The second half of this season's Top 24 took the stage twice, singing a solo and an all-star duet with the likes of PJ Morton, Tori Kelly, Josh Groban, Jason Aldean, Jewel and Brandon Boyd.
Monday night saw the other half of this season’s Top 24 pairing off for another batch of all-star duets and solo performances on another packed “American Idol.”
Without known powerhouses Willie Spence and Grace Kinstler in the mix, there was room for others to rise up and make their stamp on the competition, and a few did just that. In fact, one contestant absolutely blew us away and landed in our top spot.
We weren’t alone in that assessment, as Katy Perry spent both of their performances with her jaw hanging wide open. Look, we all knew this contestant was good, or they wouldn’t be here, but now they’re performing at the level of an artist.
It’s always fun to predict who might have a real shot at a successful music career after this show, as it still appears to be so elusive no matter how good they are. This person, though, might just be able to break through in a huge way -- and not in country music (the most singing-competition-show friendly of the genres these days).
The contestants were paired up with vocal powerhouses like Tori Kelly, Josh Groban and Jewel -- which wasn’t at all intimidating -- as well as Jason Aldean, PJ Morton and Brandon Boyd. In almost every instance, though, these pairings elevated our contestants to new heights.
Still, at least one of our early favorites appears to have fallen flat on their face, almost ensuring a quick departure, while a few others seemed to fall short. Check out our rankings of their combined performances (it’s like an average!) as well as our predictions of which four from this group we think won’t survive next Sunday’s cut to a Top 16.
Fair warning, since I'm safe at home, I'm probably going to be a little harsher than my colleagues Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan. But I might be nicer, too. Maybe.
(“I Was Wrong,” Chris Stapleton - 17, Canton, MS) This seemed like a bit of a singer/song mismatch. Hannah has a great timbre and a cool lower voice, but she doesn’t have the grit in her presentation to really own this performance. When she wailed her way up the scale, it was uncomfortably off-key, leaving things on a not-great final note, or notes. This was a bit of a disappointment, because she’s been better than this.
(“She’s Country,” Jason Aldean - with Jason Aldean) Hannah was much more at home on this track. She’s a natural in that dirty country anthem, as this is where her growl featured perfectly. It also felt more like she understood the connection to this song. Maybe she’s too young to get the pain of a typical Chris Stapleton song, but she can celebrate being country with the best of ‘em! With an interesting and unique tone, if she can stay on the right songs, she could be an exciting new country artist.
Mary Jo Young (w/ Jewel)
(“Castle on the Hill,” Ed Sheeran - 19, Cleveland, OH) Mary Jo was a little too earnest and eager to power through this track rather than settling into the melancholy tone of the lyrics and message of the original track. She’s got a great tone that could have been really special on this song, but she came with more attack than necessary. She also had to bend into the right note more than once when she tried to push herself. She’s got a neat tone, but overplayed it here on a song more about storytelling. We needed to believe her.
(“Foolish Games,” Jewel - with Jewel) Once again, Mary Jo just didn’t fully connect with this song, but she delivered a great breakdown about halfway through and harmonized beautifully with Jewel through the chorus. It was kind of unfair because this is such a signature piece for Jewel, who sings it in a singular style no one can touch. This whole performance, though, helped Mary Jo step up her game tremendously, so what a great learning opportunity this was for her. She sounded better than ever.
Beane (w/ Josh Groban)
(“Don’t Start Now,” Dua Lipa - 23, Boston, MA) There were parts of this that were very entertaining, but Bean definitely needed a little more practice on his breath control for this one, as he was definitely running out of it at points in an awkwardly noticeable way. On top of that, he did not have command of the uptempo shift nearly as much as he did the ethereal and enigmatic opening lines, where he definitely had our attention.
(“Angels,” Robbie Williams - with Josh Groban) Oh, there he is. This is the vocal command and power we were looking for from Beane in his solo performance. Suddenly, he found volume and confidence and absolute conviction in the softer parts as well as through belting a few lines. Josh pushed Beane to his absolute best performance of the season. He finally showed up in the way that we all -- including Josh -- knew he could.
