With the farewell season’s contestant pool narrowed to the top 24, American Idol entered the showcase round of the competition this week. Tonight, 12 of the top 24 gave solo performances for a live audience at the Vibiana in downtown Los Angeles. Tomorrow, they will take the stage again to sing duets with past Idol superstars. Judges Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr. will consider both their solo and duet performances when making the next round of cuts. The artists who sang tonight also shared fun facts about themselves, giving viewers a chance to learn a little more about who they are.
First up for the solo round was Stephany Negrete, who talked about her love of languages. She sang “Mamma Knows Best” by Jessie J. The song choice was perfect for her bold voice, and she looked comfortable on stage. Urban noted that she could loosen up even more, and Connick and Lopez both stressed the importance of connecting with what she’s singing. Negrete has all the qualities of a big pop star, but there’s something missing at this stage, and she really needs to find her point of view.
Mackenzie Bourg, who shared his love of rap, was up next, slowing things down a bit with “Say Something” by A Great Big World. He accompanied himself on the guitar and gave a very soulful and beautiful performance that highlighted the interesting tone of his voice. The judges loved it. Bourg showcased artistry and connected with the emotions of what he was singing.
Jeneve Rose Mitchell ran through a lengthy list of all the instruments she learned to play on the electricity-less ranch where she grew up. For her performance, she shook things up, playing harp during her performance of “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan. Even though it’s an oversung song, she brought something new to it with her harp playing as well as her throwback country sound. She struggled a bit with breath control, but other than that, it was a technically impressive performance. Connick thought she was doing herself a disservice playing the harp because it distracted from her abilities to connect with the lyrics. Lopez admitted she wasn’t initially sold on Mitchell belonging in this competition, but this particular performance gave her “goosies.”
Things clipped along quickly, with Jenna Renae jumping up next to sing “My Church” by Maren Morris. The second she started singing, Urban shouted that he loves the song. It was a great choice for her, and this was the first time Renae really stood out as a performer. The judges said they do want to see more sides of her singing.
She was followed by James VIII, who sang a fun arrangement of Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown.” The judges weren’t that impressed by the performance. According to Urban, it wasn’t compelling enough. While it was an interesting song choice, it just never quite built to anything. The performance fit his laid-back vibe, but it wasn’t memorable enough.
Sonika Vaid, who talked about how she collected sheet music even though she plays piano entirely by ear, took the stage in a floor-length gown next, singing “Safe and Sound” by Taylor Swift and The Civil Wars. Her performance was unbelievable on a technical level as well as an emotional level. Connick noted that it was one of the more emotional performances he has seen. Vaid has an incredible pitch and tone. The best thing she could possibly do for her next performance would be to try something a little different than a soft and pretty ballad in order to show some versatility. It would be nice to see those piano skills at some point, too. But Vaid definitely has what it takes to be the last American Idol.
Next, Gianna Isabella sang “I Put A Spell On You,” and it was a captivating performance. The song choice suited her voice, and she had a lot of confidence in the way she sang and worked the stage, nailing several impressive runs. The judges see a lot of potential in her.
Emily Brooke followed, singing “I Am Invincible” by Cassadee Pope. Brooke has really come out of her shell since last season, when she competed but was eliminated during Hollywood Week. She seems to have a stronger idea of who she wants to be as an artist. The song choice this time, however, wasn’t the best. She struggled a bit with her pitch, and the song was a little low for her, as Lopez pointed out.
Avalon Young, who talked about being a skater girl, sang “Love Yourself” by Justin Bieber. It was a great song choice, and she gave one of the best performances of the night. Connick pointed out that she seems to know who she is better than anyone else in the competition. “You had the whole audience in the palm of your hand the second you opened your mouth,” Lopez said.
Jordan Sasser, who loves turtles apparently, sang “All By Myself” by Celine Dion. The energy really built, but Urban and Lopez thought it was too theatrical. They told him to sing from his heart and be a little more authentic. “Just sing the song,” Connick said.
Thomas Stringfellow sang “Creep” by Radiohead and played guitar for his performance. It was an innovative performance that showed a lot of sides of his voice. “I thought that was tremendous,” Connick said. It was Stringfellow’s strongest performance so far in the competition.
Closing out the night of solo performances, La’Porsha Renae talked about her love of film scores before singing “Proud Mary.” She ended the night on a great note, showcasing her powerful voice as well as her very natural performance abilities. Connick said she set a very high bar for the rest of the top 24.
Idol alumni will drop by tomorrow to sing with and offer advice to the top 24. Who was your favorite tonight?
This article originally appeared in THR.com.