The first cuts made by voters on Monday night’s (April 23) “American Idol” were the deepest — and most shocking — as the Top 14 was pared to 10, with six singers sailing to safety and eight left to perform for the judges’ wildcard pick.
The brand new “American Idol” stage — which looks fabulous and massive in scale — is divided into two areas with six chairs designated for safety and eight in the “danger zone,” explained host Ryan Seacrest. Next week it is going to be even more interesting, as Seacrest revealed the show is making reality history by allowing all 50 states to vote in real time next Sunday for its Disney-themed night with Idina Menzel. Despite the new surroundings, Seacrest looked comfortable in familiar territory as he revealed the fate of each singer.
First through was Maddie Poppe, who impressed with her glistening interpretation of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound” the night before. Poppe celebrated with a bubbly version of “Walk Like an Egyptian.”
The next two singers — Michelle Sussett and Marcio Donaldson — were swiftly escorted from the highway to the danger zone, but neither one’s appearances were a surprise. Sussett took a big risk with an original, bilingual song as she tried to keep her spot, earning judge Luke Bryan’s respect. “We believe you’re a star,” he said. Richie offered some advice, “We don’t know who you are until you show us who you are.”
Donaldson finally performed a song from this century with “Jealous” by Nick Jonas, but the poor boy looked like all the life was sucked out of him and he was going to cry. All three judges sounded as if they were already telling him goodbye — Richie was already talking about all of the “no’s” that performers hear in show business — with only an hour and a half left in the show.
Next through was long-haired rocker Cade Foehner who took a backstage stroll with Seacrest, who revealed the good news before he joined the band. Cade is embracing his role as the sexy guitar god, and the audience ate up his performance of “Bright Light,” by Gary Clark, Jr. Foehner is fun to watch, and is so comfortable breaking into solos.
Louisiana heartthrob Garret Jacobs found himself in the danger zone as well, and ripped a page from the Phillip Phillips playbook, performing “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” by Creedence Clearwater Revival in an attempt to survive another week. He handled it beautifully, even hitting a nice falsetto mid-song. By the end, Perry and Bryan were on their feet. “Way to state your case,” Bryan said, who then joked he was killing his career as he was once again booed for pointing out pitch problems. “This is the best you ever sounded,” said Perry. “You have to bring style now,” advised Richie. “Who are you? That is what we are looking for.”
Gabby Barrett’s trip through the “star wash,” as Perry put it the other night, was successful as far as America was concerned. She sailed right through, and kept the momentum going with an energetic performance of “Little Red Wagon” by Miranda Lambert. She worked the stage as if she were at the CMAs already, prompting a wide-eyed Perry to exclaim, “What did you have for dinner?”
What is wrong with America that Dennis Lorenzo, one of the most interesting contestants from this season, didn’t go straight to the safe zone? To his credit, Lorenzo showed chutzpah after he learned he didn’t earn enough votes, saying “it’s time to change their minds.” He made a good case for himself with Maxwell’s version of the Kate Bush ballad “This Woman’s Work” impressing the judges. “America does not know what they are doing,” said Richie. Bryan vowed that he would “fight” for him.
Jonny Brenns needed more than extra ballet lessons to stay in the competition, as he learned that he, too, landed in the danger zone. To stay alive, he wisely chose the safe route with “Demons” by Imagine Dragons. The song worked for his range, and allowed him to stand still. Bryan’s critique was on the money, saying that his previous song choices were too far out of his range. Perry praised his Hollywood makeover (“we all come from somewhere”) and advised him to learn some stage moves from Barrett.
Next to safety was deep voiced Caleb Lee Hutchinson, who did his victory lap singing “Gettin’ You Home” by Chris Young. Anyone else feeling a duet with American Idol Season 10 winner Scotty McCreery is in his future?
Mara Justine’s impassioned “This Is Me” plea from the night before wasn’t enough to earn America’s vote, but the 15-year-old gave it one last try with “Love on the Brain” by Rihanna. The girl showed some teeth, pouring her soul into the performance, but struggled a bit in her lower range as she tried to retain a spot. “I’m still in shock that America didn’t vote you through,” said Bryan. “You sang your tail off.” Perry shared a story of how she moved to Los Angeles at 17, and didn’t make it until she was 23. “This business is not just singing, it’s the package,” said Richie. “I still don’t know what’s wrong with America.”
Throughout the competition, Jurnee showed enormous promise as the full pop package — beauty, range, and rapping skills to boot. Inexplicably, America didn’t show her enough love in the votes and the 18-year-old force of nature had to sing for her life with “Never Enough” from The Greatest Showman. “Between yesterday and today, you got me sold,” Bryan said. “Never have I ever seen a more qualified woman for the job, and still not get the job,” Perry added. “What is the disconnect, America?”
America apparently does like martians, and voted through Michael Woodward, who treated the crowd to “Believe in Yourself” from “The Wiz.” Show tunes really do work for him (remember his “Cabaret” performance?), and Woodward worked the crowd into hysterics and a standing ovation. “He is fun to watch,” Seacrest said.
Also fun to watch — Pennsylvania’s resident goofball Catie Turner. Earlier in the show, as Seacrest asked about the backstage vibe, she deflected to Woodward saying “he’s more articulate.” America must be getting a kick out of Turner, though, and sent her to safety. Turner does have a knack for turning pop songs into Weird Al-meets-folk territory, and her version of “Havana” by Camila Cabella was simply inspiring. Plus, the kid is quotable, telling America they were going to regret voting her through rather than Ada Vox.
How could America not vote for Ada Vox one week before Idina Menzel’s glorious Disney mentorship commences? Vox came out swinging with a “hell no, I won’t go” performance of “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” from “Dreamgirls.” In true diva fashion, Vox belted each note, earning chants of “Ada” in the theater. “I think we do know talent when we see it,” said Perry, removing her earrings in defiance. Without deliberation, all three judges immediately sent Vox straight to the top 10. Good call. Now we await her amazing Disney princess outfit and hopefully a performance of “Reflections” from “Mulan.”
That left three spots, with seven singers left. Rounding out the final three seats were: Jurnee, Sussett, and Lorenzo.
Donaldson, Justine, Jacobs and Brenns tearfully departed, but not before getting advice from the judges. Despite the disappointments, Perry advised the contestants to use the platform of “10 million viewers” and carry on to the next phase.
“This is your launch pad, you have made it already,” said Richie.