With performances from stunning lakeside views to inside garages, it was a performance show unlike any other -- but it brought out a special intimacy for many finalists.
"American Idol" boldly goes where no singing competition has gone before ... home! The Top 20 didn't take the stage for America's votes, but they did take the makeshift rigs "AI" sent them to help get them set up at home.
At least they aren't having to go it quite alone at such a strange and pivotal chapter in their journey. The "Idol" band is also on hand, though with each of them also performing from their respective homes. It's a bold new era in entertainment and music, but it works.
But just because things are boldly different doesn't mean the competition is any less brutal. In just one week's time, this Top 20 is getting slashed in half, meaning ten of these hopefuls are only going to have to do this once.
We kind of imagine they'd rather endure whatever awkwardness the show has to throw at them for the long haul. It's even proving a boon for some, as the intimacy of the performances is showing off some subtle qualities that are lost in a big stage production.
Speaking of a big production, nothing was bigger than Katy Perry showing up in an elaborate hand sanitizer bottle that not only helped to lighten the mood, but it obscured that baby belly everyone is going to be so eager to see. And she stayed in it through the whole damned show!
As for the performances themselves, while they lacked that live feel, we did get more of a sense of an avant garde music video, meaning the contestants were able to make staging and decorative choices that further helped them present their case to the American public as artists and individuals.
It was surprisingly effective, creating a compelling musical and viewing experience unlike anything we've seen before.
Just for giggles, I'm going to rank the performances from worst to first to see who makes it into my Top 10. Then we can see how close America is to getting it right -- i.e. agreeing with me -- when they vote!
("bad guy," Billie Eilish - 17, Menifee, CA) What an interesting arrangement choice. On a very subdued song, Olivia managed to turn it into an R&B bop with lots of vocal runs and power notes sprinkled throughout. We can't say it all worked, as it was a bit much at times and seemed a bit out of control at others, but there were a few moments that made us sit up a little straighter. She is impressing a bit more each week, but we're just not sure she's up to the level of where the competition is this season.
("Run to You," Whitney Houston - 19, Tampa, FL) Look, we get that Lionel compared Aliana to Whitney, but that doesn't mean you run out and perform her. Whitney is in a league of her own and Aliana did not quite rise to the occasion. She sounded good, but we think people might remember her more for the lamps in her garage than that voice. It's another case of sounding good, but otherwise not really finding a way to stand out vocally.
("Teenage Dream," Katy Perry - 19, San Francisco, CA) It was a risk to sing a Katy Perry song and we're not sure it quite paid off for Francisco. He lost that emotional resonance that got people rooting for him and instead offered up what amounted to a competent but unremarkable karaoke performance. This was his opportunity to really connect with voters for the first time and he did nothing vocally to stand out or connect with us. It feels like a real missed opportunity that could cost him.
("Momma Knows Best," Jessie J - 16, Vancouver Island, Canada) Lauren might win for best performance location; that view is just stunning! But vocally, we weren't as totally on board. She brought sass and attitude, but it also sounded like what you might hear in a very impressive high school talent show. We're just not sure it had that ring of authenticity the original brings. The real thing is we're not sure if it's enough to win enough votes to rise to the top half of tonight's singers.
("Hey There Delilah," Plain White T's - 24, Woodland Hills, CA) Nick gave a very breathy performance with a lot more energy than the original and it may be his most confident and poised performance yet -- well earned confidence, perhaps. Nick continues to grow in this process becoming a stronger vocalist and a more engaging performer. This one drew us in for more than just his dreamy eyes. He could be a heartthrob in the making, but it's hard to tell how the audience may vote.
DeWayne Crocker Jr.
("I Got You (I Feel Good)," James Brown - 23, Pensacola, FL) While he may have struggled to come up to the energy level of the track in his living room with just his family watching, DeWayne absolutely found that richness in his voice that we love so much. He sounds fantastic as a singer, though it wasn't a perfect fit on this song as presented. Nevertheless, for a guy who missed our Top 10 predictions, he's definitely fighting, but will it be enough?
("Human," Christina Perri - 21, Staten Island, NY) This performance didn't break our heart or draw us in as we were expecting. She has a nice quality to her voice and sounds pleasant enough, but that's kind of it and at this stage of the competition with such a savage cut ahead of her, there's no way that's going to be enough.
("Burning," Maggie Rogers - 20, Long Beach, CA) There was an infectious joyfulness in Sophia's performance, even as we worried it was a little sleepy at times. She certainly looked sensational, poised and confident behind that piano. The biggest worry we have for her is that the song lacked dynamic range even as she was performing it as if we were building toward a payoff that never came. Sophia is still looking for her breakout moment and after that, well, she's still looking.
("River," Bishop Briggs - 20, Destrehan, LA) It took Faith a few lines to really settle into the groove of this piece, but once she was there she took us across the river a few times with a powerful vocal and unique sound that really demanded our attention. That last note she held went on forever, but it was the texture of it that really captured our notice. Faith has been inconsistent throughout this competition, but if she can settle into this groove, she might be a surprise.
