With the stakes higher than ever, one contestant rushes off stage moments before singing, suffering a shocking and scary medical emergency.
The final rounds of competition in Hollywood Week wrapped on "American Idol" as the judges selected the Top 40 who then flew off to Hawaii to participate in a Final Showcase round.
There was a lot of heartache and heartbreak as way too many contestants appeared to be cracking under the pressures of a brutal week of competition. Voices were cracking, nerves were frayed, but even worse some of the contestants were just actively blowing it.
"We may have 20 in Hawaii," Luke said at one point after a batch of contestants who were trying way too hard, and missing even harder. Even some of the strongest contestants to this point were forgetting lyrics, singing off-key or even quitting altogether ... on stage!
It wasn't all bad, though, as we were reminded why so many of these contestants have made it this far. There were some stellar performances along the way, with a few standout goosebump moments.
Once again, originals proved popular, especially as Season 17 runner-up Alejandrao Aranda showed up with a pep talk. Unfortunately, not everyone is Alejandro. There were more misses than hits among originals, but a few gems did rise to the top, including one we could hear on the radio right now!
Different from the initial solos, this is the contestants' last chance to really show what they'll be capable of on the show. This means, for the first time they get to command the full stage with a full band behind them and really bring their performance to bear.
This round is about showing who they are as artists, so who better to hype them up than last season's runner-up -- and clearly "Idol's" favorite contestant -- Alejandro Arande. That's just what he emphasized, this is their chance to express themselves and their artistry.
We've talked about it here and the judges have as well. It's more than just having a pretty voice, it's a total package, it's selling a personality, a story and a genuine connection that we can feel through the screens so we'll feel invested in your journey. Just like we were for Alejandro.
(Yikes! - 28, Phoenix, AZ) Lionel Richie told them during Duets Round to never give up on themselves on stage, and yet that's just what Marcush did when he couldn't remember his lyrics. He just stopped. And that should be it.
("River," Leon Bridges - 19, Plainfield, IL) She was sounding okay on this until she went for that vocal run and it sounded like someone had stepped on her tail. Seriously that was more yowl than singing. We're not sure what notes she was looking for, but she didn't find any of them.
("Bird Set Free," Sia - 20, Cedar Hills, UT) What a great song choice, but he took that "sing off key" line way too literally. He even went up for a high note in his falsetto and missed that, too. This was painful.
("How Do You Sleep?" Sam Smith - 23, Miami, FL) What a disappointment, as Sheniel was a lot of fun and felt like a real contender in earlier rounds. This was just so underwhelming and lacking in pizzazz and heart. Seriously, nothing came together on this to the point it was hard to watch.
(Original Song - 21, Miami, FL) Um, what was that? It was like some almost-spoken word piece from a knock-off of "Hamilton." This was your passion piece you just had to share? We feel bad for Jimmy, because there was a delusion in thinking this could propel him forward when it did him no favors at all. And him with such a stellar and unique tone to his voice.
("We're in Heaven," Bryan Adams - 23, Woodland Hills, CA) There was an earnest desperation that came through when Nick sang, which was actually uncomfortable. It felt like he was scared for his life even as he was singing, which is completely the wrong emotional connection to make. At least he wasn't as badly out of tune as some of the others who faltered here.
[for video of Amelia's performance, see Jimmy Levy above]
(Original Song - 21, Staten Island, NY) She may have wowed us with an original in her audition, but this song was just so flat. Were there two different notes in that vocal? We're seeing in some of these contestants' ambition, the dark side of Alejandro's influence. We applaud their bravery, but how do you vet your songs first?
("Rocketman," Elton John - 18, Long Beach, MS) Jeb looked uncomfortable up on the stage, but he still sounded smooth. Totally unremarkable, but at least he sounded smoother than he looked. Maybe they'll be into that geek chic this season?
[for video of Amelia's performance, see Jimmy Levy above]
(Original Song - 23, Phoenix, AZ) This felt like Amelia was trying to give a Katy Perry power anthem with this song and it was just her shouting at the judges. She has a nice tone, but the aggressive volume wasn't working here.
("Good as Hell," Lizzo - 22, Denver, CO) Perrin put her own spin on the song, and she sounded good enough on the track. But when talking that elusive "it" factor, this performance fell kind of flat for us. We're just not sure she brought everything to the stage needed to show who she is as a performer.
