Get ready, America! Not only are we about to learn who YOU sent home with your first-ever votes on American Idol: The Farewell Season, but with the first live show of Season 15 comes the first live blog as well!
That’s right, we’re coming at you live and in real time with a full recap of the evening’s events, so keep the comments coming at the bottom, and I’ll respond as often as humanly possible. Or more likely, I’ll be conversing with crickets since Idol remains television’s best DVR show (plus, you know … it’s the first one).
As they have all season, the judges took matters into their own hands before the Top 14 hit the stage, advancing favorites Olivia Rox, Dalton Rapattoni, Trent Harmon and La’Porsha Renae and leaving us to pick up the scraps.
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That led to a night of rather pathetic performances chock full of pitch issues balanced by a complete lack of star power, and here we are, tasked with trying to decide who sucked the least.
Avalon Young, MacKenzie Bourg and Sonika Vaid put on a show worthy of being in the second tier, and as such, they should all be safe. But the quest for the other three spots gets dicey due to the fact that the four through 10 spots in my rankings are essentially indiscernible from each other.
Esteemed colleague Jeff Dodge is putting his money on Tristan McIntosh, Jenn Blosil and Lee Jean being safe, and frankly, no elimination will be a surprise as long as it doesn’t include the above three. But when you cannot differentiate between performances, you have to rely on the overall package. And in that regard, I’d give the leg up to Tristan, Jenn and, gulp, Jeneve Rose Mitchell.
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Jenn and Jeneve are easily the most unique and memorable of the bunch, even if it’s based on quirkiness and not talent. Then there’s Tristan, who has shown more flashes than her closest counterpart, Gianna Isabella.
Lee could sneak through thanks to consistent judge praise and future armed heartthrobbery (it’s a felony, yo), but I agree with Jeff that Manny Torres and Thomas Stringfellow are easy outs.
Though the fate of the vote-mooting Twitter Insta-Save remains up in the air, the judges’ save has been eliminated with this bonkers new don’t-let-viewers-screw-it-up-early format. So no one can help you now, America. Not even Scott Borchetta and the candy bars he keeps in the glove box of his van.
On with the show!
The Live Blog Begins Now
The judges saunter out on stage to a live audience (at home) for the first time in Season 15 in standard suit, fancy dress and T-shirt ensembles (I’ll let you guess who is wearing what) and there’s a spare chair waiting for the first American Idol to help judge the last.
Kieran dims the lights, and it’s time for results. Joining the Top 10 are:
Sonika Vaid (in a crazy leather dress with full above-the-knee boots)
Avalon Young (meaning no big surprises will be happening)
That means it’s the end of the journey for Manny Torres, Thomas Stringfellow, Jenn Blosil and Jeneve Rose Mitchell.
The most amazing thing about this is that Jevene is on stage dressed mostly like a normal person and done up with a ton of makeup. She actually looks marketable for the first time, and dare I say pretty (for the record: NOT saying she wasn’t pretty before. But now she’s trying). Just like that, though, she’s gone.
Welcome Back, Kelly Clarkson (No Pressure, Olivia)
Fourteen years after Kelly moved out of her car and into our hearts, a very pregnant Grammy-winner is back to perform and join the panel. She takes her seat in between Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick, Jr., makes a joke about her water breaking (new beverage sponsor?), and it’s time to get this shindig underway.
First up is Olivia Rox, whose first Idol memory is watching Katharine McPhee sing her favorite song — “Over the Rainbow” — all the way back in season five. The show was a big part of her childhood, and now it’s a bigger part of her life.
She’s singing Katy Perry’s “Unconditionally,” hitting some incredible notes and touching on the emotion of the song. It starts out reserved, and then she pulls the mic and walks around a bit. It’s not perfect, and there are a few moments where she seems out of sync with the band, but overall, it’s a quality effort. Her middle-of-the-road is better than most people’s best.
Keith can tell she’s on an artist trajectory, but he encourages her to loosen up. J-Lo praises her control and everything about the performance, but she has to hit the “moments” harder. Kelly found the beginning tasteful and properly restrained, and Harry has nothing to add.
Gianna Isabella Channels Her Inner Bae
She’s been watching American Idol since before she can remember, and then it’s more about her mom since we didn’t talk about her much during the Top 24 performances. Gianna had (or possibly still has) a huge crush on Scotty McCreery, and they used to put the TV in the RV while out on the Brenda K. Starr tour so they could watch.
She’s tackling a big song with Beyonce’s “Listen,” and while voice is very good, she lacks the punch that is the exclamation point on this song. There are pitchy moments, along with some highlights, but I don’t get the feeling I need to do what the song title advises me. It’s fine, but it doesn’t scream superstar, as it’s just missing the kick to the crotch that Beyonce brings to a performance.
J-Lo doesn’t think it was Gianna’s best, because it was shaky and a poor choice to show off her strengths. Kelly isn’t worried about the pitch issues because they are based on age and nerves, but a song with that range was too bold for a 15-year-old like Gianna to attempt. She hit the notes, but it is evident she was thinking too much about the technical aspect, at the expense of emotion. Harry feels like it was too rehearsed and arranged, while Keith urges her to believe in herself, because the gift is there.
