American Idol's farewell season got a little boost from its original girl on Thursday night (Feb. 25). Kelly Clarkson returned home to be a guest judge and to perform her touching new single "Piece by Piece," and was one of the most welcome additions to this season thus far.
But, before the top 10 (and Kelly) could perform, the field had to be narrowed down. After four "wildcard" picks from the judges, the other six contestants had to be called to the stage. That meant, goodbye to four performers. Jenn Blosil, Jeneve Rose Mitchell, Thomas Stringfellow and Manny Torres all had to say goodbye to their Idol journey.
Clarkson, a tried and true veteran of the Idol stage, was an incredibly effective judge. She reminded her fellow judges and the audience about the youth of the contestants on the stage. But, she wasn't solely nice, offering constructive words to the hopeful young stars in the top 10.
And how did those Idol hopefuls do? Overall, quite well. Though some people who maybe shouldn't have made it in to the top 10 (Gianna Isabella, Lee Jean, Avalon Young) stumbled along the way, we finally got some truly standout performances from, surprise!, La'Porsha Renae.
See how they all stacked up below:
10. Gianna Isabella, "Listen": Like Olivia before her, Gianna Isabella decided to go big and bold for her top 10 performance song, with the massive Beyonce ballad "Listen." This is a hard song to sing, and at 15 years old, Gianna just doesn't quite have the gusto in her to pull it off. When she went for the high notes, she fell just ever so slightly flat and when she tried to tap into the inner emotions of the song, once again, she fell a little flat. Gianna is capable of doing some insane things with her voice (look at "I Put a Spell on You"), but this was just too ambitious.
09. Avalon Young, "Stitches": As the standard Idol judges pointed out, this may not have been the best song choice for Avalon Young. The tempo just doesn't work with her laidback R&B vibes. But, she worked with what she had. Because of the less-than-amazing song choice, there once again wasn't much room for Avalon to show off that sweet tone that she has. Once again, she opted to go for a vibe. It was pretty surprising that she managed to work her way into the top 10 over more distinctive artists like Jenn Blosil or Jeneve Rose Mitchell, so there must be a je ne sais quoi here, so who knows how even to judge here.
08. Tristan McIntosh, "Nothin' Like You": As Keith Urban pointed out, this Dan + Shay song actually does have more going on in it than it may sound like to a casual listener. But, just because there are big range jumps and dynamics within "Nothin' Like You," that doesn't make it a good choice for Tristan McIntosh. She never really had a moment to show off or shine because it was so fast moving. And, when she tried to work the audience or move around a bit, she lost some of her control on the melody, as Harry Connick Jr. pointed out. This wasn't her best showing, by far.
07. Lee Jean, "Skinny Love": Well, it's not an Ed Sheeran song, so we have that going for it. Bon Iver's "Skinny Love" is one of the most passionate, heartbreaking songs of all time, and to tie in to those lyrics, Lee Jean and the Idol team decided to give it an up-tempo bouncy makeover. The arrangement was just so misplaced that it took me out of it, though a different reviewer could give Lee credit for making this classic song his own. As for his vocals, they were very Lee: easy, relaxed and natural. It's good that he is so young and so sure of who he is as an artist, even if it doesn't always work.
06. Trent Harmon, "Like I Can": So, the producers really love Trent Harmon, don't they? He got an easy pass in to the top 10 and now he got the money spot to close out the show. After following up two powerhouse performances from La'Porsha Renae and Sonika Vaid, his take on Sam Smith's "Like I Can" was solid but not show closer worthy. His tone is certainly unique, he blends together a nasal sense in a way that I haven't heard much in the wild. And, while that should be celebrated, it doesn't need to be constantly pimped.
05. MacKenzie Bourg, "I See Fire": Can we just, like, ban Ed Sheeran songs from talent competitions? Sheeran is a perfectly fine artist and worthy singer, but his discography has been covered a billion times in the last four years, and it is so tiring. At least Lee Jean wasn't the one singing "I See Fire," it was MacKenzie Bourg. MacKenzie injected the sort of emotional connection into this song that he does so well, and for that, it was successful. But, after he blew the show away on Wednesday with his original song "Roses," this just fell a little short, though he was still relatively captivating.
04. Olivia Rox, "Unconditionally": The best thing about 17-year-old Olivia Rox is just how effortless she makes everything look and sound. She took on Katy Perry's "Unconditionally," a song that can build to have some really big notes and runs, and she just nailed them like she was speaking a normal sentence. In a competition full of some stiff singers, her ease on stage is refreshing to watch. And while she easily killed the big moments, what helped this take of "Unconditionally" stand out was its arrangement. She started everything off small and slow, exercising a lot of control. While that obviously helped the big moments feel bigger, it just further displayed the range that Olivia can pull off.
03. Dalton Rapattoni, "Hey There Delilah": Well, it was really just a matter of time until Dalton Rapattoni finally wandered into the world of pop-punk, and he dove right in to it with this Plain White T's track. Instead of going with the acoustic original version of this track, he pumped it up with an electric makeover that would fit in quite well on Warped Tour. Dalton is such a natural performer and singer that even though he didn't really aim to go for any big ol' notes, he still managed to stand out just by being himself. It'll be a huge shock if he doesn't just slide right into the finale.
02. Sonika Vaid, "Bring Me to Life": This performance... wait for it... brought Sonika Vaid to life. She followed La'Porsha Renae's standout "Diamonds" performance, and it seems as though that helped her to step her game up. Sonika has had some problems with confidence on stage, but with this powerful Evanescence song, she was a fully realized, strong woman and performer. She nailed the vocals of this song (which is very difficult to sing) and finally showed us what she's made of. If she can carry this momentum throughout the competition, yes, she is Miss Danger.
01. La'Porsha Renae, "Diamonds": The standing ovation that went forever speaks well enough to this performance. Mic drop, hand La'Porsha Renae the trophy now, if you must. This was the first blow away performance of the season. La'Porsha injected her own sensuality and sass in to this well known song and somehow managed to make her own. When magic like this happens on stage, there's only so much one can say. This was a legendary Idol moment and just needs to be watched to be believed.