From 50 to 24 in two hours; it was a brutal and emotional night on "American Idol" as we moved one step closer to the live shows. In fact, the contestants got their first taste of performing in front of a live audience for the show in this special episode, which was their final shot at making that coveted Top 24.
The judges stood high in the balconies watching everything from vocal quality to the contestants' ability to command the stage and work the crowd. This was their best barometer to see if these young men and women have what it takes to succeed not only on this show, but also as bona fide recording stars; unlike other singing competitions, that is still the goal of this iteration of "American Idol."
While I agree with most of the choices my fellow judges made, there were a few moments where I found myself scratching my head at their choices, including their brilliant idea to send home one of the strongest voices in the competition and an early front-runner to take the whole thing. And then they put through her! And those aren't the only ones they got wrong. Still, there's a lot of good talent that made it through, while a few favorites fell by the wayside.
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 Perry and Luke Bryan. But I might be nicer, too. Maybe. The judges will be bringing out the contestants one by one for their "Final Judgment," at which point we'll get to see how they fared on stage. I'll break the down by those who are in and out, and then rank them within each category from worst to first.
Noah Davis (18) is one of the most endearing people in the competition. He started a little rougn on Lady Gaga's "You And I," and then it got worse when he stepped away from the piano. The problem is that he lost the key and never found it again. This was easily the worst performance he's given yet, and it absolutely broke my heart. Noah is so much better than that, but it was a disaster.
Trevor Holmes (27) has proven he's more than Katy's love interest with solid vocals throughout the competition, and he did it again on Niall Horan's "Slow Hands." There were no real dynamic elements to this performance, which Katy pointed out in giving him a kin farewell. He needed to push himself harder each time he was on there, rather than playing it safe each time.
Laine Hardy (17) sang Lynyrd Skynyrd's "The Ballad of Curtis Loew" and suddenly I think southern rock is his wheelhouse. He had a shyness on stage, but that could get shaken off with more experience. There's a unique quality to his voice, but he's definitely someone who needs to grow a lot more if he's going to win. But America loves going on a journey. He went to Final Judgment alongside Garrett, and he was definitely the stronger of the two, and yet somehow it was Garrett who made it through.
Maddie Zahm (19) is a natural talent and it's been great to see her confidence grow. She was a little underwhelming on P!nk's "What About Us," but it's not enough for me to say she doesn't deserve a spot in the Top 24. Maddie is a rare gem that deserves to be nurtured in confidence and voice, but the judges decided not to do that this year. I hope she tries again, because I'm a big fan.
Thaddeus Johnson (25) took us to church with Jill Scott's "Hate on Me" and proved once again that he has one of the biggest voices in the competition. This guy has been on fire since the season began, and he deserved to make it past this stage of the competition this time around, so I have no idea why the judges cut him again. Not gonna lie, I'm frustrated that my fellow judges didn't see in him what I see in him. He was killing it every time he was out there, and there is no one that sounds quite like him. This one stung.
Milo Sposato (17), Les Green (27), Britney Holmes (28), William Casanova (26), Harper Grae (16), Carly Moffa (25), Samothias (20), Lee Vasi (20) and Victoria McQueen (15) also got cut, though we didn't see their performances.
Gabby Barrett (18) would not stop trying to be Carrie Underwood throughout this competition, and she did it again during the Showcase. She thought it would show diversity, proving she doesn't know what that word means. Instead it showed her limited imagination and that she has no idea who she is or wants to be as an artist ... unless she literally wants to be Carrie Underwood? Carrie, change your locks! She surprised me by the end with a genuinely powerful and chilling rendition, but she had to grow into it ... it wasn't great to start. She needs to be more consistent, and find herself. There are better singers above that got cut.
Michelle Sussett (22) is more flash than substance for me, and she proved it again in an off-key (but fun) performance of Bruno Mars' "24K Magic." And yet, the judges continue to want to support her and I can only think it's only because she brings something unique with her Hispanic flare. That said, she did great in the Solo Rounds, so hopefully she can bring more of that because otherwise, I'm not all that impressed.
Garrett Jacobs (18) took up dancing a week before this, and so he let his body move to Otis Redding's "Knock on Wood." He might have been having fun, but he could probably stop dancing. It didn't help him vocally either, but I'm glad he had fun. The producers sent him to Final Judgment alongside Laine, who outsang him through most of the show so far, but somehow Garrett was the one who went through. [See Garrett's performance under Laine Hardy above]
Kay Kay (18) knows who she wants to be as an artist, but she just doesn't stand out enough for me, and she sounded like an okay singer again with her take on Karmin's "Brokenhearted." The judges disagreed, though, and so she's going to bring her '80s Whitney Houston (minus the range) effervescence and joyfulness into the Top 24. At least she's fun to watch. I just need to see more vocal prowess from her going forward.
Jonny Brenns (18) didn't have the best final performance in Hollywood Week, so his Showcase meant more than ever. In a huge moment for him, his father showed up to support him finally. He took on Sam Smith's "Lay Me Down," and it was definitely more in his wheelhouse. Clearly, he wanted to prove something to his father, and this may have been his most confidence performance yet. This is a kid I could believe in, though his higher range is more solid than his lower register. Hopefully, he finds his consistency.
