With the field of contestants trimmed down to 20, viewers of ABC’s American Idol were finally able to really dig in and invest in each of the talented young singers and what they are capable of as future superstars.
Back at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles host Ryan Seacrest helped move the Top 20 solos along while judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan, and Lionel Richie focused on what the contest would look like moving forward.
Before the night’s competition began, Luke told Ryan, “I think song choice from this point on might be the most important thing in the competition. Everyone in the Top 20 is a great singer.”
Madison VanDenberg from Cohoes, New York proved that right off the bat. Singing Jessie J’s “Domino,” the 17-year-old showed an incredible confidence along with the range and vocal gymnastics she has already showcased. “I think your voice is so incredible, you really remind me of Kelly Clarkson,” Katy told her, before offering her a bit of advice. “One thing I just want to say, you’ve got those big, long notes. I would love to hear a little more of those.”
Atlanta, Georgia’s Shawn Robinson also showed a more confident side of himself while singing Nick Jonas’ “Jealous.” Following his performance, Lionel told the 22-year-old, “What you’re doing now right in front of our eyes is you’re growing. And I think you’re surprising yourself to the point of what you can even do. And all I want you to do is keep surprising us.”
Laine Hardy wasn’t even planning to be a part of this season. He showed up during the auditions to play guitar for a friend and the judges lured him into the competition. After blowing everyone away in Hawaii with his cover of the Beatles “Come Together,” the Livingston, Louisiana 18-year-old brought it again with a cover of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home to Me.” “I’m really so happy where your voice has come from last year, but what I’m even more excited about is that everything you’re doing currently looks like you’re trying to win this whole competition,” Luke told him.
It’s hard to believe 24-year-old Uché could have more swagger than he had in Hawaii when he performed in a black fur coat, but everything is bigger in his home state of Texas, including Uché’s personality and talent. Singing “Figures” by Jessie Reyez, Uché left the props out of this performance and still sent Katie to the floor. “So, look. You, like got all the tricks in the bag. Keep finessing it,” she told him. “You’re a lot. There’s no subtlety to Uché. Which is fine. People come to see rock stars because they’re a lot. They want big, they want to be moved, but you have to make sure to take them on that journey.”
If song choice really is that important, Nashville’s Eddie Island nailed his song choice. Performing the Lumineers’ classic “Ho Hey,” he nearly brought all three judges to tears. “You can’t teach personality and authenticity, and originality in your personality,” Luke told him. “I say that because you’ll see somebody that is an unbelievable singer and people will say, ‘he was just kinda boring.’ You perfectly nailed what we wanted.”
In a short time, 19-year-old Evelyn Cormier has built a following because of her unique and breathy vocal, and her rendition of John Denver’s “Leaving On a Jet Plane” only further reinforced that. “You’re going to hear me say this over and over again, but it’s so important. Anyone can be a singer. Careers are built on being a stylist. It’s about your style. Hold onto that,” Lionel told her.
Alyssa Raghu, 16, hit the Idol stage looking like a music business veteran. However, her song choice of Paramore’s “Ain’t It Fun” wasn’t a favorite among the judges. “The first half of the song, you were absolutely thinking beyond thinking,” Lionel told her. “The second half of the song, you relaxed into it and took us on the journey. If I can give you any advice at all, if you have to think about it, it’s wrong. Give us your natural self.”
Lauren Daigle’s “You Say,” was a perfect fit for 25-year-old Ryan Hammond whose voice nearly rattled the rafters in the theater. “Lionel said it best, man, you can elevate a room with just the power of your voice,” Luke told him. “Just walk out here and know it.” Katy added, “We’re not asking for choreography or a kick-ball-change down the stage. The way that Celine Dion does it…if you find whatever that is for you, people are going to be like, whoa, I felt that.”
During Hawaii’s Showcase Round, Raquel Trinidad said she wanted to bring a little hippie to American Idol and her cover of The Cardigans “Lovefool” had a twirly feel but also gave the 21-year-old a perfect platform for her voice and showmanship. Following her performance, Lionel advised her, “What I’m loving about you and don’t abandon this, don’t try to be anything you’re not. We know who you are. Your crowd is going to love you for you, regardless of the show. In other words, what I’m saying to you is the worst thing in the world to do is try to be somebody else and not true to yourself. In this case, what I’m loving is that your personality, that quirky thing you’ve got, keep it forever because it’s your signature.”
Logan Johnson certainly had the crowd on his side with an incredibly effortless performance of City and Colour’s “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore.” Luke told the 20-year-old, “I think it started a little sleepy for me, but the fact that you’re able to get out here and play guitar and sing and really be comfortable, it seemed like you were a seasoned veteran up there.” “Luke, I know what the problem was,” Lionel chimed in. “He was trying to be sexy up there.” Logan chuckled, and Lionel continued, “What Luke says is sleepy, that was Logan’s sexy. So now, Logan, what we’ve got to do is bump you up a couple of notches on sexy.”
