“American Idol” has had to make do with airing less-than-ideal virtual editions since the pandemic began, losing two weeks of voting in the process.
And just like that, the winner is going to be named next week!
This pre-taped third week of remote shows that aired Sunday cut the top 11 to seven and there were no real shockers.
Five singers that appeared to rise above the rest once the top 20 names came out all made the cut: Francisco Martin, Jonny West, Just Sam, Arthur Gunn and Dillon James.
Louis Knight has also been a producer favorite and despite a lack of variety in his song choices and style, he also landed in the top seven.
The seventh slot is Julia Gargano, courtesy of her jazzy take on Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” last week, a timely reminder of the fact that state has taken by far the biggest hit from the virus than any other.
The polling below shows that this is going to be a truly tight race for the win.
The four cut: Jovin Webb, Sophia James, Mikayla Phillips and Grace Leer.
While I picked the top 11 correctly last week, I missed one this week. I chose country singer Grace for her less-than-subtle take on “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” over Julia. Grace might have been better served sticking with country.
The folks on the poll I posted last week also got six out of seven right, with Sophia receiving slightly more votes than Louis. What was interesting in the poll was that every singer got a decent number of votes so kudos to the judges yet again for getting us a pool of talented candidates for the public to choose from.
Picking a winner this season is tough given how few votes America has been able to make, leaving a rather light track record. I am going to pick Arthur by a hair over Jonny and Francisco but I would be happy with any of the three taking the crown.
In other words, I am fairly confident this will be another year a man wins.
While a woman took home the “Idol” title four of the first six seasons, men have won “Idol” nine of the subsequent 11 seasons.
The South has been well represented on the show most years, but season 18’s top seven features none. There are two New Yorkers, a Philadelphian, a Nepalese-American from Kansas and three Californians.
Next week, the top 5 will each sing three songs: one that celebrates their journey, a second as a reprise of a past song and the third will be an original “Idol” single.
There will be a real-time vote to pick the winner.
My top five prediction is easy: Dillon, Just Sam, Francisco, Arthur and Jonny.
Next week’s finale will include some celebrity guests: Cynthia Erivo, Lauren Dagle and Rascal Flatts. Both Katy and Blake will perform new singles while Lionel will reprise “We are the World.”
Votes lock in at 9 a.m. EST May 11 through the American Idol app, the website and via text.
Here is the 14 performances from the seven finalists.
There were two themes.
First up are Disney songs:
Arthur Gunn (“Kiss the Girl” The Little Mermaid) - This song is super cheesy but Arthur somehow makes it work for himself, snuffs out the cheese and keeps the earnest underlying message. Katy likes that he was engaging the audience and having fun in a relaxing way. Grade: A
Just Sam (“A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” Cinderalla) - Just Sam is all glammed up and looked wonderful. She had more edge earlier in the competition and I miss that. But she does a spot-on pretty version of this. She said this truly a Cinderella moment for Just Sam, she said. Luke said her voice holds up at every level of her range. Katy wanted a little more. Grade: A-minus/B-plus.
Jonny West ( “Almost There” The Princess and the Frog)
- He is just a great artist. He brings not just a tuneful, compelling vocal performance, as usual, but he draws you in with his pure authenticity. Katy compares him as an amalgam of Billy Joel, Paul Simon and Randy Newman. Luke said Disney forces people down a path they’re not used to and is amazed he made it work. Grade: A/A-minus
Louis Knight (“Can You Feel the Love Tonight” The Lion King)
He leaves the piano and distracts us with wild gesticulating. This whole performances feels overwrought even while his relatively weak vocals fail to resonate. Katy said Niall Horan better watch out. Luke loves the tenderness but it “got a little linear after three quarters of the song.” (In other words, it got boring.) Lionel said he normally feeds off a crowd but it’s hard to “stay on the mark” at home and said he lacked focus at times. (What? Was that an actual critique from Lionel????) Grade: C
Julia Gargano (”Beauty and the Beast” Beauty and the Beast). Lovely arrangement, some great interpretive moments but she is having problems with her lower register. Luke likes when she is in that little “cry” part of her voice and also noted the issues in her lower register. Lionel even noted that problem. Grade: B
Francisco Martin ( “You’ll Be In My Heart” The Lion King)
He has such wonderful tone and even if he has some pitch issues, he still pulls off a solid performance. He commits and it works. Grade: B-plus/A-minus
Dillon James (“Our Town” Cars)
He made it through despite a subpar performance last week. He is back in gear this week, stripping the song down and bringing out his artistry. Katy: “You took everything we said last week and applied it magnificantly.” Luke: “There were dynamics, there was emotions.” Lionel said he was a storyteller, a true artist. Grade: A/A-minus
Time filler: last year’s winner Laine Hardy sings “Life is a Highway” from “Cars.” He doesn’t get to promote new music but to promote Disney. Oh, well.
Now it’s Mother’s Day songs:
Arthur Gunn ( “Hey Ma” Bon Iver)
He sings this song with his mom on the couch a few feet away. I am not sure if this was the best song to generate votes but he sounds incredible, as always. Luke said when he gets to the high part of his voice, it’s so signature and works so well. “You’re spoiling us.” Lionel: “You could sing the phone book... Enjoy the ride, my friend.” Katy is tearful. “What a fantastic Bon Iver song, thi s ndie-folk genre that you are.” Grade: B-plus
Just Sam ( “I Turn To You’ Christina Aguilera)
She sees her grandmother like her mother because her mom was incarcerated most of her life. Sad. She’s stuck in L.A. and is naturally lonely. She picks yet another cheeseball song. Her song choices are sucking. She has a great voice but this is just terrible on multiple levels. Lionel calls the “angel of this group.”Luke loves her mid-range, “smooth as butter.” Grade: B-minus
Jonny West ( “Amazing Grace”)
He said he took the hymn and changed it up to focus on his mom’s vision of faith. So sweet. He drove from Los Angeles to Murrieta to spend the rest of his time in quarantine with his parents. This could be a disaster but he does a superb job. Katy said he’s super original and is “100% sold” and thinks he could have the biggest career of everyone in the 18th season, win or lose. Luke: “You have God-given songwriting talents.” Grade: A
Louis Knight ( “You’ve Got a Friend” James Taylor)
This is his mum’s favorite song. I think I fundamentally don’t like his voice. It just doesn’t evoke any feelings in me. He fundamentally bores me. Luke likes the placement of his emotion and said it was the best of his quandary performances. Katy said he gave them the “wingspan” she was looking for. Grade: B-minus
Julia Gargano (“Sweet Devotion” Adele”)
I have never been particularly devoted to Julia and this doesn’t change that. She was in her comfort zone and was a pro but I won’t remember that in five minutes. Luke called this performance “bad a**.” Lionel said this was the first time she “rode the pocket.” Grade: B
Francisco Martin (“River” Leon Bridges”)
Mother’s Day falls on his moms’s birthday and he made her breakfast and a sweet note. His voice brings out such emotional resonance and beauty. I’d go to his concert tomorrow - if concerts were still a thing. Luke said it was actually better than the original. Lionel said his confidence is front and center and is no longer in his head. Grade: A
Dillon James ( “Hang on, Hang on” Amos Lee)
A gorgeous, heartfelt take. Just lovely. His addiction issues clearly have informed him as an artist and it shows. Katy is tearful. Luke said he has been vocal about his struggles in life and her love got him through it. “You just did a great performance and you will go very far no matter what number you end up on ‘American Idol.’” Lionel calls him inspirational.
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