The judges had to make a lot of tough decisions, and in the case of this season's biggest auditions fan-favorite, they made the wrong one.
It's an all new Hollywood Week on "American Idol" with rounds the contestants have never seen before in two decades of this show. Already a stressful week, now they couldn't even anticipate their next challenge.
Early in the week, contestant Genavieve Linkowski talked about how excited she was for Group Rounds, which just proves the judges weren't even letting them know day by day what to expect. Taking a note from "Big Brother," these contestants had to learn quickly to adapt and expect the unexpected.
Many stepped up to the challenge, while a few faltered and disappointed. But it was a packed night filled with familiar faces as we powered through the entire first round of Hollywood Week, filled with heartbreak and many familiar faces heading out the door.
One was easily one of the biggest fan-favorite contestants to hit the show since its reboot on ABC. We thought it was another incredible audition. It wasn't perfect, with some pitch issues, but that voice is so unmistakable and authentic, and filled with such heart, we are devastated to see it leave the competition. This was a place it could have grown into such beauty and grace.
But it wasn't all bad news, as many of our favorites sailed through this, breaking our hearts all over again with another brilliant performance. Could returning contestant Margie Mays and her boyfriend Jonny West both survive this round. How about Robert Taylor, who broke hearts by living his truth finally, and subway singer Just Sam, with that unmistakable heart?
And just for giggles, I'm going to rank the auditions each night from worst to first to see who my favorites are. Will they move on? Will they win the whole thing? Will the judges recognize talent when they see it? Let's find out!
167 contestants took to the stage on the first day to sing solo and make a strong second impression on the judges so they'd have an idea how everyone compared back-to-back-to-back ... well, you get the idea.
And for the first time, the contestants were told to pick their lane so the judges could see how they see themselves as artists in the "Genre Challenge." Their choices included pop, rock, R&B, soul, country and singer/songwriter.
It also helps the judges shape their season, as they may only want three to four contestants from each genre advancing (barring truly stellar performers), meaning the contestants have a better instinct as to who exactly they're competing against.
Pop (23, Orlando, FL) Kay barely eked into this round after performing for her life on the street. She certainly has a unique visual and style flair -- coming with the flower motif like we've never seen before -- but her voice is still not there. When she had a chance to really belt out at least one note, she retreated. Smart because she knew she couldn't hit it -- as she blew the next one -- but also telling that she's not up to the standards of this show. Result: Out
Pop (26, Wilmington, DE) Margie has a pleasant tone to her voice, but it's lacking an emotional connection with either the lyric or her audience. She's one of those people who has worked hard on the technical aspects of her craft, improving since her last time on, but now she needs to work on connecting and expressing emotion. Result: In
Pop (21, Goodrich, Michigan) There was a crack in her voice and while she sounded sweet and pleasant enough, there wasn't enough of that magical something to really make her stand out in a way where we believe she could get votes to win this competition. It was just... nice. But the judges loved her. Result: In
Singer/Songwriter (27, Costa Mesa, CA) Despite the challenge of singing from the seated position, Marna still needed to find a way to sing from her chest more based on her initial audition. She really soared on this one, though, with beautiful vocal affectations on a very treacly ballad that she managed to fill with creative nuance and a soft, subtle energy. Result: Out
Singer/Songwriter (25, Chicago, IL) Another one we got just a few seconds of, but there was a vulnerability in his voice that was a real crowd-pleaser. He could do well on the right songs, even as he seems to be a more gentle, quiet singer. Result: In
Pop (19, North Haven, CT) We got just a few moments of Bi'laal but he has a really nice and smooth tone to his voice. We loved how he slipped into his falsetto effortlessly without missing a beat, or the notes. He seems like a bit of a blank slate artistically, but there's definitely a solid vocal ability there. Result: In
Country (27, Nashville, TN) There's no denying the beautiful quality of her voice, but this was a sleepy performance. She needs to work on internalizing the feeling of the song so she can then project it out as this felt oddly clinical and flat, though her tone was good and she was right on key. Result: In
Singer/Songwriter (15, Santa Barbara, CA) With just a few seconds of screentime, Sofia gave us power, control and a lovely tone that sounded way more mature than her 15 years. It was enough for us to want to see more, that's for sure. Result: In
Pop (19, Philadelphia, PA) Louis should be in the singer/songwriter category because there's something special about how he caressed "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" which really put us in a coffee house frame of mind. He's got a bit of that Ed Sheeran sound to his voice and a gentle weeping in it that just draws you in, but was it too subdued? Result: In
Country (27, Nashville, TN) Grace made an interesting choice with "Unchained Melody" as a country artist, but her voice was on point throughout. She could work on emoting through the song -- as this one is a real gut-wrenching heartbreaker in the right hands -- but her talent is undeniable and shined right through. Result: In
Pop (16, Vancouver Island, Canada) This viral video star has an incredible voice and proved absolutely effortless on one of Kelly Clarkson's most iconic anthems. She had all the power and heartache needed to sell us on this one, and at only 16 years old she's still finding her way as an artist and musician. She could really be one to watch. Result: In
Singer/Songwriter (18, San Francisco, CA) This felt like a more confident performance than the first round, and yet he's still holding some of what he's got in the tank. He's got the goods with a very cool and current sound, but he needs to either shake the nerves or channel them into his voice fully to get it together. Thankfully, after just a little bit on stage, he usually finds himself. Result: In
