Over the next two weeks, the remaining 24 American Idol contestants will be chopped down to the 12 who will compete for the votes of viewers. Sunday (April 8) night’s episode features half of said two dozen still-standing hopefuls being mentored by country radio personality Bobby Bones before performing solo one last time for the judges at Hollywood club Academy.
Katy announces at the top of the first hour that she and fellow judges Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan are “looking for the ‘it’ factor.” Let’s see if they find it.
Mononymous singer Dominque is up first, with his lively rendition of Rufus and Chaka Khan’s R&B staple “Ain’t Nobody.” He hits a pretty impressive high note toward the end, but overall, it won’t be the most memorable performance of the evening. The judges, on the other hand, flip for it.
“Wow, forwards and backwards,” Katy gushes. “Dominique, you have arrived.” (Don’t put your money on Dominique just yet; Katy will be telling others they’ve “arrived” tonight.)
Kentucky teen Layla Spring gets a shock when Bobby Bones hands her his phone and let’s her FaceTime with her hero, Season 10 Idol runner-up Lauren Alaina. Layla then performs Martina McBride’s “A Broken Wing.” She proves to be a real country firecracker on stage.
All three judges are impressed that Layla has “grown leaps and bounds,” as Katy tells her. It’s looking like she’ll still be around in two weeks time.
Quirky, bespectacled Catie seemed amusing a few weeks back, at the onset of this dog and pony show. But let’s face it — her “Oh, gosh! Who? Me?” uber geek act is wearing razor thin at this point.
Catie goes with Blondie’s “Call Me” for her performance, on the advice of her dad. Her pink boots are top notch, and she does a pretty impressive hair flip. But her vocals are more “local karaoke dive” than “network TV talent competition” level. Still, let us not forget that she has the three biggest pushovers in reality television judging her.
Katy goes for a sassy zinger by way of, “Catie with a C-A-T-I-E, and she owns it, honey!”
Luke informs C-A-T-I-E, “I couldn’t quit watching you.”
Only Lionel offers the barest of criticism: “You have to take your style and make us believers in your style.”
Dennis Lorenzo picks the Song of the Summer for his big number. Alas, for whatever reason, it’s the Song From Four Summers Ago: “Rude,” by one-hit wonders Magic! As with Catie Turner before him, Dennis’ performance fails to come off as a breakout moment.
“It wasn’t one of those songs that showed off how well you can sing, but you know — you play different cards at different times, and this one was a stylistic one,” Katy says.
Miami multi-talent Michelle Sussett details her passion for dancing to Bobby Bones. Through tears, she also tells her famous mentor that she hasn’t seen her Venezuelan mother in over three years.
Michelle takes Katy’s previous advice and chooses to sing Beyonce’s 2008 ballad “If I Were A Boy” in both English and Spanish. The judges flip for it, with Lionel rightly declaring that Michelle has superstar ability. (This is, after all, the girl who got Katy Perry to flash all of America at the top of the season.)
“I loved the bilingual aspect. It’s so powerful,” Katy tells Michelle. “That’s your ace. Play it well.”
Michael J. Woodard
Philly native Michael has given some standout performances so far, but each one has been in a different style. Bobby Bones tells the self-proclaimed “mama’s boy” that for America to get on board, he has to hone in on what type of artists he truly is. Michael ultimately decides that his genre is alternative R&B.
He selects The Beatles’ “Golden Slumbers,” part of a classic Abbey Road medley. And while I keep waiting for Michael to naturally segue into “Carry That Weight,” the moment never comes. No matter, though — he completely nails it as is, and it’s one of the most powerful points of the night. Take note, you other 23 hopefuls: song selection is everything.
Luke says, “We love this human being right here… You let all of your emotions show.”
Lionel adds, “You are spectacular in terms of showing us your vulnerability.”
Real talk: Frankly, I’ll be astonished if Trevor makes it to the Top 12. His sour-note performance of Kaleo’s “Way Down We Go” is mediocre at best. And with Layla Spring and Gabby Barrett already vying for the country standout slot this season, the Oklahoma goat farmer could well have just taken himself out of the competition.
Young Jonny is still harping on about his dad not being supportive of his musical pursuits, despite the fact that his father showed up to cheer the teenager on from the audience in one of last week’s episodes. Move on, son.
Thankfully, Jonny’s got the vocal chops and stage presence to keep interest in him going, as demonstrated by his crowd-swaying performance of Vance Joy’s “Georgia.” On the line “the way you kiss me will work each time,” Jonny reaches down and holds the hand of a female audience member.
“Jonny, am I sensing the sexy coming out?” Lionel ponders.
Katy tells him, “I believed in you from day number one.”
Luke caps off the judges’ comments by saying, “You are a big star. You just don’t wait all the way know it yet.”
Poor Kay Kay is one of those contestants you keep forgetting is still in the running. Bobby Bones tells her that good singers are a dime a dozen — an apparently quaint term the 18 year old admits she’s never heard before — but she needs to be a great singer to survive the next two weeks.
It goes without saying that her performance of Rihanna’s “Love on the Brain” is crucial. Lucky for Kay Kay, she pulls it off and turns a corner.
Katy tells her, “You’ve always been incredibly talented, Kay Kay. I just think tonight the full package has arrived.”
Here’s yet another example of how important song selection is. Ballsy Brandon chooses to add “the Brandon Diaz flare” to judge Lionel’s ‘80s standard “Hello.” Though none of the judges want to come right out and say it, “the Brandon Diaz flare” fizzled.
“You are so brave,” Katy says diplomatically. “Picking a song like this is a blessing and a curse, and I think you landed somewhere in the middle.”
Lionel adds, “It’s very difficult when someone sings your song. It’s really a compliment, but at the same time what I wish for you to do is take it to who you are.”
Only Luke has the nerve to call a spade a spade. “We’ve heard you deliver absolutely flawless vocal performances,” he says. “And I wouldn’t say that that was a flawless vocal performance from you.”
And because the producers clearly needed to fill up a chunk of air time, host Ryan Seacrest coaxes Lionel to join he and Brandon on stage so the three can then sing “Hello” together. For those of you who’ve been curious about Ryan’s vocal abilities over the past 16 years, this is your moment.
Bobby rings up his pal Kelsea Ballerini, who tells Gabby that it’s super rewarding to be a female artist doing country music. Not that anything was going to steer the Carrie Underwood-loving Pittsburgher away from pursuing that dream.
Gabby’s performance of Maren Morris’ Grammy-nominated hit “My Church” gets all three judges on their feet. She winds her time on stage down with some fantastic vocal acrobatics and an impressive hair whip, to boot.
Lionel tells Gabby, “I’m happy because we’re looking for people that have the sparkle and the shine and the ‘it’ factor.”
The night ends with Cade rocking the roof off the joint and leaving Katy speechless. Before he tears through Jimi Hendrix’s version of Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower,” mentor Bobby Bones already senses the star quality in the young Texan, and asks him if he’s ready for what’s to come.
Once Cade hits the stage, it’s like an electric guitar-wielding alien has somehow landed on Planet Milquetoast. He proceeds to shred the audience and judges alike.
Katy feigns being weak-kneed afterward. “Are we allowed to show this on ABC? Oh my gosh — is this rock and roll?” Cade says that he’s a minister, and Katy takes it to an uncomfortable level by responding, “You sure are a minister, and you can preach to me anytime you want.”
Lionel brings everyone back down to earth. “It’s the attitude,” he says. “It’s the personality. You’re bringing it all, my friend.”
Next up: These 12 contestants take part in all-star duets with the likes of Sugarland, Andy Grammer and Luis Fonsi tonight.