Hollywood Week wraps with amazing vocal performances, a huge surprise for the contestants — and one for the judges — as the Top 40 are selected.
There was a lot to get through in two hours as "American Idol" wrapped up with jaw-dropping solo performances, a huge surprise for the contestants and an even bigger one that dropped Katy Perry to her knees in tears.
Sunday night, the episode wrapped with Nate Walker collapsing and being rushed to the hospital, leaving his group "Ain’t Going’ Home" wondering if they all were now. The action picked up right there, proving as always that Group Round ain’t no joke.
From there, we moved quickly into the Solo Round where most of the stars who blew us away in earlier rounds either did it again, or actually stepped up their performances. And a few new faces that we didn’t get to see before tonight showed up and really demanded to be noticed.
Lionel Richie said, "We’ve got a show," when looking at their final Top 40 selections for this phase of the competition, and he’s right. "Idol" remains the best tool on television for making bona fide stars — even if it’s been awhile — and there are some true gems here.
But the biggest moment of the night came after a huge solo moment for one contestant. While she was convinced her boyfriend was trapped under finals all week, he managed to crawl out long enough to drive 11 hours to surprise her on stage with a ring and a proposal.
It was a genuinely beautiful moment that got ugly cries from everyone, including the contestant, her mother and even one Katy Perry. "Why can’t anyone love me like that?" she wailed. Orlando Bloom? You better step up your game!
Fair warning, since I’m safe at home, I’m probably going to be a little harsher than my colleagues Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan.
Just for giggles, I’m going to rank the auditions in each round from worst to first to see who my favorites are. Then we can see how far they go in the competition to see if the judges agree.
ROUND 2: Group Round (cont.)
Ain’t Goin’ Home
"California Dreamin’," The Mamas and the Papas
Nate Walker, Logan Johnson, Gazzie White, Ruthie Craft
After Nate fell ill and was rushed to the hospital, this group had to try and retool themselves as a trio in the last minute. Thankfully, after two hours, Nate made his triumphant return, but he still wasn’t in full voice. Elsewhere in the group, Logan put a fun spin on his verse, even if he lost the note while Gazzie lost the melody and Ruthie floundered a bit.
Nate backed out of doing a full verse, instead taking a short ending and hoped for the best. But the judges were having none of it, and made him sing the whole verse despite everything. It was painful as he had no upper half to his voice, and so he had to rearrange it where he was able to sing, making it unrecognizable, but still vocally solid.
Moving On: Nate, Logan, Gazzie, Ruthie
Going Home: None
ROUND 3: Solo Round
After the group rounds, there were roughly 70 people still vying for the live shows, so Katy let them know only 40 would survive this round. This time, they get to perform with a live band — some for the first time — but must wait until the end of the day for the judges’ final decisions.
It’s do or die time!
19 years old – "Jealous," Labrinth
Gaba has an effortless show choir voice and she’s definitely feeling the motivation of having her birth mother nearby. They’ve only known each other a few months, but that meeting seems to have given Gaba a sense of wholeness in who she is and that translates into a more confident presence on stage. Unfortunately, she struggled at the end of her piece to find the right notes. It just lacked the kind of dynamic qualities that wins these shows.
26 years old – "A Million Reasons," Lady Gaga
After a warning to tone down the cheese factor, Juan Pablo set out to show a different side of himself. It was an interesting choice to take on Gaga, but he brought his talents to it. It wasn’t his strongest vocal as he sounded audibly shaky throughout the chorus especially. Unfortunately, the overall performance was inconsistently controlled as if he was emoting perhaps a bit too much.
18 years old – ""Always on My Mind," Willie Nelson
Talk about a redemption performance, Nate killed this one and appeared to have most of his voice back. He has such a natural tone to his voice that is smooth and silky and really caresses the ears. Unfortunately, he was still rearranging the song perhaps too much to accommodate what was left of his voice. It’s a shame that sickness may end his journey, but it’s not coming together right for him.
22 years old – "Broken Halos," Chris Stapleton
Tyler looked exhausted even before he hit the stage, and he still lacks for confidence. He then took on a huge voice with Chris Stapleton, but tackled it as if he’d been performing on stages for years and years. This kid is a natural talent, but when he forgot the lyrics he just crumbled in on himself for a few lines and sang nothing all rather than carry on and keep performing. You can’t do that, man. Fake it until you make it! Could it cost him everything?
15 years old – "Parachute," Chris Stapleton
Austin was struggling in rehearsal on a Dan + Shay track and had zero confidence hitting the stage, so he made a last-second change to this Stapleton piece. But this is not the kind of song you can only tackle halfway, and that’s what he was doing with no rehearsal at all. Let’s just say his voice cracked from the first lyric and not in a cute Hanson way. He song was just way too big for him, and he never quite wrangled it. Austin has a talent, but he may not be quite there yet. This just kind of laid there.
