Let the eliminations begin on "American Idol," right after a full round of duet performances. Tonight, twelve men and women enter, but only seven will continue into the next round. And it turns out the answers weren't quite as easy as I would have guessed after watching their solo performances Sunday night.
The person who emerged at the the top of my leaderboard last night found themselves nearly at the bottom tonight, while the person who stole the show tonight didn't even factor into my Sunday night Top 7. In other words, it's anyone's game. All in all, though, these "All-Star Duets" really elevated the game for most of the contestants making for a great night of singing and a brutal night of cuts.
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, performing with the St. Louis Ballet Company. 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. For these next few episodes, I'll just keep ranking 'em worst to first and we'll see who winds up in my Top Seven each night.
TOP 12 - GROUP 1 DUETS
Tonight brings duets with Aloe Blacc, Bishop Briggs, Luis Fonsi, Andy Grammer, Pat Monahan, Allen Stone and Sugarland. Their performances tonight paired with their solo work on Sunday will help the judges determine who moves forward, and which five contestants have to say goodbye to their "Idol" dreams.
Kay Kay & Pat Monahan
Kay Kay (18) "Drive By," Train
There were a couple of moment where it looked like Kay Kay lost the lyrics, and when she was in there it was more tepid than we saw her last night. She showed a powerful side of herself on Sunday, but that woman was nowhere to be found here, where she just seemed a little out of her element, and even shrill later in the song. She lamented early on that she wasn't used to singing with a full band behind her, and maybe that was part of the problem. She was on the edge, and this may have flipped her to the wrong side of the numbers. [Last Night: #7]
Layla Spring & Sugarland
Layla Spring (16) "Stuck Like Glue," Sugarland
Layla was definitely nervous to sing alongside one of her musical idols in Jennifer Nettles, and unfortunately it showed a bit in her performance. After dominating the first night of this round, her youth and lack of experience finally showed on stage. Jennifer outsang her nearly throughout the song, and while I appreciated Layla's breakdown in the middle of the song, she didn't really get a chance to shine. The whole thing felt like a karaoke sing-along, which is disappointing. Lucky for her, the judges will be taking her prior performances into account, because she is something special ... just not tonight. [Last Night: #1]
Brandon Diaz (21) "Despacito," Luis Fonsi f/ Daddy Yankee
Brandon took a chance by singing the song in Spanish, as it's not something he's done in many years. "Despacito" is a wordy and challenging song, and Brandon absolutely rose to the challenge as most of the contestants tonight have. Michelle Sussett has some competition in the Latin niche on the show, so if the producers are looking to only go with one, it might just be a battle. [Last Night: #10]
Michelle Sussett & Luis Fonsi
Michelle Sussett (22) "I Can't Make You Love Me," Bonnie Raitt
To this point, Michelle has been high energy and almost manic in all of her performances, so this was an interesting and needed change to showcase not only her softer side, but the true depth of her vocal ability. I'm not gonna lie, I've not really seen it to this point, and I still don't think she has one of the strongest voices, but I respected her taking this leap and digging deep to find the emotion within this song. Ultimately, she won me over by the end of it and I finally saw what the judges have been crowing about Michelle all these weeks. [Last Night: #12]
Jonny Brenns & Andy Grammer
Jonny Brenns (18) "Back Home," Andy Grammer
Damn, Jonny, way to step up when the stakes are on the line. That was easily the most polished and impressive performance Jonny has ever given. He went toe to toe with Andy like it was a duet written specifically for the two of them to perform. The problem is I was ready to write Jonny off and then he goes and does that and I'm excited about all his growth and potential on the show. He's such a sweet kid and he really could emerge as something wholesome and good for the music industry. Dangit! [Last Night: #11]
Even the producers think Trevor McBane and Cade Foehner are similar as they were both paired with Bishop, which could mean only one of them will move forward. The pressure was on Trevor after Cade performed and killed it early. This time around, Bishop stepped up her game on a song that means a lot to her, and it was Trevor playing catch up. I didn't care for his lower portion, but he picked it up as they moved into the chorus and stood toe to toe with her by the end. The biggest problem was they are like water and oil as performers, and it was never going to mesh completely [Last Night: #6]
