American Idol Starts Building Top 24 — Immediately Boots One of Its Strongest Artists

We get that it’s hard to narrow 64 contestants down into a Top 24, but that doesn’t mean you have to get it this wrong right from the start!

It’s only the first night of Showstoppers and building our Top 24 on “American Idol,” and we’re already mad.

We get it, some artists aren’t ready, or they let their nerves get the best of them, or it just isn’t their time. But some artists are already knocking the door down and you still sent them home?

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More often than not, the judges got it right. As disappointing as it was to lose some favorites, we can understand why it went the way it did. But there were a few others who certainly had what it takes.

And worst of all, one of our tip five performances of everyone we saw Sunday night — and one of the most interesting artists of the season — was somehow went home over a whole slew of more generic performers they outshined over and over again.

The night also brought some incredible vocal performances from some fan favorites, and a few surprises from a few who were just okay but somehow found themselves and blew us all away with this final shot before the Top 24.

By the end of the night, we’re approaching the halfway point of those contestants who will start singing next week for your votes. Are your favorites still in the running? Are you mad at any of the ones who went home?

Hilariously, we have to point out how odd this year’s results are being announced, with Lionel quarantining at home after a possible Covid exposure. That meant contestants either heard their fates live from Katy and Luke or in the wall of screens where Lionel’s giant disembodied head told them their fate like a decree from the great and powerful Oz. It was … weird.

Fair warning, since I’m safe at home, I’m probably going to be a little harsher than my colleagues Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan. But I might be nicer, too. Maybe.

Just for fun, I’m going to rank the performances from worst to first for overall duet performance to see who my favorites are.

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Amanda Mena

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(“All By Myself,” Céline Dion – 18, Boston, MA) Hollywood Week is a brutal week for any vocalist, and especially some of these untrained, unpolished artists. Amanda was definitely straining her voice trying to tackle Céline as her final showstopper performance. It’s a big reach on any night, but after a week of little sleep, stress and singing every single day, it’s easily beyond most singers.

She certainly gave it her all, and it was a powerful showcase of just how much voice she has, but it was also a very copycat performance. Now that we all know the layers and tools are all there to blow us away, Katy wants to know what kind of artist she actually is underneath all of that. She’s young and we suspect she doesn’t know yet. Is this the place to find out?

Result: Going Home

Andrea Valles

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(“Blinding Lights,” The Weeknd – 23, Houston, TX) We didn’t get a lot of Andrea’s full performance, but what we saw sounded a little tepid overall. She had opportunities to really push into the bigger notes, and didn’t take them. She was a little shaky in her vibrato on the gentler tones. It also seemed to lack something in confidence.

There was nothing particularly exciting or showstopping about this performance. But past performances were enough to give her another chance. With that said, she really needs to put herself out there if she wants to make a stamp on this competition!

Result: Top 24

Alex Miller

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(“Silver Wings,” Merle Haggard – 17, Lancaster, KY) Despite constant urging from the judges to push himself creatively and into more unexpected or at least newer songs, Alex just keeps going older and older, it seems. While he said he was going to put a modern vibe on this classic, it still sounded very much like an old-school country song. The main thing is that he’s not pushing himself vocally, nor is he proving himself open to taking guidance from the judges. That’s not a great way to capture a modern audience.

None of that is to take away from his classic voice that just sits so comfortably in that country pocket, every performance sounds like it could have been lifted from an LP. He’s got the vocal tools, but does he have the strength and courage and belief in himself to figure out what kind of a vocalist he can be. To his credit, Alex took the advice admirably. We suspect we’ll see him again.

For one thing, as a coda to his story, we saw Luke Bryan come through with his promise to get Alex a shot at performing on the Grand Ole Opry stage, so someone’s going to get to see him even sooner. Our hope is that he takes that experience, all the guidance and grows into the artist we know he can be, and then comes back.

