It's down to Casey Bishop, Chayce Beckham, Grace Kinstler and Willie Spence -- but only three of them survive the night!
It was the semi-finals of “American Idol” with one very notable absence as the Top 5 was suddenly the Top 4 with barely a mention of Caleb Kennedy’s departure by Ryan Seacrest.
He’d been booted from the show earlier this past week after a video resurfaced of him sitting next to a guy in what certainly looked like a Klan hood. Caleb said it wasn't meant to be taken that way and apologized, as covered by TMZ, but it was enough to end his “Idol” journey.
The show did not, however, invite back Hunter Metts or Arthur Gunn to take his place (which was probably a good idea considering the growing backlash Arthur’s mere presence -- as last season’s runner-up -- this season was causing).
They did invite back 2019 winner Laine Hardy and 2018 Top 5 finalist Michael J. Woodard to hype their new singles, but not perform them. It’s always an odd choice when “Idol” does this, as fans are always pumped to support past favorites … but it helps if we can hear them!
What we did get was a couple of performances from Ashe & Finneas and Luke Bryan. But perhaps more exciting than that, the sudden Top 4 divided quite nicely into two duets on Finneas songs, with one of them creating an instant classic moment that was easily the top performance of the whole night!
All in all, with their duets added in, each contestant sang four different songs across the night in an attempt to win our votes. They couldn’t be more different as artists, the judges could only gush over and over again, and every single one of them has a strong case for winning this whole show.
But one of them came up just short this week.
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 how they fare with your vote each week.
(“Till Forever Falls Apart”) Getting better and better as it went along, there was a stunning vocal chemistry between Ashe and Finneas, filled with heart and conviction. The song itself has a beautiful build, with a crescendo that takes it to the next level at just around the halfway point. The message of cherishing love, even if it turns out to be fleeting, is such a poignant one in a world (especially for younger people) where it doesn’t always feel like tomorrow or next year are guaranteed.
(“Waves”) Authentically effortless, Luke commands the stage like someone who’s been doing this for a long time, as he has. It’s always great to see the judges take to the stage. It not only proves their qualifications to do what they do, but also is a great opportunity for the contestants to see them show how it’s done.
(“Colder Weather,” Zac Brown Band - 24, Apple Valley, CA) This song has a lot of emotional punch, and a lot of emotional resonance, but Chayce took it on with such a flat presentation we weren’t really feeling that connection. We know these guys are his idol and this is a song that means a lot to him. His voice, though, has such a signature quality to it that we found ourselves enjoying listening to his tone, even if the song itself wasn’t really doing it for us.
(“A Moment Like This,” Kelly Clarkson - 20, Chicago, IL) A bold move, tackling the first-ever winner’s single from “Idol” history, but if anyone has a voice big enough to do it, it’s Grace. In fact, Grace made it look effortless, taking to even more glorious heights than a young Kelly did. The song is so well known, she gets huge props for making it her own as much as she did, showing every facet of her incredible instrument in the process. Interestingly, though, this wasn’t her strongest performance, but she’s still just undeniable.
(“wish you were gay,” Billie Eilish - 16, Estero, FL) Billie Eilish is the sound of modern music, such a huge influence on younger singers, but we love that Casey was able to tackle a Billie song without trying to do that breathy vocal that Billie really pushed to the forefront. Instead, she stayed true to her own artistry, showing us the softer side of her voice which (as Finneas said) has an incredibly rich texture to it. She’s just so interesting to listen to when she sings.
(“Glory,” John Legend - 21, Douglas, GA) The most ambitious song Willie has taken on, this was going to be the testament to see if Willie could rise up as one of the biggest voices on the planet. But come on, did we really expect him not to be able to nail this? We loved Finneas’ guidance for him to come in real gentle on the song before building to the powerhouse vocal we’ve come to know and expect from him. While we didn’t get quite the same emotional connection as from John Legend (or even this season’s “Voice” contestant Victor Solomon), it was still beautiful. Perhaps it was perfected too much, so didn’t have that rawness that takes it to the next level.
(“Love Me, Leave Me,” Casey Bishop - 16, Estero, FL) Casey is in a very exciting lane musically that we really don't have in popular music right now. She reminds us of a slightly heavier P!nk, or even Hayley Williams. What’s great about her, though, is that she sounds absolutely current, but with a rock edge that’s becoming more and more rare in music, which could help her stand out.
(“Live Wire,” Mötley Crüe) She then took it straight to old-school rock, showing just how much the genre means to her. Her voice doesn’t have quite the grit as you might expect on a track like this one, but she’s got the power and believability you need to make us feel we’re at her rock concert. Is America ready for someone who rocks this much from a show like this? Usually that answer is no. Could Casey break that trend?