20 years old – "Your Song," Elton John
Walker already doesn’t think he’s going to win, so he still has some confidence to grow into. And while we’re not ready to say anything, he sure gave a stunning rendition of a big song that’s all about powerful vocals and storytelling. He has such a natural quality to his voice and soared beautifully into the heart of the song. Believe in yourself, kid, ’cause you got something there!
27 years old – "Stay," Wade Cota
To battle forgetting the lyrics during Group Round, Wade took an even bigger risk — he barely skated through — by performing an original. But you know, it doesn’t matter what Wade sings because he has such a gritty and beautiful and emotional voice. The song is heartbreak, but it wasn’t a particularly compelling piece. He does, however, remain one of the most singular and impressive talents on the show. He just needs some guidance and direction.
27 years old – "God Is a Woman," Ariana Grande
Our first glimpse at Bumbly and she took on a whopper of a vocal and a song that is fresh in everyone’s mind still. She has a bit of a scratch in her voice, and paired with plenty of passion and range she was apparently a dark horse contender the producers didn’t even expect. Or maybe this was her first real breakout performance. It was a great song choice that showcased her chops well, so maybe that was the key here.
22 years old – "Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing," Tori Kelly
Shawn has a very smooth voice, with a classic R&B tone, but does it stand out enough to really carry this competition? He spent a good chunk of this performance on a single run to close it out, and he’s proven he has the chops to compete, but win? We’re not so sure. Nothing from what he does; it’s just something we’ve heard many times before.
Riley Thompson, Raquel Trinidad & Evelyn Cormier
16 years old – "Ring of Fire," Johnny Cash
20 years old – ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," Roberta Flack
19 years old – "Wonderwall," Oasis
Riley took a peppy country take on Johnny Cash’s "Ring of Fire," and while she certainly brought a light and youthful energy to it that was unexpected, we weren’t as enamored as the judges. Raquel, on the other hand, dug deep for a sultry take on Roberta Flack that worked quite well, massaging the lyrics. And then Evelyn had a stunning amount of authentic grit on Oasis that we both didn’t expect and totally knew she had (even if she over-pronounced some of the words). This segment was on the importance of song choice, and all three did well, but they weren’t evenly ranked at all. In fact, we’d put Raquel and Evelyn well above Riley, who was solid yet unremarkable. So this ranking will just be theirs.
26 years old – "In My Blood," Shawn Mendes
Nick really connected with the lyrics after losing two brothers to suicide this past year. And he absolutely nailed this vocal, as he’s done virtually every round. Nick is channeling his grief into his heart and that pain is motivation and fuel, and it adds a layer of realness that connects. He sounded great on this piece, with the right amount of rasp and the range to hit the big moments.
23 years old – "Daughters," John Mayer
A true indie artist, Kate brought a lot of unique vocal qualities to this understated song. There’s not a lot there vocally to shine with big notes as this is more about the sentiment of the piece, so Kate injected it with plenty of character her own. It made it a memorable performance and, better yet, it gives her a unique niche in the competition.
25 years old – "Never Enough," "The Greatest Showman"
Margie’s perky energy finally collapsed in on herself as her confidence faltered and stress and exhaustion almost derailed her. With some motivation, though, she really poured everything into a beautiful song about dreams. She didn’t hit every huge note she went for, but it was a heartfelt performance and she remains a great personality the show could definitely benefit from. Plus, she is so ready to blow up and own her talent.
17 years old – "Always on My Mind," Willie Nelson
From the first note, Drake really drew us in with an absolutely beautiful vocal and perfect pitch control. He didn’t over do this one, just letting the lyrics and the emotion. It sounded like a perfect blend of a pop/R&B take on the country classic, which was a fresh perspective as well. Drake is just such a natural talent; he just needs to find who he is as an artist and he could really be something.
16 years old – "What About Us?," P!nk
After faltering at Top 24 last season due to a lack of dynamic stage presence, Alyssa really took that note to heart and brought an improved version here. Her voice was never in doubt and if anything, she’s gotten even stronger there as well. Alyssa is a better contestant than last season, but her performance does remain behind her voice. She was stalking the stage in an unconvincing manner here.
Eddie Island & Alejandro Aranda
25 years old – "1974," Eddie Island
24 years old – "Tears," Alejandro Aranda
As a contrast to the compilation of good song choices, this was a segment on the risks of bringing original songs to this stage of the competition. Eddie has a cool Jimmy Buffett vibe to his persona and even his songwriting, and this piece did showcase his vocal ability, but it wasn’t a great song, by any means. Alejandro impressed with an original at his first audition, so he went back to that well again. But he is a great guitar player and knows how to write a song, so this was much stronger than Eddie’s piece. At the same time, it didn’t offer as much dynamically for him to sing. He is truly a singular talent. Eddie is out, as far as we’re concerned, so this ranking is for Alejandro.