(“Holy,” Justin Bieber - 26, Fayetteville, AR) Props to Madison for making a deft key change in the middle of a sustained note. This is an extremely current song with really personal meaning for Justin, but she managed to put her stamp on it in a way that felt believable. It didn’t quite grasp the depth of his performances of it, but she managed to have some heart and show off what she can do with it.
(“Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing,” Stevie Wonder - with Tori Kelly) Look, you don’t sing next to Tori Kelly unless you are going to bring your A-game. We’d say Madison brought her B+-game. It was solid enough, but it did pale in comparison to her stage partner. She didn’t seem as natural in the runs and didn’t quite nail each note as strongly as Tori did. There’s just a command that Tori has on stage and Madison definitely spent her time in Tori’s shadow. She did a great job, she was just paired with someone even stronger.
Hunter Metts (w/ Jewel)
(“Chandelier,” Sia - 22, Franklin, TN) Without sounding anything like Sia’s signature version, Hunter nevertheless had as much pain and believability in his own take on her track. This was a transcendent moment that ended all too soon, reminding us why Hunter seems to hit us as a surprise every time … and he really shouldn’t. He was so connected in this moment to the song that we felt every bit of it.
(“Who Will Save Your Soul,” Jewel - with Jewel) We love that Jewel pushed Hunter to have a big vocal moment on her song, and then made space for him to do just that. Unfortunately, he didn’t really take her up on it, doing little more than she did. Hunter has a very cool tone, but doesn’t seem to want to really push too far out of his comfort zone. He even turned his back on the audience during his big moment, as if he was too uncomfortable to face them in that moment. He’s never going to be a next level artist if he doesn’t push himself. Right now he’s a handsome coffeehouse singer/songwriter type, which he does well. But does he want more?
Liahona Olayan (w/ PJ Morton)
(“Just Friends,” Audrey Mika - 16, Wahiawa, HI) Liahona came with that same energy we saw on Meghan Trainor, but she wasn’t nearly as successful trying to incorporate actual choreography into her routine as it caused her to lose her breath a bit and even miss a few notes. Singing with choreo is hard, so we applaud her for trying to put on a show, but this would have worked just as well with unscripted attitude. She’s definitely very confident in this lane.
(“Say So,” PJ Morton f/ JoJo - with PJ Morton) This is the first time we’ve seen a tender side of Liahona that worked in any capacity. She felt connected to the song and to her singing partner in a much stronger way. She also showed a very impressive vocal range, some lovely tones coming out of her head voice and a lot of confidence without having to give that attitude (which is good to see). There are still places it could have been a little stronger to match what PJ was delivering in raw, controlled power, but it’s nice to see this much growth from Liahona.
(Midnight Rider,” The Allman Brothers Band - 16, Roebuck, SC) Caleb didn’t need to push his voice quite so hard through the verses because he’s got the right signature sound to take us on this journey. Plus, it takes away his ability to impress us by pushing harder when he finally did get to the chorus. A little tonal variance would have been nice and created a nice build throughout.
(“Fly OVer States,” Jason Aldean - with Jason Aldean) There he is. That’s the Caleb that excited us. He is so authentically country when he just settles into that pocket -- as Jason advised -- and rides along with the song, selling the message. Here, he punched it when he needed to and held back when the narrative dedicated and it created a special moment. Caleb has an exciting country voice that the industry could definitely use right now.
Chayce Beckham (w/ Brandon Boyd)
(“Afterglow,” Ed Sheeran - 24, Apple Valley, CA) He’s got a lovely rasp to his voice that adds a layer of authenticity to what he’s singing, but this one definitely took a little too long to get somewhere either emotionally or with range. It was definitely a true singer/songwriter vibe and he sells it in spades, but it fell emotionally much flatter than expected for the right voice and the right song.
(“Drive,” Incubus - with Brandon Boyd) With such different vocal approaches, it was like we were sliding between two different recordings of this song, and both were great. Obviously, the original is a classic, but Chayce’s grittier voice suits the message and that rock vibe equally well. This type of music is actually perfectly suited to Chayce’s voice, and he really took command of it with as much confidence as we’ve ever seen from him.
Colin Jamieson (w/ Tori Kelly)
(“Locked Out of Heaven,” Bruno Mars - 22, Boxford, MA) Colin really came out and started putting on a show from the jump. Surprisingly, he was actually a little more polished vocally before he shifted to his guitar work, as if the transition threw him just a bit. But he has such a cool energy about him, along with a smooth voice that was perfectly suited for this track. He’s another sleeper you kind of forget about until he shows up and reminds you who he is and why he’s great.
