Seven more spots are up for grabs in the American Idol
season 16 Top 14 as the second half of the Top 24 hits the stage, performing for a chance to earn America's vote when the live shows begin. It remains to be seen, however, exactly how much trust the reboot will put in viewers.
Back in the original final season, the judges moved four favorites -- Dalton Rapattoni, Olivia Rox, La'Porsha Renae and eventual winner Trent Harmon -- straight through before we sorted through the scrap heap to round out the Top 10 -- or, as I referred to it, handing out orange vests and ordering us to pick up most of the trash from the side of the highway.
The future format is thus far unknown, but what is apparent is that season 16 is Cade Foehner's to lose. His unique talent, polished nature and mainstream appeal is presently unmatched, though Gabby Barrett has some Carrie Underwood-like potential that is not yet fully formed. And while there are some standouts in this group, they've got their work cut out for them.
So who will rise to the occasion and declare himself or herself a contender? Let's find out.
Amelia Hammer Harris Believes
After Ryan Seacrest introduces the judges (Katy Perry is wearing a full-body, one-pattern pantsuit/romper, complete with matching scarf, jacket and tights, that looks like she's trying to blend in with wallpaper), Amelia Hammer Harris kicks things off.
Katy told her she had plenty of outward style but needed to work on projecting the inward. To teach her about personality, mentor Bobby Bones feigns a radio interview where looks and clothing can't help. She flops but learns her lesson.
She's singing Imagine Dragons' "Believer," which is a questionable choice when it comes to pacing and showing off vocal prowess. The lyrics are also too fast for her, which means she's blurting them out while struggling to keep up. She owns the stage and has the "it" factor vibe, but the harmonies are off and the performance is just okay.
Katy enjoyed it and appreciates the versatility, but she still wants to see more shades of the Hammer. Lionel is fascinated because every time he thinks he has her figured out, she shows something new. Luke feels like she was chasing until she hit the verse.
Garrett Jacobs Can Treat Us Better
The judges likened his terrible dance moves to Gumby, and Bobby forces him to cut a rug in front of a mirror. After all, he watches game footage to get better at football, and this is the same thing. Thankfully, he's keeping both left feet still this time around.
It's Shawn Mendes' "Treat You Better," which he claims he wants to slow down and strip out before launching into a karaoke rendition that is the same speed and emotional tone as the original. It's good karaoke, at least, until he kneels down to high five the ladies in the crowd and forgets he's supposed to be singing.
Lionel is all like, "Remember when you bent down and got sexy?" before urging him not to get distracted from the vocals. Luke points out that Garrett is not the best singer but is "such a daggone heartthrob, even without trying. The problem is that this time, he was trying. Katy wants him to go with the flow and stop overthinking because she needs smooth and this was rocky.
Maddie Poppe Hits a Brand New Key
Maddie has shown flashes of brilliance and buttloads of originality, and she and Bobby talk about dealing with expectation and disappointment. She's afraid of failure, so she doesn't like to get her hopes up, which has an impact on her confidence. Bobby encourages her to trust in herself and be bold.
She's singing Melanie's "Brand New Key," and I can't say how true to the original it is seeing as how I've never heard it before. That being said, it's pretty spectacular. She nails the difficult key changes on the chorus, and she makes singing about having a brand new pair of roller skates rather entertaining.
Luke also doesn't know the song, but it made him want to go skipping down the beach and offers a true vision of her artistry. Katy finds her infectious and can feel the authenticity, while Lionel believes that she combined her sound, look and attitude into one stupendous package. They all agree that this is her road to success.
Ada Vox is Feeling Good
While Adam Sanders does feel like there's a void of Ada Voxes in the mainstream, he developed her as a safety blanket and has fears that it will become a shtick on the show. He didn't set out to be a drag queen, just a singer, and he discusses Adam and Ada as separate people.
Ada is singing Nina Simone's "Feeling Good," and the full range is on display. The voice is spectacular and the performance is stunning, but the question remains if there is a place in the mainstream for this style. Still, she will absolutely rule the New York City drag scene after this, unless, you know, they get catty.
Katy gives her the "We're not worthy" bow and offers a "wig snatch, wig flew" before declaring that Ada is here to win. Lionel calls her a force to be reckoned with, while Luke lauds her ability to bring the house down every time.
