In its farewell season, American Idol is adding an extra round before the live shows - a display of the top 24. This week, half of the singers got a crisp 60 seconds to show off their personality through song before dueting with some of Idol's favorite alumni.
So, how did these 12 perform? It's hard to get a real grasp with these short performances - and these songs were s-h-o-r-t! But, we can only do our best and judge.
Stephany Negrette, "Mama Knows Best": Stephany Negrette has opened up the last three episodes of Idol... That can mean a number of things. It can either be 1) Random. 2) A sign that she can build up an audience and set the stage for big vocals. Or 3) A signal that the producers just want to get her out of the picture sooner rather than later. I'm apt to go with reason No. 2 (with just a touch of No. 3). Stephany's performance of this Jessie J was bold, like she's bound to do, but once again, I'm missing some soul here.
Mackenzie Bourg, "Say Something": Mackenzie Bourg sang A Great Big World! SHOCKING! (Just kidding - this was a really obvious song choice for him.) This little cutie pie (who looks way younger than his 23 years) touched on the emotional notes of this heartbreaking hit, but a few extra dynamics really could have taken this home. But, this played nicely in the church and helped to further connect to the voting public
Jeneve Rose Mitchell, "Angel": Jeneve Rose Mitchell can apparently play, like, a dozen instruments. That's what growing up without electricity will do to a girl. (Did you know she lives OFF THE GRID?! No one has ever mentioned it before, so...) Her backstory may be fascinating, but her vocal here was far less engaging than she clearly is as a person. Jeneve is only 15 years old and sounded like it. Her take on Sarah McLachlin song lacked texture, but she's an enchanting person, so that may help her along.
Jenna Renae, "My Church": Jenna Renae remains somewhat of a mystery on this show. Despite making it to the top 24, Jenna hasn't made much of an impact in the editing room. Her performance of "My Church" may just change that. Perhaps it's the church-like atmosphere of this venue, but her throaty country vocals were at once unique and bold, with just the right amount of twang. This season is heavy on female country singers, but Jenna is surprisingly one of the best.
James VIII, "Love Lockdown": So, this guy really is rolling with the name "James the Eighth," which is endearing and makes him an interesting personality (beyond the "boy scout" angle the producers went with in his intro piece). James further distinguished himself as one of the most intriguing guys on this show by taking Kanye West's "Love Lockdown" and giving it a makeover in the style of Hozier. It was... funky, which is not something you normally think of when your mind goes to 808s and Heartbreaks. The judges weren't feeling this, but I was.
Sonica Vaid, "Safe and Sound": It's an actual surprise that Sonica Vaid stepped out of her Ariana Grande box and performed a single from a different pop diva... Taylor Swift. Sonica's take on "Safe and Sound" was yet another strong showing for her, all at once tender and pretty, with some really sweet and tender runs near the end that mimic the original arrangement while adding an original Sonica flavor. Sonica got struck with just a little stage fright and was wooden in her actual performance, but with more time on the stage, hopefully this will go away.
Gianna Isabella, "I Put a Spell on You": "I Put A Spell on You" is a song that demands two things: unbridled passion and a range that is out of this world. Gianna Isabella definitely had the latter of these two things, and she offered up some vocal gymnastics that were made for the Idol stage: big, loud and bold. But, I wanted just a little more spice in this mix. Some real heavy passion could have taken this already-solid performance and sent it into outer space.
Emily Brooke, "I Am Invincible": Hey, Emily Brooke, is everything OK? Normally, Emily is good for a reliable vocal and an engaging performance, but her performance of Cassadee Pope's "I Am Invincible" was one of the most tone deaf things of the evening. Like Jennifer Lopez pointed out, this song was just slightly too low to hit the best parts of her voice. There are massive cuts this week (from 12 to seven), and Emily could be in trouble.
Avalon Young, "Love Yourself": Avalon Young is a real cool, chill kind of girl with a penchance for taking on cool, chill R&B songs. So, it should come as no surprise that she tackled Justin Bieber's surprise hit song "Love Yourself." Vocally, this song doesn't have a lot to show off, so Avalon didn't have much to do. She was engaging and fun to watch, but at the end of the day, this was as unmemorable as her grey hoodie.
Jordan Sasser, "All By Myself": Celine Dion's "All By Myself" is a really heartbreaking, emotional song. Duh, we all know that. But Jordan Sasser's take on this classic hit was less "look at how sad I am" and more "look at how many vocal tricks I can pull." It sounded technically good and showed impressive range and control, but fancy voices, but without a sense of loneliness or loss, this performance fell flat.
Thomas Stringfellow, "Creep": Wow, so Thomas Stringfellow really is just going to do that hiccup vocal thing at the end of every phrase for real, isn't he? His take on Radiohead's "Creep" (the second time this song has been performed this season) was full of those rises and hiccups, and it was genuinely a little shocking each and every time it happened. He needs to learn to hit a note square on the head and stay there in order to stop coming across as endlessly irritating. Though he ended up with some nice, long notes and the sense of anger and yearning that this song requires, those hiccups just ruined this.
La'Porsha Renae, "Proud Mary": La'Porsha Renae is here to save the day! After 12 performances that were widely varied in quality, you just KNOW that La'Porsha is going to bring the flavor. And, of course, she brought the house down with "Proud Mary." She started off the song slow and sweet, displaying her sense of control and range. But, aftert the first chorus, the tempo kicked off the show began. La'Porsha took control of this stage like a madwoman, and I am here for it.