‘American Idol’ top 12 and ‘comeback’ recaps

Willie Spence performed "Stand Up" from "Harriet" on Sunday, April 18, 2021, on "American Idol." (ABC/Eric McCandless)
Willie Spence performed "Stand Up" from "Harriet" on Sunday, April 18, 2021, on "American Idol." (ABC/Eric McCandless)

Credit: ABC

Credit: ABC

The show won’t be on next week due to the Oscars and a “Sesame Street” special

Three of my favorites last week from the “American Idol” top 12 were Ava August, Beane and Madison Watkins.

All three were eliminated Sunday night during “real-time” voting.

Then “American Idol’ decided to waste Monday night highlighting 10 of last year’s non-winning top 20 singers vying for a slot in the top 10. It was perhaps a nice idea in concept because none of the singers got to sing live during the pandemic, but we viewers have short memories. I’ve largely forgotten most of them. The only two that really stuck with me were the two that made it to the top seven: Arthur Gunn (season 18 runner up) and Louis Knight (top 7). Given their name recognition, they are the likeliest to go through. So in many ways, the “competition” is a bit of a farce. At best, it was a few minutes more on broadcast TV for these singers.

And now we lose an entire week of “Idol” due to the Oscars Sunday and a “Sesame Street” special Monday. The show won’t officially return until Sunday, May 2, a yawning 13-day break “Idol” has never taken before.

As for the nixed three from Sunday, I honestly thought Ava had a realistic shot at the top 2 or 3. I’m flummoxed by her lack of voting support even if she didn’t pick a particularly good song for herself Sunday.

Beane already feels like a fully-formed artist, which most of the others do not, so his departure is a particular disappointment. And Madison was just filled with positivity and fun and brought a different feel and look compared to the others.

Instead, we’re stuck with cute but emotionally fragile Hunter Metts, who forgot his lyrics and cried. There’s brooding country teen Caleb Kennedy, who brings all the fizz of an opened can of soda left out in the sun for an hour. Then there’s Deshawn Goncalves, a man with a fine voice but the tepid personality of a background singer.

My favorites for the top spot are Georgia’s own R&B singer Willie Spence, alt-rock songstress Cassandra Coleman and gritty blue-collar rocker Chayce Beckham.

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Nobody had a terrible performance Sunday. Here are my rankings: 1- Cassandra 2- Willie 3- Ava 4- Beane 5- Grace 6- DeShawn 7- Madison 8 - Chayce 9- Caleb 10 - Casey 11 - Hunter 12 - Alyssa

Luke Bryan, by the way, came back rather quickly from quarantine after getting COVID-19.

Grace Kinstler

”Happy” Pharrell Williams from “Despicable Me 2″ — She is one of the big voices remaining in the competition and up to this point has done mostly big ballads. She decided to change it up with this upbeat modern classic. Her use of melisma is distracting during the chorus, but otherwise, she does a nice job rearranging the song for her needs. Her confidence level has clearly risen over time.

Judges: Katy didn’t necessarily mind her going this direction but is wondering what type of artist she’s going to be. “What are you going to say?” she wonders. Luke likes how she carries the stage. Lionel says a bunch of stuff that basically repeated what Katy said.

Grade: B-plus/A-minus

Ava August

”City of Stars” from “La La Land” — She is an old soul, and this song fits her persona well, but it may have been a poor song choice to generate votes because, well, she didn’t get enough. It’s a self-indulgent Hollywood-oriented song, as opposed to a song that connects her with a wide swath of people. I was a fan of hers from day one and am sad to see her go. She’s only 15. I hope she can figure out a way to professionally do music down the road.

Judges: Luke says this is her lane, and Lionel can’t believe she’s only 15, and she already has real artistry, comparable comments to past weeks, just lengthier because they have to stretch the two hours out with only 12 performances. Katy says she wants Ava to move around and command the stage more, be more “ethereal and fluid.” (That might have helped her garner more votes perhaps?) She won’t get that chance, unfortunately.

