American Idol 5th Judge: Gabby Barrett Makes One Contestant Change Songs, America Gets It Wrong

The Top 14 hit the stage in the season's first live coast-to-coast broadcast, but only 11 will survive the night.

For the first time this season, “American Idol” went live from coast to coast — so, you know, no pressure on the Top 14!

Gabby Barrett, who finished third on Season 16 and went on to a superstar career, came back to her old stomping grounds to offer some sage advice, and she really proved to be one of the best all-around mentors we’ve seen. She even told one contestant to flat-out change his song because she wasn’t feeling that he was feeling it — and we feel she was right!

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It was a night of powerful and moving performances, with several of them dedicated to loved ones. But it was also a night of tension with that live vote looming as three of the “Idol” hopefuls would have their dreams cut short by the end of the evening. And yes, there was a huge surprise in store as America definitely made a mistake here.

If they survived the night, the remaining Top 11 will be faced with singing a song picked by one of the four judges — and they won’t know who picked it for them until after they perform. That should put a little extra pressure on them all to impress. Plus, it’ll give us all a sense of who the judges think they are as artists.

We also got a surprise return from last season’s fourth-place finisher. Casey Bishops looked a little discombobulated chatting with Ryan Seacrest, but she’s definitely fully in command with the debut single she just dropped on YouTube called “”Bad Dream.”

She was a favorite all season long, falling just short of the finale. But we’ve seen fourth place do very well in the industry (Chris Daughtry). You can check out her debut track below:

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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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Dan Marshall

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(“She’s Got It All,” Kenny Chesney – 24, Chesapeake, VA) Dan was a surprise for us to even make it to this round because he hasn’t been as consistent or polished as many of the other contestants, and we weren’t all that impressed with his last performance. And here we were again, finding ourselves growing bored as the performance went along, cringing at a few bum notes, and a little underwhelmed at his “power” voice on the chorus. He sounds extremely amateur, like he’s a good karaoke singer, but not at all ready for something like this. There’s almost no stage presence and a tepid vocal approach, which isn’t going to work at all.

Christian Guardino

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(“Take Me to Church,” Hozier – 21, Patchogue, NY) A tall order this song, and we’re not sure Christian was up to ever bit of it. He had some genuinely special moments, but at other times the emotional power of the track got a little lost in what he was doing. It felt a little disconnected and we could hear him straining and trying to really belt it out. This was a solid choice for him, but he didn’t fully have it under his control throughout.

Ava Maybee

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(“Sign of the Times,” Harry Styles – 21, Los Angeles, CA) Ava made a choice to start with the chorus on this one and it took away the build of the song. It was certainly bold and interesting, but it also left us not really feeling anything as it went along. It’s such a unique song in its original arrangement so it was surprising that we found ourselves feeling a little detached from Ava’s interpretation She’s usually much more solid in the way she approaches a song than she was on this one. It was well done and pleasant, but that’s not going to be enough for much longer.

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Emyrson Flora

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(“drivers license,” Olivia Rodrigo – 16, Cleveland, OH) Emyrson tried to go real big in the middle of this song and it didn’t work as well as we would have liked. It’s such a perfect song choice for her both with her age and with what she’s presented before as a singer and artist. And yet, she sounded shrill in a few places, nervous at the top of the number and a little off throughout. We got a few moments and glimpses of the artist we fell in love with, but this was wildly inconsistent, which is so unlike her.

Jay

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(“Just the Way You Are,” Bruno Mars – 23, Salisbury, MD) Jay didn’t have America in his corner last week after a performance that was too much vocal acrobatics, smiling and showing off than connecting with his song choice and making an emotional connection. This time, he picked a joyous song, so he’s okay to smile through the whole thing. It actually worked. If he only has one level as a performer, he needs to stick with songs that match it. No one has ever doubted his talent, it’s just his authenticity as an artist that’s been falling a little behind.

Leah Marlene

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(“Happy Together,” The Turtles – 20, Normal, IL) Leah pulled away from the mic a few times to find her key on the guitar, which was unfortunate, because she had such a compelling and interesting song to this classic. She also missed a note her first time through the chorus. Overall, though, she’s such a unique artist with a clear vision of who she is as a performer; even her style was on point. We’re not sure if Leah can win this competition, but she’s always a lot of fun to watch. Last week, she mesmerized us, this time she had us tapping our toes with her.

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Mike Parker

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(“Hurricane,” Luke Combs – 27, Warrenton, VA) Mike still has work to do on his sage presence, but he took Gabby’s advice the best he could and did a much better job of connecting. He also needs to make sure he’s singing bigger than the band, or having the band play softer. We lost him in the early going, but when he found his zone, Mike continued to impress with his subtle injection of R&B and soul flavors into country music. We love that special flair in his voice that helps him stand apart, and we’re glad he’s continuing to find who he is as an artist.

