‘American Idol’ top 16 recap

Grace Kinstler performs in the top 16 on "American Idol." (ABC/Eric McCandless)
Grace Kinstler performs in the top 16 on "American Idol." (ABC/Eric McCandless)

Credit: ABC

Credit: ABC

Ava August, Madison Watkins continue to impress

Voters for “American Idol” did not make many egregious mistakes last week shrinking the top 24 to 16.

Overall, the top 16 Sunday night did a solid job. Some singers stepped it up and nobody did anything remarkably badly.

I still hate Colin Jamieson but he clearly has a goofy appeal with the voting audience. Madison Watkins, Wyatt Pike and Beane brought new levels to their game. DeShawn Goncalves picked the wrong song while Alyssa Wray’s interpretation of a classic Roberta Flack song fell flat.

In the meantime, 15-year-old Ava August continues to be a contender to win it all, along with humble, guitar-strumming Chayce Beckham.

Here’s my top 16 for the night: 1. Ava August 2. Madison Watkins 3. Chayce Beckham 4. Cassandra Coleman 5. Wyatt Pike 6. Grace Kinstler 7. Graham DeFranco 8. Casey Bishop 9. Willie Spence 10. Beane 11. Hunter Metts 12. Alanis Sophia 13. Alyssa Wray 14. Caleb Kennedy 15. DeShawn Concalves 16. Colin Jamieson

The four I think will go home: DeShawn, Alanis, Casey and Caleb (if not Caleb, Cassandra).

Last week, I correctly predicted six of the eight singers to go home, underestimating the appeal of two of the male singers. I missed Hunter Metts and DeShawn Goncalves and thought Anilee List and Mary Jo Young would survive. Anilee was relatively forgettable and Mary Jo’s voice, however appealing to me, is pretty weak, so there’s that. Hunter had a “deer in headlights” look last week but had done well prior to the top 24. DeShawn possesses a strong voice but a fairly flaccid stage presence.

The top 10 vote getters after Sunday night’s performances are automatically into the next round while the judges will pick two more from the remaining six singers.

Alyssa Wray (”Killing Me Softly With His Song” Roberta Flack) - She tried her darndest to make this song her own but her oddball enunciation, low register and vocal flourishes didn’t do much for me. The whole performance was a swing and a miss for me.

Judges: Katy Perry said she needed to get rid of her Broadway feel and felt she had pulled it off. “You were actually an artist for the first time in my eyes today.” Luke Bryan: “Great song choice. You started it really, really classic then made it your own and modern.” Lionel Richie said it comes down to competence. “Pacing is the part. If you have the guns, hold it. You gave it to us. Stellar performance.”

Grade: B

Graham DeFranco (”That’s Life“ Frank Sinatra) - That is quite a contrast from Alyssa. This is a standards classic interpreted by a Jack Johnson type. And it works for me in that super casual style. He is warm and confident on stage. He has grown on me and I’m now a full-fledged fan.

Judges: Luke said he’s the guy who can’t believe he’s here. “You’re just being you and you’re delivering. You have this timeless voice.” Lionel said he has fun and possesses swag. Katy said he picked the best song for his voice and “invited us all in.” She recommended next time he take the mic off the stand and move around.

Grade: A-minus

Grace Kinstler (”Elastic Heart” Sia) - This song doesn’t do much for me, but Grace gives it urgency and literal heart. It’s not her best but definitely good enough to get her into the top 12.

Judges: Lionel said she’s a force to be reckoned with. Katy said she built the song well, applying a note from Joss Stone a week earlier, and “gave us intrigue all the way through. That’s your ace.” Luke said she has a “race car, thoroughbred voice” and sees so much promise in her.

Grade: A-minus/B-plus

Alanis Sophia (”The Story” Brandi Carlile) - She picked one of my favorite songs of all time. But she’s only 19. The lyrical content is really meant for someone much older. She does possess a very strong rock voice and she used her short time on stage well.

Judges: Katy said she chose a good song. Luke said that was a “range-y” song and she needed to catch her breath better in the lower register. Lionel said he had witnessed an “explosion.” He suggested she not to get lost on the stage and work it more.

Grade: B/B-plus

Willie Spence (”Set Fire To The Rain” Adele) - He did a lovely job starting slow, then building it up to a climax. I didn’t really feel this one to any degree but I respect his skills and his performance. He is guaranteed a top 12 spot.

Judges: Luke loves his confidence and enjoyed when he began the chorus by not going big first, then throwing the big notes in later. An animated Lionel said “God took control of you” (Willie cries as he says this). Katy said every note was thoughtful: “You were possessed in a Godly way.”

Grade: A-minus

DeShawn Goncalves (” Feeling Good” Nina Simone) - He is a church singer and tries to throw out a little heat with this song. But he isn’t really all that sexy, per se. It’s too clean vocally. He needs more grit and edge to make this song work. I’m not sure he will make the top 12 after not thinking he would make the top 16. So maybe my opinion won’t fly here.

