By the time you reach the top five on American Idol you definitely deserve to work with the best of the best. That’s what Grace Kinstler, Casey Bishop, Chayce Beckham, Caleb Kennedy and Willie Spence will do on Sunday (May 16), when the season 19 semi-finalists team up with a trio of legendary producers to perform new original songs as they vie for the title, Billboard can exclusively reveal.
Among the writer-producers joining the team for the night are four-time Grammy winner Christopher “Tricky” Stewart, known for his work with Beyoncé (“Single Ladies”), Rihanna (“Umbrella”), Justin Bieber (“Baby”) and Mariah Carey (“Touch My Body”), as well as Katy Perry, Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Britney Spears and Maroon 5, among many others.
They’ll also be working with two-time Grammy winner Ian Fitchuk, who has worked with everyone from Kacey Musgraves and Leon Bridges to Harry Styles and Little Big Town, and four-time BMI songwriter of the year Ross Copperman, known for writing and producing No. 1 hits for Darius Rucker, Florida Georgia Line, Blake Shelton, Luke Bryan, Dierks Bentley and many more.
A number of the contestants have performed originals this season, but Sunday night marks the first time in Idol history where the contestants have gone in to the studio to record songs that will appear on the show and be released while the competition is still going. Seven songs will be released, including ones recorded by last week’s eliminated hopefuls Arthur Gunn and Hunter Metts, who will not appear or perform on Sunday’s episode.
“When [Grace] sings, she really gives you a connectivity to the lyric. And it’s been fun to just work with a singer that understands those things,” Stewart tells Billboard about Kinstler. “Usually you only see [that] in really established artists, but she just seems to have that gift naturally.” Stewart also praised Spence’s song choice and said his voice “is bringing so much to the table, and when we got to the room we just really clicked. It was really, truly sparks.”
Copperman marveled at the talent brought by 16-year-old Kennedy, praising the depth of his songwriting. “He really knows who he is as an artist,” he says, while adding that Beckham is truly an “authentic artist” whose pain clearly comes through on the song he wrote, “23.”
As for teen rock queen Bishop, Fitchuk said despite never spending time in the studio before, the 16-year-old Florida native had a blast. “That is such a fun experience … to feed off of that creativity and energy,” he shares. Fitchuk also had high marks for Metts’ original, “20,000 Kisses,” which came with a “decent amount” of production in place already.
As for Gunn, who has proven to be an excellent interpreter of song, Copperman said after surprising Coldplay singer Chris Martin on the May 9 show by dropping what he thought was the main melody from his band’s “In My Place,” Gunn, of course, changed the time signature of the song they worked on. “At first I thought [it] was crazy, but then I realized, he just knows who he is,” he says.
After performing their original songs, the top five will fight for a spot in the live May 23 finale.
American Idol airs live Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.