AMERICAN IDOL - "211 (All-Star Duets)" - The remaining 10 contestants of the Top 20 perform duets with all-star celebrity partners from The Wiltern in Los Angeles, as the search for America's next superstar continues on The ABC Television Network, MONDAY, APRIL 8 (8:00-10:00 p.m. EDT), streaming and on demand. Following the performances, the tension will rise as the remaining 10 contestants find out who has made the last seven spots, rounding out the Top 14 during a final elimination that will leave audiences stunned. (ABC/Eric McCandless) DIMITRIUS GRAHAM, LUKAS GRAHAM
Photo: Eric McCandless/ABC
Photo: Eric McCandless/ABC

Ranking the top 10 celebrity duets on ‘American Idol’ night one

Laci, Ashley, Uché and Laine shined

Originally posted Monday, April 8, 2019 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

I wish they would move the celebrity duets to the live shows but they do provide us a new way to see the top 20 contestants: can they compare to an actual professional? Can they handle the nerves of singing with someone of much greater stature?

Of course, this is a challenge for the producers because they end up pairing each celebrity with two “Idol” contestants. So sometimes, you can clearly see one singer is more compatible with said celebrity singer than the other. But the best performers and singers should be able to duet with anybody.

And to prove the judges did a great job ensuring the top 20 could handle the stage (which wasn’t always the case in the past), none of the first ten did poorly. There were a couple of situations where the song picks hurt the contestants but even the worst performance (Kate Burnette) was pretty good. 

If this were the top 10 another season, I would have no complaints. Four of these singers have the skills to win it all: Laci Kaye Booth, Ashley Hess, Uché and Laine Hardy

The three that were cut - the two metro Atlantans Shawn Robinson and Kate as well as Bubbly -  might have made the top 14 at other times.

I personally would have kept Bubbly over Riley Thompson, but the final picks were reasonable. 

1. Laci Kaye Booth. “Mercy” with Brett Young. The pair have chemistry and she can take heartbreak lyrics and make them work to her favor. Something about the fault lines in her voice makes the performance even more emotionally sad. Grade: A

2. Ashley Hess. “I’m Yours” with Jason Mraz. Ashley comes across as very humble but she chooses to re-arrange Mraz’s own song. He likes it. She slows it down to fit her own style and it works superbly. Her voice is soooo smooth and their harmonies were on point. Another wow performance from Ashley. Grade: A

3. Laine Hardy. “The Weight” by the Band with Elle King. No offense to Elle King but this song is actually better suited for Laine. (She was the only artist who didn’t sing her own originals. Hmm... Why no “Exes and Oh’s?”) He owned it. That growl, that grit, it’s all in his voice. This was just plain fun. Grade: A-minus

4. Uché. “I Need Your Love” with Shaggy. Wow. That was super fun. Shaggy is the crown prince of reggae and he owns the stage. Uche didn’t quite match Shaggy but he has such a singular presence and voice, the entire vibe worked well. Grade: A-minus

5. Walker Burroughs. “Have it All” with Jason Mraz. This song is pure cheese but very Mraz. And Walker manages to pair off with Jason well. There is on-stage chemistry and he hits the final note with confidence. And is it not a shock that the very first song Walker performed in public at age 9 was “I’m Yours.” Grade: B-plus

6. Madison Vanderburg. “We Belong” with Pat Benatar and Neil Girardi. Madison got the better song for herself than Kate. And she was clearly more comfortable. She didn’t have to move around or play a guitar. She focused on going toe to toe with Pat and not falling short. “Your voice is a Ferrari and you should never be afraid to show off your Ferrari,” Katy said. Grade: B-plus 

7. Bubbly. “Angel” with Shaggy. I just checked. Shaggy is 50! Lookin’ good ma man! This song isn’t really set up well for a duet. But Bubbly did a solid job. I thought she loosened up and enjoyed herself. We have seen very little of her but this gave us a taste why she is in the top 40. Grade: B

8. Riley Thompson “Like I Loved You” with Brett Young. He’s 38. She’s 16. He could be her dad. So there is that weird dynamic.And this song is about a painful break-up from a heartbroken lover to someone who just “wants to be friends.” It really isn’t a duet-type song at all. Oh, well. Riley is really good... for 16. She is raw and has plenty of potential with her pretty voice and she didn’t wilt under this type of pressure. Grade: B

9. Shawn Robinson. “Proud Mary” Creedence Clearwater Revival with Elle King. He admitted during practice that he needs work on his stage presence. And then the producers forced this song on him, which he wasn’t remotely comfortable with. At the last second, they switched out the quick Turner version and slowed it down. That cost them because Shawn cut in too early and there was a blank spot. Although they recovered, it hurt them. Personally, I thought Shawn did a really good job given the circumstances. Still, given the competition, he fell just short of making the top 14 cut. Grade: B-minus

10. Kate Barnette “Heartbreaker” with Pat Benatar and Neil Girardo. This song has been sung three times before on “Idol”: Nikki McKibbin, Jordin Sparks and Jena Irene. Kate, the Marietta singer, isn’t a real rocker so this is an odd song choice. She might have been better off with “We Belong” or “Shadows of the Night.” While Kate has a fine voice, it has zero rock edge. Pat just blew her out. And she isn’t used to performing a rock concert. She was clearly outside of her comfort zone and it might have been better if she had just dispensed with the guitar and focused on just singing. Grade: B-minus

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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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