American Idol Recap: And the Live Rounds Begin…

This is one of the best Top 14s Idol has ever had!

Written by Tammy Ragusa
American Idol Recap: And the Live Rounds Begin…
AMERICAN IDOL – “212 (Top 14)” – After the “American Idol” Top 20 tackled solo and celebrity duet performances, the judges narrowed down the field, revealing the Top 14 finalists. Now, they are handing over the reigns to America, who will vote to crown the next “American Idol.” In this episode, the Top 14 contestants will perform on the iconic Idol stage for the first time, in hopes of winning over the hearts of viewers and being voted through to the next phase of the competition. The search for America’s next superstar continues on The ABC Television Network, SUNDAY, APRIL 14 (8:00-10:01 p.m. EDT), streaming and on demand. (ABC/Eric McCandless) RILEY THOMPSON

It’s been an exciting season so far on ABC’s hit reality competition series, American Idol, but they’re down to just 14 contestants so it’s time for the audience to get involved and to take the heat off of judges Luke Bryan, Katy Perry, and Lionel Richie.

But before the competition gets started, it was nice to see Ryan Seacrest back as host after Bobby Bones stepped up when Ryan fell ill.

The energy was absolutely electric as Ryan reported that fans and critics are calling this line-up of competitors the best in Idol history.

And off we go…

First up was 18-year-old Louisiana country boy Laine Hardy. Laine’s voice has a distinctive grit to it, but he’s changed up his visual a bit, wearing sharp suits instead of jeans and pearl snaps. It certainly served him well as he performed the Elvis Presley rocker “That’s All Right.”

And the judges said -
KATY: “Oh my gosh, Laine, you know your strengths and you’re playing them well.”
LUKE: “I don’t want to critique you too bad because you’re learning this new thing, but your voice has come so far from last year.
LIONEL: “I want to say…nothing. Just do it some more.”

Evelyn Cormier was up next and the 20-year-old from New Hampshire admitted this wasn’t her first time on a reality show, although her reality debut was significantly different. She had previously appeared on 90 Day Fiancée. Her song choice, Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle,” was a little bit of a departure for the singer, but the judges seemed to dig it.

And the judges said -
LUKE: “Just when we think we have someone pegged, we like to see a whole other element. Great job.”
LIONEL: “I have to tell you, that’s what show business is all about.”
KATY: “What a great song choice. That song was a crowd pleaser.”

It was a big night for 17-year-old Alyssa Raghu who has been cut before the Top 14 last season. And while she admits that people often think that she is older than she is, that’s completely understandable after hearing her confident rendition of Sara Bareilles’ “She Used to Be Mine.”

And the judges said -
LIONEL: “The sauce is on fire. I had to stand up on this because every time you come out you give us a little more of a peek at your growth and I cannot tell you how proud we are of you.”
KATY: “We’re not at a concert, but I am a fan.”
LUKE: “When you first started singing, I felt hyperventilation happening. It was very angelic and perfect. Make sure you have little ways like that to keep the audience engaged throughout the performance.”

He’s as funny as he is musical, but making the Top 14 has Eddie Island taking competition very seriously. He even exposed some difficult parts of his lonely childhood in his opening package. But singing “Bennie and the Jets” by Elton John in what would have to be an Elton-approved jacket, he seemed nothing but joyful.

And the judges said -
KATY: “I thought it was really good. I think we’re all overwhelmed by the energy.”
LUKE: “You’re here because you make us smile, look at the outfit. What the hell is that? Like Katy said, just stay on top of that vocal.”
LIONEL: “Isn’t it great being different?”

Petite 16-year-old Riley Thompson couldn’t have looked any tinier on the Idol stage. Fortunately, the Mabank, Texas girl’s voice is, well, Texas-sized. And with a cheerleading history, she knows how to project. She also chose the perfect song for her first live performance—Sara Evans’ “Suds In the Bucket.”

And the judges said -
LUKE: “How does it feel becoming a star? You chose the exact right song.”
LIONEL: “Are you watching, America? I am telling you, from the first time we laid eyes on you, this has been the attack of the 16-year-old.”
KATY: “For me, the only reason you keep going to the next level is because you keep growing to the next level.”

Before his performance, 27-year-old Phoenix resident Wade Cota revealed that he was the frontman of a metal band early in his career, and that could be how he developed his unique vocal style. Whatever the cause, it certainly worked well with Ray LaMontagne’s “Trouble.”

And the judges said -
LIONEL: “I am giving you the name Wade the Hammer. What you just did tonight was you dropped the hammer, my brother. That was powerful.”
KATY: “This is such a great example of the right song choice. It was amazing, it was emotional, it was strong.”
LUKE: “Wade, when you sing with your body, it was a spiritual moment. When you sing with your body, it fires us up as judges.”

Low key opera-turned-pop singer, Dimitrius Graham, remained low-key, despite the stress of the first live rounds and audience voting. The 27-year-old from Baltimore seemed unfazed singing a dynamic rendition of “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran.

And the judges said -
KATY: “Wow, you’ve really developed into an artist. I can see the artist that you want to be, that you are. Don’t forget to make the hair on my arms stand up, don’t forget that emotion.”
LUKE: “Because you’ve grown up in an opera background, remember to work that microphone, too.”
LIONEL: “Dimitrius, there is a quality that we can’t teach you that you have, and that’s the ability to be explosive. You take it from its quiet form and then kaboom.”