(“Love Someone,” Grace Kinstler - 20, Chicago, IL) This was a commanding performance, but one that felt emotionally disconnected. Grace is sometimes too technically perfect in her performances, with each moment calculated to the nth degree, she leaves no real room for emotional honesty. Everything is a clinic in perfection when sometimes we just want her to rip loose and show us that she’s feeling it and it’s okay for us to feel it, too. Maybe it’s just this format, where she’s in competition mode, that’s stifling that side of her talent.
(“Father,” Demi Lovato) This was a perfect chance to really lean into the emotion of the song and leave us in tears, but Grace wasn’t able to do that. Her voice is absolutely stunning and incredible, so what we’re saying is the next thing she needs to do in order to take herself to the next level. She needs to allow herself to be vulnerable so we can go on an emotional journey with her.
(“23,” Chayce Beckham - 24, Apple Valley, CA) We wish some of the verses would have slowed down so we had time to take in the lyrics line by line, absorbing the meaning behind them, because it’s a very well-written song in that regard. It’s also the kind of song that suits Chayce’s vocal style and personality as a singer perfectly. This was the first moment this season that while watching it we started wondering if he could actually pull an upset and win the whole thing.
(“You Should Probably Leave,” Chris Stapleton) As if to punctuate just what kind of an artist he could be, Chayce followed that up with a reprise of one of his all-time strongest performances. The Stapleton lane would be a good fit for Chayce, as he has that same emotional vulnerability in his vocals with a hint of grit and determination.
(“Never Be Alone,” Willie Spence - 21, Douglas, GA) This was a big ol’ anthem and Willie just poured everything he had into it. The song didn't’ have quite enough variance in the bit of it he performed here for us to really get a sense of how it would feel in our ears on the radio -- the chorus got a bit repetitive at the end -- but he definitely put his everything into it and we believed his heart, which is what really matters in the end.
(“I Was Here,” Beyoncé) He did it again on this modern classic, giving us that emotional connection to the statement that his life has meaning, no matter what he might make of it. It was an anthem of self-love and acceptance, and he not only knew how to belt it, he knew how to really pull us into the tenderness of it as well. Willie is so ready, he’s next-level ready.
(“What They’ll Say About Us,” FINNEAS) A meaningful song for Finneas, this one was tailor-made for the huge voices of Grace and Willie. The “Idol” gods must have smiled on this Final Four because they paired off perfectly stylistically for this round. Grace and Willie have been the strongest voices in this competition since the very beginning, and they delivered everything we expected from them in this powerfully stunning performance.
Chayce Beckham & Casey Bishop
(“Break My Heart Again,” FINNEAS) Grace and Willie may be the long-time front-runners of this competition, but Chayce and Casey just delivered not only the best performance of the night, but one of the best single performances of the season. Their voices were absolutely beautiful individually and together, with so much conviction and believability. We could hear the ache, the longing and we think this song just broke our hearts again.
We were feeling pretty confident that Casey’s rock edge might have just doomed her “Idol” dreams -- with only a few exceptions, rockers have a hard time sealing the deal -- but then she closed the show with an incredible duet performance with Chayce, throwing the doors wide open.
Suddenly, with Caleb out of the competition and only one person going home, the decision seemed tighter than ever. Based on the performances tonight, and their consistency, it felt to us like both Chayce and Willie had done everything they needed to move into the finale.
That left Grace and Casey. On paper, and through much of the season, we’d have just tossed it to Grace without a second thought, but there was a strange disconnect that happened between her and us tonight that left us wanting. And if we’re honest, she’s often like that, with an unexpected coldness between her and the audience.
And then there’s Casey, who’s been growing leaps and bounds since she started on the show, and has even begun showing us all these different styles and sides to her personality as a vocalist that’s really refreshing and exciting and current. So at this point, we were thinking Casey might move forward, and it would time for Grace to say goodbye.
As we predicted, Chayce and Willie were the first two sent to safety, leaving the two women to sweat it out together and wonder which of them was going to advance. Did we get it right? Did you?
In the end, it was the end of the journey for Casey Bishop, but Ryan was right to say this might be the strongest Top 4 we’ve ever seen, so she should leave with her head held high. And she should find a band immediately, or at least a record deal.
While Grace made it into the finale, we still don’t see her as the winner. For us, it comes down to the guys and we’d probably give 10:1 odds that Willie is going to win this whole thing, with Chayce a potential dark horse, but likely just a very satisfied runner-up.
So Grace will probably win the whole thing just so we can be wrong one last time. Well, as we said, they’re all so talented, we won’t be made no matter who wins. Well, maybe a little.
We’ll see what happens when ”American Idol” wraps it season next Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.