[for video of Amelia's performance, see Jimmy Levy above]
(Original Song - 27, Donaldsonville, LA) The song was repetitive and actually didn't even try to soar at all (and Robert's got one of the biggest voices in the competition. The judges are harsh on originals this round, but it's hard to tell an artist that they're baby just isn't doing them any favoris and that maybe, just maybe, it isn't good enough.
("Cry Baby," "Janis Joplin" - 20, Destrehan, LA) Granted, we didn't get this whole performance, but it just sounded so loud and loud without intention. This is a song of pain and she was belting as if singing to the back of the room. The judges, however, loved it so maybe it played better live.
("Always Remember Us This Way," Lady Gaga - 19, Miami, FL) After losing her boyfriend Alex in the last round, Kat was overwhelmed with emotion. In fact, there was almost too much emotion in the performance, as she sang it to Alex in the front row. Her pitch was problematic throughout and that magical lower quality to her voice just didn't feel suited to this song, even though Gaga has a similar tone.
("Light On," Maggie Rogers - 20, Berkeley, CA) A little bumpy along the way, but Sarah brought it home with the perfect mix of power and tenderness. She's on the cusp of that "it" factor, but we're just on the fence. She needs a stellar performance to seal the deal and we just haven't seen it yet.
("I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)," Whitney Houston - 19, St. Louis, MO) We would have liked to see YZ mix the song up a bit more than he did. Rather than just sing it outright, he could have played with it a little more as a male vocalist taking on such an iconic female performance. But he does have a nice tone that is warm and welcoming..
[for video of Sophia's performance, see Sarah Isen above]
("Somewhere (Finale)," Leonard Bernstein - 20, Long Beach, CA) She missed a few notes, but this was a theatrical tour de force. Who knew Sophia had such lung capacity and power? It may yet be enough to redeem what we were shown was a very bad duets round and propel her forward.
("Pray," Sam Smith - 23, Sonora, CA) We only got a few seconds, but they were filled with a wonderfully rich tone and perfectly controlled falsetto. So while we're lacking a connection to Devon, it's more the show's edit than him, we suspect.
("Rainbow," Kacey Musgraves - 17, Wellington, KS) Poor Makayla stressed herself into a legitimate seizure due to a rare heart condition, but it emphasizes just how overwhelming this experience can be. She actually wound up going to the hospital, but was able to return to sing again later in the day. When she did return, she delivered her performance from a stool and it was so heartfelt and raw that she left Katy in tears. It was meaningful and resonant without any vocal tricks, which is the real trick.
(Original Song - 26, Bakersfield, CA) While the song didn't rise up to become an instant bop ringing in our heads, it was enough to showcase what Dillon does well, and prove that he's got that authentic country grit and vocal that can sell records. He's unique and special enough, we think he could do well in this competition.
[for video of Geena's performance see YZthaSinger]
("I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)," Whitney Houston - 27, Los Angeles, CA) Geena put a very cool vibe on this with a strong and richly textured voice. It almost felt strange when she shifted into dance-track mode, but we were loving her overall vocal vibe.
("I'm Here," "The Color Purple" - 17, Lakeland, FL) After a solid-not-spectacular duet, Kimmy came back with something to prove, and nailed this last chance. She had a tenderness in her voice, and so much subtle nuance and expression, it was the perfect showcase for an early favorite to remind us all why we loved her.
("Always Remember Us This Way," Lady Gaga - 16, Acworth, GA) We loved this gentle singer showing a stronger sound. There was still a softness to her voice, even as she went big. It's good to show dynamic range as a vocalist, so this was a smart move and may have helped her stand out from singers who stayed in one lane throughout.
[for video of Alma's performance see YZthaSinger]
("I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)," Whitney Houston - 19, Philadelphia, PA) Stil struggling witht he suicide of his best friend, Bobby Bones provided good insight and focus to help Louis as he hit the stage. It clearly worked because this early front-runner was absolutely stunning in this. There was a lilt and gentle cry in his voice that had us feeling every bit of this.
(Original Song - 23, Murietta, CA) Jonny definitely shines more on his own songs, as his voice was so slick and emotionally real here. It's like that terrible duet and those nerves just shook out of him so he could bring his all to this performance, and it worked for him.
("River," Leon Bridges) Franklin doesn't belt to an audience, but he does invite them into his intimate concert performance. And it's a very warm and inviting invitation we'd happily take up any day. He has such a smooth, effortless quality to his performance, and yet you can feel the emotion in such a subtle way emanating from him.
