In case you hadn’t gathered from the previous two weeks of American Idol Season 18 recaps that ABC aired, the pre-taped episodes ran out after Hawaii as the pandemic finally caught up with the show. But if recent charity specials like One World: Together At Home and Jersey 4 Jersey have taught us anything, it’s that the show must and will go on, thanks to technology.
Host Ryan Seacrest assures us from his own home with a classic Idol backdrop that the producers were determined to make the live episodes work, both for viewers and the Top 20 contestants who worked so hard to get here. (Yes, gone now is Lauren Mascitti — who briefly rounded out the Top 21 — after a Hawaii Week cliffhanger that left viewers to vote either her or fellow country hopeful Grace Leer through.) Everyone was sent cameras and mics and prime time-worthy lighting to aid them in their attempts to make it through to the Top 10. That’s right — this is the last stand for a whopping 10 of these folks now that we’re operating in a season where precious time was lost while the series scrambled to figure out how to pull these live airings together.
Also beaming in from their respective homes are judges Lionel Richie, Luke Bryan and Katy Perry, the latter of whom is determined to sit through the next two hours dressed as a giant bottle of hand sanitizer.
Kimmy Gabriela, “Leave Me Lonely” (Ariana Grande feat. Macy Gray)
So far, so good with this remote business. Kimmy has yet to stand out as a top tier performer this season, but tonight she’s a welcome sight after several weeks of the show’s fate being up in the air. By the way, she handles singing remotely from her Lakeland, Florida home with ease and kicks butt with Ariana Grande’s Dangerous Woman cut “Leave Me Lonely.” Katy even compliments her “camera evolution” look.
Jovin Webb, “With a Little Help From My Friends” (Joe Cocker)
Jovin proves that he sounds just as good churning out the blues in his Louisiana living room as he does on the American Idol stage. He’s got the full force of the show’s band and backing vocalists behind him, from various locations, as he takes on Joe Cocker’s classic rendition of The Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends.” Luke tells Jovin that his voice stops people in their tracks. Lionel adds, “You gave me what I wanted!”
Franklin Boone, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” (Tears For Fears)
Franklin makes it three for three so far with the great performances as he gives us a solid rearrangement of Tears For Fears’ ’80s chart-topper “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” Adding to the emotional punch is Franklin’s family, who hold up signs and sway in the background while he sings. Katy says she started tearing up, while Luke adds that he had “chill bumps” and shouts, “Definitely Top 10-worthy, America!
Olivia Ximines, “Bad Guy” (Billie Eilish)
When last we saw 16-year-old Olivia, she was flying all over the stage and wowing a captive audience in Hawaii with her best Tina Turner “Proud Mary” moves. The energy isn’t quite the same as she struts through Billie Eilish’s 2019 smash while a couple family members adjust the lighting in the background — but the high school dance squad diva works with what she’s got and still gives us impressive vocals, despite the technical limitations. Lionel tells her, “You know, for 16 years old, you have everything you need to be a superstar.”
Louis Knight, “If The World Was Ending” (JP Saxe feat. Julia Michaels)
Philly (by way of the U.K.) heartthrob Louis has the sad piano ballad thing down pat, which is something that impressed the judges enough that they came just short of saying in Hawaii he could win this season if he sticks to his strengths. In line with that, Louis looks to be on the verge of tears as he sits at his keyboard in a blue-lit room and gives us an “absolutely incredible” falsetto and natural cry, per Lionel. Luke says, “Great song choice for you. It really gave us a clear glimpse of who you can be as an artist.” Katy delivers the lone note for improvement when she tells him to avoid singing through his nose.
Makayla Phillips, “Greedy” (Ariana Grande)
After Kimmy, Makayla is the second contestant to go with a track from Dangerous Woman tonight. This seems like a no-brainer, as it goes without saying that Makayla has a voice so similar to Ariana’s that it’s uncanny — if not a little creepy. Alas, this performance is just sort of whatever to me, and it’s not really selling Makayla as an original artist. Katy chirps through her hand sanitizer costume, “It just looks so natural for you.” Alrighty.
Aliana Jester, “Run to You” (Whitney Houston)
Aliana brings us Bodyguard drama from her Florida garage. Those are words I never expected to type, but, hey — #2020, everyone. Aliana clearly took Lionel’s previous comparison of her to Whitney Houston to heart, so she goes for the risk of performing one of the late singer’s classic numbers. Katy and Luke admit that they have goosebumps, while Lionel says, “Honestly, I almost forgot at one point about Whitney.” Well played, then.
Faith Becnel, “River” (Bishop Briggs)
I like Faith. She’s a spunky, seasoned performer and never comes off as wobbly when she’s on stage (or, in this case, in her Louisiana home). But here’s some real talk: I don’t think she’s American Idol Top 10 material. In fact, I’ll eat the Z, X, C and V keys off my keyboard if she makes it through when the results are tallied up next week. Luke says, “That was my favorite rendition of that song.” Still, Faith isn’t delivering a full WOW factor tonight.
Nick Merico, “Hey There Delilah” (Plain White T’s)
Can you believe it’s been 13 years since “Hey There Delilah” first flooded the airwaves? Nick Merico performs the acoustic one-hit wonder as a moving piano ballad in the comfort of his Woodland Hills, California home. Lionel, Nick’s biggest detractor amongst the judges, tells Nick that he “loved this performance very much,” while Luke says he would have liked to hear the contestant dig in just a little more, emotionally.