Grade: A-minus

Caleb Kennedy

”On the Road Again” Willie Nelson from “Honeysuckle Rose” — This is a very respectable, super spirited cover of this song, and he seems to be actually enjoying himself. Is he his own artist? I don’t quite see it yet, but he gets the votes as the last country singer standing.

Judges: Lionel thinks if he keeps things up, he’ll be on the road a long time. (Ah, that Lionel! The wit!) Katy loves his authentic grit, and he shouldn’t be worried about his “wonk” eye because she has one, too. “Celebrate all that stuff. Don’t worry about it,” she says. Luke says he didn’t “oversing yourself into any trouble. You picked the right song. Sometimes you picked songs a little challenging for you.”

Grade: B-plus/A-minus

Hunter Metts

”Falling Slowly” by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová from “Once” — Mentor Bobby Bones tries oh so hard during rehearsal to get Hunter to connect with the audience by sticking him in front of a mirror. Although I find his stage presence sorely lacking, voters like him, and he gets through. His voice is adequately emotive, and he is easy to watch from a pure how-he-looks standpoint. He forgets his lyrics at the end and doesn’t even hide that fact, looking chagrined. He starts crying.

Judges: Katy says that was his best performance ever but then tries to allay him given his tears. “Perfection is an illusion,” she says. “It doesn’t matter. It shows you’re human and vulnerable. Everybody relates to that. It’s emotion. That’s music. Incredible song choice. You kept your eyes open and your heart open. And that is perfect.” Luke notes the intensity that took him on “a crazy ride, man.” Even after the judges attempt to calm him down, he keeps self-flagellating himself.

Grade: B

Madison Watkins (”Run To You” by Whitney Houston from “The Bodyguard”) - Bobby Bones said she has to be “extra good” to get through after missing the top 10 votes last week. Oh, wait. Her hair is straightened but now 1970s wavy instead of 1980s frizzy. She does a perfectly adequate version but it feels a little pageant-like and ultimately unmemorable. I am a huge fan but I can understand why she didn’t pull herself out of the voters’ abyss from a week ago.

Judges: Luke calls it “solid.” Lionel says she “knocked it out of the park.” Katy says that was an “A-level performance” and “takes it up every week.” She lauds her for the song choice. The commentary is much briefer than the first few performances. It’s possible the producers are telling them they falling behind on time.

Grade: B-plus

Chayce Beckham

”(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” by Bryan Adams from “Robin Hood”) — I abhor this song with a deep-seated passion, yet it was Adams’ biggest hit ever. Chayce makes it almost tolerable for me. He sometimes seems to be on cruise control, but even Chayce on cruise control is better than some of the other singers on their best day. I will repeat this: he can win the entire competition.

Judges: Lionel says it picked up nicely in the second half, but he needs to give “all of you” all the time, not just part of the time. Katy says it was an unusual song choice for him, and he pushed his voice. Luke calls him the frontrunner.

Grade: B/B-plus

Beane

”I’ve Had The Time of Life” Bill Medley/Jennifer Warnes from “Dirty Dancing” — A judge’s save last week because he wasn’t in the top 10, he needs a big vocal performance, like Madison, Bobby Bones says. Beane starts acoustically, then peps it up. He is poised, joyful and confident. Even his scatting during the bridge works for me. I am now a huge fan of Beane. I thought he had Adam Lambert potential of rising up and taking over the show. Too bad he’s out.

Judges: Katy likes how he keeps changing things up. She worried it would be cheesy, but he held the line and kept it cool. “You are ready for the stage and go on tour, and I hope America thinks that as well.” (Nope.) The producers oddly don’t even give Luke and Lionel a chance to talk because, well, too much time eaten up? It’s clearly live.

Grade: A-minus

Alyssa Wray

”This Is Me” by Keala Settle from “The Greatest Showman” — She is a great pure vocalist, but I don’t really connect with her. This is OK but not my thing.