His talent is almost unexpected, and Dimitrius Graham of Baltimore continues to roll out surprises every week. Following his performance of Adele’s “Hello,” Lionel told the talented 27-year-old, “Where you started this song, I had no idea where we were going. Every time you open your mouth, we find somebody else inside. I heard some notes tonight I had never come out of your mouth before. That is the way you’re supposed to do this show. Take it from there and go to the next level.” Katy did advise him, “You’ve got it all, you’ve got everything, just know when to use it.”
She may be just 15, but Riley Thompson’s Texas-sized swagger was a perfect match for Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.” “Don’t be scared to miss a note,” Luke told her. “Just get it grittier and get more angst, just be like ‘argh!’ Just make it happen. Just push yourself vocally every chance you can.” Lionel agreed, “It’s really something you have to experience, and I know it’s just going to take time, but you are growing right in front of us and we applaud you for just having enough guts to get up here.”
One of the gutsiest moves of the night came from 20-year-old Walker Burroughs who started his performance of the Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love” a cappella. But when the band joined in, it was pitch perfect. “Walker! Man, you just blew me away,” Luke told him. “To start with a cold opening like that, to be on key like that, you just looked like a seasoned pro to me.” Katy beamed at the young singer and told him, “You were like the guy next door. It was so cool to see you blossom like that.”
Petite New York subway singer, Bumbly, went big for her solo piece—Mariah Carey’s “Vision of Love,” and Katy didn’t think it was a good fit. “Your thing is personality, it’s texture, it’s fun, and I felt like I lost a little of that in that song choice. That being said, I just love you, Bumbly.” Luke explained, “I think we’re picking you apart because we know that there’s this incredible voice in there and we just want you to walk out here and be free with it. But your voice is there and your personality is there.”
Ashley Hess wisely went with what worked for her in the past and got her through auditions. The 27-year-old sat down at the piano for her version of John Mayer’s “Dreaming With a Broken Heart.” Katy told her, “I thought I was at your show. I got lost in that performance. It was really amazing and very believable. Now, obviously, you made the decision to perform on the piano because we love when you do that as well. We do miss that connection with us. That one was just for TV and sometimes that’s more important, we understand that. But just don’t forget that we’re here, too.”
It would appear that Alejandro Aranda, 24, has already established a solid fanbase of young women who love his dreamy voice and “aw shucks” persona. Singing “I Fall Apart” by Post Malone earned the singer a chorus of screams and squeals. “I am not worthy to critique you,” Luke told him. “I don’t know if this show in the history of the whole show has ever had somebody like you in my opinion.” Lionel added, “I am overwhelmed with where you could possibly end up.”
Groove-driven 23-year-old Kate Barnette put her groovy stamp on Maroon 5’s “Sunday Morning,” and Katy could hardly wait for the song to finish before she hollered, “That was dope!” She went on to say, “That checked so many boxes. You came and you got involved and connected, and it was all just so natural. Honestly, I didn’t get who you were until a few episodes ago but now, it’s like what?” Luke elaborated and said, “We can just sit back and listen to you and it’s because you look like you’ve been here and been gigging and developed this style that is your own.”
Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon sat down at the piano to kick off his cover of Bob Dylan’s “To Make You Feel My Love.” As the band slowly and gradually joined in, the judges were moved by the sincerity of the performance. After the judges standing ovation, Lionel remained on his feet. “You know how important it is when an artist can not scream, not holler, just tell the story and we’re sucked in from the first note. I am telling you, from me and I’m probably thinking from the rest of us, that was a brilliant performance,” Lionel told him.
It wasn’t the rendition of Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me,” but bright-eyed 23-year-old Laci Kaye Booth’s spin on the rock classic earned her big points with the audience and the judges who called the Texan’s version “badass.” Katy told her, “You just showed us a whole other level of confidence. I mean, you were for sure an A+ in my book, but you were just like un-gradable at this point.”
Wade Cota’s whiskey-soaked vocals had the judges ready to leap from their seats when he sang Kodaline’s “All I Want.” The humble 27-year-old’s eyes glistened as Luke told him, “This will sound cliché, but a star is born.” Lionel piggybacked on Luke’s comments saying, “I am telling you right now, the music business needs to be inspired, and somebody has to come and shake the world up, and that voice you have, I know that is you, my friend. Congratulations.”
Next week, all of the American Idol Top 20 return for all-star duets where contestants will perform with celebrity singers like Chris Isaak, Pat Benetar, Jason Mraz, Elle King, Ben Harper, Julia Michaels, Shaggy and country star Brett Young.