Both made it through to the top five, along with Adele-like Nicolina Bozzo, quirky Leah Marlene and country crooner HunterGirl.
The Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am was an excellent mentor, providing each contestant tangible bits of advice about connecting with the music they’re singing.
And good news for the top five: season 4 “Idol” winner Carrie Underwood ― who took home the crown 17 years ago ― is going to be the mentor next week.
The show is airing its season 20 finale in just two weeks. It’s not obvious at this stage who is going to win though my call is Fritz Hager with HunterGirl a likely runner up.
Each singer Sunday night performed two songs: one inspired by TikTok and the other inspired by their mom. There were no bombs but a lot of heartfelt performances.
Leah Marlene (”Electric Love” Borns) - She picked a song used on TikTok where best friends kiss to see if there is anything more. She hasn’t done anything quite like this before but moving around the stage, she captures the pop ditty’s fun side without sacrificing her vocals. It’s a hit for me. Grade: A-minus
Jay Copeland (”I Have Nothing” Whitney Houston) - This song apparently shows up a lot on animal TikTok videos. This is also one of the most overplayed “Idol” songs in the show’s 20-year history. At least he’s the first male singer to do it. The song bores me. He does perfectly fine but I will immediately forget it. Who else has sung it? Leah Labelle, Trenyce, Jennifer Hudson, Vonzell Solomon, Grace Kinstler, Kat McPhee, LaKisha Jones, Shannon Magrane, Jessica Sanchez, Sonika Vaid and Gabby Barrett. (WhatNotToSing compiled all the performers through the first 17 seasons.) Grade: B
Fritz Hager (”All My Friends” original) - As will.i.am says, he has very high emotional intelligence and this autobiographical song hits hard given that it’s about his times as a struggling musician jealous seeing his friends moving forward in life while he’s stuck. He’s stuck no longer. This song could work on pop radio. We actually view the rehearsal version since he has COVID-19. Grade: A
Christian Guardino (”Lonely” Justin Bieber) - He said his retinal condition makes it hard to connect with others. He actually posted a version of this song on TikTok but took it down because he wasn’t happy with it. will.i.am. tells him to own the vulnerability in the song. Christian really pours his heart in this song. And it doesn’t feel theatrical or showy, just real. Then Michael Bublé offers to sing with Christian during the finale and Christian is tickled with excitement over the prospect. Grade: A/A-minus
HunterGirl (”You Broke Me First” Tate McRae) - She heard this pop song on TikTok. She really makes this feel effortless and sells the lyrics with precision. Katy says she’s a natural. Grade: A-minus
Noah Thompson (”Painted Blue” Sundy Best) - He isn’t much of a social media person. will.i.am says he isn’t connecting to it and needs to feel the lyrics. He has to sing in his hotel room just with his guitar. It actually works well. This song highlights the interesting textures in his voice and the pain in the lyrics. This was his best work of the competition. Grade: A-minus
Nicolina Bozzo (”Alone” Heart) - Carrie Underwood’s breakthrough song from 2006! Nicolina’s been a very active TikTok user. She decides to go soft in the first chorus and then build it up. She is all over the place. It’s very theatrical. Not my taste. Grade: B-plus
Jay Copeland (“A Song for Mama” Boyz II Men) - He pulls off a suitably heartfelt rendition of this song. He has really gotten better in recent weeks, as Katy said. Grade: A-minus
Fritz Hager (”The Ocean” original) - Two originals in one night. He is a great storyteller and his songs are superb. This one is an ode to grandma on Mother’s Day. Sure, it’s the rehearsal version but he still pulls out a great version. Luke says he looks and sounds like a pro. Grade: A/A-minus
Leah Marlene (”Sanctuary” Charles Esten, Lennon and Maisy from the TV show “Nashville”) - Leah can sing anything and gives it her own emotion-packed spin. This is just evocatively pretty. Grade A/A-minus
HunterGirl (”Like My Mother Does” Lauren Alaina) - She sings this with pure joy and while it gets a little shouty and pitchy toward the end, it’s all emotion. She is pure tears as it concludes. Grade: A-minus
Noah Thompson (”Landslide” Fleetwood Mac) - This song is a favorite of his grandma, who raised him. Even with backtracks in his hotel room, he did a touching, nuanced job. (This reminds me of the 2020 season when everyone had to do their performances from their home.) Grade: A-minus
Nicolina Bozzo (”Light in a Hallway” Pentatonix) - I prefer Nicolina when she just sings a song simply. And this one highlights her vocal strength and emotional resilience without any fancy runs or big notes. Grade: A
Christian Guardino (”Dear God” Smokie Norful) - He powers through this gospel song with conviction. It’s a lovely way to end the night. Grade: A/A-minus