(“Hollow,” Tori Kelly - with Tori Kelly) Tori brought out a beautiful tenderness in Colin that juxtaposed perfectly with his solo number to give us a great showcase of the diversity of his talent. This one gave us power and range, but also a believable vulnerability. Perhaps most importantly, he went toe to toe with one of the industry’s most powerhouse vocalists and had absolutely no problems. That was a statement pair of performances!
(“Decode,” Paramore - 16, Estero, FL) What a fearless performance, full of passion and power. Casey is so confidently in this rock zone that she delivered just the right amount of power and grit, channeling Amy Lee and Hayley Williams in equal measure to create a fresh rock vocal sound that is just teeming with possibility. And there is definitely no one doing what she does right now on this show.
(“Wish You Were Here,” Incubus - with Brandon Boyd) Honestly, we’d have liked to hear Casey on a song with a bit more edge, or at least a bit more variety. Hers is such an exciting voice and this arrangement got a little repetitive as it went along, offering no huge moments for her to really wow us. We know she’s got it in her, so we don’t really fault her for our slight disappointment. She was fantastic, but the song let her down a bit. Still, she’s one of the season’s most unpredictable and exciting finds.
Jason Warrior (w/ PJ Morton)
(“Call Out My Name,” The Weeknd - 25, Chicago, IL) This is an absolute professional up there who’s somehow not a professional. That was a masterful solo performance, with all the pathos you could ever hope to see poured through every note. Honestly, Jason attacks this show like he’s a celebrity guest rather than a contender, which has to make him a frontrunner, right?
(“How Deep Is Your Love,” Bee Gees - with PJ Morton) Vocally, this was just beautiful, but the timing wasn’t quite as on point as we expected. Jason was a little ahead at times, while PJ seemed to be trying to catch up to him. Was it a hearing issue, excitement? That said, we love the choices they made in making a familiar song sound totally their own, changing genres without changing the message. Jason is one to watch; he isn’t standing out as much as some of the other singers, but he’s right up there with them in talent and consistency. Katy seemed to be touching on this, challenging him to find a way to stand out (style, attitude?).
Ava August (w/ Josh Groban)
(“drivers license,” Olivia Rodrigo - 15, Laguna Niguel, CA) Other than singing right down the mic at times, creating some pops, Ava sounded absolutely serene on a song that almost felt tailor-made for her. She’s in the right age range with Olivia Rodrigo, and even the right teen emotional beats. Everything here sounded authentic as she’s got that same singer-songwriter vibe, like a young Taylor Swift at times. She sang it as if she wrote it, which is all you can ask. It was beautiful.
(“Both Sides Now,” Joni Mitchell - with Josh Groban) Ava was totally believable in this folk style, with just stunning intonation. She matched Josh note for note with beautiful control, an incredible sweetness in her voice and flawless control of not only her range, but every choice she made from start to finish. We knew she was good, but tonight, she took herself to a whole new level. She’s not only one of the best in this competition, but perhaps one of the most exciting young artists of the year coming from anywhere!
Tonight is actually a little harder to predict because it felt like so many more of the contestants were all pretty even, with minimal variance in the quality of what they delivered. That said, we do feel confident that Hannah Everhart did not deliver on the promise of her potential, and won’t connect with enough viewers to advance.
If she does, then that’ll be a testament to the persistent support this show gets in the heartland, where country music reigns strongest, and would definitely be a thing to consider moving forward.
Beyond Hannah, we also feel that Beane didn’t quite rise consistently to the occasion, though he was solidly impressive in his duet performance. Mary Jo Young and Madison Watkins round out our Bottom Four, but they may still survive.
Liahona Aloyan has been hit-or-miss throughout this competition, and she didn’t quite nail both performances tonight, while Hunter Metts just isn’t living up to his potential. But he is cute. Could we learn something about our demographics if he carries through?
For us, it comes down to these six as people possibly going home with Hannah and Beane feeling like certain eliminations for us. Beyond that, we’ll predict Mary Jo and Liahona as not quite connecting with audiences.
”American Idol” airs Sundays and Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.