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‘American Idol’ Recap: The Final Fourteen Sing for America’s First Vote

Ada Vox looked like the one to beat, until the second half of Sunday's show.

Nearly one hour into “American Idol,” judge Katy Perry nearly gave up waiting for someone to “start the show.” Then Ada Vox (pictured) stepped up to the microphone. Dramatically standing center stage and channeling her inner Freddie Mercury with power and conviction over a, perhaps, overzealous band, some notes may have sounded strained but the emotion made it work.

“I was waiting for someone to show up,” said Perry.

Added Lionel Richie: “You have no idea how fabulous you are… you came here tonight to stop the show.”

Vox was certainly looking like the one to beat, and her story of surviving brain surgery added another dimension to the impressive performance of Queen’s “The Show Must Go On.” That was, until the second half of Sunday night’s (April 22) show.

Following Vox, several singers in the top 14 brought it until the episode ended in spectacular fashion with Gabby Barrett, who Perry said went through the “star wash” and brought the applause to a fever pitch with Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb.”

On a night where Perry demanded a lock of guitar player Cade Foehner’s hair “for my mom,” Dennis Lorenzo showed a real lane as an artist that alternative radio will embrace if given the right material, and Maddie Poppe captivated with a high falsetto, it will be interesting to see how America votes. Tomorrow night four vocalists will be sent home — but who?

The show kicked off with Caleb Lee Hutchinson, who is an inspiration for having lost 80 lbs. Hutchinson showed real guts bringing a banjo onto the Idol stage for “Midnight Train” by Chris Stapleton. Judge Luke Bryan, the panel’s resident country expert, wasn’t sold on the song choice, and feared that Hutchinson was distracted by the girls screaming in the audience, while Perry attributed some of his performing issues to “nerves.”

Is Michelle Sussette the next Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears or Shakira? While Sussette’s performance of “Friends” by Marshmello and Anne-Marie may have satisfied Bryan’s desire for a “big ole pop star,” she may have to start working on vocal control a bit more to stay in the competition.

I’m just going to come out and say it: Marcio Donaldson, please start picking more contemporary songs. “It’s a Miracle” by Barry Manilow, a kitschy throwback from the ‘70s, didn’t work for Fantasia and it didn’t work for you. It’s too old-fashioned, to borrow a common Simon Cowell criticism. Of course, Richie loved it, saying it’s “old school,” but when Perry called him inspiring, does she mean the performance or his story? Because it’s time to freshen things up.

Mara Justine’s choice of “This is Me” from “The Greatest Showman” is one I would have pegged to be performed by Ada Vox, but the 16-year-old  Jersey girl said she felt like an outcast at school, and tried to channel that angst into the performance. Bryan wasn’t sold on the song choice, but praised her confidence while Richie noted her “inner strength.” Still, Keala Settle she’s not.

Garret Jacobs, a bonafide heartthrob who seems humble (thanks, supportive grandma), elicited his own screams from the ladies in the audience and used that energy as he sang “Raging Fire” by Phillip Phillips. A good choice for his range, Bryan correctly called out the pitch issues, but said his stage presence made up for it. Perry didn’t seem as blown away, and Richie noticed him losing his way in the song. “I want you all to win,” said Perry.

Catie Turner is still ignoring Luke Bryan’s audition advice and reading hate tweets as a result. “Even Beyonce has haters,” she said. Turner is still adorably goofy, and while she hit some off notes during Hozier’s “Take Me to Church,” she still colored the chorus and bridge with a jazzy inflection that showed real interpretative skills. Richie believes she can win, and she should own her personality. “You are on your way to somewhere, my dear.” Perry told her to stop giving the haters a job.

Cade Foehner is already receiving gifts sent by fans — including a bouquet of kale (“fan kale,” get it?). Ryan Seacrest said not even Clay Aiken got such a wondrous gift from the Claymates. Indeed, he is beloved, and even Luke Bryan is mad about it (the country star’s wife is a fan). Perry, meanwhile, said she’s Instagramming with her mother about him. Foehner poured himself into every note of “Black Magic Woman” by Santana. But did he have to growl it?

Dennis Lorenzo, who auditioned with a guitar that had a hole in it, picked “In My Blood” by Shawn Mendes for his first live voting performance. Lorenzo’s performance was current and expressive, with real heart. And while Perry noted that he was “shaky at the start” (what a great job she did judging all night, by the way), she said Lorenzo made her a true believer. Perry then proceeded to become his A&R executive, aptly describing him as an alternative R&B artist.  “You have shown us so many sides of you,” added Bryan.

“I may not look like the obvious front runner, but that’s the best place to be,” said Maddie Poppe. After her effervescent, pitch perfect performance of “Homeward Bound,” Perry thought she was watching Joni Mitchell. Now here is an example of taking an older song and presenting it as if it were being unveiled for the first time. It was so good, Bryan was hoping the audience felt the vibe in the theater. After that huge compliment, Richie explained that “We’re not a business of singers, we’re a business of stylists. You present you on every song.” Poppe has a quiet cool that gets better every week, and hopefully we can hear more of her exceptional “musical taste” next week.

Jurnee nearly gave up music after being cut by Keith Urban in season 15, but her journey didn’t end there, and lucky for us, we get to be the deciding factor this season. Jurnee definitely looks the part of a pop star — gorgeous, impeccably dressed, with rock star hair and a megawatt style. Though she may have overreached with “Bang, Bang” by Ariana Grande, Jessie J and former “Idol” judge Nicki Minaj, she put her showmanship first and even nailed the rap. “You’ve got show business,” said Perry, praising her dance moves.

While Jonny Brenns certainly does not have the moves (he took Perry’s advice and attended a ballet class, joking that six-year-old girls dance better than him), he does have guts. “This is Gospel” by Panic! At the Disco was a bit too big for him, but Perry praised his effort. “Real men can also wear tights,” she said.

Is Michael J. Woodward really a martian, as Richie describes him? He may be, just standing there as he performed Sia’s “Titanium.” Perry declared him a star, and that she was going to go to see Sia at Coachella after the show and tell her just that. How is it that a guy who grew up in church learned pop music through ringtones?

Could Gabby Barrett be the next American Idol? She certainly sounded like one on Sunday night, mastering Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb” to the point where Richie exclaimed that “a star is born.” Barrett certainly had the presence of an Idol, bringing the audience to their feet and performing as if she were already on the Grammy Awards.

Who got your vote tonight? Hit us up in the comments, and tune in Monday night as “Idol” reveals the results of its first nationwide vote, and its final ten, on ABC.

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