Caleb Lee Hutchinson Won't Live Sad
Caleb was a big Scotty McCreery fan, and his friends used to prod him that the Idol winner was impersonating him by locking the doors and turning the lights down low. Bobby apparently saw the connection as well because he brings Scotty in to offer his sage country advice.
Continuing the trend of songs I don't know -- which are generally all country -- he's singing Thomas Rhett's "Die a Happy Man." It looks and sounds exactly like I'd expect it to, and I imagine that this guy will have a career even though he's probably not winning this competition. It's good country, but cookie cutter country. No frills or flash.
Lionel calls him "simple and solid," saying it's a "crystal clear identity" from the first note. Katy believes Caleb's voice has wisdom beyond his 19 years, while Luke praises his subtle coolness even though he didn't love the song choice.
Effie Passero Loves Killer Fish
In the showcase round, she honored her mom with a love-filled ballad. They didn't get along well while she was growing up, but they're reevaluating what's important and working to improve their relationship. Bobby encourages her to use the raw emotions as a weapon because it's a hard thing to fake and shouldn't be wasted.
She's rocking out on Heart's "Barracuda," and while she's got the attitude, she doesn't quite have the pipes for it. It's a rollicking good time, but if you pick such a huge song (I actually blasted it on the radio today while I was driving), you simply have to crush it. If it's only "good," it pales in comparison.
Luke doesn't feel like she commanded the stage as a superstar, but she's one of the best singers left and deserves to be here. Katy calls it flawless and can see stardust sprinkling, but it's not convincing. And Lionel loves that she's making the most of her opportunities.
Can Alyssa Raghu Stay?
The knock against Alyssa, according to the judges, is that she's mostly forgettable. It's accurate because I can't recall whether or not we saw her more than once since Hollywood Week started. Bobby reminds her that every little movement matters on stage, and he makes her walk the runway to prove that she owns it.
She kicks off Rihanna's "Stay" by firing up the crowd, asking if they're ready for her, which is bizarre on an emotional ballad. Then she starts singing, and the only standout moments are when she noticeably over-sings and over-extends way too many notes. There's also a ton of pitchy moments, and at least one that is flat-out cringe-worthy.
Luke claims that Alyssa "didn't have him until tonight," which is ridiculous. Katy believes the tone is what cuts through the rest of the competition, but the 16-year-old is still figuring things out. Lionel feels the fragility, and he wants more confidence brought to the table.
Marcio Donaldson is Unforgettable
Marcio sucks at social media, and his Instagram has no profile picture, no posts and no followers. The last one seems obvious because who would follow an Instagram account with no pictures? The homework is at least two posts a day to let people into his life because otherwise they'll think he's a Russian bot.
He's going old-school with Natalie Cole's "Inseparable," and it's smooth, sweet and just about perfect. There's nothing negative to say, even if there's a tendency to overuse the vibrato. Is it a compliment to say that it could lull you to sleep? I don't think that means I was bored by it. Was I bored by it? It was pretty.
Lionel believes it was an honest tribute to his late friend Natalie, Katy sees and is impressed with Marcio and his perfect choices, and Luke calls him a survivor who delivered a world-class performance.
Mara Justine Refuses to Jog
The America's Got Talent Top 10 alum has huge pipes but also a tendency to overdo the hair flips, so Bobby breaks down the game film. He loves her passion and confidence, but he urges her to learn control and use it only in certain times for emphasis.
She picks Whitney Houston's "Run to You," and Bobby makes fun of her decision "to scale it back by doing a Whitney Houston song." She has the power and range for it, and this is the most grown-up she's looked since we first saw her at age 12, but it's too mature for her to pull off flawlessly. There's a pitchy moment or two, but it's mostly solid with a glimpse into her eventual potential.
Luke is spellbound because he's previously only seen Mara's edgy, rambunctious, rocking side prior to this. Katy pulls out the tired and old "sing the phone book" line, like anyone watching this show has a landline. And Lionel rambles something about standing still and letting the crowd come to him, even though all we can focus on is wondering who forgot to put his or her cell on vibrate and can't be bothered to buy a ringtone.
