In a special two-part "This Is Me" series, "Idol" peels back the curtain of the Top 20 to share unseen footage and interviews.
Fans wondering how "American Idol" was going to handle filming during the coronavirus pandemic got their answer as Ryan Seacrest, in front of a lovely tropical backdrop, introduced the two-week "This Is Me" event.
For this weekend and next weekend, the show delves into the lives and stories of its Top 20 contestants, giving viewers a chance to better connect with them as people, and buying themselves some time to either hope stay-at-home orders are lifted or they can come up with some alternative way to shift to America's vote.
For now, though, it was all about meeting these faces -- some of whom got plenty of screentime in the weeks leading up to the Top 20 reveal, and a few who didn't get nearly as much. Those, likely, were the late bloomers who didn't hit the judges' radars until much later in the competition.
Since this isn't a competition this week, you might think we're not going to rank them, but you'd be wrong. We're going to do it anyway, because ... well, what else are we going to do?
This time, though, it's not so much about what we see from them this week, but it's about their story so far, every performance we've seen and what we think they're capable of.
We're going to rank them based on what we think their overall potential is in this competition, effectively predicting the order we think they should go home. Who do we think should go deep into this thing, and who is ready to see the door already? There's only one way to find out.
(24, Woodland Hills, CA) Nick has gained some humility in this journey, which is an incredible gift. Our concern is that he's pretty and he has a pleasant voice but what more is there to him? There's a lack of connection between him and the audience when he sings. Plus, you can tell there's more power in his vocal tank, as if he's always holding back a bit. If he could get out of his head and really, truly let loose, he might find it, but he hasn't quite yet.
(16, Vancouver Island, Canada) Going viral on social media in 2019 gave her the drive to pursue music seriously, but we are here for her singing Katy Perry at a talent show as a wee tot. She even reprised that Gaga song as part of her initial audition in a bit we didn't see. It was so heartfelt and emotional, you could see why the judges have been so enamored with her. That connection was genuine.
(17, Menifee, CA) After this compilation package, we get it a bit more with Olivia. She can be spotty and pitchy at times, yes, but she can also be sublime and gorgeous vocally at times. If she can improve her consistency as a performer and continue to define herself musically, she could be a lot of fun to watch in this competition. We're just not sure she's polished or complete enough yet as an artist to go very far, unless she figures it all out in a hurry.
(17, Temecula, CA) With one of the biggest voices in the competition, there is nothing to critique about how talented Makayla is. But we know from "Idol" history -- Jennifer Hudson! -- that big voices don't always do that well if they aren't paired with a signature identity. Makayla has yet to find hers, though that Hawaii showcase may have been a step in the right direction. At this point, though, on a season of incredibly talented vocalists, we're not sure she's got enough else in the tank to make it into the topmost tier
(21, Staten Island, NY) A true artist from the moment she first sat at the piano, Julia gives that Adele authenticity to her vocal performances, resonating with the lyric, the message and the audience. As a good songwriter, too, she brings that perspective to covers, which allows her to make them her own in a way some contestants never quite master. Julia is one to watch, though she's going to have to be careful about what she performs (especially as theme weeks come into play) to navigate the middle rounds.
(20, Long Beach, CA) Already a powerhouse performer and one of the most proficient artists on the show, Sophia brought a whole new vibe to Hawaii that catapulted her to imminent threat for all the other contestants. She showed a diversity and range unexpected, as well as a playfulness we hadn't seen from her yet. As if it was possible, she's still growing as a stage performer, while just luring us in with that sultry, thick voice of hers. Plus, we love that she honored her brother by taking his name as her new stage last name. This is one we're going to be watching for awhile.
(27, Durham, NC) Luke was right in that Franklin may be as close to Alejandro Aranda (last season's runner-up) as this season is going to find. He is an incredibly gentle soul and that translates through to his music and his style on stage. With a signature growl and breathy delivery, Franklin has his own signature sound and style already. He is the artist, he's just waiting for us all to fall in love, and I think we will.
(21, Harlem, NY) She is just so pure, just so magical, just ... well, she's Just Sam. One of the most earnest and sweetest people to grace the stage, Sam doubles that up with an incredible voice filled with ache and power and passion all at the same time. She is authenticity like you can't buy in a store. There's something magical about Sam, and as much as she grew just from her first audition to Hawaii, we're so excited to see how far she goes. Our prediction? Pretty far.
(23, Murietta, CA) With a natural talent and humility, Jonny is someone you just want to root for. This package reminded us just how many tools he has in his musical arsenal, which should make him exciting to watch in the weeks to come. But most importantly, he had us feeling all over again even in clips we've seen before. It's a rare gift to express emotion live, and another level of that to do it through a screen. He's a definite contender to take this all the way.
(21, Wichita, KS) From the first note that came out of his mouth, Arthur was our favorite to win. Couple his amazing artistry with his incredible story and he's everything "Idol" is all about. But is he too good, too signature in his sound? Think of the "Idol" legacy of incredible runner-ups while a more conventional talent would win ahead of them. We're talking names like Adam Lambert, Crystal Bowersox, Caleb Lee Hutchinson and (of course) last season's Alejandro. Nevertheless, he's still our front-runner!
"American Idol" continues next Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.