Monday night’s “American Idol” (April 2) delivered the final judgement, with judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan narrowing down the contestants from 50 to 24. One by one, each singer had to look fate in the eyes, and with that came several shocking eliminations.
First on the stage was 16-year old Layla Spring, who bravely took on the Ike and Tina Turner classic “Proud Mary.” Although Bryan said the judges were nervous about putting a teenager through, Spring’s vibrato improved (a directive Perry instructed her to work on), and she made it to the top 24.
Michael Woodward, who seemed so green during auditions, had clearly blossomed in the weeks that followed. On Sunday night’s show, he impressed with the song choice of “Maybe This Time” from “Cabaret,” and on Monday he picked an equally risky tune, “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette. Although it wasn’t the strongest selection for Woodward, Richie pointed out that the finalist’s continued growth — morphing into an entirely different person, you could say — made his journey all the more interesting. Woodwoard is put through.
With that came the surprise elimination of eye candy Trevor Holmes, who got cut but not before seducing the camera with “Slow Hands” by Niall Horan. Perry had the awkward task of letting him go, but not before asking him if her energy was throwing him off. As Holmes departed into the arms of his omnipresent girlfriend, Perry sniffed, “I love him.”
Gabby Barrett went for Carrie Underwood’s “Church Bells” which could have gone either way. In fact, the judges begged her not to do that song during auditions. Despite Perry’s reservations, Bryan told the Pittsburgh native that she was “next level” and she got through.
In another heartbreaking cut, season 9 holdover Thaddeus Johnson was shown the door despite a rousing rendition of “Hate on Me” by Jill Scott. Perry said that he didn’t have enough “grit.” This may not be the judges’ finest hour, as Johnson’s tearful goodbye seemed to shock the other contestants.
The down note was quickly followed by the electric energy of Michelle Sussette, who never fails to entertain. The next J Lo or Camila Cabello? It is too early to tell, but the voters may love her. Susette, Dominique, Trevor McBane, Maddie Pope, and Ron Bultongez all made it through as well.
Catie Turner came next as the show crescendo’d to its first legitimate commercial break cliffhanger. Which way would the judges go? Did they find her goofy rendition of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” cute or cringe-worthy? Luke Bryan described her as “the unique of the unique,” but was that enough? Turner sat down and proclaimed, “Let’s get down to business” with no sense of pretension. She charmed the judges as well, and got sent through.
In quick succession, Milo Sposato, Les Greene, Brittany Holmes, William Casanova were let go, although the cut of Holmes seems especially harsh since she was the unfortunate recipient of a Perry prank during the group performances and cruelly told that she had to volunteer to leave the competition.
On the other hand, the race to the Top 24 is particularly tough this reboot year. Take Jurnee, for instance. The 18-year old singer is adorable, with charm to spare and the voice to match. She is going to be tough to beat. Joining her in the Top 24 was Shannon O’Hara, who Perry described as a “super spiritual ninja” after she bravely performed Perry’s own ballad, “Unconditionally.” Others selected: Kay Kay, Amelia Harris, and Brandon Diaz.
Why didn’t Noah Davis listen to the judges and stay behind the piano? He started “You and I” by Lady Gaga perfectly, but then made the decision to stand, throwing his voice off key and himself out of the top 24. Perry suggested he return next year. Also saying goodbye were Harper Grace, Carly Moffa, Samothia (and his fabulous hair), Lee Vasi, and Victoria McQueen.
As for Ada Vox, AKA Adam Sanders of season 12? Perry wasn’t completely sold on him. “If you turn to many tricks, the tricks turn on you,” said the judge. But there was no denying that Vox looked fabulous and demonstrated on point vocals while delivering Radiohead’s “Creep.” (Anyone else notice the homage to “Idol” alum Haley Reinhart’s popular Postmodern Jukebox cover?). Ada Vox was advancing.
Also making the Top 24 were Johnny Brenns, despite pitch problems performing “Lay Me Down” by Sam Smith; Jersey girl Mara Justine, who whipped her hair back and forth to “Something’s Got a Hold On Me” by Etta James. Perry told the 15-year old that she was developing bad habits, but Justine at least put effort into performance and her vocals were strong. Richie noted that Justine “knows who she is,” and sent her through.
Country contestant Caleb Hutchinson, who performed Chris Stapleton’s “I Was Wrong,” was warned by Perry that he risks becoming one-dimensional. He skated through, though, while hopefuls Garrett Jacobs and Laine Hardy got pitted against each other. Jacobs’ amazing grandmother watched her grandson dance like Ross from “Friends” to “Knock on Wood,” while Hardy returned to Lynyrd Skynyrd, tackling “The Ballad of Curtis Loew.” It would be Hardy’s “Idol” swansong.
While Cade Foener’s feathered guitar seemed to be a point of contention with Bryan, the rocker did everything right, including the coolest song choice of the night with “No Good” by Kaleo. With his long hair and slight resemblance to Matthew McConaughey (look closer, it’s there), Foener was ushered in to see the judges with Ryan Seacrest’s voiceover predicting either a “Stairway to Heaven” or a “Highway to Hell.” Heaven it is.
The news was also good for opera singer Effie Passero, who squeaked by with a warning from Perry to step up her game. Maddie Zahm was not as lucky and got cut despite a noble effort on “What About Us” by Pink.
Rounding out the top 24 was Marcio Donaldson, who performed “If You Really Love Me” by Stevie Wonder, and Dennis Lorenzo, who took on the “Idol” favorite “A Song for You” by Leon Russell (it must be said: two songs that Elliott Yamin absolutely slayed in season 5).
The next cut will bring the finalists down to 14. Celebrity duets with the contestants follow soon after. Tune in to “American Idol” Sunday and Monday nights on ABC.