Lee Jean Stays in his Lane
He’s is the same age as the show, so he’s basically been watching since he was born. His best memory is the audition of Chris Medina, who sang for his disabled wife. Lee connected with it because of the death of his brother, and the song was stuck in his head for months.
He’s singing Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love,” which is basically Ed Sheeran before Ed Sheeran was famous. I mean, this could be an Ed song and I wouldn’t be able to tell. So it’s the same thing he does every time, and it’s nice and sweet but way too timid to be memorable. Except maybe for Chris Medina, who is in the audience.
Kelly asks if he’s the one who’s covered Ed Sheeran a bunch of times, and while she encourages him to stick with his “thing,” she warns that he’s dealing with vocalists who want to win and will blow every time. And these types of performances, while easy and chill, aren’t going to be able to hang. She gets more time to talk than everyone, I guess. Everyone knows you don’t argue with a pregnant woman.
Harry is a fan of Lee’s niche, but there no way he can emerge from MacKenzie’s shadow doing the same thing over and over. Keith finds the voice believable, and he seems to still think that Lee is a some sort of master storyteller. J-Lo wants him to focus on being impactful in the same way that Chris Medina was to him, because that’s the only way he’ll have a moment. Maybe he can sing “Thinking Out Loud” next time? If there is a next time.
Avalon Young Needs Stitches
She was 7 when Idol first started, and she couldn’t wait to watch with popcorn, her parents and her main man Justin Guarini. Growing up with the show and then advancing this far has her believing that winning could be a possibility.
It’s Shawn Mendes’ “Stitches,” and the way she starts off has me hopeful she’s about to have a moment. But then she seems to get lost a bit, and it’s pitchy and difficult to hear. It’s the type of thing she usually does well, but this one doesn’t compare with previous attempts.
Harry still gets a cool vibe from her, but he disapproved of her “halftime vibe” in the middle, and it was flat. Keith pays attention to audience response, and everyone sensed her nerves at the beginning. Then she loosened up halfway through, and the audience got on board. J-Lo is critical of the song choice, because it took her out of her natural comfort zone.
Kelly disagrees, finding Avalon so captivating that she gets caught up songs she doesn’t even like when Avalon sings them. So she’s just a fan, really, and performance doesn’t matter in this case.
Dalton Rapattoni Does it Again
He and his family used to bet on Idol, and Daughtry was his man in season five. He was crushed when the guy he performed with last week was sent packing, but then David Cook came along and won him over with his unique arrangements. All together, they have shaped who he is as a musician.
He’s doing his own upbeat punk take on Plain White T’s “Hey There, Delilah,” and it’s Dalton doing his thing. The vocals are on point with a Billie Joe flair, though I have to admit that the original packs more of an emotional punch. It’s a lot like The Ataris’ “Boys of Summer,” Reel Big Fish’s “Take on Me” and everything New Found Glory did on “From the Screen to Your Stereo.” But there’s nothing negative to be said about the performance, and this kid is the front-runner for sure.
Keith loves what he does to songs and his confidence, and Dalton has done it again. J-Lo calls him the cool, cute guy with a lot of heart, and that’s why all the girls go crazy for him. Kelly is shocked how comfortable he is on stage, and he shows so much more than anyone else. Then there’s an awkward moment where Harry seemingly inquires about Dalton’s sexuality before pointing out that he’s batting 1.000 at completely flipping an arrangement on its head.
Tristan McIntosh Hopes to Step Up
Tristan has been tuning in religiously since she was 11, and she and her brother would crawl into their parents’ bed to watch Jessica Sanchez become the only contestant to crush “I Will Always Love You.” That’s when she knew she wanted to follow in those second-place footsteps.
She’s taking on Dan and Shay’s “Nothin’ Like You,” which is in way too low a register to show off her range. The pitch is all over the place, and there aren’t any standout moments or emotional connections. I still hope that she can do better, but this was boring.
Jenny just realized how many 15-year-olds are in the Top 10, because she keeps noticing faults that stem from immaturity and inexperience. She knows Tristan loves country and is trying to figure out who she is, but this one wasn’t everything it could be. Kelly wants her to focus on whatever message she is trying to convey and dive into a song, because this was all on the surface. She suggests Trisha Yearwood.
Harry points out the song is very lyric-y, and he urges her to choose things with more crossover appeal. Additionally, she suffered vocally when she tried to interact with the audience. Keith warns her about deceptively difficult songs, and he agrees she needs to focus more on pitch.
MacKenzie Bourg Kills Lee Jean (Not Physically)
He grew up playing sports, and he’d come home to his mom watching a new show called American Idol. He started tuning in with her, and it became a bonding thing for them. His favorite moment is William Hung’s infamous audition, because he was tiny kid who found it hilarious.
Fresh off his pimp spot performance, he’s tackling Ed Sheeran’s “I See Fire.” And while it’s not a moment and doesn’t make me feel anything, it’s so spot-on that he just exposed Lee Jean as being unprepared for this in any capacity. We already knew that, but if MacKenzie accomplished anything other than proving on an unimpressive level that he deserves to be here, he has sealed Lee’s fate. Anyone who had planned to vote for Lee will dial the phone and go, “oh wait, that other guy did the same thing, and it was effortlessly and infinitely better.”
