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Andrew is a staff writer at the “The Hudsucker”. He is a 30 year old lawyer living in Ottawa. Besides legal jargon, his brain capacity is taken up by reality show trivia, video game walk-throughs and room escape strategies. Andrew is also happily in a long-term, long-distance relationship. Follow him on Twitter as @sublymonal.

American Idol XV: Top 24, Group 1 Show

This week we got a double dose of our first twelve contestants before the judges cut them from an even dozen to the lucky seven who would move on to the Top 14 show next week. On Wednesday night, we saw each of them sing solo then on Thursday night’s results show, they sang with a possible six Idol alum: Season 2 Winner Ruben Studdard, Season 3 Winner Fantasia, Season 11 Champ and runner-up Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina, and Season 13 and 14’s winners Caleb Johnson and Nick Fradiani. Below, I’m going to break down all of those performances and talk about whether the judges saved the right people based on what we saw from each of them on both nights:

Stephany Negrete – I appreciated Stephany’s attempt to bring an edge to her performance of Jessie J’s “Mamma Knows Best” in order to shake her pageant vibe, but as the judges said, the performance lacked emotional connection. That said, her duet partner Ruben helped bring out that side of her in their duet to The Carpenter’s “Superstar” that I thought was a definite improvement and made me wonder what could have been. Solo Rating: C+ | Duet Rating: B- | Result: Eliminated

Mackenzie and Lauren have a bit of romantic chemistry during their duet of Leanne Womack’s “I Hope You Dance” [Credit: FOX Entertainment]

Mackenzie Bourg – If I had to nitpick, I’d dock Mackenzie for choosing a predictable song, but as J Lo said, now is the time to be a little safe and show them your best and Mackenzie’s vocal decisions made A Great Big World’s “Say Something” raw and authentic in ways that the radio version lacked. He made it his own in as many ways as he could in such a short time. Furthermore, although he and partner Lauren  seemed like an odd match, their voices complimented each other well on Leanne Womack’s “I Hope You Dance” rather than mixing like oil and water (which is also the title of Season 9 Winner Lee DeWyze’s new album, out today). Solo Rating: A- | Duet Rating: A- | Result: In the Top 14

Jeneve Mitchell – Like Harry, I felt Jeneve’s rendition of Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” was hampered by her decision to play the harp. That, combined with an uncharacteristic inability on her part to find the melody made her performance confusing. Still, her vast array of instrumental talents and her vocal abilities prior to now make me think she has more potential than some of her competitors. I was also a little unsure of what to think about her duet to Montgomery Gentry’s “Gone” with Scotty, which seemed to verge on campy throughout and sacrificed her talent for an awkward sense of showmanship. Solo Rating: C+ | Duet Rating: C+ | Result: In the Top 14

Jenna Renae – For the judges, Jenna’s ability to descend into the realm of gospel-country with Maren Morris’s “My Church” was a welcome surprise, but for me, it was off-putting. It felt more like she was playing a character and, like Harry said, it descended into “shouty” too often to suit Jenna’s voice. Her lower register also didn’t sound great on her duet with Scotty to his song “See You Tonight” and so, despite being one of my favorites coming into this week, I’m not totally upset about her elimination. Solo Rating: C | Duet Rating: C- | Result: Eliminated

James VIII – The judges came down hard on James for his sleepy rendition of Kanye’s “Love Lockdown” but for me it suited his low-key funky personality. Sure, it wasn’t bombastic and memorable, but James lived up to the comparison I made to Phillip Phillips last week. I just think it was the wrong time for a low-key performance. James’s musicality also came out to play in his duet to the Rolling Stone’s “Gimme Shelter” with Caleb, but despite the way his cool vibe seemed to compliment Caleb’s rocker shtick, the judges didn’t seem to see his potential.  Solo Rating: C+ | Duet Rating: B- | Result: Eliminated

Sonika conquers her stage fright to deliver a strong version of “Safe and Sound” [Credit: FOX Entertainment]

Sonika Vaid – I compared Sonika to Season 5’s balladeer Kat McPhee and I stand by that comparison. Her voice navigated through her rendition of Taylor Swift and the Civil Wars’ “Safe & Sound” like a fine sports car, but she needs to find the emotion to match and overcome her deer-in-the-headlights look while on stage. Sonika also dueted with Caleb to Adele’s “Skyfall,” which suited both of their voices individually but when combining Sonika’s crystal clear tone with Caleb’s rocker rasp, the end result wasn’t quite as good. Solo Rating: B | Duet Rating: C+ | Result: In the Top 14

Gianna Isabella – The judges hit it on the head when they called Gianna’s performance of Screaming Jay Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell On You” inconsistent. There were parts where her body language was over-the-top and amateurish but, in other places, she showed potential for better things. Her youthful awkwardness was even more evident in her duet with Nick on his winner’s sing “Beautiful Life.” I didn’t feel anything from her that made me believe she had evolved from that teenager singing into her hairbrush in the mirror. She’s going to need some mentoring in the next round to tap into that potential. Solo Rating: C+ | Duet Rating: D+ | Result: In the Top 14

Emily Brooke – Emily’s penchant for picking songs by Voice contestants finally caught up to her when she fumbled her way through Cassadee Pope’s “I Am Invincible.” I can only attribute her watered down vocals to starting the song too low and nerves. If she had any hope of moving on, it would be based on untapped potential and prior performances alone. Her duet with Lauren Alaina to Carrie Underwood’s “Flat on the Floor” was an improvement on her solo effort, but there was no doubt that Lauren’s experience since graduating from the Idol stage meant that she upstaged Emily throughout, despite the similarities between them. Solo Rating: D- | Duet Rating: C+ | Result: Eliminated

