American Idol recap: Hopefuls take on the 'Genre Challenge' as Hollywood Week begins
After an arduous search across the country, American Idol judges Lionel Richie, Luke Bryan, and Katy Perry have made their picks for which singers did enough to move past the audition phase. Those singers have now assembled in Hollywood for several challenges to determine who really has what it takes to move forward in this competition.
Oh, wait, first the judges have to sing "All You Need Is Love" with a gaggle of contestants, followed by Ryan Seacrest declaring "it's going to be tough love," in a transition that makes me laugh the longer I think about it. This show... is a lot. Anyway, the first round Idol hopefuls will have to survive in Hollywood is the "Genre Challenge." Each contestant will select which genre they best fit into — their options are pop, country, soul, rock, r&b, and indie-folk — and then perform a solo head-to-head with everyone else in that genre. There's no quota for each genre, but this set-up allows the judges to compare people who might fill similar lanes on the show. American Idol gives us a highlight reel of what went down during the first Hollywood Week round. Shall we see how things shake out?
This season, the pop category is the most robust, which means there's a whole lot of pop singers running around feeling nervous about the amount of competition they have to go up against. And sometimes that competition hits close to home: In the first pop group (remember when this challenge was just called "Lines of Ten"?) is our Hawaiian sibling duo, Liahona and Ammon Olayan. Older brother Ammon sounds much more confident and like a solo singer here with his take on "Lost in Japan" by Shawn Mendes than he did during his audition, but Liahona is still the standout of the two. She sits at her keyboard looking terrified — the judges even ask her if she's okay — but as soon as she starts Meghan Trainor's "No Excuses" she is full of confidence — plus she sounds great on this song. The judges are thrilled to kick off Hollywood Week with that performance.
This pop grouping is also full of teens whose main goal seems to be to not sound their age. Both mega Katy Perry fans, Liv Grace Blue and Ava August sound even better than their auditions. Ava August, who takes on the White Stripes' "We're Going to Be Friends" has a cool '70s singer-songwriter meets as-relaxed-as-Jack-Johnson vibe going on. Both ladies, along with Liahona and 15-year-old Laila Mach, survive this first cut. Unfortunately, Liahona will be moving on without her brother Ammon, who is sent home. We'll see how she fares without his built-in support.
The next group of pop singers Idol shows us has a lot of the big personalities: Our Viking dude with a surprisingly smooth voice, Anthony Guzman, and Andrea Valles, who, based on her powerhouse version of Sam Smith's "Lay Me Down," deserves much more screen time, both make it through. On the flip side, Yurisbel, who had the judges up and dancing to Pitbull during his truly wild audition, and Erika Perry (you may remember her as ET?), who stumbles in her solo and never recovers, both get cut. Erika Perry is not happy about it and repeatedly asks the judges if they're "sure." They assure her they are.
In the final pop group, we get another look at former boy-bander Colin Jamieson. In his audition, the judges were interested in him but distracted by the breathiness in his voice. He took the note, and comes back with a much-improved performance — this time with "Sex on Fire" by Kings of Leon — and really impresses. He might think his performance was "a little rough," but as he walks off stage, Luke Bryan calls it "special." Colin Jamieson makes it through, alongside Claudia Conway and Mary Jo Young.
In order to whittle down another very full genre group, the judges are looking for country artists who not only have technical talent but feel authentic and can connect with the music. One contestant who has no trouble with any of that is 16-year-old Caleb Kennedy. The emotion seems to just pour out of him in his unreal-for-his-age low voice on Chris Stapleton's "Whiskey and You." He easily makes the cut in his country grouping, which also includes female country artist Mignon, returning singer Drake McCain, and Alex Miller, the most country contestant on the show this season. All four of them make it through, along with Cecil Ray, the young father whom Katy called "Country Justin Bieber" in his audition. Cecil has a shaky start at the top of his solo, but Katy has him regroup and he saves himself in the end. Not so lucky in this grouping is Cameron McGhar, the cheerleader who knew she had a lot to prove to stay here after a rough audition with "Girl Crush." Hey, at least she made a friend in Alex. That's nice, right?
Elsewhere in country, Chayce Beckham wows the judges once again with the pain and emotion that are so evident in his raspy country voice. Lionel still wants "more animation" in his vocals, but there's no denying he's a "storyteller." Chayce Beckham makes it to the next round. Things don't turn out so well for Christian McGuckian. You might remember her audition: she performed "Girl Crush," but her nerves and lack of timing almost cost her the golden ticket. Unfortunately, she runs into exactly the same problems here while singing Miranda Lambert's "Gunpowder and Lead." The judges say it's past the point of "potential" and they need to send through contestants who are ready for this. That doesn't include Christian at this time.
