American Idol recap: Partner up for the duets challenge
It's time for the American Idol Hollywood Week Duets Challenge, and this season it's the judges pairing the remaining contestants up. It's got a real "live together, die alone" vibe to it. Even if contestants work as a team, one or both might not survive the cut. Hollywood Duets are a real crapshoot from beginning to end! Isn't that fun?
Speaking of survival, the first duet of the night features one singer who seems to have just fully given up. Liahona Olayan is so distraught over her brother Ammon getting cut in the last round that while rehearsing for her duet with fellow teen Laila Mach, Liahona is basically just staring out into space. She does not want to be there and it's evident and uncomfortable. Katy Perry stops by rehearsals — having the judges meet and give notes to the artists ahead of their duet performance is a great addition to the proceedings this season — and reminds Liahona that a lot of people want to be here and are willing to fight for it. So buck up, sister.
She does not. The funny thing is, even if she does act as if she wants to be anywhere else but the Idol stage, she sounds good. Imagine if she put her whole heart into it! Perhaps we'll get a chance to know what that sounds like since both Laila and Liahona get a reprieve after a less-than-stellar performance and move forward to the Showstopper Round. This is Liahona's shot and it would be a shame if she blew it because she was homesick.
If Liahona really wanted to go home, perhaps she should've picked Harry Styles's "Watermelon Sugar" for her duet song — it's an uber-popular pick this round and is also proving to be the kiss of death for several contestants. Partners Graham DeFranco and Cameron Allen are warned that this song might not be doing enough for them and while Graham sticks around for the next round, Cameron gets cut. The same "Watermelon Sugar" split happens when Beane and Kari Erickson take the stage: We've seen Beane much stronger in earlier rounds, so the judges give him a pass, but this song doesn't help Kari Erickson in any way and she's a goner. By the time our Viking Anthony Guzman and his partner, shy kid Adriel Carrion step on stage and announce that they are in fact also singing "Watermelon Sugar" it's a wonder Katy Perry even lets them, she's so over people selecting that song. But it's a good thing she does: Anthony and Adriel prove that using that song in this round can work when performed correctly. By the end of the song, Lionel tells both contestants that they finally became lead singers up there and they will both be moving forward.
Like many in the "Watermelon Sugar" group, there are several other duet pairings that end in one contestant staying and the other sent home. There's "Country Katy Perry" Hannah Everhart, who ends up paired with Claudia Conway. Hannah's not thrilled about it and avoids rehearsal for a while, but eventually, they get it together — but maybe a little too much. Their "Sign of the Times" is almost entirely sung in harmony, so they don't get individual moments to shine. Hannah barely makes it through and Claudia is cut. Elsewhere, country artist Chayce Beckham is partnered with teacher Christina Daugherty. Unlike the former pair, these two have a ton of chemistry and really work on authentically telling an emotional story with Noah Cyrus's "July." Chayce shows us a new side of himself with this song — he's only getting better. Unfortunately, the judges are less impressed with Christina. They think this song didn't "give her the proper chance" to show off what she can do. It's a puzzling cut. After they get the news, Chayce whispers that this hurts his heart and Katy Perry thinks it means they're in love without knowing it. Either way, this duet breakup hits hard!
Let's move on to the pairings in which both artists make it through. We're starting with Ronda Felton and Funke Lagoke. Idol's had a few Hollywood Week medical emergencies over the years, but this one is particularly awful to watch. Ronda and Funke become fast friends while rehearsing the Barbra Streisand and Celine Dion duet "Tell Him." Ronda begins to feel crippling self-doubt, and it's Funke who supports her and pushes her past it. Their performance, unfortunately, isn't great. Actually, Lionel Richie calls it "a train-wreck" and tells them that after a decent start, they "crashed and burned." He goes on and on about how they're better than this, and partway through, Funke goes down hard, fainting face forward. It's terrible, and Ronda, Luke, and Lionel rush to her side. She's taken to the hospital, and we learn she was treated for dehydration before being released. Meanwhile, back at the theater, the judges huddle around Ronda (as much as they can with COVID protocol) because she's so shaken up by what happened and inform her that they were about to tell her and Funke that they both are moving forward into the next round. So I guess that's a silver lining? It's an emotional moment.
