Ten of American Idol’s current Top 20 contestants may have the thrill of performing duets with seasoned pros like Pat Benatar, Jason Mraz and Shaggy on Sunday (April 7) night’s episode, but that’s countered with the terror of knowing only seven will be left standing once the dust settles.
Judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan are faced with the not-pleasant task of handing three of these doe-eyed children a one-way ticket back to obscurity, but like I always say: Cheer up, kid — by summer, no one’s even going to remember who the winner was, either!
Walker Burroughs & Jason Mraz, “Have It All”
Walker “Harry Potter” Burroughs partners with Jason Mraz, which proves to be quite serendipitous. It turns out the bespectacled contestant has been listening to Mraz’s music since he was a wee lad. In fact, Walker confesses that “I’m Yours” was the first song he ever performed in front of other people, and he even has video on his phone to prove it. Alas, Mraz opts to let that old chestnut lie (for the moment), and go with the title track from his latest album, Have It All.
Their duet winds up being pretty great. The harmonies are on-point, Walker’s dancing isn’t an earth-shattering embarrassment (his concern, not mine) and their overall chemistry is apparent. “This guy can croon, he can rap and he can wail,” Mraz tells host Ryan Seacrest, following the duet with Walker. Lionel pipes up that the kid makes wearing glasses sexy.
Kate Barnette & Pat Benatar with Neil Giraldo, “Heartbreaker”
I’m of two minds about this duet situation. First and foremost, Pat Benatar is a Joan Jett-level badass diva whose boots we should all still be kissing, 40 years later. Snagging her and longtime professional partner/husband Neil Giraldo to perform on this show is something that Idol execs should be patting themselves on the back for. This is g.d. Pat Benatar, people. Sit back and prepare to be rocked.
Now, on the flip side, it’s a damn shame coffee-house singer Kate Barnette got paired up with Pat, because no matter how much restraint the latter employs during their duet, Kate just can’t cut the mustard with an edgy, in-your-face classic like 1979’s “Heartbreaker.”
When all is said and done, the judges’ awe for Pat seems to eclipse any praise they have for Idol hopeful Kate. Lionel tells her to put this experience in her memory bank and use it for the rest of her career. I love Lionel.
Riley Thompson & Brett Young, “Like I Loved You”
Is it uncomfortable watching 16-year-old Riley sing a love song on stage with 38-year-old country heartthrob Brett Young? Slightly. Still, Brett gives Riley props for being in the Top 20 at her age, given that he himself had a 15-year gap between writing his first EP and signing a record deal.
“Like I Loved You” doesn’t come across like the best song to show off young Riley’s talent, especially since Brett seems to be tackling all the big vocal acrobatics. But Luke tells the Texas teen that it was the best performance she’s had so far, so there you go.
Uché & Shaggy, “I Need Your Love”
“Boombastic” crooner Shaggy thinks Uché has a huge personality, and he’s not wrong. For their duet, the Grammy-winning Jamaican singer selects his 2014 outing “I Need Your Love.” This winds up being one of the more all-over-the-place performances of the night, but Uché, as we’ve seen, knows how to work a crowd. He and Shaggy get the audience on their feet and waving their hands by the end.
“It was such a vibe,” Katy says, before adding that Uché just needs to make conscious choices when doing his vocal runs on stage. Next!
Madison VanDenberg & Pat Benatar with Neil Giraldo, “We Belong”
Everything I said above about the Kate Barnette/Pat Benatar pair-up, ditto for this one. I will add, however, that Madison is far more suited, vocally, for the task.
Pat explains during rehearsal that, back in the day, she and Neil had being trying to have their first child for three years. When they recorded “We Belong,” the couple found out their baby was finally on the way. It’s a sweet story, but Madison admits she’s nervous about tackling such an iconic ballad that holds personal meaning for its originators.
This certainly isn’t the best duet of the evening, but as Luke says, it’s just incredible to watch Madison go toe-to-toe with a world-class singer like Pat Benatar. Well put.
Shawn Robinson & Elle King, “Proud Mary”
There’s drama with this pair-up. First of all, Elle King is wearing leopard print. Second, Shawn seems to balk at Elle’s song choice of “Proud Mary.” He’s worried that it’s too up-tempo, but Elle feels it’s good for Shawn to get out of his comfort zone once in awhile. At the 11th hour, however, Elle has a change of plan, and suggests they tackle the slower-paced Creedence Clearwater Revival rendition of “Proud Mary,” rather than the more energetic Ike and Tina Turner version.
The tension gets thicker when, during their performance on stage, Shawn comes in too early on the second verse, which also throws Elle off. Wisely, Lionel tells Shawn that when things go right, they go right, “and when things go wrong, no one’s supposed to know.” He adds that he and Elle recovered from their flub perfectly. We shall see.
Ashley Hess & Jason Mraz, “I’m Yours”
You knew someone was going to have the honor of singing wedding fave “I’m Yours” with Jason Mraz tonight, and that someone is Ashley Hess. She makes the gutsy move to play piano and rearrange the song for her duet with Jason.
It’s a smart decision, as Katy says she’s heard “I’m Yours” so many times, but “the way you guys opened the song up and interpreted it was so fresh.”
(Side note: I legit Wiki’d “I’m Yours” and almost fell off the couch when I saw the 2008 hit is now 9x Platinum at this point. Get that cash, sole songwriter Jason Mraz.)
Bumbly & Shaggy, “Angel”
Bumbly is excited to finally perform a reggae song on Idol. Shaggy commends her for being a Manhattan subway singer, and tells her that New York is “the most honest audience you can have.” He also gives her the advice to never let negativity hold her back in her career.
Overall, “Angel” isn’t exactly the great showcase Bumbly needs to stay in the competition at this point. It’s fun, but it doesn’t scream “superstar.” Ah, well. Chalk it up to the perils of being partnered with Shaggy.
Laci Kaye Booth & Brett Young, “Mercy”
If you were worried that Laci was going to finally stumble and give a bad performance, just chill that trash. As always, she aces it. And this time around, Laci isn’t playing guitar: Instead, she and Brett Young sit side-by-side on two stools and harmonize their way through the latter’s country tearjerker “Mercy.”
Lionel announces that he felt like he was watching “a serious love affair,” while Katy tells Laci she “sprinkles stardust everywhere.” Luke adds that the young contestant made “Mercy” the best kind of heartbreak ever.
And with that, it’s unlikely Laci will be one of the three getting the toss out of Hollywood tonight.
Laine Hardy & Elle King, “The Weight”
For the second time this season, we see Laine Hardy strum his guitar and belt out The Band’s classic “The Weight.” I guess his duet partner Elle King really didn’t want to perform “Ex’s & Oh’s” tonight? Whatever the case, she tells Laine “The Weight” is one of her favorite songs.
Meanwhile, with each turn he has on stage in one of his snazzy suits, Laine is looking more and more like a rock star. He and Elle crank out of funked-up version of the 1968 tune that basically cements his position in next week’s Top 14.
ELIMINATED: After deliberating during the final commercial break, the three judges decide that Kate Barnette, Shawn Robinson and Bumbly are to get the boot. None of this should come as a surprise.
Monday (April 8) night, the all-star duets continue, as the other half of the Top 20 must run through the same ring of fire.