Result: Going Home

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Anthony Guzman

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(“This Love,” Maroon 5 – 27, Santa Rosa, CA) The crooner showed that there is a place in the modern music arena for his gentle, soothing sound. While he delivered a contemporary sound, he never quite lost that big band feel, which makes him fresh and exciting in a very interesting way. This wasn’t his most compelling performance, but we think he’s a unique enough artist with a vision and approach all his own when it comes to how he presents a song, that the show definitely benefits from his inclusion in it. Alas, we were clearly outvoted on this one.

Result: Going Home

Graham DeFranco

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(“Beautiful War,” Kings of Leon – 27, Rockwall, TX) There’s a buttery smoothness to Graham’s voice that really surprises. The song didn’t allow to much nuance beyond that same lane it started in, but there’s still something very inviting about how he sings it. It’s like he’s luring us in with the sweetness, we were just kind of waiting for the punch. We love what he does, but we also know he’s got more in the tank and was’t this the place to show that?

Result: Top 24

Wyatt Pike

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(“Blame It on Me,” George Ezra – 19, Park City, UT) Wyatt managed to show a lot of nuance to his vocal delivery through this song. George Ezra is not the kind of singer just any voice can pick up and perform authentically, and Wyatt did struggle a bit to keep it interesting at the same level throughout. But the many facets of his voice gave glimpses of the possibilities on songs better suited to his strengths, and that’s where it’s exciting to consider what he could do here.

Result: Top 24

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Caleb Kennedy

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(“When You Leave Tonight,” Caleb Kennedy – 16, Roebuck, SC) Caleb certainly took a risk on an original, because then you need the song to be good and you to sing it well. The chorus of this one was certainly well written, though some of the verses could have been tightened up. The song, though, was pure country heartbreak and so appropriate for his age.

He’s got that natural storyteller delivery with a lot of gravel in his voice, though we’d have liked a little bit more of a softer side at times. He was so much in one lane when he could have shown a more vulnerable vocal to emphasize the pain at moments like when she goes back to the other guy. But he’s got the goods to ride in his own lane.

Result: Top 24

Cassandra Coleman

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(“Running with the Wolves,” Aurora – 24, Columbia, TN) Once again, Cassandra’s nerves started to take over. Her best moment came when performing with Wyatt Pike in a duet, but she’s alone again this round and she needs to learn how to do this alone. When she’s in her zone, she has this haunting ethereal quality to her voice that is just stunning. It feels so organic and as rooted in the earth as her bare feet. She’s capable of creating a spiritual experience if she can bring her full self to the stage, out of her head and fully in her heart.

There was growth in this performance, and a lot of that raw potential she’s shown throughout the competition. But it wasn’t as confident as her last performance. She’s her only impediment to really having a breakthrough moment, but if it happens, watch out! But is she worth rooting for and giving that chance to find herself? We think so, too!

Result: Top 24

Casey Bishop

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(“She Talks to Angels,” The Black Crowes – 15, Estero, FL) We loved Casey far more on the verses then when she was wailing on the chorus. In those moments, she felt like a storyteller and we believed her. Through the chorus, it got dangerously close to shrill. She’s got a huge voice, but the performance lacked a bit of that rock edge, and even more dangerously, it didn’t sound quite believable.

That said, the voice was very powerful and she can grow into stronger connections to the songs she chooses so we believe that not only did she write them, but that they’re autobiographical. That can come with age. The voice is there now, but the tools around it to make her believable as an artist with vision are still coming along.

They left her fate as a cliffhanger alongside Alanis Sophia, but based on the words they were using, the fact we only saw ten people advance and the quality of both performances, we suspect the Top 24 is in both of their futures.

Prediction: Top 24

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Hannah Everhart

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(“Wrecking Ball,” Miley Cyrus – 17, Canton, MS) There’s no denying her vocal ability, as she effortlessly sailed through both verse and chorus on this song — and they couldn’t demand more different elements of your voice. She still needs to work on her physicality and really selling the song through performance, as that will only enhance the incredible gift she already has.