Avalon shows another side of herself in her duet with Season 2 winner Ruben Studdard. [Credit: FOX Entertainment]

Avalon Young – As I said during my breakdown of the Top 24 last week, Avalon is in a lane of her own and her take on Bieber’s “Love Yourself” showed that better than anything. Sure, she was sharp in places, but her laid back style is unmatched by her competitors and her uniqueness might be what wins the day. Probably one of the biggest surprises of the night was the fact that she was able to go toe-to-toe with Ruben and sing one of the night’s only authentic duets to his Idol single “Flying Without Wings.” Avalon is the Idol equivalent of ten-course tasting menu and I, like the judges, am excited to see what’s next. Solo Rating: B | Duet Rating: B | Result: In The Top 14

Jordan Sasser – Jordan’s haircut may have been a major style improvement but his tendency to fall back on heavy-handed vocal tactics came back to bite him during his performance of Celine Dion’s “All By Myself.” Harry said it best when he told Jordan that he could have scaled it back a bit, breaking out the big notes at the very end instead of belting right the way through. Jordan got lucky, though, when he sang Fantasia’s Idol single “I Believe” with her during the duet round. It was a true Idol moment for Fantasia back in Season 3 and despite Jordan’s penchant to try and tug the reigns from her, he still sounded more in check than he did in his performance from the night before. Solo Rating: C- | Duet Rating: B- | Result: Eliminated

Thomas Stringfellow – After last week’s show, Thomas tweeted that he caught on to his tendency to hiccup his way through a song. I found, this week, he toned it down a bit and while his phrasing and pronunciation on some words in Radiohead’s “Creep” was a little odd, he still brought one of the more interesting dishes to the table. Despite the judges’ harsh criticism, I also enjoyed his take on Michael Jackson’s “Man In The Mirror” with Nick. I thought Thomas’s voice had a bit of Michael in it at the beginning and when he and Nick came together, it wasn’t as unpleasant as some of the other Idol/contestant collisions of the night. Solo Rating: B | Duet Rating: B- | Result: In the Top 14

La’Porsha and Season 3 winner Fantasia duet on her breakout moment during Season 3, Porgy and Bess’s “Summertime” [Credit: FOX Entertainment]

La’Porsha Renae – La’Porsha’s vocals and experience came out to play as she closed with the performance of the night on Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary.” Sure, it toed the line between campy, but it’s a classic song that lends itself to that. The little places that she did change it were a perfect example of her ownership of herself and, like Keith said, it didn’t feel like an overwrought attempt to show off her ability to sing runs. La’Porsha also had one of the best duets of the night when she was paired with an Idol alum that shares her own “single mom just trying to make it” story. The end result was her and Fantasia killing it with immaculate runs and adorable mentor-student chemistry on Tasia’s breakout moment during Season 3: Porgy and Bess’ “Summertime.” Solo Rating: A | Duet Rating: A | Result: In the Top 14

In the end, I can’t say I disagree with the judges’ decisions too much. I may have swapped the youthful and inexperience Gianna for the potential of either Stephany or James, but she may be the inevitable victim of next week’s 4-person cut, so that may be neither here nor there.

Season 10’s talented Top 4 from left to right: Haley, Scotty, James and Lauren. [Credit: FOX Entertainment]

Now before I wrap this week’s recap up and leave you to vote in the polls, I’m going to touch on the success of some of the alum we saw this week. Season 10 boasted some strong talent, including country rivals Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina. We also saw bluesy underdog Haley Reinhart sneak her way into the Top 3 despite some harsh criticism from the judges and metal rocker James Durbin get the boot at fourth. But where are they all now? Well, Scotty and Lauren have both released several albums. Scotty’s first two “Clear As Day” and “See You Tonight” were both met with critical success that has him working on a third untitled album. He released the first single off it, “Southern Belle,” last August. Lauren’s post-Idol effort, “Wildflower” also sold decently and she has since released another single “Next Boyfriend” off her self-titled EP.

Third place contestant Haley Reinhart has found success in her own way. After releasing a catchy pop album entitled “Listen Up!” in 2012, Haley went back to her jazz roots and has since been releasing successful covers on youtube and iTunes (including one of Elvis’s
Can’t Help Falling In Love” and including a few with the band Post Modern Jukebox). Fourth place rocker James Durbin has also been forging his own path, having released two albums since Idol: “Memories of a Beautiful Disaster” (his rock-infused album) and “Celebrate” (His acoustic pop album). He is currently working on a pledge music funded 3rd album that is supposed to hark back to his metal roots. Other Season 10 alum like Stefano Langone, Pia Toscano, and Paul McDonald have all released singles, with Paul releasing a kickstarter funded EP in his signature style entitled “Slow Rising” just recently. Once again, it’s good to see a fruitful harvest from Season 10’s talented crop of contestants and I personally am looking forward to seeing Haley duet with two contestants during next week’s results show.

With that, I leave you to vote on the polls below and tell me in the comments whether you think the judges got the eliminations right this week. Otherwise, I will see you next Friday with my recap of the second group of 12 who perform on Wednesday and Thursday night beginning at 8PM Eastern/7PM Central.

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