Honestly, we were a little hesitant about Coldplay being a featured artist for an entire week, because there’s a sleepiness to a lot of their music that doesn’t really lend itself well to big competition type performance shows like this.
That said, Chris Martin was an incredible mentor for the finalists, offering them advice on arrangements, intonation and even stage presence. He was also clearly a music lover, just enamored with some of the incredible talent on display this season.
Grace Kinstler managed to find a moment for herself in that round by doing something she’s never done before, and that’s wipe off the sheen of perfection and allow herself to be genuinely vulnerable in her performance. It was the step forward she needed to make, but was it enough?
The Mother’s Day round featured three original songs, and two of them Lionel is ready to put on the charts right now. All of their moms were crying, as to be expected, but the biggest question was how many of them touched America’s hearts, too, so they could advance to the Top 5.
The biggest controversy of the season yet wasn’t addressed, but it was America’s first chance to let their voices be heard. After last season’s runner-up was voted back into the competition, social media lost their collective minds, calling it unfair and a travesty and a disgrace for the show.
Now, it wasn’t “Idol” that put him into this season’s Top 10, that was the voters at home, so their issue was more that he was even given the chance. Could his supporters overcome that backlash and keep him in the competition? There’s only one way to find out.
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.
And just for fun, I'm going to rank the performances from worst to first in each round to see who my favorites are, and then see if you agreed with me with your votes.
(“Everglow” - 22, Franklin, TN) We appreciate that Hunter challenged himself, but he and Chris Martin may have taken this one a little too high in their arrangement. We got a couple bum notes as he strained his upper register, and he didn’t slide effortlessly into and out of his head voice. Problematically, it doesn’t have the volume of his full voice, and it was glaringly obvious. In his full voice, though, he had a lovely tenderness. But the overall performance was a little too jumpy in consistency.
(“Magic” - 24, Apple Valley, CA) The fear with Coldplay songs on this show is just how low-key so many of them are, and that’s what happened to Chayce through the whole first half of this number. He sounded nice enough on this, but it was all a little bit sleepy until he hit about the halfway mark and began to push vocally a little grit into the performance. As much as he loves the song, it wasn’t beautifully suited to his voice and didn’t really do enough to show us why he’s special.
(“Violet Hill” - 16, Roebuck, SC) How is it that Caleb lost his momentum when he hit the chorus? Until that point, he had us rocking right there with him. There were vibes of that angry country vocal Garth Brooks can deliver and we were here for it. As it went along, we still got glimpses of that, but there was also an uncertainty that started to emerge, as if he was starting to overthink what was happening and his own performance in real time. Luckily, the quality of his tone won out in the end, with some nice closing moments, but it was clear he was not comfortable with himself there.
(“Paradise” - 16, Estero, FL) Casey could be seen thinking from time to time, but she also offered more abandon into the music than we’ve seen from her before, and it was effective. The song itself didn’t serve her great in the early going, but she found a way to make it her own, creating some great moments through the chorus and in the back half of the song. It’s wonderful seeing her confidence grow week by week.
(“In My Place” - 23, Wichita, KS) Even Arthur’s drastic rearrangement of this track couldn’t escape the sleepiness of a lot of Coldplay tracks that make them ill-suited for this kind of competition. It’s hard to have a memorable moment that will convince people to pick up the phone on a song that doesn’t go a lot of places melodically or in range. Arthur did what he does very well, and we still love that tone that almost won him the show last season, but this wasn’t his most exciting performance by any means. It was just consistent.
(“Fix You” - 20, Chicago, IL) Grace is afraid to be imperfect and vulnerable, but she needs to lose that right now. We know she’s got all the power and control in the world, but this was when we felt ourselves absolutely connected with her heart. This was the moment she found her inner Adele. There are lots of technically gifted singers who don’t make it because they’re too clinically perfect. We’re impressed, but we don’t feel anything, and so we don’t remember them. Grace allowed herself to be vulnerable, flawed and imperfect and it was perfection.
(“Yellow” - 21, Douglas, GA) Willie slowed this already slow song down even more and put so much pain into every syllable, he had us heartbroken after the first word. Honestly, there are ont words to describe how beautiful his natural gift is. He effortlessly soared through the song, finding incredible vocal lifts and even bigger notes than Chris Martin has ever put on it. It was another stunning, flawless performance from the man to beat this season.
(“The RIver,” Hunter Metts - 22, Franklin, TN) Unfortunately, we weren’t as enamored with Hunter’s original song as some of the others. The lyrics weren’t quite as strong, and the melody was a bit too straight down the line. Hunter has a lovely tone to his voice, but it’s more effective when we slide into and out of that higher whimper of his. This song, though, seemed to stay there throughout the entirety of the verses, giving us no real moments to grab onto and connect with. We love his voice and what he’s capable of doing in his lane, but this wasn’t his strongest moment in our book.
