American Idol 5th Judge: 3 Favorites Return as Incredible Top 20 Performances Leave Katy Perry in Tears

After Kenedi self-eliminated last week, three more fall just short of the Top 20 — plus, the returns of Season 19 winner Chayce Beckham, Season 17 runner-up Alejandro Aranda, and Season 11 winner Phillip Phillips.

You’d think the entire Top 20 performing would be enough for one night of “American Idol,” but they invited three alumnae back to perform, as well!

Season 19 winner Chayce Beckham showed how much a year post-”Idol” can change you, while Season 17 runner-up Alejandro Aranda reminded us again why sometimes being wholly yourself every step of the way is the winning formula.

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And then, almost as if it was a special treat just for contestant Fritz Hager, Season 11 winner Phillip Phillips showed off what a decade has done to his talent and voice, deepening and adding new layers to his already impressive talent.

Speaking of impressive talent, this Top 20 was absolutely incredible to watch, with the entire panel in tears over and over again by the incredible talent of these gifted kids. Even better, so many of them were challenging themselves by straying into new genres or huge songs, and it paid off. One even went with an original song, having one of the moments of the night.

In the end, we’d say fully half of these performances were mind-stunningly great, while the other half weren’t too far behind. It may be the strongest overall night of memorable performances we’ve ever seen in the long history of this show!

Unfortunately for three contestants, following the self-elimination of Kenedi, they were going to fall just short after last week’s two-night performance event. While our predictions weren’t spot-on, we were at least in the neighborhood of right.

We though Dan Marshall would be eliminated after last Sunday’s performance, alongside Danielle Finn. But we also said Scarlet should be eliminated, but didn’t think it would happen. So we were half right as Danielle was cut, but you came through and cut Scarlet, as well.

Monday’s show only had one cut after Kenedi dropped out and while we thought several acts were in the running for that spot including the one that got cut, we actually thought Allegra Miles would get sent home, and that Cameron Whitcomb would be next to go.

In the end, it was Sir Blayke who followed Danielle and Scarlet out the door. As for Allegra and Cameron — let’s just say, what a difference a week makes!

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.

And just for fun, I’m going to rank the performances from worst to first to see who my favorites are each week. That way I can see who’s the best and then see if you get it right with your votes — i.e., agree with me.

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FILLER

Chayce Beckham

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(“Doin’ It Right”) What a difference a year makes. The Season 19 winner hit the stage like a consummate professional, sounding better than ever. That is also a radio ready single he just performed. Great sounding, confident, looking good, Chayce is ready to take country music by storm if they’ll have him. We love that little rock edge he has to his voice without straying from that storytelling vibe that sells records.

Alejandro Aranda aka Scarypoolparty

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(“The Darkness”) Season 17’s runner-up continues to forge his own path and stands as a testament that knowing your own artistry is a good thing, even on a show like “American Idol.” There is no one like him, from how he plays the guitar to the unique way he delivers a vocal, you always know you’re experiencing something a little different, maybe even a little strange, but always memorable. We loved the whole creepy vibe of this piece with classical accompaniment.

Phillip Phillips

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(“Love Like That”) Phillip’s voice has evolved and matured over the years, but it’s only enhanced what he does as an artist. He always had that gritty gravel in there and that ability to push himself, but his tender side has grown by leaps and bounds. Because of this, he’s become and even better storyteller and artist even than he was when he won Season 11 — and he was pretty damned impressive then.

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TOP 20

Katyrah Love

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(“Dream,” Bishop Briggs – 23, Baltimore, MD) Katyrah didn’t quite nail all of her big notes, but she had moments that were absolutely magical. If she could have just more consistently hung onto those moments and carried them through, it would have been a stronger overall experience. Unfortunately, by the time she hit the stage, there had already been so many incredible performances, maybe that got into her head. This isn’t her best, and she might have a battle on her hands to survive the week.

Sage

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(“Rhiannon,” Fleetwood Mac – 20, Burbank, CA) I’m not digging the way she bends the word “ever,” but she has such a rich and gentle tone to her voice that’s pleasant. Not all of her choices when she tried to go broader worked vocally, nor did she nail all of the notes she sought. She pushed for a bit of a growl into her voice a few times, but it didn’t come out quite as natural as we would have liked. In fact, the whole performance felt a bit uncomfortable, as if Sage was nervous and couldn’t quite channel that energy into stage confidence with consistency.

Elli Rowe

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(“Somewhere Only We Know,” Keane – 19, Nashville, TN) Elli sang like that shy girl at a party who’s convinced to go up and show everyone what a great singer she is. It was all very timid and a little bit frightened both in her physical presentation and even in her vocals at times. She’s quickly starting to look like she’s in over her head on this stage against far more polished performers and vocalists. Ultimately, it was a little forgettable — which is dangerous when you’re competing against 19 other people.

