By Maggie Fremont
April 18, 2021 at 11:52 PM EDT
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Luke Bryan is back and on the Idol docket tonight: The top 12 will be singing Oscar-nominated songs in hopes of being voted into one of nine spots available in the top 10. That math doesn't add up, you say? That's because 10 artists from last season will be back for a second chance performance on Monday night's show, and one of them will claim that final spot. Exciting! Now, let Lionel Richie's "Say You, Say Me" performance wash over you. You might as well feel the love while you can because Idol isn't messing around tonight. Voting for your top 9 performers is live coast-to-coast, and the three people going home will be revealed at the end of the episode. Wild, but true. There is no rest for the vocally-weary. 

Grace Kinstler, "Happy" by Pharrell Williams, from Despicable Me 2

Last week, Katy told Grace she should try to hone in on iconic, classic songs, but Grace is forging her own way and decides to show a fun, poppy side to herself with "Happy." It's definitely the right energy to kick off the show, and as Katy points out, Grace "could sing the telephone book," her vocals are consistently great. What the judges are looking for now is more identity and artistry from Grace. They want Grace to show them what a Grace Kinstler album would be. Lionel wants her to select songs that portray who she is as an artist. As the old Idol saying goes: Be an artist, not a singer.

Ava August, "City of Stars" from La La Land

In her little one-on-one with show mentor Bobby Bones, he tells Ava that he wants to see the 15-year-old having more fun. He takes her for a driving lesson which honestly is more terrifying than fun but kids these days, right? This song seems like a great choice for Ava — showing off that elegant side the judges always praise while keeping some of her quirkiness intact, but the whole thing feels a little... sedated. Luke and Lionel heap on the praise — she has that instant identity they are looking for from Grace — but maybe Katy's on to something when she tells Ava to make sure she moves around the stage a little more to give her performance a lighter, younger feel. 

Caleb Kennedy, "On the Road Again" by Willie Nelson, from Honeysuckle Rose

Caleb Kennedy and Bobby Bones go "fishing" and talk about Caleb's self-consciousness about his eyes and why he wears a hat all the time. Bobby challenges him to ditch the hat from now on. Caleb declines. This song really gives us more of the same from the classic country teen, and although Luke calls it his "best from top to bottom performance," I doubt it'll be the Idol performance for which Caleb is remembered. Katy loves his "authentic grit" and tells him to quit worrying about his eye. Apparently, she has a wonky eye, too, and now there's a fan club dedicated to it. That's Hollywood, baby.

Hunter Metts, "Falling Slowly" by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, from Once

COULD SOMEONE PLEASE HUG THIS KID??? I know, I know, COVID protocols, but come on! Poor Hunter: He delivers a super emotional, intensely connected version of this song — some of his phrasing choices are just so, so good here, guys — but at the very end, he forgets some of the lyrics and is totally beside himself for the entire critique. It doesn't matter that Katy tells him it was "the best performance [he has] ever done," or that Luke calls Hunter's falsetto notes in that song "some of the best things [he's] heard since [he] sat in this chair at American Idol," Hunter can't stop crying. You can tell he wanted to nail that so badly. It's so sad, mostly because I doubt that lyrics flub will matter much to anyone. In other news: Graham Defranco is hanging out with Hunter's family, and it is a delight.

Madison Watkins, "Run to You" by Whitney Houston, from The Bodyguard

Madison has a lot to prove this week since she is only here thanks to the judges' save. She picks this giant Whitney song — a song that she connects to because she's been singing it her entire life, and she hopes the audience can connect with it as well. Well, she sings the hell out of it. She has so much power in her voice it's crazy. Katy calls it an "A-level performance" and points to her as an example of not taking "crazy chances" with song choice, sticking to favorites, and it paying off. It's confusing advice since, at times, the judges also talk about taking risks and pushing yourself, but okay. Still, the judges love Madison: "Way to give America something to think about this week," says Luke.

