Jason Mraz, Shaggy, Elle King, Brett Young, Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo were on hand to guide the first half of the Top 20 through their greatest hits.
"American Idol" pulled a fast one on viewers by adding an element of random danger to the All-Star Duets round.
We knew the show would be trimming six people by the end of the week but Ryan Seacrest revealed that they were splitting that action across two nights. And that meant the contestants were split across two nights as well.
Ten performed tonight chosen at random -- or by "Idol" producers to net the best chance of the worst going home -- with three getting the boot. Then, the formula repeats Monday night with the other half.
It did allow a little more breathing room than trying to fly through 20 performances. They were also able to split their celebrity duets, giving us Jason Mraz, Brett Young, Shaggy, Elle King, and Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo tonight.
Tomorrow, we can look forward to Julia Michaels, Lukas Graham, Chris Isaak, Cynthia Erivo, Ben Harper and lovelytheband.
Just for giggles, I'm going to rank the performances from worst to first to see who emerges as my Top 7 for the night. Then we'll see if the judges agreed i.e., got it right).
Madison VanDenburg (w/ Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo)
"We Belong," Pat Benatar
Madison has a great instrument but she keeps failing to use it to its full potential. She's going big, but she's not connecting with the audience or the lyrics. For such a heartfelt song, this was boring and felt completely like a showpiece you might see at a high school. Madison rearranged her parts with some odd choices and notes and runs that were superfluous to the power of the song. She just seems to lack the vocal maturity to make smart choices to really bring a song to life.
Shawn Robinson (f/ Elle King)
"Proud Mary," Creedence Clearwater Revival
So this whole thing was a bit of a mess. Elle picked a song Shawn wasn't comfortable with. Then, she changed the version and tempo shortly before hitting the stage and then he came in early and she stopped halfway through her part. This was a lot of tough breaks in one performance for Shawn, who never quite connected with anything happening. There's a grit and gravel to CCR's version of this song that he missed out on entirely, and he and Elle sang it like this was rehearsal -- which in some ways it was. He managed some good vocal moments to remind us of his talent, though, so that was smart.
Uché (f/ Shaggy)
"I Need Your Love," Shaggy
Uché was brought on like Shaggy's special guest vocalist for the chorus and it worked surprisingly well. The whole thing felt like a very modern track even more than most of the duets on the night, though it left Uché somewhat limited overall in what he was able to showcase as he was mostly performing the same lines over and over. This wasn't as dynamic or compelling or memorable as we've seen before. As a performance it was a lot of fun but as a showcase for Uché, it may have missed the mark somewhat.
Kate Barnette (f/ Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo)
"Heartbreaker," Pat Benatar
Neil challenged Kate to take on a guitar solo, which was a huge risk for her as she's never played on before and only been on the instrument for a year. Plus, her vocals have to be on point. And what a thrilling song and duet for her to really sink her teeth into. Unfortunately, Pat is a powerhouse vocalist and Kate wasn't even close to matching her intensity, volume or depth of voice. She sounded solid throughout and was clearly having the time of her life, though. It was good but it's never good to be outshined by your duet partner.
Bumbly (f/ Shaggy)
This was a better showcase for Bumbly than what Uche got. Even though she was still mostly stuck in the chorus, she managed to showcase some of her vibe and the dynamic range and quality of her voice. She should have slipped into Spanish earlier toward the end so it didn't sink into too much repetitiveness. Her IPN (Idol Power Note) was a little overwrought, but intentional to show off a bit for the judges.
Laine Hardy (f/ Elle King)
"The Weight," The Band
Laine should have grabbed that mic at the end and interacted a little more than Elle. Vocally, though, they were both on point and sounded great. Laine's stiffness isn't a detriment behind the guitar, but when he swung it back it shined a spotlight on one area he could use some continued growth ... confidence. He should get plenty of time to figure that out, though, as he's still one of the most exciting voices on the show right now.
Riley Thomas (f/ Brett Young)
"Like I Loved You," Brett Young
Brett was the best thing that ever happened to Riley in this competition, teaching her how to interpret a lyric and express the emotional intent behind a song, rather than bopping and smiling through "Jolene" like we saw last week. This was heartfelt, passionate and she found new depths and nuance to her voice that we've never seen before. "Idol" plays well in country music markets and Riley just took a huge step up in the rankings with those voters.
Walker Burroughs (f/ Jason Mraz)
"Have It All," Jason Mraz
As the performance progressed, Walker really settled down with his physicality and started shaking off some of the nerves. He's nowhere near as cool and comfortable up there as Jason, but he is starting to find his own geek cool groove. The vocals, on the other hand, were on point. Jason outshined him only slightly here, and by the close of the song we'd argue they were neck and neck.
Laci Kaye Booth (f/ Brett Young)
"Mercy," Brett Young
Once again, Laci manages to surprise from the first note, in many ways bringing a richer quality to her vocal than Brett did his. But this was a beautifully connected song for the most part with both artists emoting flawlessly the heartache of the song. Laci found new depths in confidence, trading the security of her guitar to connecting directly with Brett. Every bit of that felt like a true duet in concert, as opposed to a singing competition.
Ashley Hess (f/ Jason Mraz)
"I'm Yours," Jason Mraz
Now that's how you do an all-star duet. Ashley rearranged this Jason Mraz staple into a piano duet and it was absolutely gorgeous. The arrangement was stunning and their harmonies were absolutely on point. Ashley is still stronger behind the piano, as her stage presence is still a little awkward when she's up front. This was a true duet performance, even if Jason was given more of the meaty content on the lyrics, and a great showcase of how talented Ashley is.
Well, our Top 7 on the night doesn't even match with who we'd want to carry on from this half of the Top 20. Uche is much better than he gave us here, so we'd give him a pass and say goodbye to Madison and Shawn. Then we'd wrestle over who to keep between Bumbly and Kate before giving Bumbly the pass ... barely.
The judges decided to drag it out by sending people on to safety, starting with Laci, Ashley and Walker. The judges continued their love affair with Madison (though it may be about keeping more women in the competition).
Uche was stunned to hear his name, followed by Riley, leaving one spot left. Laine took that, sending both Bumbly and Kate packing,as well as Shawn. Honestly, though we don't get the Madison love after these past few performances, we're okay with their choices overall.
If we had to make very early predictions on who might get the boot tomorrow night, we'll place our (fake) money on Eddie Island, Logan Johnson and Raquel Trinidad. We'll find out soon enough.
"American Idol" airs Sundays and Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.