The 17th season of ABC’s American Idol has gone by indescribably fast, and with just eight contestants left, we’ll have a new winner in just a handful of weeks. But before that happens, viewers got a real treat as the Top 8 contestants remaining in the competition took on the hits of rock supergroup Queen. In addition, the Top 8 was paired up to perform hit songs from box office greats.
With the young competitors and judges Luke Bryan, Katy Perry, and Lionel Richie entering the theater to the tune of “We Will Rock You,” the energy was high, but there were some definite nerves as the live episode meant that two more singers could go home at the end of the show.
Former Idol runner-up and current Queen frontman, Adam Lambert was on hand to act as coach, and with his first contestant, it may have seemed he had his work cut out for him.
WALKER BURROUGHS – “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”
Walker told Adam, “I’m absolutely mortified of moving around on stage.” But Adam saw things differently. “He’s got to trust his instincts because his instincts are great,” he said. “And if he’s a little bit awkward, that’s who he is. Just be who you are. That’s why he’s here.”
What Walker might call awkward came off as utterly charming. And vocally, he showed off a powerful sucker punch he hadn’t revealed before.
KATY: “Walker, wow! You really used all of your appendages… you did so great and you sounded so good.”
LUKE: “America is going to fall in love with that performance even more because you’re just up there being yourself…I just could not stop smiling watching you perform.”
LIONEL: “The first rule is, if you’re not having fun, they’re not having fun. You did that.”
MADISON VANDENBURG – “The Show Must Go On”
Adam was as dazzled with the talented young vocalist as everyone else. “I think Madison has an incredible instrument,” he said. “It’s so easy for her that the audience doesn’t realize the talent she has.” He coached her to make it look a little harder than it might seem to help convey the emotion, but Madison admitted, it really isn’t that easy. “You know, these songs really are hard and it is hard for me to sing this song, and I don’t want it to look like I’m casually singing it because there’s no emotion behind that,” she said.
LUKE: “Way to change the whole game… You do make it look easy, but you’ve got to sell this stuff to the fans and the people watching at home, and this was your best performance so far, maybe the best vocal performance we’ve heard.”
LIONEL: “Adam was right about one thing: the acting is everything… A lot of people think that you walk out on stage and you sing. That’s just half of the equation. The other half is can you make us feel like you’re feeling it and you did that tonight in spades.”
KATY: “You have come so far in such a short amount of time… I need you to just take it up a couple more notches. I’ve got to see a hair flip, I’ve got to see a stomp because that’s what your voice is doing, but your body is not yet connected.”
Duet One: LACI KAYE BOOTH and LAINE HARDY – “Jackson” from Walk the Line
LIONEL: “I’m looking at Laci, you got sassy. Perfect song, perfect look, perfect attitude…both of you look so darn comfortable, it’s unbelievable. I loved the performance.”
KATY: “Yeah, I would say you guys were connected. I’ve never seen you smile that large, Laine. I’d be wondering if something else… listen, that’s what you want people to feel and I felt it.”
LUKE: “What I love about this part of the show now is the talent is here and we’re up here just comfortable enjoying the show… we don’t even have to pick you guys apart. I’m just enjoying watching you guys grow and become stars, and that’s what happening before our eyes.”
JEREMIAH LLOYD HARMON – “Who Wants to Live Forever”
Jeremiah, whose story of coming out to his parents and leaving his church unfolded on the show, was obviously excited and nervous that his mother and father were coming to watch him perform for the first time. “It’s a huge performance for me,” he said. “It’s a big song, it’s got a lot of emotional energy behind it, and my parents are going to be here…I know that no matter what, I’m going to give it my all. I’m going to sing with my heart and whatever that looks like, it’s going to be beautiful.”
And Jeremiah’s parents led the standing ovation.
KATY: “Jeremiah, you really embodied the spirit of Freddie Mercury with that performance. I think it was like you froze time. It was so beautiful and it was so beautiful seeing you perform in front of your parents for the first time. It’s so wonderful to see your journey, to hear about it, and to see your parents really come out here and support you and accept you and know that it’s a come as you are situation. God bless all three of you.”
LUKE: “You just continue to spoil us. It was such an emotional ride and you have a real knack for that. You take us on a journey.”
LIONEL: “Your voice is something to be reckoned with. I’m very proud of you. Keep up the good work and the best time to do it is in front of your parents.”
ALEJANDRO ARANDA – “Under Pressure”
Even though Alejandro was giving this classic Queen groove his own spin, Adam supported the adjustments, advising the quiet performer to keep something familiar for the listeners. He told him, “The one trick with this song is because you’re changing the arrangement so much, I would stick more to the melody because you’re already asking people to go to a place where they don’t know what you’re doing.”
After their rehearsal, Adam added, “He seems like someone who’s got real vision to his art.”
LUKE: “I just love how you see the painting in a whole different way. You see it your way and you stick to that…Vocally, we’ve heard you be better, but it never matters because you’re doing your own thing and that’s so cool for me. I just love everything you do.”
LIONEL: “You are an artist. On top of that, you’re an amazing stylist. It’s only going to come out your way, no matter what you do… Don’t every lose that because that’s the core of who you are.”
KATY: “Your authenticity is your secret sauce. It can also be your worst enemy. I think that you’re figuring that out in really fast ways right now.”
Duet Two: ALYSSA RAGHU and WADE COTA – “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” from Guardians of the Galaxy
Bobby Bones called it “the most unexpected pairing in American Idol history.”
LIONEL: “I could never in a million years imagine Marvin with that voice. The two of you together, you were having fun, we got that and keep that up because that’s what makes show business show business.”
KATY: “It’s interesting because they put Laci and Laine together and were like, oh yeah, that makes sense. And with Alyssa and Wade, we’re like, OK, let’s roll the dice. You rolled the dice and you got a full on five, you got six, you were really good, whatever.”
