“American Idol,” in this hybrid social distancing COVID edition, managed to make it to the top 24 without too many snafus and a passable top 24 that was unveiled over two nights.
What became readily apparent when we saw some of the 39 people cut was that plenty of good people were cut, especially women.
Sunday’s snipping of blind busker Murphy was super perplexing. And on Monday, there was a sense of deja vu because the judges brought Drake McCain, the kid with the Kid-n-Play hair and oodles of personality, to this point, then denied him a spot in the top 24. The same exact thing happened in Hawaii two years ago, and I was upset then, too.
Personally, I’d take old-school Jason Warrior out in a heartbeat and replace him with the more modern Drake.
A few favorites of mine include pop singer Hunter Metts, country artist Chayce Beckham, Florence Welch sound-a-like Cassandra Coleman, young phenom Ava August and barely-seen-to-date Alana.
Will one of them ultimately become a star? Who knows? I never would have predicted season 16′s Gabby Barrett being the breakout artist of the past five seasons.
Here is the top 24:
Mary Jo Young
Good news! Next week will feature celebrity duets in front of a live studio audience with fan voting! Each celebrity will sing a duet with two “Idol” contestants. The 12 are Georgia’s own Jason Aldean, Josh Groban, Ryan Tedder, Jewel, “Idol” alum Tori Kelly, PJ Morton, Joss Stone, Brandon Boyd of Incubus, season 5 runner-up Katharine McPhee, Ben Rector, Jimmie Allen and Brian McKnight.
“Idol” quickly got to the results of Sunday night’s cliffhanger as we awaited the fate of two teens: Alanis Sophia, a 19-year-old named after Alanis Morissette who sang an Alanis Morissette song and Casey Bishop, who opted to emote the Black Crowes’ “She Talks To Angels.”
The show sort of implied Sunday only one would get through, but surprise! Both make it.
Georgia’s Willie Spence (”I Was Here” Beyoncé) - Bye-bye Rihanna. Hello Beyoncé! He sure likes his female divas. Luke, who grew up not far from Willie’s hometown of Douglas, is a huge fan of his. “I’m just honored to even share my talent with them,” Willie said. “I’ve always struggled with my weight. I was in the hospital [for fluid in his chest] I didn’t think I would survive.” He has since lost 200 pounds and is now at 400 pounds. This is a virtuoso performance that highlights his strong voice. He told Ryan Seacrest: “I want this desperately. I need this.” Luke didn’t mince words, saying Willie’s life will change in amazing ways and informs him he’s in the top 24.
Three eliminations: Emisunshine , Lizzy O’Very and Caroline Lamb. What we hear of Emisunshine is pretty good if a little shouty. Lizzy’s isn’t bad either. Caroline’s Bad Company cover is OK. It shows that the judges had to make some tough choices.
Mary Jo Young (“Us” James Bay) — She forgot her lyrics during the duets round but got a pass. They won’t be so kind this time if she doesn’t do well. For someone with no stage experience, she has potential. She has a great pop voice and picked a song that works for her. She says she’s making progress. Katy: “It’s a combination of having it and learning quick.” Luke says she doesn’t have the whole stage thing down yet, but she will be back to work on it some more in the top 24.
Hunter Metts (”July” Noah Cyrus) — His family has struggled financially despite his mom trying to break into music. He feels the pressure and is saddled with doubts despite the fact the judges thought he could go far. “I felt very inadequate since the first audition,” he said. “I’m fearful it’s no longer there.” He has a radio-friendly male vocal sound. The is that clean. I could see top 10 for this guy if he can get past his own demons. The judges agree. He’s in the top 24.
Three more women don’t make it:
Althea Grace (”We Can Work it Out” The Beatles) — She has a fragile young baby. What we hear sounds really good. Katy felt the song was wrong and didn’t enable her to bare her soul. The fact she missed the top 24 is disappointing.
Ronda Felton (”All in Love is Fair” Stevie Wonder) — What little we hear isn’t that good. She’s eliminated. Too bad. She seemed like she could go further.