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Dan Marshall

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(“Friends in Low Places,” Garth Brooks – 24, Chesapeake, VA) Well, it was a fun performance. It didn’t quite have the energy you’d expect from this number. And we applaud Dan for trying to get that singalong that Garth can pull off live, but even he knew it wasn’t working well. This would probably go over extremely well in a honky tonk with a lot of beer flowing and people having a good time. But on this stage, there was nothing to set him aside as an artist, nor in any way did this piece stand out. It was just very okay, which isn’t great at this stage.

Cadence Baker

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(“Train Wreck,” James Arthur – 18, Muscle Shoals, AL) She found her way to the heart of the song. It did feel like she stayed at that same full-tilt level a little too much of the song, but it was nice to see Cadence throw caution and abandon to the wind together and throw herself fully into this performance. She wasn’t pitch perfect, but she had a lot of stellar moments and showed off an incredibly strong instrument. She could stand to grow a bit more in confidence, which would help her get some more control of it, but it certainly looks like she’s on her way.

Nicolina

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(“Edge of Seventeen,” Stevie Nicks – 18, Toronto, ON) Nicolina may have started a little lower than her voice was comfortable, but it gave her room to soar later. She put an interesting arrangement on this one to spotlight the power of her voice, and then it wasn’t quite as powerful or impactful as it’s been in the past. Nicolina usually demands that we remember her, but we’re not sure this will stand out as much. She should still be fine, but she’ll ride more the middle of the pack after this performance than toward the top where we’re used to seeing her.

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TOP 14

Ava Maybee

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(“Anyone,” Demi Lovato – 20, Los Angeles, CA) While it didn’t quite get as big as Demi does, or as we wanted her to go, Ava still managed to have a lot of raw emotion in this one. It’s one of the most emotionally challenging songs for anyone to try to cover as it came from such a raw place in Demi’s life but credit to Ava for going there and pulling as much as she could muster. Yes, she pales in comparison, but she showed off a nice rich texture in her voice and an impactful softer register that heightened the bigger moments she did try for.

Tristan Gressett

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(“Sacrifice,” The Weeknd – 17, Pell City, AL) This was an unexpected choice for Tristan, and we’re not sure he was always bringing the right energy to his stage performance, but he definitely kept our attention throughout. We did adore the way he played with the audience, and we can’t fault his vocals which were better suited to this than we expected. It just felt like his energy was a bit of a mismatch at times, as if he was trying to break out in a rock-and-roll way while this funky rhythm was pulling in another direction. He’s still figuring himself out as a performer, but he’s definitely entertaining.

Emyrson Flora

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(“Tell Me You Love Me,” Demi Lovato – 16, Cleveland, OH) We understand why Emyrson stepped away from the mic stand halfway through; it’s a concert staple; but she was definitely more in her element just standing there and delivering face (and those eyes!) to the audience. We did like her little alternating foot tap move as it showed a little, but she needs to work on being a little bigger and more engaged with her body performance. Vocally, she was stellar throughout this. It didn’t quite have the passion of the original track, but she’s also only 16 years old. She’s got a lot of talent in a very young package and it’s coming together very well.

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Jay Copeland

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(“You Know I’m No Good,” Amy Winehouse – 23, Salisbury, MD) We were glad to see Jay tone down his manic energy as the song progressed to better suit the message of the lyrics. He was too bouncy and too smiley at the beginning and it was throwing us. But as it progressed, he poured more of himself into those incredible vocals. The whole performance was a build and by the time he reached his crescendo, he had all of us on the edge of our seats — and we may have fell out when he hit that big wail right at the end.

Cameron Whitcomb

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(“Changes,” Black Sabbath – 18, Kamloops, BC) After last week’s out-of-control performance, Cameron needed this moment to prove to us — and perhaps to himself — that he could be taken seriously as an artist. He finally took Bebe Rexha’s advice of starting with a mic stand so the crazy energy that inevitably came felt like a progression as he got more and more into the song. On top of that, by calming down at key moments he was able to deliver a more full vocal performance. This may be the best he’s sounded yet.

Mike Parker

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(“Chasing After You,” Ryan Hurd & Maren Morris – 27, Warrenton, VA) This is the strongest Mike has ever been in this competition, and he finally feels like he’s figuring himself out as a country artist. It’s definitely a good fit as we believed him on this track and that’s what it’s all about in country. Add to that his incredible vocal range and you’ve got a bona fide star in the making. As country music continues to embrace new Black voices, Mike may be rising at just the right moment. We loved that smooth vocal he injects with such authenticity; this was his first time genuinely moving us.

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HunterGirl

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(“Heartbreak Down,” HunterGirl – 23, Winchester, TN) The only one brave enough to bring an original to this round, HunterGirl proved why she is ready for her career in country music. That song is fully cooked and marinated, with a beautifully powerful story presented with genuine heart. She’s the real deal when it comes to telling a story. It’s a classic country voice with a rich timbre to it. It’s the kind of soothing voice you could pull up a chair on the front porch and listen to for hours sipping lemonade and watching the sun go down.