Gabby Barrett & Sugarland
Gabby Barrett (17) "Stay," Sugarland
It's hard to shine opposite Jennifer Nettles, because she has one of the most effortless voices in music. And while Gabby wasn't able to quite rise to the occasion, that's more a statement on Jennifer's prowess than any weakness on Gabby's part. Once again, she really impressed me and managed to hold her on as best she could. I loved that they made it a true duet, with Gabby slipping into the supporting notes for the chorus. It elevated the performance, and really helped her stand out. [Last Night: #3]
Catie Turner & Andy Grammer
Catie Turner (17) "Good to Be Alive (Hallelujah," Andy Grammer
A much more confident vocal and performance than last night, Catie was definitely energized by singing alongside Andy. I was a little disappointed that she didn't get more solo work in their duet, as it forced me to work to hear her performance. And she was right there, well in the pocket for the range and style of this song. This is the kind of song that fits her like a glove, and it was an energetic and fun way to kick off the show. [Last Night: #5]
Michael J. Woodard (20) "Angel in Blue Jeans," Train
This season's chameleon has never been less than amazing, so why not kill a pop rock song? It was effortless. I don't know how Michael can make anything sound amazing and like he's been singing it for years. This is a guy with a rare and amazing special talent. That said, I didn't love his drop into "like an angel in blue jeans" midsong, but otherwise, I had a hard time picking out whose song they were singing. I just wish the song showcased his ability better. [Last Night: #2]
Dominique & Aloe Blacc
Dominique (26) "Wake Me Up," Avicii w/ Aloe Blacc
Last night, I had Dominique just missing my Top 7, but he made a strong case for inclusion tonight with a stellar vocal that matched up beautifully with Aloe from the first note to the last. Even better, he got plenty of chances to shine solo in the song and proved he not only could nail every line and note of the song, but he could feel and internalize the message of Aloe's writing. This was a star-making duet and more than proved not only that Dominique deserves a chance to continue, but that the judges have an awful choice to make tonight. [Last Night: #8]
Cade Foehner & Bishop Briggs
Cade Foehner (21) "Never Tear Us Apart," INXS
At times it felt like Cade was pushing Bishop to elevate her game. That was easily one of his strongest performances, and if INXS is looking for a frontman after all is said and done, they could definitely do a lot worse than Mr. Foehner. He outdid his first night and did everything he needed to for the judges to remember him. There wasn't a note missed, he commanded the stage and led that performance from the first note. [Last Night: #4]
This was the song that started Dennis' "Idol" journey, so he was so excited to be singing it with the artist who wrote it. And man did he rise to the occasion; really they both did. "Unaware" was completely transformed into a new song that felt like it had always been a duet. Their voices soared together. This was the Dennis that we fell in love with over the course of this competition who was sadly missing last night. Song choice is so key, and this one was absolutely a winner. Welcome back, Dennis! [Last Night: #9]
If I play it by the numbers and just average my two scores from these past couple of nights, then the five people I'm eliminating are Trevor McBane, Kay Kay, Jonny Brenns, Brandon Diaz and Michelle Sussett. All in all, I'm not hating those choices, but the producers like to manage their genres, so I wouldn't be surprised to see Michelle sneak in to represent Latin music.
The judges don't do math, and of course they're factoring in more than just these two performances; they're considering their entire journey so far and their potential down the road. So how did my math compare to their picks?
Rather than focus on the negative, the judges instead put people through, starting with Cade Foehner. He was followed by Michelle Sussett, who did up her game this week, but the judges still see more in her than has translated across the screens. Next up were Dennis Lorenzo, Gabby Barrett and Jonny Brenns. Jonny's choice is one clearly built on his potential and innocent charm. Michael J. Woodard was a no-brainer, and we all knew the judges were going to pick America's oddball Catie Turner.
Layla Spring and Dominique had a rough week, so I can only imagine it was the consistent growth of Jonny and Michelle that elevated them above their competitors. All in all, though, I think I did pretty good. My Top 5 picks all made it through, followed by two competitors who really shined tonight and show great potential.
The five who didn't make the cut: Spring, Dominique, Diaz, Kay and McBane.
"American Idol" airs twice weekly on Sundays and Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.