When the live broadcasts of American Idol begin each season, the power to decide which contestants stay and which ones are eliminated shifts from the judges to the viewing audience. But one element of the decision-making process remains with the judges – they can save one finalist per season during the live shows, a power they have not yet exercised in season 17. One catch: the decision must be unanimous among the three judges.
On Sunday (April 29) night’s show, Walker Burroughs and Alyssa Raghu were in danger of leaving, and after a brief consultation, Luke Bryan announced that he and Lionel Richie and Katy Perry would be holding the save for possible use another week.
After last night’s broadcast, Billboard asked the three judges about their thoughts on their power to save a contestant from elimination. “America is paying attention because they’re getting it right,” said Richie. “We’re only going to use that save if there is life and death on our part. But so far they’ve been right.”
Bryan added, “I love the opportunity of us having it. It’s a creative way to keep us in the mix even more. We have that little stressful moment at the end of the show to make a big decision.”
“I think we’ve been doing it right,” Perry offered. “We’ve saved as many people in a lot of [different] ways as we could. Every week the drama gets a little bit more about, ‘What? You’re not going to use it?'”
“Just imagine. To have a big club and never have to use it is a fabulous thing,” said Richie. “I’m loving the fact that we have the power, but we don’t need to use it.”
Would the judges have used their save last night if different finalists had been in danger of going home – someone like fan favorite Alejandro Aranda? “You don’t know,” Perry responded. “You’ll know when we play that card.”
“We try to talk it out before,” Bryan acknowledged. “We’ve got to be unanimous, but there was kind of a surprise tonight.” “It was a surprise,” Perry agreed. “It made us reconvene and double check it,” Bryan concluded. “We just need to see what America does.”
Minutes after the show ended, an emotional Burroughs talked to Billboard about his fate. “I’m taking the first big breaths,” said the 20-year-old Belmont University student who opened the episode with his rendition of Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” “It’s the first big breath I’ve taken in a while, just because of how stressful it’s all been. I’m excited to relax for a little bit and that’s going to be really wonderful. I’m really grateful for the people that I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had. I definitely will miss the people I’ve become so close to here. I’m excited to come back for the finale and see them all again.”
Next, Billboard asked Alyssa Raghu, the 17-year-old from Orlando, Fla., who first competed in season 16, how she felt about leaving Idol. “Obviously, I’m sad. I’m out of a competition I’ve been in for two years, a bit longer than everyone else. But, who would ever had said that I would get this far? I’m glad to go out the same round Jennifer Hudson did and all the other great amazing people. I’m excited for the future and I want to thank everyone who supported me.”
Before heading out of the Idol dome, Billboard caught up with season 17 mentor Bobby Bones and asked if he were a judge, would he have used the save on this particular night. “Yes,” he revealed. “I would’ve saved Walker Burroughs. I don’t think he should’ve gone home. There are four in my mind who deserve a save and he was one of them. I love the judges and I can’t say enough great things about them, but I would have saved Walker tonight.”