Christian Guardino

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(“Imagine,” John Lennon – 21, Patchogue, NY) Christian took us on a journey with this one and what a journey it was. He always has such a unique presentation and vocal exploration, and that’s what happened here as well. That one falsetto note was almost jarring, and yet it was amazingly positioned to get our attention. He knew when to blow up and give us everything, and that’s just what he did. A totally recognizable song that he managed to make his own with how he let it rise and ultimately let it soar.

Noah Thompson

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(“Falling,“ Harry Styles – 19, Louisa, KY) Slide guitar and killer vocals and Noah transformed this pop ballad into a genuine country anthem. It’s incredible he even took on such a challenging song, but then he went and absolutely slayed it. It was unexpected in the most delightful ways, but more importantly, he never lost his authenticity as an artist in taking it on, even as he stayed pretty straight and close to the melody. It’s also worth noting that he nailed all of those notes and all of that range, which we hadn’t seen from him yet.

Jacob Moran

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(“Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing,” Stevie Wonder – 28, Dansville, MI) What was interesting about this piece was that Jacob didn’t really center it around a single moment — though that last rising note was incredible. Instead, the entire performance was a moment. His voice never stopped running up and down to these incredible notes, and every single moment he gave us was riveting. His stage presence was a little subdued, but we almost couldn’t notice it because of what he was doing with his voice. That instrument is incredible. Katy called him “the best voice” in the competition, which may be true. Now he needs to become the best performer.

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Lady K

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(“Love on the Brain,” Rihanna – 25, Tuskegee, AL) A style transformation and an injection of confidence pushed Lady K to the level we always knew she could reach. From the first note, she was in total command of this performance, and the audience. It was a stellar showcase of her power, the quality of her tone and her ability to navigate a complicated song with a lot of intention and heart. On top of that, there was a joyfulness in this performance that was so infectious, she left us smiling when it was done.

Fritz Hager

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(“when the party’s over,” Billie Eilish – 28, Dansville, MI) For a male vocalist to take on Billie Eilish is a huge challenge, and yet Fritz dived right in and made it look effortless. He slid into a beautiful falsetto and back out like it was nothing. He had all the pain and angst in his voice from the original track. We believed that he believed every line he was singing as if he’d written it himself, which is a testament of his artistry. It’s not easy to connect so intimately with someone else’s song, but Fritz is the real deal. He’s also a real contender to win this thing.

Leah Marlene

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(“Heal,” Tom Odell – 20, Normal, IL) Like when Kesha was suddenly singing to us about “Praying,” Leah came out with a new look, a new seriousness, a new pain and a new everything to blow us away and help us all “Heal.” We knew she had a great voice, but we had no idea she could take herself this seriously or deliver something completely different than what we’ve seen before. This was transcendence, this was chameleonic artistry on a level we’re not sure this show has ever seen. If this is another side of Leah — well, we love all the sides we’ve seen so far! Already a favorite, she may be emerging as the favorite.

Allegra Miles

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(“Free Fallin’,” Tom Petty – 18, St. John, USVI) Allegra took one of the best known rock songs of the modern era and turned it into a flirty, jazzy number with playful vocal choices throughout that were utterly mesmerizing. There’s an ethereal lightness to her voice that is stunningly gorgeous, like you expect a full chorus of angels to erupt behind her at any moment. She was in perfect control of the audience and this song from the first note, taking the familiar and tweaking it into something exciting we won’t soon forget. That was a magical moment.

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PREDICTIONS

This may be the toughest vote ever in the history of “American Idol.” Has there ever been so many incredible performances in a single night — especially with so many people still in the competition.

This week, there are a few who didn’t soar quite as high, but in the coming weeks, this competition is going to get more and more brutal as those are trimmed.

In our Bottom 6, we have Sage, Elli Rowe, Katyrah Love, Cadence Baker, Dan Marshall and Nicolina. Of those six, we could see Nicolina climbing out of the basement because she is one of the season’s strongest singers; she just had a really off night.

The rest of the Bottom 6 we actually feel pretty good about as they did not rise to the occasion of this incredible Top 20. We thought Cameron Whitcomb should go last week, but he redeemed himself by taking himself somewhat seriously this week and showing the quality of his vocals. We have a feeling his manic energy is endearing to enough voters he’ll be okay.

For us that puts Ava Maybee as our most likely candidate to get the boot. She took a risk straying from her rock roots to take on a very big song, and she wasn’t quite as big as the task she faced. In an unforgiving week losing so many people, we think she’ll go, along with the above five.

And if it doesn’t go that way, it just means you all got it very, very wrong.

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


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