Layla Spring (16) gave a rousing performance of Tina Turner's "Proud Mary," but there were moments where her youth was evident, particularly in how she engaged with the crowd. It was a little karaoke, but those are things that can be taught. What was important was that she was confident vocally. She's very likeable and charming, which will endear her to the Heartland.
Brandon Diaz (21) only got a few seconds to shine in this episode and did so with his beautiful, but his original audition performance of Allen Stone's "Unaware" still hangs in my mind. This is a young man who sings with confidence and conviction, and more importantly he interprets the message of his lyrics, making him as much a storyteller as a singer.
Marcio Donaldson (28) struggled a bit on Stevie Wonder's "If You Really Love Me," with his first problem being that he took on Stevie Wonder. There were some great elements to his performance, but he struggled to go as low as he needed to in order to have room for the highs of the song. It wasn't his best performance, but he's still someone who is a lot of fun to watch. He was sent in alongside Dennis, who outperformed him in the Showcase. It was a fakeout as both of them went through.
Amelia Hammer Harris
Amelia Hammer Harris (26) has had a cool confidence throughout the competition like she's been doing this longer than she's been alive. She sounded great and powerful once again, and while I don't see where she's unique just yet in a field filled with big female voices, I can't deny her amazing talent.
Mara Justine (15) certainly got into her performance of Etta James' "Something's Got a Hold on Me." She was fearless on stage and I'm not even sure she knew what her body was doing at times, channeling equal parts Tina Turner and Janis Joplin. It was impossible to take your eyes off of her even as you were reminding yourself that this ball of fire is only 15-years old. That voice. That confidence. That crazy watchability. Damn, girl!
Effie Pasero (26) swung a sharp left turn with her song choice of Garth Brook's "The Dance," but it's a song with an undeniable passion and heartache at its core. It was a beautiful performance, even as it didn't allow her to really stretch herself vocally as we know she can. Instead, she poured her emotion into this tribute to her mother's love and support, and her talent shined through. [See Effie's performance under Maddie Zahm above]
Caleb Lee Hutchinson
Caleb Lee Hutchinson (18) has been authentic country from day one, and he proved his authenticity again on Chris Stapleton's "I Was Wrong." It's effortless for him, and he commanded that stage like he'd been performing for crowds that size his whole life. I would have liked a little more from him vocally, but he's a star in the making for sure.
Dennis Lorenzo (26) was effortless on Donny Hathaway's "A Song for You," as if he'd written the song himself. He had a confidence on stage like he was a member of the Rat Pack -- it was more than the hat, it was that cool cat swag -- and it was something beautiful to watch. Dennis is consistency and talent. He was sent in alongside Marcio, but it was Dennis who shined brightest at the Showcase. But it was all a fakeout as both of them went through. [See Dennis' performance under Marcio Donaldson above]
Catie Turner (17) surprised me and the judges alike by taking on Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance," but she made it something completely different. I still like her a lot better on her original stuff, and we've seen her stronger than this, but it was cool to see her croon a pop song in a very different way. Katy fought Luke over the lackluster performance, but her journey to this point was so special, I agree that moment shouldn't define her fate.
Michael J. Woodard
Michael J. Woodard (20) blew everyone away with his take on "Maybe This Time" during the Solo Rounds, pushing Katy Perry to throw a chair. Could he do it again? He went in another weird direction with Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know." I can appreciate his desire to push himself and be diverse, but this didn't work for me at the beginning. By the end, though, I found myself excited about what he might do next.
Shannon O'Hara (17) stripped down her performance of Katy Perry's "Unconditionally." By doing this, she was able to turn the spotlight fully onto her ethereal vocals and she absolutely soared with emotion. It was a beautiful performance and the kind that makes you think, "This person has just arrived." And for "American Idol's" Top 24, she has.
Jurnee (18) kept it current by performing "Never Enough" from "The Greatest Showman." She sounded very mature and polished, but I really wanted her to let it go. It felt like she was still holding something back, and she's got it. Jurnee is something special and could be one of those big voices in the music industry. Here's hoping she pushes herself to achieve the greatness I and the judges know is in there.
Cade Foehner (21) is a genuine rocker to his core and he blew me away again on Kaleo's "No Good." Once again, he was so much cooler and confident than almost any rocker we've had on the show since Chris Daughtry, and he has more edge than him ... and a better voice than Constantine Maroulis. Cade is cool in a way that has mostly eluded "Idol" over its run, so it's exciting to have him as
Adam "Ada Vox" Sanders
Adam "Ada Vox" Sanders (24) had the judges on the fence before she even began to perform, but her performance was Radiohead's "Creep" was absolutely mesmerizing. I know she felt the story of those lyrics to the core of her being and it was an emotionally powerful performance without going over the top, as the judges worried. Instead, it was Ada's truth. And no matter her story, that was one amazing vocal performance. That was Freddie Mercury range and power in one stunning package. God damn!
Dominique (26), Trevor McBane (22), Maddie Poppe (20), Ron Bultongez (21), Alyssa Raghu (15) also made it through, though we didn't see their performances.
"American Idol" airs twice weekly on Sundays and Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.