Chayce Beckham, "(Everything I Do) I Do it for You" by Bryan Adams, from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

Well, Chayce certainly has the rasp to pull off this Bryan Adams classic. There's not as much emotional connection here as you might want from this romantic ballad, but Chayce gives a great vocal performance. Lionel notes that in the first half, he thought Chayce "needed to let go," but in the second half, he "found [him]self," and it was like an entirely different performance. Katy praises the "unusual song choice for him," which seems a little like the opposite of what she was praising Madison for, but loves that he was pushing his vocals. Luke calls him the "frontrunner" in the competition. What do we think, people? Does Chayce have this locked down?

Beane, "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" from Dirty Dancing

Like Madison, Beane needs to prove he belongs in this group after winning the second Judges' Save last week. This iconic song is a risk, for sure, since, as Katy says, it can go real cheesy real fast. He starts off playing an acoustic version on his guitar, and I almost wish he stuck to that arrangement all the way through. Once the song picks up, it does get a bit cheesy, but Beane really does look like... I'm so sorry for this... he's having the time of his life. I can't help who I am! Aside from the cheese factor, Katy tells Beane that she thinks he's "ready for the stage" and could go on tour today. He's an entertainer, through and through.

Alyssa Wray, "This Is Me" by Keala Settle, from The Greatest Showman

You knew someone was going to be taking on this beast of a song; it's built for an "Idol Moment," no? Well, Alyssa gets hers. There was no question she could sing this song, but it's a song that could easily get out of control, yet Alyssa seems to have a complete handle over it the entire time. Lionel calls her a "subtle force" and is so happy to see she's taken the notes she's been getting the past few weeks about drawing people in before letting her power fly. He loves that she held back on going full throttle until the back half of the song because "when [she] finally delivered, we were all cheering," he says.

Deshawn Goncalves, "The Way We Were" by Barbra Streisand, from The Way We Were

Man, these kids are emotional tonight! Bobby Bones tells Deshawn that last week there was a kind of "awakening" with his more uptempo song. Deshawn let loose, and it was good. He's taking on a ballad this week, but he knows he needs to show more of his personality regardless. This is a great performance: It takes us on a ride and Deshawn navigates the arrangement so well. Luke calls it "classic" and "classy" and tells Deshawn that he just did "exactly what [he] need[s] to do" to move forward in this competition and Deshawn starts crying! He's overwhelmed. 

Casey Bishop, "Over the Rainbow" by Judy Garland, from The Wizard of Oz

Casey's changing it up this week. We saw her crush a jazz standard in her audition but haven't seen her sway from her rock lane since. It's a nice reminder that Casey really can sing anything because she has so much control over her powerful pipes. All the judges tell her as much. Lionel is blown away that such a young person is not only handling the pressure of this show and this stage but that she is also able to control "every facet of [her] delivery." Earlier, Luke called Chayce Beckham the frontrunner, but Katy disagrees; she thinks Casey sits at the top of the list.

Cassandra Coleman, "Writing's on the Wall" by Sam Smith, from Spectre

Uh, who is this Cassandra Coleman? First of all, she looks amazing. But more importantly, there's more power and confidence in her performance of this James Bond theme than we've ever seen from her. It seems like this one's going out to all her haters and yeah, she really shows them what's up. Both Luke and Lionel tell Cassandra that it is the "cry" in her voice that is the real money maker. Luke calls it "some of the most amazing stuff [he's] heard on this show" and Lionel tells her that it's that aspect of her voice that really draws the audience in. "You know what you're doing," he says.

Willie Spence, "Stand Up" by Cynthia Erivo, from Harriet

This is a huge song for Willie to take on, but he's ready for the challenge. He knows there's a lot of emotion behind it and his performance, especially at this moment. Plus, he gets a special video of encouragement from Cynthia Erivo herself, so what more does he need, really? And yep, this is the way you close out the show. Katy thanks Willie  for "taking all the emotion, especially from this week" and putting it into that song and that performance. "I stand with  you, that was so powerful," she tells him. Lionel calls it a "religious experience" and Luke says Willie just "taught [him] to never use the word 'frontrunner' again until the whole show is done." 

And just like that, we're getting into the results. Live voting isn't exactly my favorite (remember the good old days of results shows?!), but here we are. Three of these vocalists are headed home, and they are… Beane, Madison Watkins, and Ava August. The rest of our singers are moving forward and are headed to Disneyland (so you know what theme is coming next, prepare yourselves.).

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