Idol's soul singers have a tough job ahead of them: They need to perform with both power and vulnerability — some pull it off better than others. This group includes Yale student Xavier Washington who sings John Mayer's "Gravity" but completely makes it his own. His range is insane and that high note at the end really seals the deal. When Lionel Richie is up on his feet saying "that's my boy," you know you've made it to the next round.
Another winner in Xavier's group is Grace Kinstler — she moved Luke Bryan to tears with her pure singing voice in her "Natural Woman" audition — who continues to sound like a true pro. She sounds polished and in complete control on Jazmine Sullivan's "10 Seconds." She is another obvious "yes" for the next round.
Xavier and Grace will both be joined by Re'h, who gave us a Donna Summer dance party in her audition, but shows a more emotional side this time around with Brenda Russell's "Get Here." Things aren't so rosy for Celeste Butler, who Katy Perry thinks sounds too much like a cruise ship singer, or for DJ Johnson, the young singer who performed an emotional original song about her mother during the auditions. She sings Andra Day's "Rise Up," but the self-doubt and nerves get to her.
With just nine artists, rock is the smallest genre group this round but that doesn't mean there aren't some heavy hitters. First, and perhaps surprisingly, Beane from Boston — the smiley guy the judges called Mister Rogers — takes the stage and shows a new side of himself thanks to his "Benny and the Jets" cover. In his audition, Luke Bryan wasn't sure Beane was right for American Idol, but Luke is won over by the end of this song and the three judges give Beane a standing ovation.
The other standout in rock — and another person who earns a standing ovation from Lionel, Luke, and Katy — is Casey Bishop, the tiny 15-year-old with the huge, booming voice. In her audition she sang both rock and a classic jazz standard, but rock is where Casey's heart lies, it seems. Her "House of the Rising Sun" is a highlight of the episode. Both she and Beane will also be joined in the next round by rocker mom Althea Grace.
The R&B section starts off with a tough goodbye to single mom Vahhley, whose story about fighting to get out of a homeless shelter was one of the most memorable of the auditions. The judges don't think she's ready to continue on quite yet. There's similar bad news for teens Tryzdin Grubbs and Brianna Collichio.
But there's good news in this genre, too! First, Amanda Mena lays down an insane solo performance with some huge notes that make it impossible for the judges not to move her forward. She'll be joined by Willie Spence, an audition standout, who once again moves the judges with his warm tone and the effortless way he hits some giant notes and easily moves through runs. The judges love Willie's version of John Legend's "All of Me" so much that they don't even have him stand in a line to learn his fate, they tell him right after he finishes that he made it to the next round.
Indie-folk also seems to be pretty stacked with contestants this season. In the first grouping, we have teacher Christina Daughtery, who performs a great acoustic version of "Hit the Road Jack," as well as pilot Graham DeFranco. Graham is hard not to like, but Lionel thought his solo was missing the "entertainment" portion of the performance. Hunter Metts, whose sister quit her job with Disney so that he could audition, also underwhelms the judges after a great audition.
One artist the judges are very much looking forward to hearing from again and does not disappoint is Cassandra Coleman. Singing was just a hobby for her not too long ago, so Hollywood Week is overwhelming, but you can't tell once she starts on Sigrid's "Dynamite." It's full of emotion and intimacy.
Another judges' favorite from the auditions is Wyatt Pike, the "Park City James Taylor." In this round, he does an acoustic arrangement of Rihanna and Mikky Ekko's "Stay," and once again makes fans out of Luke, Lionel, and Katy. Wyatt's joined by Lizzy O'Very and her accordion, Emisunshine, and busker Murphy, who continues to intrigue the judges, although they are waiting for him to have a true moment.
All eight of these indie-folk artists make it through to the next round.
There are a few artists who were highlighted in the auditions who we do not get to see perform in the Genre Challenge, but still learn that they've made it through, so if you were worried about Jason Warrior, Madison Watkins, Alyssa Wray, Alanis Sophia, Ronda Felton, or Hannah Everhart, worry no more; they all made it to the next round.
Speaking of the next round, the episode ends with the judges making an announcement about a change to the Duet Challenge from last season: Instead of letting the artists pick their own duet partner, the judges will be pairing people up as they see fit. It's probably for the best, really.
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