This was the week that America's voice was finally heard, and I was a little disturbed by what the nation had to say on "American Idol." America's vote picked the first six contestants to make it into the Top 10, with the judges filling it out with four more choices. Thank God for the judges, or America might have picked the whitest and straightest lineup we've ever seen.
I can't say for sure that it isn't a coincidence, but it was somewhat glaring that only one person of color made it through to America's Top 6, and no people from the LGBTQ community, especially considering that six of the Top 14 fell into one or both of those categories, and several of them are among the strongest singers in the competition week after week after week. Time will tell if this was an odd fluke, or if America is trying to make an ugly statement about what kind of people we want to represent us as our "American Idol."
Thankfully, this week gave the judges four choices to fill out that Top 10 and they did the work that America refused by recognizing the greatness of the remaining contestants regardless of their orientation or skin color. In fact, every single choice the judges made represented either a non-white ethnicity or the LGBTQ community, or both. This included three singers I had in my personal Top 7 ... and one I will never understand. But we'll get to all of that later.
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 tonight, as Ryan Seacrest gave the contestants their results before they sang, I'm going to tag America's six choices for the Top 10 with their regular listing. Otherwise, they'll get ranked per usual and we'll see where my Top 10 emerges.
Michelle Sussett (22) "I'm a Dreamer," Michelle Sussett
I didn't even know Michelle had originals, and yet she popped one out when it came time to sing for her life on this show. The judges keep urging her to embrace her bilingual Venezuelan roots, but Michelle seems to think this is going to hurt her in the competition. Is it the Trump effect? She really should, though, because she sounds more confident in her native tongue. The song itself is kind of schmaltzy and empowering in the way a 12-year-old girl might write it in her diary, and Michelle was again all over the place trying to find the right notes. I don't get Luke telling her her vocal abilities can grow into her star potential; this is a singing competition. She's not a great singer. What are you doing, man?
Marcio Donaldson (28) "Jealous," Nick Jonas
Marcio was emotionally torn apart by finding out America didn't put him through, and then he had to go perform. That's kind of a jerk move, Ryan. On top of that, he chose a misogynistic song to make his case to the judges which is neither here nor there but that song grates on my nerves. Marcio has an incredible vocal instrument, but his emotions took the upper edge and shaved it away a bit. He doesn't need to sweat it, though. At least, not yet. The Top 10 should be no problem, even if this wasn't his most dynamic performance. We get it, this means a lot to you, but you gotta get it together.
Garrett Jacobs (18) "Have You Ever Seen the Rain," Creedence Clearwater Revival
Garrett turned this powerful jam into a coffeehouse ballad. His opening accompaniment was only his own acoustic guitar, but that's when his voice was strongest. Once the loud band joined in, Garrett had to get a little shouty to stay over them and it affected both his tone and pitch. But for a few moments, though, this was quite lovely. I know the judges love him, but I found his performance overall to be somewhat forgettable. We'll see if the judges push him through to the Top 10.
Jonny Brenns (19) "Demons," Imagine Dragons
Whoa now, where did this guy come from? Jonny stripped away "Demons" and turned it into a tender ballad that he absolutely caressed with his vocals. Not only was this his best performance on the show so far, it was probably two to three times stronger than he's ever sounded. I wish he hadn't brought in the full band as he was the second contestant on the night to lose something special with the full volume of the band blasting in their ears. It took me this long to see what the judges have been saying all this time; Jonny can sing. He was a little screechy on the high notes at the end, but he was accomplished and beautifully polished in a way we've never seen from him before.
Gabby Barrett (17) "Little Red Wagon," Miranda Lambert
[America's Top 10] She has grown into a bona fide star on this show, and last night's performance was a showstopper. She changed tempos and energy levels completely with this piece, and she was having more fun up there than we've ever seen her have. She had some shouting components, some banter with the audience and while it wasn't her strongest vocal performance, it was nevertheless a rocking good time. I could see that in her concert getting people energized and on their feet for sure!
Cade Foehner (21) "Bright Lights," Gary Clark, Jr.
[America's Top 10] What a joyous performance from Cade, who obviously knew he was safely moving on by this point. So he simply came out to rock out. This song was a much better fit for his vocal stylings, But I've still gotten more excited about him in the past. That said, I would love to see his voice fronting a band or even as a solo artist on original material tailored to it, because he really has a unique way of singing and a fresh approach.
Maddie Poppe (20) "Walk Like an Egyptian," The Bangles
[America's Top 10] Once she knew that she was already safe and moving into the Top 10, Maddie could relax into her performance, which was a bit of an odd song choice from her. She settled into her usual zone, and interpreted the song in a folksy kind of way, as we might have expected. It sort of worked? Honestly, this may have been one of her least compelling performances, but there's no denying how her voice commands you pay attention to it.
