‘American Idol’ top 4 recap: Who will be in the finals?

Grace Kinstler and Willie Spence sing a duet during "American Idol" on May 16, 2021. (ABC/Eric McCandless)
Grace Kinstler and Willie Spence sing a duet during "American Idol" on May 16, 2021. (ABC/Eric McCandless)

Credit: ABC

Credit: ABC

Atlanta’s Willie Spence is in position to win season 19

Casey Bishop, the youngest remaining singer and a bit of a chameleon, was voted off Sunday night during the penultimate episode of “American Idol,” leaving Atlantan Willie Spence with a chance to win season 19.

Spence, who has focused his entire time on “Idol” on songs with big booming choruses and inspiring lyrics, has been remarkably consistent while growing more confident with each passing week. He is now in the finals.

His rivals are Grace Kinstler, a close friend of his also with a powerful voice who prefers ballads, and Chayce Beckham, with his working-class Springsteen growl and an echo of season 11 winner Phillip Philips.

The two-hour “Idol” season finale will air at 8 p.m. Sunday, May 23.

There was a bit of off-camera controversy a few days earlier.

Ryan Seacrest mentioned that 16-year-old country singer Caleb Kennedy was no longer in the competition in the quickest way possible. He chose not to explain that the video of Kennedy sitting next to a person with a KKK hood had leaked to TikTok and led him to have to leave the show. There was probably no easy way to explain that on a show like this.

Then again, Caleb was the least likely of the top 5 to win the competition anyway in part due to his relative lack of charisma and immaturity.

Song #1 Picking a song from your “Idol”

Chayce Beckham (”Colder Weather” Zac Brown Brown) - He has gotten to a point where he is comfortable and confident and can sing any song that fits his style just fine. This isn’t particularly exceptional but it’s good enough at this stage.

Judges: Katy Perry likes how he uses his guitar. Luke Bryan lauds his authenticity yet again.

Grade: B-plus

Casey Bishop (”wish you were gay” Billie Eilish) - She is getting mentored by Finneas, the producer and brother to Billie Eilish and she’s geeking out. I do have to say Casey is so pliable and versatile but if she goes a rock-heavy Eilish route, it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. Nobody like Casey has won the competition but it would be refreshing. She is definitely improving on stage week by week and seemed really comfortable this week.

Judges: Luke said she “crushed” it. Lionel said she was in a “moment that made us wonder what you are going to do next. You killed it.” Katy said she found her “stardust” and “instant identity.”

Grade: A/A-minus

Grace Kingsler (”A Moment Like This” Kelly Clarkson) - She is hoping for some of that Kelly Clarkson 2002 magic by singing her coronation song from (gasp!) 19 years ago! (Grace was an infant at the time.) She pulls off a lovely rendition of this cheesy but effective tune of yore.

Judges: Not sure what Lionel was even saying. Katy said that was a cool song choice and a lot like Kelly Clarkson.

Grade: A-minus

Willie Spence (”Glory” John Legend ) - Finneas said he has a powerful voice and is also a nice dude. He likes this song because it’s about not giving up. Finneas: “You know John Legend is on ‘The Voice.’ Willie: “I think I like this show better.” Finneas grins and says, “God! I hope they use that!” (”Idol” has aired references to “The Voice” this year that they haven’t in the past.) It’s another ballad and right in his lane. He almost never hits a bad note and in this case, he hits an impressive number of big notes, raising the roof for real.

Judges: Katy said it was connected and spiritual. Luke said he will save people’s lives with his voice. Willie tears up as Lionel said how much he moves him.

Grade: A-minus/A

Song #2: The Original songs

Chayce (”23″ followed by a reprise of “You Should Probably Leave” by Chris Stapleton) - He sings only part of his original song he wrote himself. It’s very personal about his own journey to society and feels very Chayce-like. It was released in digital form and is already doing well on the country chart. He then switched to a previous song he had sung by Stapleton. At this point, he’s going to get votes no matter what. He has the X factor and could win the entire competition.

Judges: Luke liked the production in the original. Katy said he’s a rock star.

Grade: A-minus

Casey (“Love Me, Leave Me”) - She has a clear path to pop music glory. I’m not sure this song does her justice. It’s just okay. She then segues into Motley Crue’s “Live Wire.” I appreciate her love for rock though she feels a wee bit young to be a bonafide hard rocker yet.

Judges: Lionel blathers on about how much he loves it. Katy praised the original song.

Grade: B-plus

Grace (”Love Someone,” “Father” by Demi Lovato) - Her original song is pretty if a bit fusty. Her reprisal of “Father” is in honor of her dad, who died recently, and is powerfully effective.

Judges: Luke praised the melody on her original. Katy also liked the new song and said she felt the power of her cover.

Grade: A-minus

Willie (”Never Be Alone,” “I Was Here” Beyoncé) - He is getting better with each passing week and his single is tuned right into his wheelhouse. And he had to sing more Beyoncé, which is an exclamation on his parade of consistently bracing performances.

Judges: Katy said she got chills, even places she had frozen. Luke said he’s in “beast mode.”

Grade: A/A-minus

DUETS (to fill time since Caleb is out)

Grace and Willie (”What They’ll Say About Us” Finneas) - It’s a song Finneas wrote during the height of the pandemic and the Black Lives Matters protests. This is definitely the right pairing with both singers bringing gravitas and grace to a heart-tugging song.

Casey and Chayce (”Break My Heart Again”) - This duet is absolutely gorgeous. Their age difference is a bit much but the emotions work.

***

Other notes:

Lane Hardy, season 17 winner, came on to say hi and pimp his new song but didn’t get to perform it. Huh? He is not a terribly good conversationalist. The interplay with Ryan was super awkward.

Katy Perry signed season 18′s Michael Woodard, who pops by, too.

And Luke Bryan performed a new summer song “Waves.”

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