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'American Idol' Top 14 Give Lackluster Performances: Critic's Take

American idol
ABC/Craig Sjodin

American Idol host Ryan Seacrest with judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan. 

If there’s one thing America knows how to do, it’s how to vote for a total winner. And so it should thrill fans of American Idol that “the power is finally in your hands,” as Ryan Seacrest announces on Sunday (Apr. 22) night’s episode, to select who from the Top 14 you want to see move further down the line in this whole shebang. When the voting is all over, there will only be 10 left standing on Monday (Apr. 23) evening.

Gone is the smaller Academy club location of previous weeks. Now Idol has packed up and moved to the spacious digs of what Ryan calls “the heart of Los Angeles” -- except he then fails to mention where exactly that is. (Ah, live TV.)

Getting down to brass tacks: These kids need to be singing like their livelihood depends on it. But for the most part, save for three contestants, they sound like they’re being swallowed up by the stage and overwhelmed by the nitty grittiness of the competition. Judges Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan try to gloss over that fact with mostly-kind critiques. Katy Perry, at least, looks first visibly alarmed -- then just bored -- throughout the night, as these once-promising hopefuls stumble left and right.

Caleb Lee Hutchinson

What would Idol be without over-dramatizing contestant backstories week after week? Yes, folks, Caleb claims to have lost 80 pounds since he first auditioned for this season. He’s made a noticeable physical transformation. Alas, at the end of the day, shed pounds don’t mean jack when viewers just want to see this gang sing.

Caleb plays banjo for the first time on the show while crooning The SteelDrivers’ “Midnight Train To Memphis.” It’s an adequate performance, but 10 minutes later I’ve already forgotten that Caleb was even on the TV screen. Showbiz is a hard grind.

Michelle Sussett

Props to Michelle for bringing a touch of unpredictability to this show. With all the country and R&B singers angling for the top prize, it’s easy to forget about straight-up pop. Michelle guns for that corner by singing Marshmello and Anne-Marie’s current chart hit “FRIENDS.” Vocally, it’s a pretty uninspiring turn from one of this season’s more dynamic players, but only Katy has the guts to call her out on it.

Marcio Donaldson

Marcio sounds like he’s being drowned out by the sheer size of the stage and wall of sound from the band. His take on Barry Manilow’s “It’s A Miracle” looks good, at least -- great threads tonight, man. But despite his mediocre vocal turn, the three nicest judges in reality television naturally praise him for the most part. Luke does, however, slip in that he wasn’t totally sold on the song choice.

Mara Justine

Sweet teen Mara says she wants to make it into the Top 10 “more than anything else in this world.” She then gives a bland performance of “This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman that she cries the whole way through. Luke says he wasn’t invested completely in her delivery of the song. Katy mirrors that sentiment, and says Mara didn’t arrive, vocally, until the end. Something tells me the real waterworks might be on the way for Mara with Monday’s results show.

Garrett Jacobs

Poor, pretty Garrett just comes off downright flat with Phillip Phillips’ “Raging Fire.” There’s nothing positive to say here, unless you’re Luke, Katy and Lionel, who politely conjure up mild praise so they can quickly move on.

Ada Vox

Idol’s resident drag performer Ada chooses Queen’s “The Show Must Go On,” which seems appropriate, given that this show has been a dull slog for the past half hour. In all honesty, I want to love this intense performance more than I actually do. On the plus side, Ada is never boring. Plus, Katy finally seems relieved: “Not only did you stop the show, you finally started the show, queen,” she tells Ada.

Catie Turner

Catie is thrilled to be receiving fan mail. She’s also been getting some hate mail, because, in the wise words of our forefathers, haters gonna hate. The young contestant simply shrugs this off by stating, “Beyonce has haters.” Moving on from hate, I wish I loved Catie’s rendition of Hozier’s smash “Take Me To Church.” The only words I jot down in my notes are “boring,” “snooze” and “pitchy.” On the flip side, Catie’s new Lisa Loeb look on stage is top-notch.

Cade Foehner?

Santana’s “Black Magic Woman” is without a doubt a classic jam. Is it one the Idol audience will connect with? Guitar slingin’ Texan Cade doesn’t get too caught up in such details; he just rocks on. Cade continues with his tradition of shredding hard and growling his way through his performances, and I’m honestly worried he’s going to blow his vocal cords out before his time on this show is up. No one else seems too concerned, though. Katy pulls out a piece of the singer's hair to give to her mother, who’s apparently a big Cade supporter. Then Ryan gives the contestant a handful of “fan kale” that someone sent in. Take that, Catie Turner.

Dennis Lorenzo

Katy says Dennis is showing his “alternative R&B side” after choosing, of all things, a Shawn Mendes song. I begin to wonder when we entered The Twilight Zone. Equally up on Dennis’ “In My Blood” performance is Lionel, who says there’s a time in every performer’s life when they break through the ceiling and are introduced to their new self. And just when I wish this episode would break through the humdrum and start being entertaining, along comes…

Maddie Poppe

If you’ll recall, Maddie told recent Idol mentor Bobby Bones that her only goal was to land in the Top 24. Her acoustic guitar take on Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘60s folk-pop staple “Homeward Bound” is so sweet and so what this show needed tonight, however, that I’m not sure she hasn’t adjusted her expectations and set her trajectory on winning. Maddie is simple perfection here. “I pray the people at home just felt what I felt in this room,” Luke tells her.

Jurnee

I’ve been rooting for military wife Jurnee, but her penchant for relying on the Jessie J catalog is testing my loyalty. Also, her song choice, “Bang Bang,” technically also features Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj in its recorded version, so there’s a lot for Jurnee to tackle here. Sadly, her whole performance is more of a dud than a bang (bang). Something tells me the final destination on this particular journey is the exit sign down the hall.

Jonny Brenns?

It’s mind-boggling that Jonny Brenns is still in the running. On one hand, he takes Katy’s advice from the other week — following a bout of stiff dancing on stage — and attends a ballet class. But his performance of Panic! At The Disco’s “This Is Gospel” is so unforgivably weak, that I’m prepared to kick my flat screen over, Travis Bickle style, if he doesn’t get voted out.

Michael J. Woodard

Philadelphia-born Michael was raised thinking secular music was naughty. He was introduced to pop by downloading ring tones, which is a very typical Michael J. Woodard tidbit of information. Thankfully, he gives us one of the few uplifting moments of the night, with his piano-and-strings reworking of David Guetta and Sia’s “Titanium.” It’s a slow build, but when Michael hits his crescendo, he nails it perfectly. Katy name-drops by saying she’s off to Coachella with Sia after tonight’s show wraps, while Lionel calls Michael “a martian.”

Gabby Barrett

Pittsburgh country gal Gabby neither disappoints or surprises with her take on Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb.” It’s all just very predictable. Sure, her voice connects with the notes. But as Maddie, Michael and especially Ada have shown, technical perfection isn’t enough to continue to sail on through; there needs to be some remote stamp of individuality on these performances for the masses at large to recall when it comes time to step away from covering well-known material and start making your own records.

Case in point: Could Gabby win American Idol this season? Sure. But can you name the winner of the previous season? Or the one before that? Whatever it takes, start making your mark, girl.

Next up: Monday (Apr. 23) brings a two-hour results show that Ryan promises will be jam-packed with music. When the dust settles, there will be only be two handfuls of contestants left.

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