‘American Idol’ season 20 top 14 performance recap

Jay Copeland performs on April 24, 2022 on "American Idol" for a spot in the top 11. (ABC/Eric McCandless)

Credit: ABC

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Jay Copeland performs on April 24, 2022 on "American Idol" for a spot in the top 11. (ABC/Eric McCandless)

Credit: ABC

“American Idol” finally went live across America with voting ending just a few minutes before the cuts were made.

The three eliminated showed how tough the competition is this year. Two talented women went home: songstress Ava Maybee, who picked a song that few people knew, and Allegra Miles, who is certifiably talented but didn’t connect with the voters.

Dan Marshall, a country singer who I thought could end up top five, never looked fully comfortable on stage but his departure was a surprise given the country fan base. More votes went to the two other male country singers Noah Thompson and Mike Parker. America ultimately made the right call.

A couple of singers really stood out this week: Leah Marlene found a groove with “Happy Together,” Fritz Hager personalized “Let It Go” and Nicolina Bozzo picked a sure-fire crowd winner in “Hallelujah.”

Gabby Barrett, the biggest star to date from the ABC era, came back to mentor and provided great notes to the singers.

Monday night for the top 11 will be the annual ABC synergy night with Disney songs.

Jay Copeland (”Just the Way You Are” Bruno Mars) - He is no Bruno Mars. Too much vibrato. His enunciation is a little weird. And he just lacks authenticity despite perfectly viable vocal skills. Lionel says he finally picked a song that showed his artistry. Katy liked his restraint and landed in a cool spot. Luke enjoyed his vocal performance. Grade: B

HunterGirl (”Baby Girl” Sugarland) - I adore this breakout song and Jennifer Nettles’ vocal is hard to beat. HunterGirl starts a bit slow but the second half is super strong. She is certainly positioning herself well for a potential win in a few weeks. Katy says she has a heart of gold and she wants to see her win. Luke says that was her best moment to date and the perfect song. When she dug in at the end, that was a cherry on top, he adds. Lionel says she looks like a pro. Grade: A-minus

Christian Guardino (”Take Me to Church” Hozier) - This is a good song choice for him. Gabby told him to reduce his habit of vocal gymnastics. He pulls back a bit and it helps. He showcases his strong voice and his emotional conviction, which makes up for his struggles with his vision and the bright lights. Luke says he only took off once he took the mic off the stand. Lionel says he mastered all the dynamics. Katy says he told a good story. Grade: B-plus

Dan Marshall (”She’s Got It All” Kenny Chesney) - He is super nervous in front of Gabby. She tells him to get the audience involved and wants him to get out of his head. Despite his innate charm, his lack of stage experience is a major problem. He’s stiff. He doesn’t do a bad job vocally but has a few pitch problems. Lionel says he sounds like a star. Katy says that was a great fun song choice but he could have dug in deeper. Luke, who couldn’t help but sing along to this 1997 classic, says Dan looked freaked out the first half and hit some bad notes near the end. Grade: B/B-minus

Leah Marlene (”Happy Together” The Turtles) - She was stuck between “Mad World” and “Happy Together.” Gabby guided her to be happier. Leah has a natural spark about her and she makes this 1960s nugget her own. Her tone is undeniably compelling no matter what song she chooses. Katy likes the variation in her song choices and says this evoked a level of coolness that is impressive. Luke calls it masterful from top to bottom. Lionel says she turned it into her own song. Grade: A/A-minus

Fritz Hager (”Let It Go” James Bay) - Gabby felt like Fritz wasn’t bringing enough of himself to the song so he takes that advice to heart. He brings confidence and earnestness to his performance in equal measure and nails it. Luke says he’s an artist the way he sold that. Lionel says he pulled back enough to draw the viewers in. Katy begs the live audience to vote for him. (And they do.) Grade: A/A-minus

Tristen Gressett (”Whataya Want From Me” Adam Lambert ) - He has a vague resemblance to Adam (if not quite the vocal chops) so why not? Gabby gave him some good vocal notes for the end. His vocals to me lack distinction and despite a big note at the end, he isn’t in the same league as Adam. Katy likes how he brings the drama and keeps evolving. Luke says he missed some lyrics but recovered nicely. Grade: B/B-plus

Lady K (”I Believe” Fantasia) - Gabby said she looked uncomfortable singing this in front of her and told her not to worry so much about Fantasia. She does loosen up on stage. But her performance simply pales in comparison to Fantasia, who was able to take this treacly ballad and turn it into a heartfelt coronation song. (I watched in awe a few months later in 2004 when Fantasia tearfully poured her heart out singing that song in the women’s department of the Lenox Macy’s.) Katy says she’s elegance personified. Luke says she’s blossomed. Lionel says it was her best performance to date. Grade: B

Allegra Miles (”Ocean Eyes” Billie Eilish) - This song broke out in Europe but barely made an impression stateside in 2016. “Bad Guy” might have been a more compelling choice. She is a great vocalist and gives the song plenty of nuance and emotion. I feel sad she didn’t garner the votes in a very competitive year. Luke says he liked when she left the piano partway through the song and lauded her falsetto choices. Lionel says she brought us into her. Katy says she showed off her stage presence. Grade: A-minus

Ava Maybee (”Sign of the Times” Harry Styles) - This is a solid song choice and she brings some great power and resonance to the song. But she is oddly forgettable. The voting public cut her out as well. Lionel says she was too much in her head the first half but she was on fire in the second half. Katy says the second half pierced through. Luke says those power notes at the end were big moments. Grade: B-plus

Mike Parker (”Hurricane” Luke Combs) - Gabby asks him to loosen up a bit and open his eyes. It works. The performance feels authentically country and he is truly into it. I can’t say his final big note was all that clean but overall, it was good enough to get him into the top 11. Luke says he is a fighter after getting saved last week by the jduges. Lionel says his storytelling voice is fundamentally excellent. Grade: B-plus

Emyrson Flora (”Driver’s License” Olivia Rodrigo) - Gabby gave her tips on stage movement. She felt a bit frozen on stage. I think she should have taken the mic off the stand and moved around a bit. Vocally, she did a passable facsimile of the original but this was not her best. She benefited from picking an iconic song (as opposed to Ava). Luke says it was a great song choice. Lionel says it’s believable. Katy says that “cry” in her voice is specific and bracing. Grade: B

Noah Thompson (”Stand By Me” Ben E. King) - He first chose “Nobody to Blame” by Chris Stapleton but Gabby sensed he wasn’t connecting with it. So he changed it after Gabby’s comments. This was a smart crowd pleasing song choice to get easy votes and it was a song he already knew. As a result, this feels very effortless for Noah. He is kind of weirdly expressionless at times on stage but he still connects. Lionel says Gabby gave him a gift by changing songs because he felt that song. Katy says his authenticity is what matters. Luke compliments his voice. Grade: B-plus/A-minus

Nicolina Brozzo (”Hallelujah” Jeff Buckley version) - This song has been sung a gazillion times on reality competition shows over the past two decades because it works, however cliched at this point. It is fundamentally dramatic and hits the gut. If “Stand By Me” was a crowd pleaser, this is a crowd mover and a guaranteed vote getter. Buckley’s version is superbly understated and Nicolina begins with proper restraint, then let’s go to show off her big voice. She only gets two minutes of what is actually a nearly seven minute song but does a lovely job. Katy calls it angelic. Luke says she pulls the audience in with the control of her voice. Lionel says she has a natural gift. Grade: A/A-minus

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