("With a Little Help from My Friends," Joe Cocker - 28, Gonzales, LA) Jovin has one of the best voices in the competition, and this was a perfect song choice for him, but it didn't seem like he was digging as deep into his reservoir of passion as we've seen in the past. This is a song with strong meaning and intention, and Jovin lacked that in presenting it to the audience. We still love what he brings and the unique flavor of his vocals, but we know he's got more to give than what felt like a dress rehearsal so he doesn't strain his throat.
("Cry," Faith Hill - 28, Nashville, TN) Something about this performance wasn't working for us throughout. Grace had moments, but took too long to settle into the pocket of her voice. It seemed she was a bit too high at the opening of the piece and we worried she'd blown it completely. About halfway through she found her way, and as the only country music contender on a show that does well in the heartland, that may yet be enough. But she is much much better than this.
("Greedy," Ariana Grande - 17, Temecula, CA) Makayla attacked this assignment like she's been filming high-energy music videos in her living room for years. She was so confidently in command of the camera that it was almost jarring when we got another angle to see how mundane her setup was. It was a confident and strong performance, but not one with any particularly memorable qualities to it. At this stage, we feel like there's so much great talent, it's going to take that something extra. Also, we kind of miss the glasses ... they were a signature look that she rocked!
("Everybody Wants to Rule the World," Tears for Fears - 27, Durham, NC) What a cool song choice, but we're not entirely sure with the vibe Franklin put on it throughout. It almost felt like he was doing a little too much when he's so much more impactful as a vocalist when he does less. His texture is so soothing and alluring, he can draw us into his world rather than having to try and project out into ours. He's still amazing and one of our favorites, but we're not sure he showcased himself to his best right here.
("Warrior," Demi Lovato - 18, Atlanta, GA) Easily one of the biggest voices in the competition, Cyniah was absolutely on top of and in control of every moment through this powerful song. While we didn't feel her connection consistently throughout, there were moments the passion and emotion poured out alongside that strength. If she could find a way to really feel and connect with the lyrics she sings, Cyniah may be unstoppable on this show. As it is, she's just not quite winner material yet, but still an incredible talent.
("Believe," Fantasia - 21, Harlem, NY) Sam opted to stay-at-home in LA rather than go back home, so she brought her performance from a different locale than the other contestants. Sam subverted expectations by going inward in the big outward moments of the song and it was an interesting choice. We worry it may have not been the strongest choice, because it robbed the song of its natural build, and it robbed her of a big moment. But Sam is one of the best in the show and already a fan-favorite, so we're hopeful the quality of the rest of her vocal, which was sweet and earnest, will be enough.
("Leave Me Lonely," Ariana Grande f. Macy Gray - 17, Lakeland, FL) Kimmy kicked off the show and really gave a sultry, throaty performance. It had so much nuance and so many layers to that vocal, she really proved why she's a potential force to be reckoned with in this competition. We had her out of our Top 10 in last week's way-too-early rankings, but she really impressed us with this one and seems determined to prove all of us wrong.
("Lovin' Machine," Wynonie Harris - 21, Wichita, KS) Arthur still needs to figure out how to open his eyes and connect when he sings. He was totally in his head and in his own world here, but it was a powerhouse vocal on a lesser-known song. The track was an odd fit for him, but it didn't take long for him to rope us in and take us on this ride with him. Arthur is easily one of the top contenders to win this whole thing. If he can make that connection consistently with not only the music but with his audience, there's no telling how far he'll go. Already, he's got a real shot at the finale with such a natural talent.
("Let It Be Me," Ray LaMontagne - 26, Bakersfield, CA) Dillon showed everyone how its' done, just sounding in a class of his own from the first note. He stripped off the hat, stripped down his performance and just let it be him. That voice was so unmistakably beautiful and we loved the subtlety of everything he did. Bigger isn't always better, but Dillon's big heart always manages to shine through. He's been a favorite and after that, he's still one.
("What a Wonderful World," Louis Armstrong - 23, Murietta, CA) Jonny kept it classy and he kept it subtle, which has been his secret weapon all along. You almost forget about him every time until he hits that stage -- or his couch in this case -- and then he blows your mind all over again. He is one of the strongest contenders to win this competition, and he just keeps making smart choices that not only showcase his uniquely beautiful vocal quality but also his humility and quiet charm.
("If the World Was Ending," JP Saxe f. Julia Michaels - 19, Philadelphia, PA) Wow, we weren't sure if any of these contestants were going to really be able to connect through these unusual circumstances, but Louis absolutely broke our hearts from his bedroom with his strongest performance yet. He sounded like he was crying himself through the performance, but it was just perfect emoting. Seriously, this was a world-class performance and the kind of moment that wins shows like this. Someone is elevating their already high standards.
Only ten contestants will survive the next cut on "American Idol" next Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.