If any of the American Idol judging panel can be called a music legend, it’s Lionel Richie. Katy Perry has hit a bit of a slump in her career, which is probably why she’s on Idol in the first place. Luke Bryan, while successful and very popular in the country music scene, hasn’t gained the crossover popularity of Blake Shelton or even Katy’s current nemesis, Taylor Swift (yet.) Lionel, though, has a career that spans decades and an impressive number of feats to his name.

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The R&B legend hasn’t hesitated to let people know that fact by comparing the contestants to musical celebrities … that he’s just happened to work with in the past. Lionel’s American Idol judging straddles the line between humble-bragging and name-dropping. Yet it’s all ridiculous as few contestants have measured up to the weight Lionel is putting on their shoulders. 

The artists might appreciate it but Lionel’s comparisons are the definition of overblown and are more than a bit generous. Here are five of Lionel’s most insane and awkward comparisons on American Idol (so far.)

Koby Is the Next Kristin Chenoweth 

This comparison was more a group effort, which is one of the reasons it’s at the very bottom of this list. Yet it also starts things off because it was so incredibly off-base. American Idol season 16 has been light on the awkwardly awful auditions that the first iteration of Idol made a sensation. Koby is one screechy exception. 

Koby made her Idol debut in the first episode of the revival and she quickly punched her ticket for the crazy contestant. She screamed an original song and became super aggressive once she realized she wasn’t going to Hollywood. 

After Koby (mercifully) left the audition room, Lionel commented that she could be a Broadway superstar. He even agreed with Luke that she has the potential to be the next Kristin Chenoweth. This was insulting on multiple levels because Koby didn’t only become even more of a monster outside the audition room, she also didn’t show off any actually singing talent in the audition. Kristin Chenoweth has a loud voice but there’s also a lot of talent and skill there. Koby was just a banshee. 

Trevor McBane Hits the Real Note Like Kenny Rogers

This was more of an indirect comparison than some of Lionel’s other antics. Yet it still has to be pointed out for no other reason than it underlined Lionel’s shameless name-dropping in such a perfect way. Trevor had a lovely gravelly country voice that Luke just fell in love with but for Lionel, Trevor was an excuse to talk about working with Kenny Rogers. 

Lionel told Trevor that he wasn’t hitting the right, but the “real” note. This is something that Kenny Rogers once told him happens in country music. Country isn’t about being technical, it’s about conveying an emotion. It’s evidently a quality that Lionel thought Trevor possessed. 

In reality, though, Trevor has nothing in common with Kenny as Trevor was rather pitchy. He wasn’t hitting the real note like Kenny, he was just off-key (probably due to nerves.) Lionel probably should’ve focused on improving the quality of Trevor’s voice in his judging, rather than just encouraging it and name-dropping a country superstar. 


Genavieve Linkowski Is a Young Celine Dion 

Genavieve facilitated one of Lionel’s longest and strangest comparisons. After hearing 18-year-old Genavieve sing, Lionel said he was reminded of a “little girl” who walked up on stage and shook the curtains. This girl was Celine Dion. 

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The story was weird for a couple reasons, mainly that Lionel isn’t too much older than Celine, so it’s unclear how “little” a girl Celine could’ve been and where this amazing performance took place. Furthermore, Genavieve sounded very little like Celine Dion, other than the fact they’re both solid female singers. The comparison was just a thinly veiled pretense for Lionel to confess he was there when Celine was “discovered,” which he’s perfectly within his rights to do but let’s call a spade a name-dropping spade.  

Samuel Swanson Is Luther Vandross Effortless 

The penultimate comparsion of this list ends up being equal parts hilarious and depressing. Hilarious because of how brazen it was for Lionel to bring it up and depressing because it involves the sadly departed Luther Vandross. Samuel Swanson was one of the more memorable artists of the audition rounds for his look, backstory and, of course, his voice (even if some nerves were at play.) Yet for Lionel, listening to Samuel was like listening to the resurrection of his friend Luther Vandross, who you may have heard of once or twice. 

Lionel wasn’t totally wrong. Samuel does have some Luther Vandross qualities in his voice. There’s a similar smooth quality about both of them. Yet it’s hard not to look at the comparison and not think that Lionel just wanted to let people know he knows as many famous dead people as alive ones. 

Samothias Is the New Prince

Of course, Luther isn’t the only passed superstar in Lionel’s Rolodex. He also knew Prince and for whatever reason, Samothias, a pretty white boy with dreads, reminded Lionel of the “Purple Rain” singer. This isn’t to take anything away from Samothias, as he did turn out one of the best performances in the auditions, but it’s a high order to compare anyone to Prince. 

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Lionel’s critique made sense in one aspect. Samothias did show a special ability to hold one note and hit another which was one of the many qualities that made Prince such a fantastic artist. Samothias definitely won’t have the same level of success as Prince. (Who knows if he’ll even get to the live shows on American Idol?) Yet of all Lionel’s ridiculous and generous comparisons, Samothias was probably the easiest to comprehend. 

What have you made of Lionel’s comparisons on American Idol this season? Is he right on the money or is he exaggerating? Have you agreed with any of his comparisons? Has Lionel earned the right to name-drop or is it a bit too much even for him? 


American Idol season 16 airs Sundays and Mondays at 8/7c on ABC. Want more news? Like our American Idol Facebook page.

(Image and videos courtesy of ABC)