Two weeks ago, we had 20 American Idol contestants in the game. Last week’s remaining 11 will be narrowed down to seven before tonight is over. And next week is, of course, the finale.
This is all happening at breakneck speed, given that we’re coasting along in a COVID world. It’s a wacky, fast-track season, made even wackier by the fact that Katy Perry is dressed up while quarantining at home as Dumbo — or rather, she’s Mrs. Jumbo, aka Dumbo’s mom. Needless to say, it’s Disney Week once again. On top of that, it’s also Mother’s Day. WILD.
Katy is joined (virtually, of course) by fellow judges Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan as host Ryan Seacrest informs us that after each of the Top 7 contestants are announced, they’ll do a Disney tune before later returning to belt out a song dedicated to the mother figure in their lives.
Also: With the 700 and counting references this season to last year’s runner-up Alejandro Aranda, you’d be forgiven for not remembering that it was actually Laine Hardy who won the American Idol crown 12 months ago. But surprise — the producers finally acknowledge Laine’s existence once more by having him perform remotely.
If one of these kiddos is the heir to the Alejandro throne, we know by now it’s Arthur Gunn. He’s the first one to make it through to the Top 7, and he’s tasked with Arthur Gunn-ing up “Kiss the Girl” from The Little Mermaid. With his trusty guitar over his shoulder and some Hollywood effects for background lighting inside his home, Arthur displays his versatility by doing the song justice in his own style. “You have your identity and you’re doing a great job at selling it, man,” Lionel assures the soulful crooner.
Later, Arthur returns to inform us that his mom, Maiya, is the one who recognized his talent early on and bought him his first guitar. He dedicates Bon Iver’s “Hey, Ma” to her and it’s sweet at cherry pie. Luke tells him he never has a bad performance, while Lionel gushes that Arthur could sing the phone book.
Katy thinks Just Sam can lose the “Just” at this point, because she’s a star to be reckoned with. I would tend to agree, as she and Jonny have been getting all my votes. (Just) Sam sings Cinderella’s “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” and sounds like a seasoned pro. Katy reminds her that she’s made the Top 7, and Jennifer Hudson, an Oscar winner, only made it to seventh place many moons ago on this very series. So the sky’s the limit from here, kid.
In the second hour, we find out that Sam’s grandmother, Elizabeth, adopted her when she was 6 while her mother spent most of her life in jail. Sam dedicates Christina Aguilera’s “I Turn To You” to Elizabeth. It’s all a little bit safe, to be honest, but she’s already proven she’s got vocal chops at this point. “You are the angel in this group,” Lionel tells Sam. “No matter where this competition goes, I’m gonna be Papa Lionel for the rest of your life.”
Oh, Jonny, you’re just a magic maker, aren’t you? Margie Mays’ better half is now with his parents in Murrieta, California, after spending the early weeks of the pandemic at his girlfriend’s apartment in the Studio City area of Los Angeles. He sits at his keyboard and gives us a masterful take on Randy Newman composition “Almost There” from The Princess And The Frog. Lionel says, “You’re our casual assassin. You make it look so effortless.”
Jonny later dedicates “Amazing Grace” to his mother, Michelle. He even revises the lyrics to drive the point home that his mom means the world to him. Katy boldly proclaims, “I think you should win this competition. But even if you don’t, I think you’ll have the biggest career.” Yowza.
One-man boy band Louis is in a floral-print shirt and singing Elton John’s Academy Award-winning chestnut “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from The Lion King. The judges are actually feeling more critical tonight than love when it comes to Louis, as they give him various notes like “it got a little linear after three-quarters of the song” and “just lean forward.” Still, Katy says, “Niall Horan better watch out.”
We already know from Hollywood Week that Louis’ mom Amanda is his biggest fan, and there are tears all around when he later dedicates Carole King and James Taylor’s “You’ve Got A Friend” to her. Luke thinks the pizza delivery guy finally nailed it and says he heard all the dynamics that were missing from the previous performance. Katy adds, “That was one of your best performances, hands-down.”
Meanwhile, in Staten Island, Julia gives us a bluesy, funky rendition of the title track from Beauty and the Beast. She sings it in her lower register, which the judges cite as an issue, given that she needs to work on mastering that area of her range. Lionel basically tells her to concentrate on committing “to the lows,” but Katy says, “You’re a star no matter what happens.”
In the second-half of the episode, Julia explains that she and her mom Jeanne were always tight, and so she organizes a surprise, quarantine-era Mother’s Day car parade for her madre, wherein all her pals drive by and give her props. Julia then gives us a bluesy performance of Adele’s 25 album closer “Sweetest Devotion.” Luke declares, “This performance was just badass!” Lionel adds, “That is probably the first time I’ve heard you ride the pocket.”
The sixth contestant to safely make it through this week is Francisco, who delivers a pretty stellar take on “You’ll Be In My Heart” from Disney’s 1999 animated version of Tarzan. I know I’ve ranted about this pop trifle beating out Aimee Mann’s far more worthy Magnolia dirge “Save Me” for the best original song Oscar, so I’ll refrain from climbing onto that particular soapbox again. The performance is so good that Katy disses Louis while simultaneously delivering her praise to Francisco: “What you gave us at the end is kind of what I wanted from Louis Knight.”
Before the night is over, Francisco makes his mom, Fatima, breakfast and writes her a sweet letter where he calls her Superwoman. He dedicates Leon Bridges’ “River” to her, which causes Luke to say, “I think he beat the original record!”
The night ends with Dillon James, who rounds out this year’s Top 7. He sings “Our Town” from Cars, and Katy sums up the performance with this: “You were makin’ love to the camera. It was so sincere. It was beautiful. I’m proud of you.”
Dillon’s mom Lindy says that she was on the journey with her son when he hit rock bottom while previously struggling with drug addiction in Los Angeles. Dillon writes Lindy a letter stating that she’s his best friend, then dedicates Amos Lee’s “Hang On, Hang On” to her. “You just did a great performance and you’re gonna go very far no matter what number you end up finishing in American Idol,” Luke assures him.
Eliminated: And with that, Jovin Webb, Sophia James, Grace Leer and Makayla Phillips go fluttering off into the almost-was history book.
Next week, Idol crowns the winner of this historic and bizarre stay-at-home season.