By this time next week, American Idol‘s first-ever at-home edition will be way slimmed down. After 20 singers became the first Idol class to sing for spots in the top 10 from their homes on Sunday night, America will find out next week which semifinalists will keep rocking it from their rec rooms for a shot at the season 18 top prize.
Billboard hopped on a conference call with the top 20 on Monday (April 27), along with reporters from several other outlets as well, to talk about the challenges of singing from home, their dream collaborators if they make it to the season finale, and why the songs they chose say a lot about the times we’re living in.
Check out their answers below.
Makayla Phillips said being homeschooled her whole life was great training for her quarantine Idol performance, and even though it was disappointing to move from the expected big stage in Hollywood to her makeshift home studio, she made the most of it with a spirited run through Ariana Grande’s “Greedy.” In these difficult times, Phillips said she opted for a “feel-good” song with a great melody and beat that she hoped would put smiles on viewers’ faces. “I want people to feel good and dance a little bit,” she said.
Dillon James said he picked Ray LaMontagne’s “Let It Be Me” because it’s a favorite that reminds him of the hard times he’s been through with drugs and alcohol. As he’s straightened out, the song took on a new meaning to him, and with everything going on in the world right now and a global feeling of loss, he tried to make the Idol audience feel a bit less alone.
Franklin Boone had a very simple reason for picking Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” Number one, the intro lyric “welcome to your life” spoke to the feeling we’re all having now about staying home and being sheltered in place. “With everything changing around us, it feels like there’s no turning back,” he said, adding that the lyrics also might fit the attitude of some of our leaders as well. Plus, he just wanted to take a chance with a more rocking song.
Julia Gargano also picked a tune that felt timely in Christina Perri’s “Human,” dedicating it to the people on the frontlines fighting COVID-19: nurses, doctors, husbands, wives and family members who’ve become “instant heroes” for all of us.
Francisco Martin chose Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” not just because he wanted to pay homage to one of the judges, but also because growing up, he always dreamed of a music career. “I guess you could say it was my teenage dream,” he said, hoping to inspire others to follow their rainbows.
Jonny West knew a long time ago that he was going to go with Louis Armstrong’s classic “What a Wonderful World” because he hadn’t done a love song in competition, but also because the track took on much more meaning as the coronavirus pandemic became more serious. “Hopefully it put everyone in the headspace of what’s waiting for us outside when all this is done,” he said.
Louis Knight fell in love with “If The World Was Ending” by JP Saxe with Julia Michaels the very first time he heard it not only because it’s a “beautiful love story,” but also because in light of the pandemic, he felt like now “everyone has someone they wish they could spend moments like with with.”
For Just Sam, the choice was always clear: Fantasia. The singer said some of her favorite moments watching Idol as “a little girl staring at the TV screen” involved the season 3 winner. “That could literally be me,” she said she thought.
The story was similar for Aliana Jester, who picked Whitney Houston’s “Run to You” because judge Lionel Richie said she reminded him of a young Houston, but also because her dad had wanted her to sing it for a long time.
Billboard asked some of contestants who they’d want to be paired with if they got a chance to sing with one of the show’s frequent guest stars during the season or on the finale.
Francisco Martin: Maggie Rogers, because she’s been such an inspiration for him as a singer.
Sophia Wackerman: Hozier or Sara Barielles, because they are her favorite artists.
Olivia Ximines: Jennifer Hudson or Beyoncé. The latter because she loves her so much and if Bey could come to her house she would just “melt.”
Arthur Gunn: His long list included The Black Keys, Jack Johnson or Damian Marley.
Louis Knight: Coldplay’s Chris Martin or Lewis Capaldi, both of whom have had a huge influence on him as songwriters.
Grace Leer: Her long list included Faith Hill, Martina McBride, former Idol winner Carrie Underwood, Trisha Yearwood, Highwomen, Brandi Carlile, Amanda Shires and several more.
Just Sam: In keeping with her earlier answer, it would have to be Fantasia or Cynthia Erivo.
Aliana Jester: No biggie, just Beyoncé or Kelly Clarkson. The former because she feels like their voices would harmonize well, the latter because, well, she’s been watching her since day one.
Billboard also asked some of the singers if they snuck a few Easter eggs into their home performance sets for eagle-eyed viewers. Faith Becnel said she was just so nervous at first about setting up her home recording situation and being her own creative director. But once she “embraced my own creativity” and enlisted her family to help her dress the set, she felt much better.
Lauren Spencer-Smith said all the contestants were worried at first about what their backgrounds would look like, and after FaceTiming and chatting to help each other out, she figured the best thing she could do is sing in the one spot she never thought she’d get to: the deck facing the lake outside her family home.
Francisco Martin performed in front of a wall of photos and if you really look closely, on the third row from the bottom, you may have spotted his golden ticket from his Oregon audition. “That audition means the most to me because that’s when I was at my lowest,” he said of the feelings of insecurity and nervousness at his tryout. It ended up being “super memorable” and now he’s excited that his mom framed the ticket for him.
Sophia Wackerman didn’t hide anything special, but just being able to sing in her family’s living room, around the fireplace where they’ve gathered for so many memorable nights, was very meaningful for her.
The same went Olivia Ximines, who performed in front of a “bunch of pictures” of herself and her sister when they were little. “She’s one of my inspirations and we’re super close” she said, noting that she also sang in front of the fireplace where her fam has played games, watched TV and hung out for years. “It means a lot for me to perform there where I feel most comfortable and happy,” she said.
Winning From Home
This isn’t the Idol any of these singers had in mind when they signed up last year, on that they could all agree. But with the world completely changed since then, they’re doing the best they can to adjust. Phillips said it would mean “so much” to win because of how hard everyone has been working, while James said the opportunity that comes with an Idol crown is the same whether he’s standing on a soundstage in Hollywood or at home. “It’s not going to change how I feel about winning,” he said. “I will just be feeling very blessed.”
Gargano felt the same, saying a title is a title, and it won’t matter if she’s on a big stage or surrounded by a handful of family members. “Everyone is still going for that goal with the same amount of excitement,” she said. Becnel and Smith actually think it would be more special to win from home with their families all around them, with Smith adding that she could still have a “huge” house party, even if it’s just with her sister and mom.
Either way, if she wins, Smith looks forward to making an album and living the same Idol dream as the other 17 champs, while, most importantly right now, “being safe and healthy and representing that for everyone else.”