Allegra Miles

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(“ocean eyes,” Billie Eilish – 19, St. John, USVI) A very dangerous song to perform on a singing competition because big moments aren’t always built into Billie Eilish songs, and big moments are often what it takes to galvanize voters. Nevertheless, Allegra was fully in her wheelhouse and gave a very confident performance with several genuinely beautiful moments. We agree that her falsetto was magical, but wish she would have delved a little more into it, as Gabby suggested. Still, she knows who she is as an artist and fully embodies that persona from start to finish. She’s beautifully polished.

Tristen Gressett

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(“Whataya Want from Me,” Adam Lambert – 17, Pell City, AL) Tristen ultimately opted to ignore Gabby’s advice to not end on such a big note, but that’s fine because he has a sense of who he is. This is a very challenging song by one of the best vocalists this show has ever seen, but Tristen twisted it up into something wholly his own. There were some very interesting and artistic choices throughout that we found ourselves marinating over even as he was moving on to the next one. He’s a very intriguing artist with a lot of different influences as we got glimpses of Adam, Meat Loaf and even Michael Jackson in this performance.

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Noah Thompson

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(“Stand by Me,“ Ben E. King – 20, Louisa, KY) A very unexpected song choice, and apparently a last minute change, Noah didn’t do anything special with this. Instead, he delivered it with heart and soul. It was such a simple performance, and yet he had us along for every step of the way. Sometimes, when you have that perfect cry in your voice, that little bit of gravel, and that connection to the lyric, less is more. Noah is such a consummate artist, we can’t wait to see what he does next.

Lady K

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(“I Believe,” Fantasia – 25, Tuskegee, AL) The judges talked about transformation and growth with Leah, but Lady K’s trajectory on this show has been nothing short of inspirational. From the transformation of her look and style to her overall confidence and command of the stage, it’s sometimes shocking to think that this woman is the same as the one from that first audition. She’s a diva in all the best possible ways now. This was a powerful vocal, fully realized and controlled from top to bottom. That was just stunning.

Fritz Hager

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(“Let It Go,” James Bay – 28, Dansville, MI) An incredible song choice and a killer vocal, Fritz really is coming into his own as an artist. He’s always been impressive, but he’s started to really make a stamp on the competition, and possibly set his path as a strong indie artist. We could hear the nerves just a bit in his voice, but also a newfound confidence that didn’t used to be there. Fritz is starting to realize how good he is, which could make him even better as we go along. And he’s already a frontrunner to win this whole thing.

Nicolina

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(“Hallelujah,” Leonard Cohen [as performed by Jeff Buckley] – 18, Toronto, ON) This was just a stunningly gorgeous performance in every facet from Nicolina. She dedicated it to her grandmother, who was in the room, as a sweet surprise and what a moving moment she was able to deliver for her “best friend.” Nicolina is so beyond her years when it comes to emotional connection, when she feels it, we all feel it. This was one of her most connected performances, and easily one of her strongest.

HunterGirl

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(“Baby Girl,” Sugarland – 23, Winchester, TN) Seeing HunterGirl live was even more magical than every other time we’ve seen her. We loved the little giggles here and there, and lost it when she sang the last line of the track to her parents. She is such an authentic performer, with her heart on her sleeve and fully in her voice, that we believe she believes every word she performs. There’s something magical and so true about her when she hits the stage. She’s got a huge future ahead of her.

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PREDICTIONS

For the first time this season, the voting was live so there was very little time to process what just happened. Our initial rankings put Dan Marshall, Christian Guardino and Ava Maybee in the Bottom 3. We stand by that based on tonight, but we don’t think that’s how it will play out.

Christian has this following that’s definitely stronger than he was tonight, so they’ll probably carry him through. However, we do feel confident that Dan and Ava were a little dull on the night, so they’ve got a good chance of not making it. As for that third slot, we could see it going to Mike Parker.

There’s a lot of country this season, so would voters reject two at the same time? We could see it happen. If not him, maybe Emyrson Flora who didn’t quite connect to this song as effectively as she could have, and probably should have.

Honestly, though, the biggest thing we noticed is that there is a clear divide already between the top performers and the bottom. We would argue that HunterGirl, Nicolina, Fritz Hager, Lady K and Noah Thompson are in a class of their own this season.

More than likely, that’s your Top 5 – with Leah Marlene as a dark horse contender if she can pick the right songs and continue her upward trajectory. The rest of the artists, though, we suspect are fighting over the scraps left in their wake. We shall see how that plays out.

As for tonight, Ryan filled the Top 11 with Leah, HunterGirl, Jay, Fritz, Nicolina, Noah, Christian, Lady K, Emyrson, Mike, and Tristen Gressett. That means we were almost right, as it was the end of the road for Dan Marshall and Ava Maybee.

Joining them, though, was Allegra Miles, who had a great night and really felt like a solid middle contender — which means she should have been safe for a little bit longer. It’s actually a little shocking she fell short after such a strong night.

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


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