest decision the judges had to make this season: Of course Arthur Gunn is in the Top 20.
Demi Rae, 26, San Jose, Calif.
“Lonely” by Noah Cyrus
Demi Rae has been dealing with a lack of confidence since she showed up for her audition, but in Hawaii she tells us that American Idol has changed her. You can see her really owning her performances and who she is as an artist more and more. She sounds great on this song and honestly, it’s a little disappointing that Demi gets cut here while that parade of very similar teens just made it through. She offered something a little different. Demi takes the bad news in stride though, knowing it just wasn’t her time. Onward, I guess!
Grace Leer, 28, Nashville, Tenn. // “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” by Aretha Franklin and Lauren Mascitti, 28, Nashville, Tenn. //"Two More Bottles of Wine” by Emmylou Harris
Well, this is sort of a bummer. Our two classic country Nashville gals (who have become close throughout the competition) are sent into their Top 20 Final Judgment together, with 19 spots already filled up. Both put on a great show in their Hawaii Showcase performances: Grace has never sounded better than in this moment, her voice is smooth and rich from the get-go and she shows some real power behind it. Lauren’s sounded better, but she definitely proves that she offers something different to the show than anyone else. The judges love them both: Katy says that Grace made everyone else look like they were in a “talent show” and they all agree she was one of the top of the entire showcase; They applaud Lauren for being both “classic” and “classy” and love that she showed a more rock-n-roll side to her. Because it’s so tight (maybe because of all the teens?!), the judges just could not make a decision, so they’re leaving it up to America. After this episode, they’ll be opening up the vote for people to decide which country queen should continue on to the Top 20.
And that’s the end of Hawaii, friends. We’re leaving with a Top 21 and two weeks of some season 18 retrospectives, and after that who knows. Until then, we have time to speculate which of these 21 artists will win over America and ultimately make the Top 10. Who looks like a front-runner to you?