Another pairing that seems iffy to make the cut but pulls it out in the end is Alex Miller, the countriest teen to ever country, and Emisunshine, one of our indie-folk artists. During rehearsals, Luke Bryan is less than thrilled by their choice of Johnny Cash's "I Walk the Line" because it's clear Alex could do Johnny Cash in his sleep. The pair stick to their song choice and it's easy to see why: They both sound good here, Emisunshine really kills it with that yodel at the end, too. Luke still wants Alex to push himself out of his comfort zone with song choice and become an artist rather than a guy who can cover country songs — he calls it "Operation Shawn Mendes" — and thinks Emi needs to tone down her vibrato, but mostly he's satisfied. "Country bumpkins are going through," Luke declares.
We also get a whole bunch of duets that are no-brainers to send through. In fact, the judges are pretty pleased with their ability to make great musical matches. This includes Re'h and Jazzy Rose, rockers Althea Grace (who learns during rehearsals that her daughter had to go to the ER and it obviously throws her, but she powers through) and Camille Lamb, and indie pop darlings Ava August and Hunter Metts, who are truly great as they perform Calum Scott's version of Robyn's "Dancing on My Own."
Those other indie darlings, Cassandra Coleman and Wyatt Pike, also impress: After some hesitancy on Cassandra's part in rehearsals, a pep talk from Katy Perry about not letting fear get to her seems to set her straight. They complement each other well on Alex Clare's "Too Close." Neither is hesitant when it matters and Katy could see that Wyatt made Cassandra feel much more comfortable on stage, which is a sign of a great partnership.
Another great partnership lies in Madison Watkins and Deshawn Goncalves. Not only are they pumped to be paired together and become best friends immediately — there's talk of getting tattoos — but they also sound phenomenal together. They take on Rihanna and Mikky Ekko's "Stay" and it's gorgeous from beginning to end. Lionel calls it "an experience" and says that their "chemistry is a slam dunk." It's a fast "yes" to both of them.
Murphy and Lizzy O'Very (who is without her accordion in this round) partner up and also become fast friends. When Lionel comes to visit their rehearsal, his biggest note is that he wants them to have fun and enjoy performing. Murphy is super intense, so you can tell this is directed at him. They take the note! Murphy joins Lizzy barefoot on stage and you can see they connect while singing Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams." Also, we haven't seen much of Lizzy, but those! high! notes! The judges give them a standing ovation. In their judges' huddle, Katy calls the duet "so weird it's wonderful" and Luke blurts out "don't let me fall in love with that kid!" which I'm still laughing about because it's so dramatic. Lionel praises Lizzy for bringing out this new side of Murphy and he thinks this performance brought both of them to "the next level."
There's one pair that gets a standing ovation midway through the performance. Did you guess it includes America's Sweetheart Willie Spence? Because you'd be right. Willie is paired with Kya Moneé, for another "Stay" duet. Katy bursts into tears, the performance is so moving. Both of them throw it down, but Willie's voice is just so inviting and gorgeous, it cannot be denied. Lionel calls the pairing "divine" and tells them that they "fractured us" with the emotion of that song. Luke admits that he had been looking forward to this pairing all day and they did not disappoint. "Both of you are going through with flying colors," Lionel informs them.
And then there's the final duet: The judges have paired powerhouses Alyssa Wray and Grace Kinstler together because they... want to completely ruin us emotionally, I guess? There's always the risk of two huge vocalists trying to overpower each other and the duet becoming a mess (we saw this befall other artists who got sent home tonight), but both Alyssa and Grace seem acutely aware of it and work hard to complement and support one another while giving each other room to shine. They sing "Grenade" by Bruno Mars and it is as great as you'd expect. It perfectly ramps up to a huge, insanely long note and by then all the judges are up — Lionel is basically dancing around the stage. When it's over, Katy tells everyone else to go home and then literally pulls her wig off. "Show's over," she declares.
And with that, Idol closes the Duets round (who could possibly follow that anyway?). Next time the remaining artists will be performing in the Showstopper Round in hopes of making it into the Top 24. It's all happening, people.
Ryan Seacrest hosts as Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan guide aspiring singers on their way to superstardom.