[for video of Cyniah's performance see YZthaSinger]
("I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)," Whitney Houston - 17, Atlanta, GA) Cyniah has the most Whitney-esque voice, as Lionel had previously pointed out, and it shined through in this performance that proved her as a great voice but was it distinctly her own enough? Does that matter when you're singing at this caliber at 17? She can always find her direction.
("The Joke," Brandi Carlile - 16, Vancouver Island, Canada) Wow, that's how you deliver a song you've only known for 24 hours. Lauren is an incredibly controlled vocalist at just 16 years old with a powerful voice, beautiful control and she already knows when to belt and when to caress a note. That can take her far.
("Cuz I Love You," Lizzo - 17, Temecula, CA) This was an incredibly bold choice, but Makayla did Lizzo justice while putting her own spin on the track. This is all about vocal showcase, and Makayla certainly showed off her range, her power, her grit and even the passion she can inject into a performance. It was a great way to show another side. The judges hated the song, but we thought it was an interesting showcase piece.
("Parachute," Chris Stapleton - 29, Gonzales, LA) Jovin knows his voice and from the first note it was magical. Chris Stapleton is right in his wheelhouse vocally. It was a little subdued, considering the song, but he still brought enough to show he's a bona fide star on that stage and a fantastic voice.
[for video of Margie's performance see Jonny West]
("Lost Without You," Freya Ridings - 26, Wilmington, DE) Nervous and anxious for both her and boyfriend Jonny West, Margie sounded better than she ever has before on this. She gave it her all and it was genuinely touching. A powerful and moving performance that was everything she needed it to be for her second chance journey. And for the first time in a round, she surpassed her boyfriiend.
(Original Song - 27, Nashville, TN) "God Made a Woman" is an example of an original song done right. It takes the right song on the right voice with the right intent, and Lauren had all of these things on this beautiful track dedicated to her Nana. She delivered it like an authentic heartfelt country artist and we believed every syllable. She made it look easy but it is not easy.
("I'm Here," "The Color Purple" - 20, Harlem, NY) It's always inevitable that someone struggles with losing their voice, and this year it's poor Sam. She swallowed it down (painfully) and still gave it her all. She got the judges on their feet with a powerful anthemic performance that was genuinely powerful and moving. This is how you earn your spot in the Top 40!
("Hold Me While You Wait," Lewis Capaldi - 19, Philadelphia, PA) Still struggling witht he suicide of his best friend, Bobby Bones provided good insight and focus to help Louis as he hit the stage. It clearly worked because this early front-runner was absolutely stunning in this. There was a lilt and gentle cry in his voice that had us feeling every bit of this.
("In My Blood," Shawn Mendes - 20, Goodrich, MI) Cut in this round two years ago, Genavieve came out with something to prove. With a few subtle changes, Genavieve told the story of this song and her drive and it was beautiful. Every choice she made was the right choice for her in this moment. She should make it after that.
("Have You Ever Seen the Rain," Creedence Clearwater Revival - 21, Wichita, KS) It's always risky to repeat a song in your "Idol" journey so early, but Arthur rearranged it with the band in mind to be something different. Unfortunately, the band couldn't pick up his arrangement quick enough, so it was back to him and the guitar. So could it be different enough to stand out? Oh, yes it could. This was so special and stellar, Arthur is the kind of artist "Idol" wants, and could have a nice, long journey on this show.
There were definitely some surprises in store, as it looked like Room 2 (which included Margie Mays, Jimmy Levy, Kat Lopez, Sarah Isen, Madison Paige and Aria Saage) was probably going to be the one hit with bad news.
It got even more tense after Jonny West got through in Room 1 but couldn't bring himself to celebrate yet. As Margie looked around her room, all she could say was, "Not feeling confident." We have to agree that has to be a worst-case scenario, as even Jonny said he'd rather her move forward.
But it just wasn't meant to be, as Room 2 was, in fact, cut from the competition. But she's grown so much, will she come back? Will we see any of them again?
But check out the Top 40 who will be performing in Hawaii for the Final Showcase next week -- in a "previously recorded" segment, the show was sure to remind us multiple times; so before social distancing was a thing -- based on several spoiler sites to see if your favorite made it:
There seems to be some disagreement, too, as some sites only list 39 contestants (not including Emma Valentine). Did something happen? Does that spell hope for Margie (she was on some lists, but removed -- she could also have just been in Hawaii just to support Jonny)? Or who might slide in to complete the list?
Demi Rae Morena
"American Idol" airs Sunday and Monday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.