Lauren Spencer-Smith, “Mamma Knows Best” (Jessie J)
Lauren delivers a powerhouse take on a lesser-known Jessie J song against a beautiful Vancouver Island lake backdrop from her family’s deck porch. At all of 16 years of age, this girl clearly has the talent. What she needs to up in this accelerated live stretch of the season, though, is the charisma. Still, Katy compliments her by saying she’s “growing during a quarantine.” We shall see.
Cyniah Elise, “Warrior” (Demi Lovato)
Down in Georgia, yet another powerful teen vocalist serves up an impressive performance. While surrounded by red walls, string lights and a piano in her living room, Cyniah comes back from her shaky Hawaii showing and gets Lionel on his feet with her take on Demi Lovato’s “Warrior.” Luke tells her, “The sky’s the limit, girl. Good job.” Katy adds, “Work that camera like you work that mirror, girl. I know you do!”
Francisco Martin, “Teenage Dream” (Katy Perry)
Well, this guy’s certainly got a pair. California native Francisco has gone from lacking confidence at the top of the season to choosing a classic pop tune by one of the judges, and rearranging it at one of the most crucial points in the competition. The good news: He totally slays it. “What a dice roll. Good for you, because it really works,” Katy praises. Luke tells Francisco, “You just have the magic.”
Sophia James, “Burning” (Maggie Rogers)
With no real explanation as to why, the contestant formerly known as Sophia Wackerman is now Sophia James. That’s a head-scratcher, given that she bristled in the audition process when Katy suggested she alter her last name. At any rate, Sophia stands at her keyboard in Long Beach, California and gives a solid take on “Burning” while wearing a nice dress. As an added touch, the fireplace is crackling behind her. “Ambiance! Ambiance!” Katy says. Lionel tells Sophia that she’s “learning her looks” for the camera. Here’s hoping she survives next week’s chop to continue using them.
DeWayne Crocker Jr., “I Got You (I Feel Good)” (James Brown)
Meanwhile, in Castle Rock, Colorado, DeWayne Crocker Jr.’s Christmas tree is still up in late April, and he’s using it as his main backdrop while performing a soul classic. The performance is karaoke-level, to be quite honest, but these kids gotta learn you can’t top artists like James Brown at some point. DeWayne’s saving grace is an impressive run he saves for last. “It was a little too slick for me, but the end note just showed us so much talent,” Luke says.
Dillon James, “Let It Be Me” (Ray LaMontagne)
Back in California, Dillon James performs with his guitar outside what looks like his parents’ rustic ranch house while looking like a seasoned rocker in his cowboy hat. More to the point, “You look like a world-class artist,” Lionel praises. “You got the look; you got the sound.” It would be a shame if Dillon doesn’t make it to the Top 10, but Katy assures him that 2018 contestant Gabby Barrett, who didn’t win the show, “just had a No. 1 country song last week.”
Arthur Gunn, “Lovin’ Machine” (Wynonie Harris)
From his Wichita, Kansas porch, Arthur Gunn loses his trusty guitar and shimmies and shakes his way through blues classic “Lovin’ Machine.” The judges are all feeling the party vibe Arthur is transmitting from across the miles, as they each hop up on their feet and bop around. Katy absolutely loves the performance, and tells the shy guy to simply open his eyes once in a while for the camera. Luke assures Arthur that everything will happen for him once he starts understanding how big a star he can be.
Juliana Gargano, “Human” (Christina Perri)
From Kansas we zip over to Staten Island, New York, where Juliana Gargano effortlessly gives us singer-songwriter magic with a Christina Perri hit while playing along on her keyboard. After her performance, Luke tells Juliana he feels like he just watched five superstars in a row. “You can really sit back and hear truly how great you are,” he adds. Katy then tells Juliana, “You check all the boxes. I love that you played in your socks.”
Grace Leer, “Cry” (Faith Hill)
These California contestants are all performing outside and rubbing it in with their delayed sunsets and warm weather while rain falls on the east coast. I kind of wish Grace’s take on “Cry” had been good enough to justify her being voted into the Top 20 over Lauren Mascitti, but Katy and Lionel don’t seem to mind it. Luke, however, points out that the opening of her performance lacked what Grace delivered with “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” in Hawaii.
Just Sam, “I Believe” (Fantasia)
While all the other contestants were sent home as the pandemic spread across the country in early March, Just Sam, we find out, opted to stay in an apartment in Los Angeles rather than return to New York City. Tonight she dons a red dress and belts out 2004 American Idol winner Fantasia’s debut single, “I Believe.” Luke gushes that this performance is exactly what the show is about. “If there has ever been an an inspirational figure in this whole group, you have been that person,” Lionel says.
Jonny West, “What A Wonderful World” (Louis Armstrong)
We go from Hollywood to just over the hill in Studio City to watch Jonny West deliver the night’s final remote performance, from his girlfriend Margie Mays’ apartment. Jonny rearranges “What a Wonderful World,” perhaps the most timely song choice of the evening, and makes it a stark, emotional piano ballad. Katy says it’s one her “top two favorite performances today,” while Lionel adds, “You have it all. Please, just enjoy this ride.”
With that, the night comes to a close and the Top 20 contestants now wait a week to learn their fate.