Judges: Lionel said he handled the cold start like a pro. Katy liked his confidence. Luke loves the growth he has seen so far.

Grade: B

Wyatt Pike (”Use Somebody” Kings of Leon) - I haven’t much liked him up to this point, but this was his best performance to date. He looked like he was enjoying himself on stage and changed up the song’s arrangement in a way that suited him perfectly.

Judges: Katy said she wants him to do something small and vulnerable. Luke said he will be able to do music the rest of his life. Lionel said he has a style they like to watch on stage.

Grade: A-minus

Cassandra Coleman (”Wicked Game” Chris Isaak) - I’ve been partial to her vocal stylings since day one. She has this tremulous vocal style that draws me in and she brings vulnerability and sadness to this very emotional song. An excellent song choice.

Judges: Luke said her verses were incredible but needs to soar more during the chorus. Lionel said she needs to step into her voice and not be so much in her head. Katy wants to see her on tour.

Grade: A/A-minus

Caleb Kennedy (”Midnight Train to Memphis” Chris Stapleton) - I’m still not sure what kind of artist he will become because he strikes me as somewhat generic. He is a very competent cover singer and this is arguably his best cover to date. He is clearly getting more comfortable on the big stage. He fits a certain lane this season and should garner plenty of votes.

Judges: Lionel said he’s “stone cold.” Katy said she can’t see his eyes and wants more. “You are becoming the outlaw.” Luke said he’s impressed given his age of just 16.

Grade: B/B-plus

Colin Jamieson (”Everybody Wants to Rule The World” Tears for Fears) - This man has such a weak voice and serious issues with breath breaks. He is also super cheesy in part due to his boy-band background. I guess this is what garners votes these days. He makes some interesting vocal choices that aren’t too cringe-worthy.

Judges: Katy calls him an “incredible vocalist.” Luke said he was very breathy but now they can hear his voice to “next levels.” Lionel said he played to the camera and was having the time of his life on stage.

Grade: C-plus/B-minus

Casey Bishop (”Black Hole Sun” Soundgarden) - I’ve had a hard time remembering her 24 hours after her performances. But she is a good vocalist and gives this dark, grungy tune a fresh twist. Her big notes at the end are impressive in an Ann Wilson sort of way.

Judges: Luke said she could sing anything and is a little befuddled she opted for the rock genre. Lionel said she started as a fairy princess but is closer to Janis Joplin. Katy said that was her favorite Casey performance to date and called it “A level.”

Grade: A-minus

Madison Watkins (”Gravity” Sara Bareilles) - The 1980s child who has relied on more upbeat tunes to date decided to go pure ballad and strip it down. It works amazingly well and when she hits one huge note near the end, it is a true exclamation point. I’ve been a fan from day one and I am rooting for her to cruise into the top 12.

Judges: Lionel loves how she can tell a story with her style and technique. Katy was surprised and hooked from the first couple of notes. “You are not lacking in personality and glitz, glam and hair. Sometimes, people, that’s the bells and whistles. You showed an incredibly serious side... It’s the best you ever sounded.” Luke said she could hang with these other big singers.

Grade: A

Beane (”Searching for a Feeling” by Thirdstory) - I have never liked his vocal style but he is pop friendly and works the stage with aplomb. This was the type of performance that will garner him votes and an easy ride into the top 12.

Judges: Katy said she loves to see “all the shades of Beane.” Luke said he was engaging and backed it up with great vocals. Lionel said he has grown and people are falling in love with him.

Grade: B-plus

Hunter Metts (”Skinny Love” Bon Iver) - He stumbled last week but still made it into the top 16. He has a wonderfully supple voice but a sterile stage presence. He is the type of singer that normally garners plenty of votes and there is enough redemption here for him to slip into the top 12.

Judges: Luke said he finally felt some angst in his music for the first time. Lionel said he has “instant identity.” Katy said she liked his growl.

Grade: B-plus/A-minus

Ava August (”2002″ Ava-Marie) - She has been one of my Favorites from day one, just so mature beyond her 15 years. She could win the entire competition and gets better and better each time she’s on stage. She knows how to tell a story.

Judges: Lionel declares her “15 and dangerous.” Katy said she’s classic and trumps cool. Luke said she can be both youthful and graceful at the same time.

Grade: A

Chayce Beckham (”Waiting in Vain” Bob Marley) - He decides to acoustic guitar the heck out of this classic reggae torch song. He has such a radio-friendly, growly, blue-collar voice that makes him very relatable. The only downside to this rendition was the lack of any particular emotional arc or crescendo.

Judges: Katy said she sees his authenticity. Luke is impressed with his cool factor. Lionel said he’s identifiable.

Grade: A-minus/B-plus

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