This week we got a double dose of performances to get the ball rolling on the finals in Idol‘s Farewell season. We started Wednesday night’s show with the names of the Top 14 fresh in our minds. The judges then announced that they had been unanimous that four contestants — La’Porsha Renae, Trent Harmon, Dalton Rapattoni, and Olivia Rox — all had to be in the Top 10, so they gave them “Fast Passes” into Thursday night’s show, leaving the other 10 to perform reprises of songs they had sung up until that point for the other 6 spots.
For brevity’s sake, I will just say that I agree, for the most part, with the four contestants the judges chose to save. I won’t rate each of the wildcard performances, given that the results are a foregone conclusion. There were however, three performances from Wednesday night that stuck out in my mind and helped seal the deal for those competitors during Thursday night’s results:
Avalon Young‘s version of “Yo, Excuse Me Miss” by Chris Brown proved the point I’ve been saying all season about her: She’s just cool and she does things no other contestant this season (or any other season, for that matter) could pull off with such swagger. Even the judges couldn’t help but draw comparisons to the effortless vibe of this performance during her critiques on Thursday night.
Sonika Vaid conquered Celine Dion’s “I Surrender” which, as the judges pointed out, is a huge song. I don’t know if the song did any favors for establishing her as a young, relatable member of Season 15’s cast, but it was certainly impressive. I think what she did on Thursday (more to come) went a long way in showing she’s got a few tricks up her sleeve though.
And MacKenzie Bourg‘s reprise of his original song “Roses” made Scott Borchetta’s heavy-handed plea for an “acoustic singer songwriter type” in the Top 10 (real subtle) seem reasonable. His delivery of the romantic intricacies of those lyrics was such that the Idol voters would be foolish not to want more from him, given what songs may be on any post-Idol albums he releases.
Fortunately, all three of those contestants, along with Tristan McIntosh, Gianna Isabella, and Lee Jean made the Top 10 when the results were revealed at the beginning of Thursday night’s show. Personally, I would have taken the quirky Jenn Bloisil, the unpredictable Jeneve Mitchell, or the hiccuping Thomas Stringfellow over any of the latter three, but America made their voice heard and so we must respect their decision… by judging every last detail of the performances we saw from the Top 10 on Thursday night:
Olivia Rox‘s performance of Katy Perry’s “Unconditionally” was a reminder of how current her type of voice is. She’s got that deep, powerful voice that fits right in with other industry vets like Ms. Perry and Ms. Lovato, whose song she tackled last week. I would like to see her take it down a notch with either her guitar or piano next week and just focus on her pitch, because she was lacking that in places this week and the song’s odd arrangement didn’t help her any. That might be the type of performance she needs to break into this season’s Top 4 or 5, rather than being relegated to a 6th or 7th place finish behind bigger personalities. Rating: B-
Gianna Isabella proved why she wasn’t one of my picks to be in the Top 10 with her performance of Beyoncé’s “Listen.” Kelly Clarkson, in her new role as one of Idol‘s most hilarious and insightful guest judges over 15 seasons, said it best: her immaturity as an artist reared its ugly head when she chose a Beyoncé song that was just far too big for her voice at this stage. Unlike Sonika, Gianna wasn’t able to reach every note she set out to hit and it made certain parts of the performance stick out like a sore thumb. Rating: C-
Lee Jean also confirmed my worst fears by mumbling his way through Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love.” The song itself is beautiful, but as the judges pointed out, Lee didn’t own up to the story and lyrics. If he survives next week’s double elimination, I’d like to see him pick a song that’s a little more mellow and just connect with it. I think that will be the best thing he could do to remain true to his so-called “niché.” Either that or surprise us with something completely different. Rating: C-
Avalon Young‘s slowed-down version of Shawn Mendes’ hit “Stitches” wasn’t everything that her wildcard performance was, but it gave her a chance to actually sing, which is always a nice reminder to the Idol audience that she can hang with the big dogs in this competition. I do think, however, that she either needs to go bigger and own up to her penchant for R&B ballads like she did with Ruben during her duet, or stick to her rap-talk style of singing. Like the judges, I worry that she won’t fully own up to her place as this season’s most unique contestant. Rating: C+
Dalton Rapattoni made, what I think, was his most predictable song choice this season and delivered a punk rock version of the Plain White T’s “Hey There Delilah.” While vocally, it wasn’t bad, it just also felt like it wasn’t the most creative thing up his sleeve and when Dalton referenced David Cook’s creativity in his intro package, the bar was set high for me and I hoped that the guy who received one of this season’s fast passes would really bring it with a double elimination on the line. Hopefully, with more time to rehearse, next week’s performance will be one to remember. Rating: B-
