The road to making the American Idol Top 20 is a long one, and on Sunday night (March 31) that path takes a detour through Hawaii. Why? Because it’s a three(!!)-hour episode during which half of the Top 40 needs to be axed — and the producers have to give us a prettier background to look at for 180 minutes than some drab theater in Los Angeles.
So here’s the deal: The 40 remaining kiddos jet off to Disney’s Aulani resort on the island of Oahu for the hoop-jump of their final showcase. The following day, judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan meet with each contestant to inform them whether or not they made the cut.
First up is Alyssa Raghu, who made it through this same stretch last year. She busts out a few fun moves while singing Meghan Trainor’s “Dear Future Husband” and earns a standing ovation from all three judges. “I feel like she did some dance lessons or something,” Katy remarks. Alyssa nabs a spot in the Top 20, which is all well and good. But the competition is strong, and she’ll need to tap into some unused charisma if she wants to make it further than she did in 2018.
Next we get a side-by-side of teens Madison Vandenberg and Myra Tran’s performances of the Jackson 5’s “Who’s Lovin’ You” and the Moana soundtrack hit “How Far I’ll Go,” respectively. Katy tells Madison she’s a star, and away she goes into the Top 20. For Myra, however, Lionel points out that her song choice wasn’t the best: a shaky performance of a Disney show tune while staying at a Disney resort proves to be a little too on-the-nose, and so teary-eyed Myra is sent packing.
Logan Johnson from Boise, Idaho takes a risk by belting out half of Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” in Spanish. It pays off and he sails into the Top 20. Alas, Nate Walker tackles “Still” by the Commodores, and doesn’t really convey the emotion of the song to the judges. If there’s one person who’s going to notice the lack of connection with a Commodores song, it’s former frontman Lionel Richie. Thus, Nate gets the boot.
Moving right along, performances by both Dimitrius Graham (who does Disclosure’s “Latch”) and Ashley Hess (H.E.R.’s “Gone Away”) fall flat. Lionel tells Dimitrius, “I don’t want you to sound like someone else; I want you to sound like you,” while Luke gives Ashley the news that “last night was a little sketchy.” Miraculously, both are still pushed through to the Top 20.
Youngster Drake McCain crashes and burns on stage with Maroon 5’s “Girls Like You,” so it’s curtains for him. Meanwhile, Kai The Singer does a better job with Alessia Cara’s “Wild Things,” but when Katy starts off her critique with “we love you, we see you and we believe in you,” it sounds ominously like a cushioning of the death blow. Bye, Kai.
Blonde, guitar-playing Laci Kaye Booth has quietly shaped up to be a fierce contender this season. Her performance of “Georgia on My Mind” only seals that particular deal. Katy declares that Laci is “the definition of diamond in the rough,” so off she goes to the Top 20.
A barrage of heads roll off the chopping block next. Surprisingly, after producers built him up with a fair amount of screen time over the past four weeks, Nick Townsend is the next one cut. Also gone are red-headed country crooner Clay Page, strawberry farmer Kason Lester and Johanna Jones, whose boyfriend proposed to her on stage just last week.
Handsome piano-playing nerd Walker Burroughs secures his spot in future episodes, despite his oddball choice of a 5 Seconds Of Summer trifle. He’s followed into the Top 20 by Ryan Hammond, who dedicates Donny Hathaway’s “A Song For You” to his new boyfriend Chris. Also safe this week: left of center contestants Evelyn Cormier and Kate Barnette.
Emma Kleinberg’s take on Bob Marley’s “Is This Love” fails to demand the audience’s attention, per Katy, and so she’s gone. Uché, however, gives the crowd something they won’t soon unsee, as he marches on stage in an unzipped black fur jacket and leather pants, then rocks out with Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music.” If Grace Jones and Seal ever had a child together that was delivered by Mick Jagger, surely Uché must be it. The judges agree, and so he’s off to bring the funk to the Top 20.
It’s a no-brainer that both Alejandro Aranda and Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon also make it through — as, like Laci Kaye Booth, they’ve consistently given on-point performances all season. Judges’ fave Shayy, unfortunately, doesn’t connect this time around while singing Adele’s “All I Ask.” Not helping matters is that she chose a song that’s been way overplayed this season.
Along with Shayy, it’s the end of the road for Mica Giaconi, Payton Taylor and Idalis — a trio of ladies who perhaps saw 60 seconds of combined screen time up to this point.
At 16, petite country gal Riley Thompson is now the youngest contestant standing this year. She’s joined in the Top 20 by hippie chick Raquel Trinidad (who scores points from yours truly for performing the Daryl Hall and John Oates classic “Rich Girl”), as well as New York City subway singer Bumbly and soulful crooner Shawn Robinson.
So listen, I was rooting for Wade Cota up until Hollywood Week, when he admitted to never having heard “California Dreamin’” and couldn’t be bothered to memorize the lyrics. Now in Hawaii, Wade announces to the camera that he thought Pearl Harbor “was just a movie.” This guy’s’ personality is undermining his talent, but his growly take on Hozier’s “Work Song” appeases the judges. And so he’s on to the next episode.
This leaves us with four contestants vying for only two open spots in the Top 20. Margie Mays makes an unfortunate song choice of Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass,” which fails to showcase her vocal talent. She’s paired up for her final judgment with Eddie Island, who also seems to struggle on stage with Swedish House Mafia and John Martin’s “Don’t You Worry Child.” Eddie’s got a big personality, though, and the judges ultimately push Nashville’s unofficial mayor through, while telling Margie to hit the road.
Finally, Lionel, Katy and Luke are left with deciding whether humble country gent Tyler Mitchell or returning Louisiana rocker Laine Hardy gets the final Top 20 position. Tyler stays in his wheelhouse and dedicates Steve Moakler’s “Suitcase” to his wife, which is AWWW and SHUCKS and the whole bit. But Laine truly arrives when he hits the stage in a suit and tie and asks the audience, “Are you all ready to party with a Hardy?” He proceeds to tear through The Beatles’ “Come Together” — guitar solo and all — and takes his rightful spot with the rest of the Top 20 once the dust settles.
Monday (April 1) night, it’s more solo performances from the remaining contestants ahead of the ever-present chopping block.