AMERICAN IDOL - "209 (Top 20 Solos)" - The stakes grow higher as the Top 20 "American Idol" finalists sing their hearts out in front of a live audience at Los AngelesÕ famed venue The Wiltern, airing on The ABC Television Network, MONDAY, APRIL 1 (8:00-10:00 p.m. EDT), streaming and on demand. (ABC/Eric McCandless) WALKER BURROUGHS
Photo: Eric McCandless/ABC
Photo: Eric McCandless/ABC

Ranking the season 17 top 20 ‘American Idol’ performers so far

Originally posted Wednesday, April 3, 2019 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

ABC, by airing five hours of “Idol” over two days, created a bit of a viewing chore but has also provided us more time with each of the contestants than we have had in the past. 

Before the celebrity duets and the top 20 being cut to 14 this Sunday and Monday, we now have had decent exposure to most of them. Here are my power rankings. This is a combination of who I like and how I think they rank overall. I also include the videos from Monday night’s performances. 

Overall. the talent is rock solid this season, maybe even better than last year. There are plenty of genuine artists and only a handful of folks trying to figure themselves out, especially the younger teens like Madison, Riley and Alyssa. Nobody embarrassed themselves in the top 20. Bravo to the judges for sifting out those who really weren’t ready for the big stage.

1. Laine Hardy. “Bring It On Home To Me’ Sam Cooke. He has a self-assuredness, the look and a voice that makes him an early lock to win “American Idol.” He is a joy to listen to and watch. “You are literally commanding the stage,” Katy said. Luke noted how his voice has improved and “everything you’re doing currently looks like you’re trying to win this whole competition.”

2. Laci Kaye Booth. “I Want You To Want Me” Cheap Trick. Totally changing up a hit song is tricky. But do it right and you’re golden as David Cook and Adam Lambert know all too well. And she slows this cheesy 1970s pop rocker and turns it into a country ballad. It works. It’s a close call between Laci and Ashley as best female vocalist. She could be the first female country artist to win “Idol” since the one and only Carrie Underwood. 

3. Ashley Hess. “Dreaming With a Broken Heart” John Mayer. She knows herself and her vocals are impeccably nuanced. She has confidence, style and emotional resonance. It’s called artistry, as Kara DioGuardi like to say. If a woman is going to win this year, it’s between her and Laci.

4. Dimitrius Graham. “Hello” Adele. He can be all over the place but this time, he showed reasonable restraint and finds different places that he has before. And that operatic opening? Cool! He is interesting and “Idol” needs interesting. Will he win? Doubtful. But hopefully he sticks around awhile. 

5. Alejandro Aranda. “I Fall Apart.” Post Malone. It’s easy to make fun of the “Whisperer King.” But he is singular, he is self possessed and he’s an artist. It’s hard to knock his guitar playing. And he comes across as humble and likable. He could very well end up in the finals. 

6. Walker Burroughs. “How Deep is Your Love” Bee Gees. He is my favorite vocalist and was just superb. I haven’t seen a really bad performance yet. His only downside is he is a bit singular in his approach. But that hasn’t stopped past winners. 

7. Uché “Figures” Jessie Reyez. He is a man who goes all out all the time. That has a chance to be grating but he has charisma and he has presence and he has a decent enough voice to make it work so far. In his top 20 performance, he manages to stay clean vocally as he moves around with ease. No matter what happens, he’s worth watching. Nobody like him has ever won the show. Maybe it’s time. 

8. Jeremiah Larson “To Make You Feel My Love” Bob Dylan. His life experience of being closeted gay until he came out on the show definitely colors his singing in a good way. So emotive. And he picked just the right song, a song that is hard to screw up if you can tap into the lyrics. I am not sure he will get far once he’s in the top 14 but he’s a worthy competitor. 

9. Eddie Island “Ho Hey” Lumineers. I haven’t been in love with this guy but in the top 20, he really rises to the occasion. He is fun to watch even if his vocals aren’t always idyllic. Luke: “You can’t teach personality and authenticity and originality.” I still prefer the other dude with round glasses, Walker Burroughs. 

10. Alyssa Raghu. “Ain’t it Fun” Paramore. Like Madison, she’s just 16. She also doesn’t seem to quite have a distinct persona yet. She is playing pop star and has greatly improved her stage presence but it all feels more calculated than organic. And this song doesn’t really highlight her pipes, as Luke said. Lionel said she may have been overthinking for part of the song. (Was that a criticism? How dare you Lionel!)

11. Wade Cota “All I Want’ Kodaline. He is the personification of distinctive, like a modern-day Joe Cocker. And he can keep an audience captivated. I just don’t know if I could watch an entire concert with him. But he certainly knows his lane. I’m not sure if that necessarily translates into votes given the competition. 

12. Madison Vandenburg. “Domino” Jessie J. She has a naturally strong voice, is on pitch and is tonally solid. But the comparison to Kelly Clarkson doesn’t quite jibe (and annoying to boot.) Madison is just 16 and she feels like a work in progress, like she hasn’t lived enough to really embody the songs in a way to make her performances all that captivating. Pleasant, yes. “Idol” winning? Not yet. 

13. Riley Thompson. “Jolene” Dolly Parton. She has an absolutely wonderful voice but is she really connecting with the lyrics? It’s clear she’s just 16 and not quite ready for prime time. The judges said she needs more angst and grit and needs more life experience. 

14.  Bumbly. “Vision of Love” Mariah Carey. Mariah is one of the hardest singers to cover. She isn’t that type of power singer. She is likable and sweet and I thought she pulled it off. Lionel said she was overthinking and wasn’t relaxed enough. Katy said it was the wrong song. For these judges, that’s a death sentence. 

15. Ryan Hammond. “You Say’ Lauren Dagle. He has an exceptional voice but I keep forgetting this guy. So that’s a problem. Lionel wants him to “own the stage. Sell what you have.” 

16. Shawn Robinson. “Jealous” Nick Jonas. He has a lovely falsetto voice and pulls a pretty version of this song. He doesn’t have a terribly magnetic stage presence, which Luke Bryan alluded to. Katy also said she missed his lower register. 

17. Raquel Trinidad “Lovefool” The Cardigans. We have barely seen her until her top 20 performance. This indicates she’s clear canon fodder. She has a slinkiness about her that is appealing but given the competition, she is merely good but not good enough. Slowing this song down wasn’t a terrible idea but there was no real “wow” moments with this particular choice. 

18. Kate Barnette “Sunday Morning.” Maroon 5. We haven’t seen much of her so far, which implies that we won’t necessarily be seeing her on the live shows. She has an annoyingly bouncy intonation and a jazzy feel that I can’t quite get into. 

19. Logan Johnson. “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” City and Colour. Up to this point, he has not given me much of an impression.This song has potential if given the proper urgency and soul. But with Logan, it just lays there. A snoozer. Lionel noted he tried to be sexy. But it didn’t work. Katy said it felt like a rehearsal. 


20.  Evelyn Cormier “Leaving on a Jet Plane” Peter, Paul & Mary. I find her cloying and her stylistic ticks lack authenticity. Plus, she feels old for a 19 year old. Picking a 50-year-old song doesn’t help. She’s like a mashup of 1,000 different singer songwriters, from Jewel to Aimee Mann to Fiona Apple. Katy lauded her for authenticity and her unique voice. Luke didn’t buy into her at first but he is now a fan. 

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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