Tristan McIntosh finally got some honest feedback from the judges this week when Harry told her that she needs to choose better songs. The country lane just isn’t giving Tristan the chance to use her voice the way it should be and her performance of Dan + Shay’s “Nothin’ Like You” was a prime example of that. The entire song was in the least pleasant part of her range and the wordy lyrics never gave her a chance to spread her wings. Kudos to Ms. Clarkson for suggesting Trisha Yearwood because I genuinely think Tristan would shine with one of her songs. Rating: C
MacKenzie Bourg delivered just when I thought Season 15’s first live performance show was going to go into the books as a stinker. With his take on Ed Sheeran’s “I See Fire,” MacKenzie navigated his vocal limitations so well as to make them seem like strengths. The only thing I wanted from him was a little more intensity because of the way Mr. Sheeran performs that song and the fact that MacKenzie is being compared to Season 8’s Kris Allen. Those are big boots to fill and I think if MacKenzie is going to win it all, he has to be more creative and pick more unexpected songs. Rating: B
La’Porsha Renae got a standing ovation and a baby named in her honor after her performance of Rihanna’s “Diamonds” turned a semi-lackluster radio single by the Barbadian pop star into the night’s most exciting performance. Even Kelly Clarkson declared her the show’s winner among a season of extremely strong competitors and I can only hope that the other nine contestants heard that and decided they had to step up their game. Still, the effortlessness of La’Porsha’s runs and the perfection of her emotional connection to song makes her a real threat to follow in Candice Glover’s footsteps. Rating: A
Sonika Vaid, as if to not be outdone, threw the gauntlet down with a surprisingly powerful rendition of Evanescence’s “Bring Me To Life.” Sonika ditched her stiff, pageant-like demeanor, rocking boots and a big black dress as she worked the stage and slayed a vocal dragon for a dessert that was more than worthy of following up La’Porsha’s main course. I didn’t even mind the few iffy notes near the end given that we finally got to see an authentic side of one of our youngest contestants. Rating: A-
Trent Harmon got the night’s final performance with Sam Smith’s “Like I Can” and I see why. His performance may have been lost in the fray if he had sung any earlier and I still believe he’s too talented to go home so soon. That said, while Sam Smith is one of the few current musicians whose tone can compare to Trent’s own, this performance felt like Dalton’s in that I know Trent is capable of better and more creative things. I liked the performance, I enjoyed his take on an uptempo song for once, but I agree with Kelly when she said that Trent could have a really quiet, intimate moment with his falsetto next week and earn some new fans. Rating: B-
With the night’s performances said and done, Kelly took the stage and showed everyone why the Idol franchise has been so successful with her at the helm. She sang her extremely personal single “Piece By Piece” and couldn’t get through it all without a few tears, which seemed to spread to the contestants and the judges before the performance was through. I’m not surprised that everyone seems to be talking about it even now and if you haven’t seen it, definitely go check it out. My hope is that seeing a performance like this will inspire Season 15’s contestants to deliver the same kind of raw, vulnerable emotion in the coming weeks to prove their worth as Kelly’s bookend.
For an extra dose of nostalgia, I’m going to talk about where the contestants from Seasons 8 and 9 are now. As I said last week, Season 9 winner Lee DeWyze is currently touring the country to promote his new album “Oil & Water” which is full of the kind of heartfelt and personal acoustic tunes that he’s known for. Runner-up Crystal Bowersox is also on a tour of her own, playing songs from the three albums she’s released since Idol: Farmer’s Daughter, All That For This, and Promises. Other Season 9 alum have also success with albums from third placer Casey James and a crowdfunded album from 10th place contestant Didi Benami, as well as singles from 5th placer Aaron Kelly. Katie Stevens, the victim of Season 9’s double elimination, has also gone on to star on MTV’s hilarious hit show “Faking It,” and the third season of which premieres on March 15th.
Season 8 also boasts success in its own right, with winner Kris Allen set to release his fourth post-Idol album “Letting You In” and having just released the single off it, entitled “Waves.” Runner-up Adam Lambert has been touring the world as the new lead singer of the classic rock band Queen and has released a few albums of his own including “The Original High” just last year. The remaining group of contestants have also all released music in some form of another, with rocker Allison Iraheta now working with her band Halo Circus, third placer Danny Gokey releasing another album, and even Matt Giraud, Anoop Desai, Megan Joy and, of course, my friend Michael Sarver striking it out on their own with some fantastic original tunes. There was no shortage of talent on Season 8 and it definitely gave us the most variety of personalities and sounds, which is why it will go down as one of Idol‘s best seasons.
With that nostalgic look back, I turn it over you to tell me in the poll below which contestants were your favorites on Thursday night’s show. With what we saw, I expect Gianna and Lee to be the victims of next week’s double elimination, but with Idol, you just never know. I’ll see you next Friday morning since Idol’s performance and results show will both be on Thursday night’s two-hour Top 8 episode!