Jurnee (18) "Never Enough," "The Greatest Showman"
After rocking the house down last night, Jurnee slowed it down to show the polish on her voice and poise of her presentation. Jurnee looks like a star and she sound like one, so what is wrong with America? She let her emotions get the best of her during the chorus and strayed from the notes here and there, but there is no denying she is something special behind that mic. I thought for sure she would be in that Top 10, so this one has me flummoxed. She is the total package, but is she perhaps too polished for anyone to get excited enough to vote for her?
Catie Turner (18) "Havana," Camilla Cabello
[America's Top 10] Finally, Catie is settling into the kind of artist she could become, reigning in the more manic side of her personality during her performances, rather channeling that energy into the vocals and stage presence. That said, the last two nights she's simply stood there and I'd like to see a little more than just that from her. Catie is a delightful personality and she shouldn't suppress all of it. Her voice was very polished on this performance; this week she has been the most mature vocally that we've seen.
Mara really botched her performance last night and the votes backed that up. It's a shame, because she's brought some of the most impressive vocal performances of the season so far. I worried that finding out she didn't make it would rattle her, but she came out with such poise and confidence she started slaying this vocal from the moment she hit the stage. Her stage presence and performance has improved so much since we first saw her, she was commanding but not kitschy. That was exactly what Mara needed to do; she waited until the performance was over to become an emotional basket case.
Michael J. Woodard
Michael J. Woodard (20) "Believe in Yourself," "The Wiz"
[America's Top 10] I can't wait every single time to see what Michael is going to bring to the "Idol" stage. It is always unexpected, always completely different from the last time we saw him, and it is every single time an amazing performance. Michael is the most diverse and accomplished and consistent vocalist in the competition. He makes everything look easy, and he's the most charming young man on top of it, so unassuming and giddy.
Caleb Lee Hutchinson
Caleb Lee Hutchinson (18) "Getting You Home," Chris Young
[America's Top 10] The America that voted Caleb through has clearly been watching throughout the whole season, because he was not great last night. From the first note tonight, though, this was the Caleb that America fell in love with. What I want now is to see Caleb and Gabby perform together. Honestly, with Middle America voting strong, could we have a country music finale on "American Idol"? I don't think the show would mind. Carrie Underwood remains their biggest find and Nashville has been much more friendly than mainstream music in embracing reality show competitors. If Caleb keeps making song choices like this one, he's got a future in country music no matter what happens here.
Ada Vox (24) "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going," Jennifer Holiday
Ada could not have chosen a better song for this moment in her "Idol" journey. She almost rearranged it to put her own inflection and power. I think she lost control of a few runs and notes along the way, but Ada is an absolute powerhouse. This song was her telling America to put its small-mindedness aside and embrace a drag queen because there is absolutely no reason not to. Ada has one of the strongest voices we've seen, and yet America can't seem to get past itself to accept her for what she is: a phenomenal talent. The judges did what America didn't have the courage to do and pushed her straight into the Top 10 rather than deliberate. [Judges Top 10]
Dennis Lorenzo (26) "This Woman's Work," Maxwell
Whereas Marcio let bad news sap his strength and will in his performance, nothing could touch Dennis' confidence as he slipped into a flawless falsetto to nail the opening vocal of one of the most challenging vocal pieces of the modern era. Once again, Dennis snuck up on me. I know he's great, and he's blow me away over and over again already but I never expect him to show up as hard as he does. Really, Dennis, this is on me. I'm sorry. I'll remember your ridiculous talent next time. I promise.
After America put through Gabby, Maddie, Michael, Catie, Cade and Caleb, the judges countered by instantly sending Ada into the Top 10 as well.
That left three slots available for the remaining seven contestants. If they follow my lead based on tonight's performances we'll be saying goodbye to Garrett, Marcio, Jonny and Michelle. Last night, Mara faltered but she had a great night tonight and many other nights before, which could help her.
Finally, it was time for the judges to make their picks and it was good news for Jurnee and Dennis. Once again, the judges are determined to make Michelle happen, so I'm just going to start calling her "fetch." She just doesn't have the voice for this show. She's this season's Sanjaya Malakar.
I have to point out that America put through exactly one person of color in Michael J. Woodard. Sure, Michael is an amazing performer, but so is Dennis Lorenzo and Jurnee and Ada Vox. It was up to the judges to sprinkle some diversity into the Top 10 with their choices. And all of those were either people of color, members of the LGBTQ community or both. At least someone is making sure the real America is represented on this show.
Next week, "American Idol" goes live from coast-to-coast as it shifts to one night a week, Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC. The cuts are happening quick as we go from ten to seven to five to one American Idol. It's all over May 21!