17 years old – "All I Ask," Adele
After ditching plans to perform an original song after words of caution from Bobby Bones and the vocal coach, Madison made a last-minute swap. But did her caution pay off? The answer is yes, as Madison has a similar richness in her tone. By the time she got to the chorus, we fully believed every word she was singing as if this was her own song, and that’s what an artist can do.
24 years old – "Scars to Your Beautiful," Alessia Cara
Uche has been uptempo throughout the competition thus far, so he slowed it down and dedicated this performance to his younger sister. And it absolutely worked as he rearranged it to his voice, with hints of Aloe Blacc in his tone and a heartfelt delivery. This was a smart move to show that he is a diverse artist who can showcase different things at different times.
Myra Tran & Shayy
19 years old – "I Put a Spell on You," Nina Simone
18 years old – "Cry Pretty," Carrie Underwood
Despite being breakout social media sensations, as Ryan was quick to point out to kick off their joint segment, these singers struggled heading into this key round. Would they derail the hopes and dreams of their millions of fans before they even get a chance to vote for them? Well, Myra certainly continued her upward trajectory with that big old voice effortlessly flying all the way up and down her full range. Shayy was a little shakier, but still gave a great vocal. They’re such different singers, but both are true talents the show will probably want to hang onto. Our ranking here is for Myra, who was stronger, as Shayy was several slots lower in the rankings and may not even make it through.
25 years old – "All I Ask," Adele
Following Juan Pablo, Ryan showed how to hold a powerful note without overdoing it. He poured so much passion in this performance i was every bit as emotional as when Adele sings it, and there’s almost no one who can make you cry as much as Adele. He took on the queen of emotion and absolutely slayed it. And he gave us an "Idol Power Note" with almost no runs because sometimes enough is enough. That was transcendent.
Kai the Singer
19 years old – "Lost Without You," Freya Ridings
This was a new side of Kai and it was so beautiful, with a little Tracy Chapman in the pain she brought to this performance. Every note was so precise and well chosen, it was one of the most intelligent vocals of the entire competition so far and absolutely brought us tingles at several different times. She has lived and breathes every bit of it into these soulful performances that grab us and will not let go. Who cares about the nerves, because there is an angel just waiting to break free of that shell.
Laci Kaye Booth
23 years old – "Stars," Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
Oh Laci, you are an absolute dream every time you open your mouth, and yet why does it surprise us every single time. She is so much better than she has any right to be. She even accompanies herself beautifully on guitar, underscoring her vocals perfectly. She wasn’t quite as strong on the chorus as we would have liked, but on the right song, she is magical.
Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon
26 years old – "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," Roberta Flack
He just poured his way through this performance like molasses, caressing each syllable beautifully. He absolutely made this classic song his own story and it was utterly breathtaking. There’s singing a song and then there’s what Jeremiah just did. He is in a class of his own as a vocalist, a storyteller and a true artist. Easily this was his best performance ever, even if he faltered a moment finding his big note. That’s wow factor.
23 years old – "Wicked Game," Chris Isaak
Johanna was crushed that her boyfriend, Matt, wasn’t able to be there for her Hollywood Week experience, but it was all a clever ruse. Thankfully, he waited until after her audition to spring it on her. Before that, she showcased an impressive and sultry vocal all up and down the range of this very unique song. She’s got a big voice, hitting the lows and falsettos effortlessly. It was a great showcase for what she brings.
But then her night got even better when Matt showed up out of nowhere and sprung a surprise proposal right there on the stage. Her parents were stunned and in tears. Johanna was in tears. Katy absolutely lost it herself, and we’re not gonna lie … Matt got us, too. It was such a beautiful moment.
The most torturous moment of the competition happens in the rooms when the contestants are divided and have to look around the room they’re in at the faces they’re surrounded by and ask themselves if these are the right faces to be seeing right now.
Room 1: Uche, Johanna Jones, Laci Kaye Booth and Alejandro Aranda, which makes Room 1 sound like a pretty happening place to be, for sure. They were joined by Nick Townsend, Laine Hardy and Walker Burroughs, Margie Mays, Shayy and Drake McCain. So come on, there’s no show without any of these people.
Room 2: Austin Michael, Ruthie Craft, Gaba, Katie Bell and Juan Pablo. Okay, this looked pretty obvious from the outside that this is a "No" room, but clearly the nerves and uncertainty in the room makes that not the case, as Juan Pablo was full of misplaced confidence.
Room 3: Tyler Mitchell, Wade Cota, Dimitrius Graham, Eddie Island, Alyssa Raghu and Bumbly rocked Room 3, and even though these were some of the shakier auditions among the top tier of auditioners, they were still a class above Room 2. In years past, it wasn’t quite as clear cut what was happening, but this one certainly felt like a lock.
And it absolutely was. Next stop, Hawaii for the Top 40 with a final showcase performance in front of a live audience and then the Top 20 selection. It’s getting real!
"American Idol" airs Sundays and Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.
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