Judges: Lionel likes her being subtle in her movements, so when she delivered, “we were all cheering.”

Grade: B

DeShawn Goncalves

”The Way We Were” by Barbra Streisand from “The Way We Were”) - This is the snooziest of soft rock songs from the 1970s. DeShawn is a bit of a snoozer on stage, so in a weird way, this works. He has a pleasant vocal quality and tamps down his gospel leanings for an effective ‘70s cool groove. It was amusing how Bobby Bones during rehearsal was trying to unleash the “fun” loosy goosy side of DeShawn, even sticking him on a carousel. I’m not sure that child-like goofball really exists per sé.

Judges: Luke says that was “absolutely beautiful... and so classy. I felt like I was in some time capsule.”

Grade: B-plus

Casey Bishop

”Over the Rainbow” Judy Garland from “The Wizard of Oz”) - She has worked the rock route for a while but goes to this 1939 classic because “Wizard of Oz” was the first movie she recalls seeing. She says she has an emotional connection to it. Although she has a supple, pliable voice, this felt overly theatrical and not quite as good as Kat McPhee’s version 15 years ago.

Judges: Katy likes how she switched it up and showed how versatile she is. She thinks she could be the frontrunner. Luke says she gave America another page they hadn’t seen before. Lionel says she took charge of the song and is amazed given how young she is. (Hmm... the producers let all three judges talk this time?)

Grade: B/B-plus

Cassandra Coleman

”Writing’s On The Wall” by Sam Smith from “Spectre” — She was upset that some folks didn’t like her performance last week and did a livestream about it. (Proof again: don’t let idiots online dictate your feelings like that!) I don’t recall this song at all, but she has the most compelling female voice left in the competition. Her natural vocal imperfections are what draw me in, and she pulls this off with aplomb.

Judges: Lionel says the “cry” break she did in the song is amazing. Katy says she is not what the world thinks of her, but what she thinks of her.

Grade: A/A-minus

Willie Spence

”Stand Up” Cynthia Erivo from “Harriet” — To cheer him up, Cynthia Erivo sends him well wishes. With the Derek Chauvin trial happening, Willie brings poignancy and depth to this sadly topical song. It’s as if he is channeling every Black man’s pain and suffering from the past 500 years.

Judges: Lionel says he delivered the goods. Katy calls it powerful and how he cut through the darkness of recent events. Luke says he may have been premature using frontrunner earlier with Chayce because Willie could very well be the frontrunner now.

Grade: A/A-minus

I’m not going to summarize every performance from the Monday night ‘comeback” episode. It’s not worth it because most of the performers barely scraped the top 20 last year and will be quickly forgotten again after tonight. (I do have to mention the one Atlantan, Cyniah Elise, who opened the night with a cover of Miley Cyrus’ ‘Edge of Midnight,” and it was decidedly meh.)

Here are my three favorites or at least three that stand out for different reasons:

Aliana Jester

”I’ll Never Love Again” Lady Gaga — I entirely forgot about her (as did Katy), but to be honest, she was able to perform this with grace and passion and on-point vocal phrasing. Clearly, she spent the year working on her craft. Her major problem is she’s already competing with some powerhouse female vocalists already in the top nine. Her chances of getting the solo spot? Slim. The problems for her are Arthur Gunn and Louis Knight.

Arthur Gunn

”Iris” Goo Goo Dolls — He decided against a Bob Dylan song and an original for... this? Weird. But it is a well-known mainstream song that he puts his own Gunn twist to it. Honestly, his song choice probably didn’t matter much. He almost won last year for a reason and going live on a stage doesn’t hurt him a bit.

Louis Knight

”Maybe That” (original ) — He isn’t quite as good Beane in my mind but better than Hunter Metts. So there’s that. I like this original song, and I feel like he has improved quite a bit from last year. Katy says he bared his soul, and she felt connected. Luke says he was caught up in his moment. Lionel says his songwriting has improved.

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