Photo: CR: Georgians Cyniah Elise and Camryn Leigh Smith are well positioned to make the "Idol" top 40
Photo: CR: Georgians Cyniah Elise and Camryn Leigh Smith are well positioned to make the "Idol" top 40

Two Atlanta teens - Cyniah Elise and Camryn Leigh Smith - vying for top 40 on ‘American Idol’ March 22, 23 with duets, solos

Originally posted Sunday, March 22, 2020 by RODNEY HO/ on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Sure, the entire “American Idol” season now hangs on the balance, courtesy of COVID-19.
But the producers were able to pre-tape everything through the top 20, including the Hawaii episodes in January. The next rounds were about to take place last week when production was suspended. When or whether they will start back up is a big question mark.

Tonight will be the duets replacing the long-cherished (and often entertaining) group rounds. The contestants were preparing for groups but instead had to pick one person instead during the scramble. 

On Monday, “Idol” will feature the “solo” round and that will lead to the top 40 being named. 

Two metro Atlantans are in the running at this stage who could very well be around for a trip to Hawaii for a coveted spot in the top 20: Jonesboro R&B singer Cyniah Elise and Acworth worship leader Camyrn Leigh Smith.

Both breezed through both the audition round and the first Hollywood round. 

Elise’s duet with Makayla Phillips was released three days prior to tonight’s “Idol” episode. It featured the pair struggling first to come up with a song, then Elise teaching Makayla the Celine Dion/Andrea Bocelli duet “The Prayer.”

In the end, they picked well because the performance is both uplifting and emotionally deep. It has generated 600,000 page views as of this writing:

In an interview Friday, 17-year-old Cyniah said early release surprised her, but she’s glad they were able to provide an inspirational message during such challenging times.

She said she and Makayla struggled to find a proper song after teaming up based on the list of candidates “Idol” gave them. Either they didn’t know the song or it was too low or high for one person. But “The Prayer” stood out to Cyniah - who was familiar with it - and convinced Makayla it was the right move even though Makayla was not. 

“Before I teach a song to someone,” said Cyniah, “I have to understand the words. I broke the lyrics down and provided her something to help her remember each line. I felt if there was a visual, it would make memorizing easier. And we had to make sure we were singing with each other and each of us had our own moments. We had to blend together so nobody is overpowering the other.” 

Cyniah’s efforts paid off. 

“Even while we were practicing, other people would stop practicing themselves to listen,” Cyniah said.

The judges gave a standing ovation after the song was over. “You guys did it such justice,” Katy Perry said.

Camryn Leigh Smith, a 16-year-old  who is home schooled already (in a time when kid in Georgia is being home schooled), also spoke with me Friday. She decided to do something that tied to her faith in her first audition “How Great Art Thou” and the judges liked it enough to move her to the next round. 

When it was time for duets, she at first had a hard time finding someone her age to work with so she ended up with an older dude named Kelvin Thomas.”We met at Savannah auditions and I liked his voice,” she said. “She’s a super nice dude and Christian like me.”

They chose the pop/rock song by Kings of Leon “Use Somebody.” 

But then Kelvin lost his voice, a common problem in Hollywood. He disappeared for awhile and Camryn said she got so stressed out, she started crying. And yes, the cameras were rolling. 

So tonight, we’ll see how she and he handle that problem. Or we won’t. There are far more duets than time to show them all. So it comes down to whether the editors choose to show their journey or not. 

Naturally, both singers hope “Idol” comes back at a later date if the live shows are postponed, which appears to be an increasing likelihood by the day. (The taped episodes are only good through the end of the month.)

“Everyone has worked so hard,” Camryn said. “We don’t want to see the show go away.” 


“American Idol,” 8 p.m. Sundays, ABC (with additional Monday night episodes as well for the time being). 

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About the Author

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