(“Ironic,” Alanis Morissette - 16, Estero, FL) We loved Casey’s slow vibrato on this one, as well as the rich texture of her voice even before she got into the grittier -- and probably more fun to perform -- chorus. Casey’s voice was a natural fit on this Alanis classic. Once again, she was in and out of thinking about what she was doing, and the performance suffered ever so slightly every time you could see her get in her head. She actually hit a bad note, and that never happens. Overall, though, she made the argument for ‘90s alternative to make a comeback!
(“Simple Man,” Lynyrd Skynyrd - 23, Wichita, KS) We already know that this song is exactly the kind of artist Arthur wants to be. It’s in his wheelhouse and he brought the magic we fully expected on it. Was it incredibly mind-blowing? Perhaps if we’d never seen him do this exactly type of performance before. As it stands, it was consistent and reminds us why we’re such huge fans of his voice and talent. But was that enough? We’ve now followed that talent for two seasons, so he needs to really find moments to blow us away, and we’re not sure this was it.
(“Mama,” Chayce Beckham - 24, Apple Valley, CA) This is Chayce in his element, with a beautifully sincere tribute to his mother for the holiday. Even better, it sat in the pocket of that wonderful gristle on his vocal cords that creates his signature sound. It was a very mellow singer-songwriter vibe, but we found ourselves almost wishing for a cry moment, a moment where he perhaps really emoted the passion of his message, because the message itself was so wrought with pain and regret.
(“When We Were Young,” Adele - 20, Chicago, IL) We promise we didn’t yet know Grace was going to sing Adele when we said she had her Adele moment on a Coldplay song. But it’s a testament to her growth and understanding of herself as an artist. This one was a bit more polished to perfection than her first performance, but her perfection is still so impressive. It was clear she was totally comfortable hitting her signature huge notes, and we’re always impressed when she does, but we hope she remembers that we love her vulnerable, too.
(“You Are So Beautiful,” Joe Cocker - 21, Douglas, GA) Once again, Willie slowed the track down even more so he could run all over it, injecting just about every note with his signature vocal stylings. There is so much depth to the texture of his voice, it’s as if he’s laying vocals on top of his own, but that’s just a testament to the incredible gift he has. This wasn’t quite as emotionally resonant as we’ve seen him be before, despite how much it clearly meant to him. That said, when he dropped the word “mama” in at the end, that was a touching moment.
(“Mama Said,” Caleb Kennedy - 16, Roebuck, SC) A song about life lessons written by a 16 year old, Caleb really is a gifted songwriter. But on top of that, he’s got a special voice to deliver those songs. The grit he has is rare in country music, and it’s so authentically his that when he puts it on a song that means something to him, it creates a truly magical moment. This was just such a moment. Catapulting him toward the front of the line in this competition. Regardless, it’s hard to imagine Nashville not welcoming him with open arms after this journey, no matter how it plays out.
With only two women left in the Top 7, we had a feeling that was going to spell bad news for the guys, as they’d be more likely to split votes. Plus, both Grace and Casey had strong showings. Certainly, Grace wasn’t going to be going anywhere, by our reckoning.
Of the guys, Hunter certainly had the most uneven night for us, with no real memorable moments. We also thought Chayce was up and down, though his best round came at the end, which is definitely to his benefit.
There’s no way Willie was going anywhere and we felt the same way about Caleb. That meant it was down to Arthur, Chayce and Hunter -- and we were feeling that maybe Hunter had finally reached the end of his journey (we’d predicted him to go home before).
Head to head, we actually thought Chayce had the slightly stronger night over Arthur. But even more than that was the incredible backlash against the show for having Arthur back in at all, when he was a runner-up last season. Certainly someone deeper in the Top 20 rankings wouldn’t have rankled as much.
Without Arthur having a mind-blowing night, and with Hunter being on the bubble for us for a little while now, those were our picks to go home. But did America agree with us? Hunter is adorable, which always helps, and Arthur clearly has his fanbase. After all, he almost won last season and beat out nine other contestants to come back this year.
In the end, though, it looks like America got this one right. Arthur Gunn’s second run was cut far shorter than his first, but hopefully this second exposure and the slow lifting of Covid means he won’t be forgotten altogether, as he really does deserve a shot at stardom.
Hunter Metts just needs to keep writing songs and finding who he is as an artist, and he might be able to find his way yet. The 20 year success of Coldplay proves there’s a market for someone who sings the way he does, but he definitely needs to put more work in.
”American Idol” continues Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.