It’s been incredible to see the immense amount talent across the United States auditioning for season 17 of American Idol. But, as Frank Sinatra said, “Now, the end is near,” for some of the Idol contestants anyway.
Judges Luke Bryan, Katy Perry, and Lionel Richie had the unenviable task of narrowing down this year’s crop of singers. And it was brutal and exhausting for judges and contestants alike. In fact, at one point in the evening, Luke said, “This is more stressful than last year,” and Lionel replied, “You know why. We’ve got more talent.”
They definitely do have more talent, which meant that Idol couldn’t show every performance, from the initial eliminations and the extraordinarily grueling group round, however, there were some high…and low points from the evening.
The trio of veterans did their best to make the nervous contestants feel at ease as soon as they walked in. Lionel turned to the crowd and told them, “I have to tell you how proud we are of you guys because what you’re going through is seriously some stress.”
He had no idea.
It seems that when the judges start throwing things, that’s a pretty good sign. At least it was for 23-year-old Laci Kaye Booth whose raw, gutsy performance of Aretha Franklin’s “Natural Woman” had Katy throw her judge’s chair off of the platform. “I can’t stop dreaming about that girl,” the “Fireworks” singer said after Laci left the stage. Of course, she was a yes.
Fan favorite, Alejandro Aranda of Pomona, California admitted in auditions that he didn’t have a great deal of confidence and he said it again during Hollywood rounds, however, he also said, “When I’m on stage, I feel most honest. That’s just my music telling me to keep going. While Katy threw a chair after the first performance, all three judges stripped off their jackets and threw them at Alejandro following his ethereal rendition of Justin Bieber’s “Sorry.”
During Madison Vandenberg’s audition, the judges compared her to Kelly Clarkson, and her performance in Hollywood only cemented that. The 17-year-old from Cohoes, New York sang Kelly’s “Already Gone” and earned herself a standing ovation from her fellow contestants.
In addition to those three fantastic performances, the following contestants were among those who made it through to the group challenge:
Margie Mays (25) – Wilmington, Delaware
Tyler Mitchell (26) – Florien, Louisiana
Logan Johnson (20) – Boise, Idaho
Eddie Island (25) – Nashville, Tennessee
Shawn Robinson (22) – Atlanta, Georgia
Colby Swift (19) – Midfield, Texas
Laine Hardy (18) – Livingston, Louisiana (Laine was a contestant in 2018)
Jade Flores (22) – Waxahachie, Texas
Myra Tran (19) – Federal Way, Washington
Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon (26) – Catonsville, Maryland
Walker Burroughs (20) – Birmingham, Alabama
Nate Walker (18) – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Nick Townsend (26) – Tekamah, Nebraska
Wade Cota (27) – Phoenix, Arizona
Dimitrius Graham (27) – Baltimore, Maryland
Juan Pablo (26) – North Hollywood, California
Shayy (18) – Midlothian, Virginia
William Oliver, Jr. (23) – Jacksonville, Florida
Moriah Formica (18) – Latham, New York
Zebulon Spencer (27) – Dudley Shoals, North Carolina
Chloe Channell (16 – Pace, Florida
Ethan Payne (15) – Macon, Georgia
Katie Bell (19) – Atlanta, Georgia
Grayson Little (27) – Charleston, South Carolina
Kason Lester (29) – Lebanon, Tennessee
Assata Renay (26) – New Orleans
Following the individual performances, Luke prepared the contestants for the dynamics of the group battles, but he also gave them some perspective. “You’re going to be forced outside of many comfort zones,” he said. “Make the most of it. Thousands of people have tried out and you guys are the top 98.”
While we didn’t see all of the group performances, Idol did show some great teams efforts. But with each one, there were also some tense moments and heartbreaking good-byes.
With just the evening to choose their song, decide their parts, figure out harmonies, and coordinate any possible choreography, the groups were struggling with exhaustion, illness, power struggles, and some singers not knowing the lyrics.
The struggle was very real for the group named Diversity, which consisted of Jade Flores, Myra Tran, Moriah Formica, and Juan Pablo. The quartet got just 30 minutes of sleep before they hit the stage again, and during rehearsals, there was a bit of dissension as Juan attempted to dominate the decision-making process. Sadly, after singing Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger,” Jade was sent home.
Although the Diamond Dixies had a very country-leaning name, they actually covered “Grenade” by Bruno Mars. Lanky cowboy Colby Swift seemed unfamiliar with the song and fumbled the lyrics, which may be why he was sent home, but he didn’t go back to Texas empty-handed. During his first Hollywood performance, Luke noticed that Colby’s boots had holes in them, so the country star took his own kicks off and gave them to the young man.
If you saw the open auditions, you may remember a young blind woman named Shayy. Unable to see the lyric sheet, her Unexpected Vibe teammates—Dimitrius Graham, Assata Renay, and William Oliver, Jr.—patiently attempted to read the lyrics to her. Eventually, her mother also helped and when the quartet hit the stage with the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way,” they showed their solidarity wearing modified goggles that gave them Shayy’s visual perspective of the stage, judges, and audience. The tender moment brought Lionel to tears, embracing the team, sadly it wasn’t enough to keep William in the competition.
Luke also had a heartbreaking moment when he had to tell young Ethan Payne that his Idol experience had ended. Ethan and Luke had met before when the young man asked to meet the superstar as part of the Make-A-Wish program. “This sucks every time, y’all,” Luke said.
Others sent home in the course of the group battles are Zeb Spencer, Chloe Channell, and Grayson Little. However, one young man, Nate Walker, may be sent home before he even has a chance to sing. The talented artist was taken away in an ambulance after he fell ill in Hollywood.
Tune in to American Idol on March 25 to see if Nate returns, how his group does, and more from Hollywood.