Singer/Songwriter (23, Murietta, CA) Jonny outshined girlfriend (and returning "Idol" contestant) Margie May in his initial audition, and he killed it again here despite his "tummy" troubles. This despite the fact he was performing more internally than really projecting his gift to the room. He's one who needs nerves training more than vocal training as he's really got a rich, genuine sound. Result: In
R&B (21, Harlem, NY) This young woman is the real deal, she makes you feel her story with body expression, voice and every bit of her soul is poured forth when she performs. She is an authentic artist and an incredible storyteller as a vocalist. She doesn't even need power notes with the richness of her voice. Result: In
Pop (23, Woodland Hills, CA) This is the guy who pulled himself from the competition before Hollywood Week because he didn't feel ready. This year, he got some tough love for a pretty cocky original audition, but seems to have taken it to heart. And it showed in his vocal, as he sounded like he wanted to earn the audience's love rather than feeling like he deserved it. His voice was twice as rich and textured, with more nuance and passion than he's ever shown before. Result: In
[for video of Julia's performance, see Marna Michele above]
Singer/Songwriter (21, Staten Island, NY) After wowing us with an original in her initial audition, Julia commanded the stage again with the fullness of her voice, channeling Adele's strength and passion. It was just a stunning reintroduction to her and proof that she can interpret an existing song as strongly as she can present her own. Result: In
Pop (17, Lakeland, FL) Kimmy found range on A Great Big World's "Say Something" even Christina Aguilera didn't find, really making the track her own without losing its signature energy. It was a powerful audition, as she turned the mellow, moody track into a vocal showcase filled with runs that yet didn't feel overone ... well, maybe a little . Result: In
Soul (27, Mobile, AL) Seriously, is this guy for real or is he a ringer? With no vocal training at all when he hit his initial audition to his first time on stage right here, Doug was incredible on the first few words of the wrong song before he took on "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" and took us all out of our seats. He's still raw, slipping in and out of the right key while singing a cappella, but has a natural ability to still interpret this song through his filter and his life in a way that's so authentic it's beautiful. We're rooting for him to grow fast enough on the technical side to really take this competition by the reins and tame it. Unfortunately, the judges did not give him that chance Result: Out
Singer/Songwriter (26, Bakersfield, CA) Dillon is two years sober and says he was on the brink before he turned it around, and you can hear a life lived in his weather-worn voice. It's that authenticity that really sells in this genre and Dillon has that in spades. He wears his heart on his sleeve and can break your heart or draw you in with a single note. Result: In
Soul (20, Long Beach, CA) Sophie connected beautifully with "Let It Be," and she gave us all of it in a soulful, emotional, powerful and yet subtle performance that still resonates within after the final note. She is a bona fide artist with a voice and a story to tell, and we are here to hear it.. Result: In
R&B (17, Atlanta, GA) What a beautiful and powerful tone Cyniah brought from the first note. It was strong and stunning and silky smooth, like spreading butter on warm toast. You just wanted to soak in every note and have her keep going and going and going. Effortless power and control. Result: In
Pop (27, Donaldsonville, LA)_ We adore that Robert took on "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" for his performance, and that he slipped out of his incredible falsetto (only one misstep) to a deeper tone for the word "woman." It was such a statement and such a mood. He is an incredible talent on such an important journey for himself, and the fact he just took on Aretha and conquered it speaks volumes. Result: In
Soul (28, Gonzales, LA) There's an unmistakable gritty raspiness to Jovin's voice that we could listen to all day. It's a genuine soul voice with so much power and strength and pain and heartache, he broke ours by the time we'd heard a single line. He's just raw and real and incredible. Result: In
Country (24, Rockdale, TX) This recovering alcoholic really impressed with an original song -- we mean she really impressed. Her pain and her story just poured through on a track that she connected with, but could that translate to a cover? You bet it could, because she had us about ready to cry within just a few words. There's something about an artist who can share their story through their music, and Hannah can do that with no effort. Result: In
R&B (17, Temecula, CA) Makayla is only 17, but she clearly knows pain and love lost. There was so much authenticity in one of the most challenging vocals to nail emotionally. "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" is no joke, and Makayla nailed it from the first growl with all of the passion and pain. She sounded like an old soul pouring forth all of her years through a very young body. Result: In
Soul (23, Coeur d'Alene, IC) Nine months pregnant the last time we saw her, Amber had a lot of emotion to pour into Andra Day's "Rise Up," and that song needs every bit of it to work. The right song on the right singer can create a magical moment, and this was Amber's moment to shine and she was so very bright. It was an incredible performance. Result: In
Pop (20, Bellport, NY) An early favorite, Shannon absolutely slayed this performance, holding us in the palm of her hand with a single note. Her voice has such an empathic draw, you find yourself feeling every bit of the lyrics, every note of pain that she's pouring in. It's so infectious, you find yourself sitting up straighter when she performs, and perhaps leaning in to be closer to the magic. Result: In
Singer/Songwriter (22, Wichita, KS) He has a very Phillip Phillips vibe to how he performs and plays guitar, and even a bit of him in his voice, but there's no denying that Arthur is a singular artist with a very cool vibe all his own. He's so unassuming until he opens his mouth to sing, and then he surprises you all over again. Is he the first contestant to be called for an encore? Result: In
Hollywood Week continues on "American Idol" next Sunday and Monday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.