LUKE: “Wade, when you start singing, it’s you. And Alyssa, you’re so comfortable up there and it’s so fun. That was one of your most comfortable performances.”
Duet Three: JEREMIAH LLOYD HARMON and MADISON VANDENBURG – “A Million Dreams” from The Greatest Showman
KATY: “I was so wonderful watching you and hearing you hold each other with so much respect and be so courteous to each other because either one of you could have just sang one note and blow each other out of the water. But you were doing such a beautiful dance of respect and that’s so important.”
LUKE: “It’s called properly staying out of the way at the right time and that’s like a professional move and you guys really delivered that like pros and worked around each other’s immense talent.”
LIONEL: “You all have been the voices. And the two of you together, I was trying to imagine what that would be like and it’s unbelievable. The two of you should be very proud of yourselves because you actually managed to stay on top of that song together.”
LAINE HARDY – “Fat Bottomed Girls”
After Laine met Adam and confessed that he was a little shy, Adam warned him, “If you don’t get up there and make this room a party, it’s not going to work. This is your rock star moment. Your voice is fine. You know the words. Have fun!”
Yeah, Laine isn’t shy anymore.
LUKE: “Yes, you are a country boy, but you’ve got to fake rock star any time you’re on stage. You’ve got to take that rock star confidence and own that. And great job getting there with that one.”
LIONEL: “The most important thing that you have to remember is you are the head cheerleader. If you are not pumped up, we can’t get there. And the thing you have to remember most of all is your attitude, your delivery if you don’t feel it, fake it. By the way, you felt it.”
KATY: “My favorite thing that Luke ever said was, ‘Fake it till you make it and then shake and bake it.’ You faked it, you made it and then you shaked and baked it.”
LACI KAYE BOOTH – “Love Of My Life”
“The minute she sang the song, I was enamored with it,” Adam said after hearing Laci rehearse. And when she admitted that she was nervous, he told her, “There’s a point where adrenaline and nerves, you can harness them and make them work for you. Something about that frenetic energy, it can create magic.” Indeed.
LIONEL: “That smokey voice can just take you forever and forever to get over your career, my dear. That is one heckuva little vehicle you have there. And what I love most is that you can be fun with it, you can draw us in and make it personal, but tonight, I’m just looking at all those sparkles and thinking, this could be the star right here on this stage.”
KATY: “You are sparkling like the diamond we always knew you were. And the most shimmering thing is your voice. It’s absolutely gorgeous. You’ve won, whether you win or when, you’ve won.”
LUKE: “Just watching you sell the emotion of a song is one of the most impressive things I’ve seen since I’ve been judging. Your ability to really capture the emotion and make it happen under the lights, when the lights come on, is truly remarkable.”
Duet four: ALEJANDRO ARANDA and WALKER BURROUGHS – “Mrs. Robinson” from The Graduate
KATY: “Your voices are like two peas in a pod… It was wonderful. You didn’t need to blast that, you did a bright tone. You did a great job.”
LUKE: “I think the savviness lies in the song that you guys chose. It kind of speaks on the characters you are. You’re kind of our savants of the group. We watch you guys navigate back and forth on piano and guitar and you’re very creative. That was a great job.”
LIONEL: “Nothing psychedelic about your voices, it was wonderful and that performance shows off your true abilities.”
WADE COTA – “We Are the Champions”
Wade explained that he chose the song because he had performed it in bars and clubs before, but on the Idol stage, it became more of a triumphant anthem for the rising star. And after Adam heard him perform it, there was little he could add to the vocal powerhouse. “If he can tap into the intention of that song, I think he’s got a real moment on his hands because I think he really feels what it’s all about,” he said.
LUKE: “Obviously you missed a little lyric there, we’ve all done it, no biggie. The way you carried through it, perfect. You know what I was really impressed with? We actually heard some vibrato and some real singing out of you, too. It’s just another dimension that we heard. You have this character voice, but to then hear some singing behind that true character was pretty awesome.”
LIONEL: “You’ve already won. You understand me? You’re in the Top 8 of American Idol. There is no place you have to think about. You’ve already won.”
KATY: “They’re right. You really push yourself. You try and show off a different side of yourself every single time. I think that’s really special. Adam Lambert did not win American Idol, but he won his life. So, whatever happens, it’s up to you to make that decision, darlin’.”
ALYSSA RAGHU – “Somebody to Love”
As Alyssa and Adam rehearsed, he admired her playfulness in her performance, but when he called her a diva, she shied away from the term. “It’s not a bad word. Diva is a good thing,” he told her. “Adam says it’s OK to be a diva,” Alyssa said. “It’s about owning who you are and it’s about being confident. There’s nothing wrong with being a confident woman. So, I’m ready to be a diva and own the stage.”
LIONEL: “You’re the epitome of determination…That happens to be one of my favorite songs and for you to be able to walk out on that stage and just wail away at it, but I’m just telling you something—never lose your determination. You’re on fire.”
KATY: “You know how I feel about you, I’ve been championing you for years now and you’re only 17. You’re still going through puberty. I believe in you all the way.”
LUKE: “Great job. We’ve enjoyed hearing your voice so much… In that perfect zone, you’re just amazing, and we love you.”
And with that, the viewers rushed to get their last minute votes in to make sure that their favorites stayed on the show, however, the judges also still have a “save” in their vault to use on one lucky contestant.
With the votes in, the following performers make up the Top 6:
Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon
Laci Kaye Booth
Surprisingly, the judges chose not to save either Walker Burroughs or Alyssa Raghu.
There are just three more episodes of competition left on season 17 of American Idol. It isn’t too late to tune in to what many are calling the most compelling season yet.