MacKenzie’s performance made Kelly’s baby do flips in her tummy, and she appreciates that he knows exactly who and where he wants to be. Harry finds him compelling, but he is curious to know what the lyrics mean to MacKenzie (because he clearly didn’t feel it either). Keith loves that the guitar keeps him in the zone, and J-Lo wonders what songs he can choose that will make an impact and keep him on par with the singers who crush it every week.
Will La’Porsha Renae Leave Her Wheelhouse?
She probably could take a risk and without fear of elimination based on the competition, but it’s not a necessity. Idol was the Super Bowl in her household, and Kelly made her believe that it could be her. And all these years later, Kelly Clarkson is actually watching her on stage. To win would make her feel like she’s on top of her life, her struggles and her dreams.
Rihanna‘s “Diamonds” treads that line between risky and safe, but her chops are so spectacular that it’s the perfect choice to be restrained yet impactful. The only downside is that it doesn’t build to anything, and instead stays consistently great without a giant moment. Still, she’s the class of the episode so far.
Harry’s only critique is that he wishes we were all there to witness this in person, while Kelly speaks out of turn to tell La’Porsha that she’s going to win and should end every performance by saying “You’re welcome.” J-Lo praises her control, while Keith describes what she just gave us as “pure humanity.”
Sonika Vaid Brings Me To Life
Sonika’s mom was more of an Idol fan than she was, because she always had her head buried in a book. Her mom encouraged her to overcome her intense shyness and chase the dream, and if she can do that, she could win this thing and be a star.
OK, I’m excited. She’s singing Evanescence’s “Bring Me to Life,” which has a hook so gripping that she could make a memory by slaying it. She’s certainly upped her image with the boots and the dress, as well, but unfortunately, it’s still not quite there. Vocally, it’s not too short of perfect, but she’s still too timid with the body language and hasn’t figured out how to channel her inner rock chick. It’s among the best of the night, but I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for stop teetering on the edge of greatness and just get there already.
Keith loves everything about it, and it all played to her strengths. J-Lo calls her dangerous and if she wakes up, comes into her own and believes in herself, watch out. Kelly compliments her for never, ever being pitchy and gives her props for throwing a bit of shade at La’Porsha (I must have been looking at the laptop at the time). Harry has a bunch of compliments about her angst, passion and overall look, and he calls it smart decision all around.
Trent Harmon Nabs the Pimp Spot
He remembers being in fifth grade and having his school evacuated for a tornado, and he was more terrified at the prospect of missing Idol than, you know, dying. The show made him want to be a singer, and David Archuletta’s “Imagine” pushed him to chase it. He didn’t know if he was good enough, but being the bookend to the franchise would mean the world to him.
He’s closing out the contestant portion of the show with Sam Smith’s “Like I Can,” and he’s in the pimp spot for a reason. It’s effortless, and his range is even wider than I expected it to be. It sounds like he’s singing in the wrong register, perhaps a touch higher than it needs to be, but it works.
J-Lo can only say “wow” and rave about how phenomenal this season is shaping up to be. It wasn’t all perfect, but he’s an artist and a true vocalist. Kelly is impressed by his unique voice, because it stands out, and she wants more of his soft, sexy falsetto to contrast his power.
Harry likens Trent to a professional ice skater in that his runs garner applause like landing a triple axle, but he cautions him against relying on them too much. Keith believes everyone is rising to the occasion based on where La’Portia set the bar.
Kelly Clarkson Gets the MILF Spot
The first American Idol who knows nothing about eliminations is closing out the show (and her third trimester) with the touching “Piece by Piece,” and are we going to want to vote for anyone by the time she’s done?
She dispensed directed and relevant advice to each contestant with her words, and now she’s doing it with her performance, as well. She struggles to hold back tears as she plows through a devastating song about abandonment and finding the people who restore your faith in life and humanity, and she loses it on several occasions. The tension is palpable and soul crushing, and she pins the emotion on being very, very pregnant.
I had no qualms admitting that I teared up a bit as well, but then they showed Keith balling like a child who was denied ice cream on his birthday. I hope the kids are paying attention and learned a thing or two.
Who Will Be Doubly Eliminated?
And so that’s it for the Top 10 performances, and after Kelly, can you even recall who was good and who came up short? Can we just vote for Kelly? La’Porsha was the clear winner, with MacKenzie, Olivia, Trent, Dalton and Sonika proving they belong in the competition.
Lee and Tristan should be the ones going home, but Gianna is on the cusp and Avalon didn’t do herself any favors, so it will be interesting to see how it plays out. Who were your favorites, and who do you think is in trouble?
It’s back to once-a-week performance/results shows now, so say goodbye to Idol Wednesday for the rest of time (wink, wink). But we’ll see you every Thursday as the Idol train heads into the station for the final time. And I’m blessed to have all of you as my fellow passengers.
American Idol airs Thursdays at 8pm on FOX.
(Image courtesy of FOX)