It was nice to see her step out from behind the mic and give it a bit of a shot, but this is definitely the area where she’s going to need the most work to really shine the way her voice would seem to demand. She would say on a “Voice” blind audition, or even on an audio recording. It’s just a little too sleepy, cool and relaxed when you’re looking at it.

Result: Top 24

Beane

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(“What’s Going On,” Marvin Gaye – 23, Boston, MA) This stripped back version of Marvin Gaye’s classic had us just oozing with the groove and the powerful intensity of his voice from the jump. His vibrato was perfection, the tone of his voice so silky smooth, he performed this song like he’s been doing it for decades. Perhaps he has put in his time on it as a wedding singer. Whatever it is, though, this is the kind of clarity as an artist we need to see. He’s a little geeky and endearing, but it’s all about what he brought vocally, and that was beautiful and dynamic through all the variances in the song.

Result: Top 24

Murphy

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(“Am I Still Mine?,” Murphy – 27, Baltimore, MD) Murphy is a special dude even before he opens his mouth and sings. But then he does that, and he’s an artist. This was a great original song performed by someone who’s lived some life, experienced some pain and really knows how to share all of his feelings through a lyric. He’s a special kind of artist the show is lucky to have stumbled upon.

Learning that he’s also going blind only adds to the strength and perseverance we know he must have to carry through a show of bright lights that wants to demand eye contact. He’s very cool and chill, but he knows who he is as an artist and who he is is pretty damned exciting.

Result: Going Home

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Chayce Beckham

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(“You Should Probably Leave,” Chris Stapleton – 24, Apple Valley, CA) What Chayce lacks in a dynamic stage presence he more than makes up for with a wonderfully natural rasp and a beautiful voice for storytelling. This song doesn’t go too many places vocally, but what it does is convey an emotion, a mood that we have to believe. Chris has made a career out of his own incredible abilities in this area and Chayce seems to have that exact same natural gift. It’s rare and it’s beautiful because they can do so much with so little.

Result: Top 24

Alyssa Wray

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(“I’m Here,” from “The Color Purple” – 18, Perryville, KY) What an exciting performer Alyssa has emerged as, incredibly gifted, versatile and in total command of not only the vocals, but our emotions at home watching her. This was a moving performance, an anthem of self-acceptance, and she delivered it with such honesty that we found ourselves feeling every bit of it right there with her. That’s a special kind of performance and this right here was that elusive “moment” all artists want.

Katy, however, though it was a little over the top, but we’re picturing the type of Broadway performances like “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” and “This Is Me.” These are anthems that demand larger than life performances and that performance gave us life. She doesn’t have to do that every week, but to know that she can, that’s a weapon!

Result: Top 24

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Jason Warrior

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(“Believer,” Imagine Dragons –  25, Chicago, IL) Jason may have thought this song choice was a risk — it’s definitely not an easy song to tackle — but he made it look so effortless. He packed so much heart into it, we were left with a powerful and memorable performance. If this is your last-ditch effort to make your mark on this show before the biggest cut, Jason did not come to play. That was incredibly authentic rock from someone who hasn’t shown that side of his voice yet. This guy sings with passion that is believable, and a power and grit that is undeniable.

Result: Top 24

Alanis Sophia

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(“Uninvited,” Alanis Morrissette – 19, Dade City, FL) There is absolutely nowhere to hide in this song, it is all about the voice. If you don’t sell the emotional journey the OG Alanis put into it, then you’ve failed on it. And Alanis is by no means an easy artist to cover. This song has all of her angst and pain and gentleness and misdirection all in one, and namesake Alanis nailed every bit of it.

Yes, it was a little bit copycat, but at the same time she had moments in there that were definitely hers. Most importantly, she showed everything as to who she is as an artist, and who she could be. And the sky is the absolute limit. Is it a little weird she can sound so much like the woman she was named after? Yes. Do we care? Not when that sound is this good.

They left her fate as a cliffhanger alongside Casey Bishop, but based on the words they were using, the fact we only saw ten people advance and the quality of both performances, we suspect the Top 24 is in both of their futures.

Prediction: Top 24

”American Idol” continues Sundays and Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.


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