Funke (”Orange Colored Sky” Natalie Cole) — She collapsed from dehydration during the duets round and got three small stitches on her chin. But she made it back for Showstoppers. Unfortunately, she sounds a bit off.
Grace Kinstler (”Father” Demi Lovato) — She honors her late father with this song. “I really miss my dad,” she says. She questioned her song choice (and it’s not ideal), but she puts all heart into this even if it wasn’t her best performance Given her booming voice and emotional resonance, the judges are sold, and she’s through.
DeShawn Goncalves (”Somewhere Over the Rainbow” Judy Garland) — This is a very old-school performance, but he brings heart and soul into the song and makes it work. He even hits some crazy falsetto notes. Lionel gives him the good news that he’s in.
Colin Jamieson (”Sugar We’re Going Down” Fall Out Boy) — The former boy band dude who decided to go for a difficult, upbeat song. I haven’t liked him up to this point. He’s very breathy, and I just don’t vibe with his voice. Katy admired him for taking a big risk. He gets a top 24 slot and plans to do more rock.
Laila Mach (”If I Ain’t Got You” Alicia Keys) — At just 15, she is inspired by Gabby Barrett. She has never performed with a band, and it throws her off. She picks a big song, and she does a really solid job. I like it. But Katy provides some sort of weird “timing” explanation for cutting her.
Ava August (”Ghost of You,” original) — She decided to do an original song without a band, a major risk. She is such an old soul. How is she 15? She has a passing resemblance to Taylor Swift, and there is a fragility to her voice that is enticing. Her songwriting is pretty good. I have liked her from day one and hope she can make it into the top 10. Katy said “Ghost of You” wasn’t quite there as a song and felt it wasn’t her strongest moment, but she is clearly special. She is an easy top-24 pick.
Nia Renee (”A Change is Gonna Come” Sam Cooke) — Wow. She is quite the singer, and we’ve barely seen her this season. But what the...? They cut her.
Liahona Olayan (”Me Too” Meghan Trainor) — Her brother was eliminated in the opening round, and she struggled during the duets. She redeems herself by cutting loose on stage, away from the piano, with a sassy, upbeat song. It’s a smart move. She ends with a gymnastic split. It did have a little bit of a talent show feel to it given her age, but she could be appealing to the younger set. The judges give her a top-24 ticket.
Madison Watkins (”It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World’ James Brown ) — She has a stupendously high-class quality voice. I’m not sure I’m sold on her perpetual 1980s look, but she stands out. Lionel doesn’t do a fake out and gives her the news straight: she’s in.
Alana Sherman (”Bust Your Windows” Jazmine Sullivan) — She has been virtually invisible to date and I have no idea why. She has real stage presence and great vocal skills without over-singing. The edit is quick. Katy gives her the news: she’s in.
Anilee List (”Ain’t Nobody by Rufus and Chaka Khan) — We have barely seen her, too. The judges apparently rejected her, which is why we don’t see any of the judges giving her the top-24 pass through, but they had her fill in when TikTok star Benson Boone voluntarily dropped out of the top 24. She decides to go the upbeat soul route for the live band performance, and she is impressive.
Drake McCain (”Country Girl (Shake It for Me) Luke Bryan—Drake is back in this position again, knocking on the door to the semifinals as he did two years ago. I always found him charming and was surprised he didn’t make it to the semifinals in 2019. This year, he decided to switch genres and focus on country. He goes for a Luke song and has a fun time prancing around the stage. He gets a standing ovation. He gets tearful afterward. I am super bummed he didn’t make the cut — again!
Cecil Ray (“Beyond” Leon Bridges) — He is a young dad who grew up poor. He has a bit of a nasal thing going in his voice that isn’t my taste, but he has wonderful control. The judges are intrigued, and he makes the top 24 over Drake. With his dorky demeanor, he could draw the Clay Aiken crowd.
About the Author
Rodney Ho writes about entertainment for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution including TV, radio, film, comedy and all things in between. A native New Yorker, he has covered education at The Virginian-Pilot, small business for The Wall Street Journal and a host of beats at the AJC over 20-plus years. He loves tennis, pop culture & seeing live events.