It's taken us weeks of auditions and three episodes of the always-fascinating Hollywood Week, but the final top 24 for American Idol is here, and it features all of the familiar faces and fan favorites.
Idol has made a switch in recent years to focus less on a question of "Who will make it?" and focus more on the personal stories of people who the producers know will be on the show for the long haul. So, when we're so familiar with the stories of La'Porsha Renae, Tristan McIntosh or Jeneve Rose Mitchell, it's no surprise when they move on to the live shows.
Of course, to mix things up, some producer favorites got lost along the way to the live shows. Idol superfan Michelle Marie won't get to live out her dream (for now, until the show reboots 10 years from now). Other cast-offs include early favorites like Jessica Cabral, Lindita, Kacye Haynes and Mionne Destiny. Bye, guys. At least The Voice is still on...
With those people in our wake, let's introduce you to the farewell season's top 24...
Stephany Negrette, "Girl on Fire": Stephany Negrette has opened up American Idol during both solo Hollywood Week rounds - so there must be something to this girl, right? Her vocals were deep and full, but there's still a little something missing from her - she needs another texture to make her truly an interesting vocalist. Her stage presence, which felt oddly European, also needs a little work. But, there's something there, and Stephany was the first girl to the top 24.
Shelbie Z, "Blue Barracuda": This is Shelbie Z's second Heart song in two performances - she's a girl who knows her strengths, apparently. Shelbie has the sort of deep, throaty country vocal that works well with Ann Wilson's music, and she knows when to turn it up and turn it on. This "Blue Barracuda" was full of passion, and rightfully slipped Shelbie in to the top.
Mackenzie Bourg, "I Can't Help Falling in Love": Yeah, America can't help falling in love with Mackenzie Bourg after this performance. An easy joke aside, this performance was nearly perfect. Mackenzie has a sweet, soft tone that really helped pump up the tender side of this classic Elvis Presley song. He had the musicality with an interesting arrangement (points from Harry!), a sweet connection to the lyric (points from Jennifer!) and a solid tone (points from Keith!). With a weak male field, you can't pass this guy up.
Trent Harmon, "Tiny Dancer": Trent has had a bumpy road to the top 24 (which he easily made) with a serious case of mono. You wouldn't really know this guy was sick by the way he can interpret a lyric and work the stage though. He gave 110 percent, and it came across that way. His voice is a little naturally grating but it's unique and clearly intrigued the judges.
Jeneve Rose Mitchell, "Ring of Fire": Jeneve Rose Mitchell is a little bit of an odd bird. She's a mountain girl and sweats that out of every pore, and she brought that in to this take on Johnny Cash's classic "Ring of Fire." Her arrangement was something like Chris Isaak would have done - full of odd vocal leaps and passion. But, you can't say that it wasn't passionate. She's intriguing, and will have a comfortable spot in the live shows.
C.J. Johnson, "Parachute": Before this performance, C.J. Johnson felt like less of a top 24-worthy contestant and more like a really good bar performer. But, with this take on Chris Stapleton's "Parachute," he really broke out and f*cking went for it, and wouldn't now be the time? There was a lot of everything here - volume, grit, passion, anger, joy - and it was captivating. For the first time, I understand his appeal and why he made it into the top 24.
Amelia Eisenhauer, "New York State of Mind": Amelia Eisenhaur has a unique personality, she's a fiddle playin', katana sword swingin' gal. You don't get that much. She cooled her quirky personality down for her take on "New York State of Mind," which was subdued and really simply pretty. To help distinguish herself from the billion other covers of this song, Amelia helped secure her top 24 spot by whipping out the violin. Let's hope to see more than that.
Lee Jean, "Make It Rain": This is maybe the third Ed Sheeran song we've heard from Lee Jean, and, buddy, you had better diversify soon or you will be a one trick pony. To his credit, Lee does this kind of song really well, and his experience with acoustic pop helped him be one of the most natural singers on the stage. He was maybe too comfortable - as JLo pointed out, he hushed the audience not once but twice, which was more cocky than endearing. But, he's a pretty strong boy, so he's a good bet for the youth vote in the live shows.
Avalon Young, "Yo (Excuse Me Miss)": Avalon Young is a self confident young girl, and she brought that ease to this Chris Brown performance, which brought her sort of tomboyishness out in full force. She has an interesting blend of pop, R&B and soul in her voice and she's so comfortable on stage that you can't help but be roped in to her whole thing, which we'll now get to see in the live shows.