Compared to Kelly Clarkson since her audition, Madison VanDenberg chose another vocal diva to cover for her first live performance. The 17-year-old from Cohoes, New York picked Alicia Keys “Fallin’” and from the first line, Luke and Katy were comparing goosebumps.

And the judges said -
LUKE: “You just really made a statement, and listen, become a diva now.”
LIONEL: “When you get to the point where the crowd goes crazy, that’s a testament to what you’re doing.”
KATY: “We love Kelly Clarkson, but you just carved out your own niche. That performance was Madison through-and-through.”

It was almost exhausting, the talent was so relentless, and 26-year-old Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon made sure that it didn’t let up. But before he even delivered his poignant version of Elton John’s “We All Fall In Love Sometimes,” he shared the news that he and his family in Maryland were reconnecting for the first time since he came out. And before he sang his last note, the judges were on their feet and in tears.

And the judges said -
LIONEL: “You just took an Elton John song, you went past Freddy Mercury, and you Jeremiah’d the whole thing. There are notes that Elton can’t do, then there are notes that Freddy couldn’t do and you went to Z-flat somewhere.”
KATY: “I’m a mess. I’m just so proud. I’m just so glad because you’re such a gift. You’re a light to the world. Your story is everything and your talent supersedes all. I’m just so proud of you.”
LUKE: “The whole time I’m watching that, I’m like, I’m not worthy. I just see Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon on a big billboard somewhere.”

After a handful of pretty heavy ballads, 24-year-old Uché knew just what Katy and the audience needed—Bruno Mars’ “Finesse.” Before performing, though, he said he knew he wasn’t the best performer in the competition, but that he left everything on the stage. Whether he is or isn’t the best is up to America to decide, but the Sugar Land, Texas native definitely proved he belonged in the competition. In fact, he earned a standing ovation that seemed endless.

And the judges said -
KATY: “Whatever happens in this competition, just keep swinging. You’re going to hit your lucky star. You’ve come so far, it’s miraculous.”
LUKE: “That was like the opening of the best award show I’ve ever seen.”
LIONEL: “Young man, let me tell you something, you are wonderful. What you’ve managed to do every time is you’re the show stopper.”

Speaking of show stoppers, Alejandro Aranda has had his share of magical moments since auditions, too, only with a completely different sound and performing style. However, during the live rounds, the 25-year-old Californian showcased another level of his talent, putting down the guitar, and mixing his own electronic music bed for his performance of “One Dance” by Drake.

And the judges said -
LUKE: “From the start of this competition, in my eyes, you can do no wrong. We sit up here and preach, show us another element. You just became a Las Vegas, selling out, whichever casino you want, deejay.”
LIONEL “Versatility is the one thing you have to have in order to do a one-hour, two-hour show. You are so versatile. You can go left, right, center.”
KATY: “You were like a shapeshifter. I love it so much. You’re a real true artist and don’t forget that sometimes as a real true artist there’s a push and a pull, and we want to stay true to our art, but we also want to grow. So, don’t forget to keep nurturing and watering and growing.”

Back behind the piano, 27-year-old Ashley Hess continues to dazzle the audience with her emotive performances and crystal clear vocal. Her rendition of Coldplay’s “Fix You” was much less acoustic than previous performances, but it did show another dimension to the talented beauty.

And the judges said -
LIONEL: “Understand something. Everybody is ruling tonight. Your performance was very, very strong.”
KATY: “To me, you look like Diana Krall and you sing like Carole King.”
LUKE: “We’re getting so spoiled because we’re getting these performances and what I loved about that performance is that is what you embody.”

It was a bit surprising, but Texas country girl Laci Kaye Booth put down her guitar and took a departure from country music, opting for a cover of Blink 182’s “I Miss You.” Even more surprising is that in her introduction package, she called herself out for her spray tan obsession. Ethereal and breathy, with a string quartet accompaniment, Laci demonstrated that she possesses as much versatility as many of her fellow competitors in her performance.

And the judges said -
KATY: “You look gorgeous. You sing timelessly. You are the definition, in my own opinion of ‘Idol.’ And I’m your number-one fan. I love you.”
LUKE: “One of the coolest things about this ride is when you can call yourself out for your spray tan, that’s just fun. We saw the spray tan that day, but you could have been purple, girl, and nothing was going to stop you from getting to this point.”
LIONEL: “It’s almost like we’re the parents and we’re watching the kids jump out of the nest. This is a big, special moment for you. To watch you grow and develop, we could not be more proud of the fact that you blossomed.”

He may be one of the most unexpected success stories of season 17, but Alabama’s Walker Burroughs continues to slay every performance and color outside the lines. In a remarkably emotional moment, he confessed how much he misses his family and friends, however, when he stepped up to the microphone to perform “Climb Every Mountain” from The Sound of Music, he was confident and flawless…and the judges were on their feet.

And the judges said -
LUKE: “We heard notes that we haven’t heard you hit yet. Then you brought the whole house down. What a tough, tough song here in crunch time. Way to roll the dice on it, buddy.”
LIONEL: “You have grown so much. The confidence you have tonight is going to take you to the next level of your life, of your career. This is the best class we’ve ever had in life. I want you to be very proud of where you are right now.”
KATY: “You literally climbed every step of that mountain of a song. And then you soared. There are notes that we never heard from you, and I just think it’s been amazing to see you step into your power through this process and realize this is your purpose.”

Viewers will learn the results of the overnight voting during the April 15 show. The Top 14 will then be cut down to the Top 10 and the live rounds continue.