Jurnee Can't See in the Dark
Military wife Jurnee is up next, and Ryan makes a "Don't Stop Believin'" joke before she opens up to Bobby about her sexuality and struggles with bullying. But it makes her who she is, and she's happy and confident now. Bobby is inspired.
She's singing Jessie J's "Flashlight," and like Marcio, it's amazing without making me feel anything. She sounds great and hits all the big notes, and I'm definitely impressed with her chops. But I don't love it. Am I tired or something? Again, I have nothing negative to say, but I can't put my finger on what's missing.
Katy knows that Jurnee can sing circles around everyone and lauds her easy confidence, but she wants to be brought to her knees and have her heart shattered by the power of the universe -- and this didn't do that. Lionel knows she is talented beyond her age, but he wants more attitude. Luke urges her not to make it look so easy because the effortlessness doesn't make it feel like she's earning it.
Shannon O'Hara Tackles a Giant
Shannon brought Katy Perry to tears with her rendition of "Unconditionally" last time, and now she's channeling her dad's recent firing and need to help her family into Adele's "All I Ask." It's a path Bobby can relate to, and he urges Shannon not to get so caught up in real life that she doesn't enjoy the journey she's taking now.
It's the best of both worlds because while there are moments that are flat-out off-key, she also delivers the first and only goosebumps of the night on the chorus.
Lionel could tell the moment she took the mic out of the stand and relaxed. And while Luke thinks she did a great job, the best compliment he can offer is, "At the proper time, you moved." Lofty. Katy praises versatility for, like, the 100th time and calls Shannon a "gorgeous goddess," but she reminds her -- and others -- to remember that this is a competition and that they need to play chess and show more identity and individuality.
Ron Bultongez Cuts a Solo Rug
In a bit of a surprise, the symbolic pimp spot goes to Ron Bultongez. The man from the Congo who recently became the legal guardian of his younger brothers needed a Lionel re-vote to even get a golden ticket, and he didn't appear on the radar until his Hollywood Week solo performance of Phillip Phillips' "Home" delivered unexpected goosebumps.
We didn't see his showcase performance, but one way or another, the placement will be indicative of this group of 12. Ron likens himself to Bill Belichick or Kanye West in the way he refuses to show emotion, and he doesn't smile because he has braces. Bobby urges him to "Let America love you a little bit."
Katy sings along as Ron stonefaces his way through Robyn's "Dancing on my Own," and for the first time in this episode, the emotional connection is present and vivid. The singing, however, is only pretty good. It's a fine performance, even though it's not dynamic. It seems like it fits his persona more than him adapting or channeling to give us a "moment."
He gets a standing ovation from the judges, probably because they're finally able to have any sort of emotional reaction. Luke feels the hurt and pain, and even though Ron's enunciation isn't perfect, this is the best we've ever heard him from top to bottom. Lionel praises how far he's come in this "business of struggle," and now it's all about how bad he wants it. Katy wants him to cut loose and "own it" in his all-star duet.
Welp, that's it for this group of 12, and it was a lackluster effort. My question heading in was if anyone could step up on the level of Cade Foehner or Gabby Barrett, and the answer -- at least for now -- is a resounding no.
I can't imagine anyone in this group challenging those two for the title, and it's not because of a lack of talent. There were several performances that are impossible to criticize on a technical level, but those who were vocally superior struggled to forge any sort of connection with the subject matter. There was a dearth of goosebumps and few, if any, wow moments.
Maddie Poppe was the most impressive in my book, while Marcio Donaldson and Jurnee stood out for their vocal ability even if they've yet to locate their superstar potential. And, frankly, we need a star. Ada Vox could be one, but even with that ridiculous voice, there are those very real concerns about "shtick."
It seems like it's a two-person race at this point, but that's why we play the games. Idols aren't crowned on paper, and on to the duets we go.
Were you let down by the line-up or do you see the next chart-topper in this mix? Who were your favorites and who disappointed you? And each individual has his or her own questions: can a drag queen win Idol? Can Caleb show flashes of country charm? Can Garrett remember to sing? Can Mara mature quickly enough? Can Jurnee and Marcio connect with an audience? Can Ron have fun? And the big one: can anyone compete with Cade and Gabby? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
(Image and videos courtesy of ABC)