"Hollywood Week" came to a dramatic close tonight with the anxiety-inducing "Three Rooms" episode of "American Idol." But first, it was their last chance to impress and they needed to do it all alone in the "Solos" round.
It proved to be a day of very impressive performances, with many contestants stepping up and really blowing us away, making the job even harder of picking who to boot. Michael J. Woodard came out of his shell so powerfully with "Maybe This Time" from "Cabaret," Katy Perry jumped to her feet and even threw her chair in shock and excitement (you can watch all that go down below). Who were these kids?! They didn't come to play, that's for sure.
At the end of the night, the remaining contestants were split into three rooms, with only two making it through to the next stage of the competition, which is singing in front of a live audience. We get to sweat as much as the contestants do, comparing them to one another to try and guess which room is the odd one out. In the end, only 50 will remain. Then, Monday night we'll see those 50 take to the stage in front of a live audience for the first time. They'll be competing for the top 24 slots.
With only three judges, you stand as the fourth, as your votes will certainly have a lot to say about who wins. I'll proudly stand beside you. "Who do I think I am?" you ask. Well, I spent nearly a decade of my life sweating and bleeding to the music as a dancer. During this time, I was also a member of the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra, as well as a gymnast, writer and cartoonist. I had a lot more energy in my younger years. And I've spent the last sixteen years analyzing and critiquing reality competition shows for various media publications. I've got this.
Fair warning, since I'm safe at home, I'm probably going to be a little harsher than my colleagues Lionel Richie, Katy and Luke Bryan. But I might be nicer, too. Maybe. For this round, we'll stick to the classic format, critiquing each performance spotlighted and ranking them from the bottom to the top. And with so much to get through, there was no time for shenanigans. They should be back next week, though!
Deonte Baker (26) had confidence bordering on arrogance, and he has a powerful voice to back that up, but I wasn't enamored with his somewhat shrieky take on Sam Smith "Too Good at Goodbyes." He sang it just a little too hard. He thought he was great ... but he wasn't.
Brandon Elder (23) and Dennis Lorenzo (26) both tackled "Idol" royalty with two very different takes on Daughtry's "Home," and so producers mashed them together. Brandon was a little off-key and sounded more like what would happen if Creed sang Daughtry. They're in separate rooms (we've seen already) so I'm worried for Brandon's room. We'll talk about Dennis' take later.
Johnny Brenns (18) aches for the support of his father as he pursues his musical dream, but he's had to settle for his mother and sister. He's a nice kid, but OneRepublic's "I Lived" proved more song than he could handle, and he hit the wall vocally. It's probably the end of the road for him, but he could still grow into this.
Crystal Alicea (20) didn't have the voice at all to tackle Adele's "Set Fire to the Rain." This was ... not great. If you're going to tackle a big song from a big singer you better bring a big vocal, and I'm not sure Crystal has a big voice, and then she blew the lyrics again. Can we say goodbye, already?
Gabbii Jones (20) is in constant negotiation with her father to pursue her dreams, but this one got away from her a little. Gabbii was a little shrill on Lady Gaga's "Million Reasons" to the point she made the experience uncomfortable to listen to. Dad's going to have a lot to say as that may well have been her "Idol" swan song.
Genavieve Linkowski (19) didn't quite have the passion and pain to sell me on Kesha's "Praying," but she certainly poured a lot of power into it. That's a song of heartache and struggle, and it may be that Genavieve hasn't lived enough of that yet, but it's not a fault on her vocal ability. It was too pretty and not enough gritty.
Jurnee (18) was in tune with her take on Ariana Grande's "One Last Time," but she lacked the conviction and the power, which is a shame because she's been one of the most mature and impressive voices we've seen so far. Maybe she was just tired, but maybe she just doomed herself.
Kay Kay (18) "Set Fire to the Rain," but she wasn't big enough in voice to take on Adele. There are certain artists that are so unique and singular in voice and vision that to take them on is to court disaster. This was crackly and just kind of not where it needed to be.
Garrett Jacobs (18) barely had a speaking voice, which left him sweating Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game." He shied away from the falsetto portion of the chorus, instead singing in full voice, and luckily that seemed to be in solid form. Unfortunately, the range he did sing in left him with very little to really stand out in any way.
Noah Davis (18) may have shattered his alpaca dreams with a lackluster take on Kelly Clarkson's "Piece by Piece." Now Kelly has a big old voice, but we've seen Noah have that as well. The performance picked up as it went along, but I'm not sure it was enough to stand out from the crowd.
YOU'RE THE INSPIRATION!
Laine Hardy (17) has a gentle rasp in his voice reminiscent of Phillip Phillips that makes him stand out in the competition. There's also a sweet innocence about him that must makes him likeable. There wasn't a lot of vocal range or dynamism to stand out in this crowd, though, so is his downhome charm enough of an edge?
Amelia Hammer Harris
Amelia Hammer Harris (26) is more than just a singer, she's a storyteller. Coming from a musical legacy, you might expect her to be great, but I didn't expect her to interpret Portugal. The Man's "Feel It Still" into a '70s rock jam. It was magical to watch, for sure.
Gabby Barrett (17) dedicated her performance to her dad, who'd given so much to support her dreams. It was her most powerful performance yet, helped with a big song choice in Aretha Franklin's "Ain't No Way." She filled it with passion and grit and every bit of emotion she could muster. That's how you demand to be noticed.