Dalton Rapattoni, "It's Gonna Be Me": Dalton Rapattoni opened up his performance by admitting he had low self esteem, which almost seemed like a dangerous thing to admit. But, this guy is a true wild card and performer. The best thing about Dalton is his interesting song choices, and he did that yet again with this *NSYNC single. He brought out the raw lyrics of pain and emotion in this pop hit, and was gripping all the while. Get ready, girls, there's another cutie in the top 24.
Thomas Stringfellow, "Story of My Life": Thomas Stringfellow's girlfriend broke up with him right before this round of the competition, and he dedicated this One Direction hit to anyone out there with a broken heart, which is a good spin on a bad artistic situation. He did this weird vocal inflection up at the end of every phrase, which was a little odd but unique. He's not the best singer or performer but he has just enough of both to slip into the top on his artistry.
Sonika Vaid, "I Surrender": Sonika Vaid sounded technically proficient during her performance of this Celine Dion's "I Surrender," and while she killed the high notes and the intonations of this classic pop gem, she once again is missing any connection to this song (not unlike her fellow belter Stephany Negrette). Sonika has the pure talent to win this competition, and was an early favorite of mine and the show's, but if she can't connect to the emotions of a given song, she's not going to get past the top 24.
Olivia Rox, "Love Somebody": Olivia Rox is sick, but you would never know it from her take on this Maroon 5 track. She belted this song out, and after being a bit of a mystery on this show due to editing, I think we finally understand the type of pop-rocker that she is. She has control of herself and commands the stage, and despite her illness, Olivia pulled off some big high notes and controlled runs.
Emily Brooke, "So Small": Emily Brooke has one of the most engaging stories this year on Idol - she tried out last year and got cut during this very round. But, it seems like that year between was really good for her, because she came back stronger than ever and seems like a real contender to win this whole thing. Her take on Carrie Underwood's "So Small" had the essence of the original, but you didn't much think of that song - this was all about Emily. Her high country voice is distinctive and pleasant. I'm excited to see where she'll go in the live shows.
Gianna Isabella, "I Still Believe": For her final tryout, Gianna Isabella decided to honor her mother, pop star Brenda K Starr, and perform her big hit "I Still Believe." Though this caused a little drama between her mom and music director Ricky Minor (who thought Gianna was paying too much attention to mama in the audience), Gianna totally nailed this song in execution. Full of big, high notes, Gianna made it all sound too easy.
Jenn Blosil, "The Hanging Tree": Jenn Blosil is like a weirder, more quirky version of season 14's Joey Cook, so were you really surprised when she chose The Hunger Games' "The Hanging Tree" for her make-or-break moment? The haunting faux folk song worked well with Jenn's breathy voice, and her odd artistry is so different that it feels like she's filling a nice gap in this competition. See you in the top 24, Jenn!
Tristan McIntosh, "Stronger": Tristan McIntosh was basically made to make it to the top 24 - so when the producers cut away from her talk with the judges - we knew they were just playing games. Her intriguing story (including a mom who just returned from the service in Kuwait) isn't the only reason Tristan is this season's frontrunner - her vocals are among this year's strongest. Her cover of Faith Hill's "Stronger" was bold and big and beautiful.
Jordan Sasser, "Love Runs Out": Jordan Sasser was up against Kacye Haynes for the final male spot on this season - but since the editing is such an indication of who makes it into the top 24 anymore, it was always obvious this worship leader with the cast-off wife was going to go on to the next round. Every time Jordan performs, it seems like he brings out a different side of himself, and for this One Republic cover, he's an '80s-style rocker. I wanted some next level stuff from this, like a big ol' falsetto a la Caleb Johnson, but alas... we just got some volume.
La'Porsha Renae, "House of the Rising Sun": I'm as sick of hearing "House of the Rising Sun" as the next person on Idol... this is at least the third or fourth time we've heard this classic track this season. But, La'Porsha Renae is the biggest powerhouse singer of this season and injects some much-needed soul into the season 15 crop. (There is a serious lack of R&B singers here.) La'Porsha leaves it all out on the stage, and rightfully gets her spot in the top 24. But, she was the last singer to be called to the live shows, and was matched up against Lindita, who notably has a big voice and lost 150 pounds to try out for Idol. But, her voice can't live up to La'Porsha, and she was unfortunately sent packing.
Note: Jenna Renae, Kory Wheeler, Adam Lasher, James VIII and Manny Torres also made the top 24, but were montaged.