Shannon O'Hara (17) has an ethereal quality to her voice. It's breathy and beautiful and she sounded lovely on Patty Griffin's "Up to the Mountain." I wanted a little more confidence on the higher notes, but that vocal stands out in a crowd of pop stars and rockers, and that makes Shannon special and worthy of notice.
Marcio Donaldson (28) poured his own passion into an Aretha Franklin jam on "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman", with his son watching. Once again, it was an emotional outing for Marcio who has as much passion just talking about his life as he does when he's pouring all that soul into a beautiful piece.
Maddie Poppe (20) was encouraged to do an original song by her dad, which she hadn't done yet. I still love the quality of her voice, and she had a nice singer-songwriter vibe to her that was only glimpsed at when she was doing covers. There was nothing vocally dynamic in it, but she had some nice lyrics there, and Katy was digging that.
Dennis Lorenzo (26) and Brandon Elder (23) both tackled "Idol" royalty with two very different takes on Daughtry's "Home," and so producers mashed them together. Dennis sounded very clean, and yet more like the original. He had a cool confidence that was unexpected, and only looked sharper compared to Brandon's lackluster portrayal. They're in separate rooms (we've seen already) so Dennis' room is looking good. [See Dennis' audition under Brandon Elder above]
Catie Turner (17) risked it all with an original song called "Pity" written after a man told her to get back in the kitchen. It was an awkward song, but well sung and well presented; I still love her voice and she presented a coolness in her singing that's not there in her goofy personality. [See Catie's performance under Noah Davis above]
Ron Bultongez (21) interpreted Phillip Phillip's "Home" because home was something he didn't have for much of his life. Apparently finding meaning in the song made him really connect to it because he sounded significantly better than his first audition when Lionel Richie saved his butt by changing his vote. Suddenly, Ron sounds like a contender, though I didn't love his falsetto. The rich timbre of his voice otherwise, is absolutely mesmerizing.
Michelle Sussett (22) was more flash than voice in her original audition. She got the judges dancing, but failed to impress me vocally, now she's lost her voice and is tackling Diana Ross, so the pressure is on. "I'm Coming Out" had a lot of energy, and you could hear her voice straining from note to note, but that was the best she's ever sounded.
Britney Holmes (28) didn't make it through with the judges, but America put her through in a special "Dancing With the Stars" vote. Now, she's made it this far and needs to prove herself again with another solo. And then she hit the stage and set out to prove her worth on Ed Sheeran's "Dive." Britney is singing for America and to prove something, and I believe how much this means to her. That was her best vocal yet.
Trevor Holmes (27) sounded great with a wonderful rasp and confidence in his take on "Phillip Phillips' "Home." It's a song with very few layers, so it's all in how you interpret and sell the warmth of the message and the lyric. Trevor had a good grasp on how to do that.
Effie Passero (26) didn't get a spotlight in the last round, but she blew me away the first time I saw her with an amazing grit and gravel in her voice. She has the power and the conviction to really stand out and demand to be noticed, making Heart's "Alone" her own. We see you, girl!
Caleb Lee Hutchinson
Caleb Lee Hutchinson (18) took a song Scotty McCreery turned into a joke on "Idol" and managed to make it exciting and hip again. You could tell he had an affection for Josh Turner's "Your Man," and it wasn't about showing off his lower register. He didn't even bother to drop super low, rather simply performing the song as written. That was an authentic country artist.
Maddie Zahm (19) must be growing in confidence because that was the most polished and professional performance she's yet given. I would pay money to see someone command a stage and a vocal like that. She has a lot to be proud of there.
Cade Foehner (21) took a huge risk by rocking out to Portugal. The Man's "Feel It Still," but despite a slow start he really brought the roof down. It was the Cade Foehner rock show and we were all just in his audience.
Michael J. Woodard
Michael J. Woodard (20) went broad, tackling "Maybe This Time" from "Cabaret." From the first note, it was an effortless performance and he gave himself plenty of rope to rise with the song and nail those higher notes as it went along. Katy threw her chair she was so excited. He just nailed that like this was his Broadway debut.
Harper Grace (16) nailed her original audition with her original song "Yard Sale," but it was a huge risk to do it again here. This one was "Rest in Peace," written about a man who wronged her. Once again, she nailed it and did so with a slow and heartfelt ballad where she accompanied herself on piano, showcasing her range as a songwriter and performer. Triple threat, y'all!
Thaddeus Johnson (25) wants touch Katy Perry by singing her own song to her, "Rise." He took that damned song to church and made it sound like he wrote it, lived it and it was his story to tell. It was an absolutely stunning take that brought Katy to her feet.
IT'S SO HARD TO SAY GOODBYE
Unfortunately for the producers of a reality TV show this was one of those seasons where it was patently obvious which room was going home and which two were staying, which made it even more obvious that they were just messing with people when they very publicly moved Thaddeus Johnson (who everyone knew slayed his performance) from Room 1 to Room 3. If anything, it just confirmed both of those rooms were going through. But what was the point? We never got an answer.
We did get to say goodbye to Deonte Baker, Gabbii Jones, Crystal Alicea, Brandon Elder, and Genavieve Linkowski, as all five were in the dreamed Room 2 with a bunch of people we either had never seen before or barely recognized. In other words, it was clearly the room the show had less interest in and so it was an easy goodbye to make.
And then there were 50, with tomorrow's showcase performance the most brutal cut yet. We will emerge from this live performance with our Top 24 and lots and lots of tears.
"American Idol" airs twice weekly on Sundays and Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.