American Idol's 15th and farewell season got a visit from one of its most noteworthy alumni on Thursday night (March 17) when Adam Lambert returned to the show to debut his new single "Welcome to the Show." And it was, indeed, welcome to the realities of show business for the top six, who were thrown a major loop when America picked its song choices.
Sometimes, the fans' picks worked out well for the contestants. La'Porsha Renae and Trent Harmon had some major successes, but, well, there's a reason the average Jane or Joe don't create setlists - there's an art to it, and Dalton Rapattoni, MacKenzie Bourg and Sonika Vaid were forced to sing some weird ones.
Also, it was a goodbye to Tristan McIntosh. Despite big improvements in her performances in the last few weeks, the lone country gal on this season, she continued to be a little one night. Despite being just a teenager, Tristan kept picking songs that were just too mature for her. Her take on Martina McBride's "Independence Day' was no different, and she was sent packing over Sonika, who was spending a second week on the bottom.
So, then there were five. And how did they all play out, singing the songs America so desperately wanted to hear them take on? Let's rank 'em.
10. Sonika Vaid, "Clarity": Sonika Vaid can come alive on stage - we saw her show genuine confidence in her "Bring Me to Life" and "I Have Nothing" performances, So, why did her take on Zedd's "Clarity" sound like a pageant talent show round? Perhaps she felt no connection to the lyric, instead relying on wide arm movements and spins to fake enthusiasm and connection to the lyrics. Her vocals were solid, but the performance itself was distracting and awkward. This is the Sonika of six weeks ago, not a top five Idol contender.
09. Dalton Rapattoni, "Numb": Oh my god. Linkin Park was performed on American Idol. Good choice, America! (That was sarcasm.) Dalton Rapattoni has always done his best when he can really dig in to a song, and while this track has a lot of underlying emotional power, he just didn't even bother to try and do it at all. He just sort of sang this straight, and mixed with the crawling tempo, this was flat and boring. This is not at all that Dalton America has come to know and love.
08. MacKenzie Bourg, "Wild World": Unlike his second song, "Billie Jean," MacKenzie Bourg performing Cat Stevens' "Wild World" sounds good on paper. It's an acoustic ballad with a sort of emotional, pleading lyric, and that's something MacKenzie should be able to pull off fairly well. What happened, however, was MacKenzie was looking to show off his quirky side this week (and rightfully so - it's engaging). So, he took this song, sort of bumped up the tempo and gave it a little bit of a reggae feel. This arrangement did not work. While MacKenzie tried to give little flares of vocal tricks and personality, but America's song choice just didn't really allow for it.
07.Trent Harmon, "Counting Stars": From the tone of his voice, OneRepublic's "Counting Stars" should have been a homerun for Trent Harmon, but there is something about his personality and this song that didn't quite match. He showed off his pop-rock side here, working the stage and stomping around like a madman. While his distinctive nasal Southern voice sounded really nice in the chorus, Trent wasn't totally sure how to connect to this track, and it came across pretty scattered.
06. Sonika Vaid, "Let it Go": Once again, Sonika Vaid was forced to sing for the save. Over her "Clarity" cover, Sonika decided to tackle the Demi Lovato version of the Frozen smash "Let It Go" (which features a poppier mix than the movie version). It's a big song and a beloved song, so it's a hard one, but it's a good choice for Sonika. She was able to show off a bit of her fun side, all while still blowing off the roof with her range. At times, the ups and downs of this song got to her, and she flubbed more than a few notes. However, she was quick to pick it up and recover with another big showing. It wasn't perfect, but it was more than enough to get her through to the top five over Tristan.
05. MacKenzie Bourg, "Billie Jean": On paper, this song choice seemed like a really odd choice for MacKenzie Bourg, but then you learned that this acoustic blues makeover of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" was already in his arsenal. With Lee Jean out of the competition, MacKenzie went full Ed Sheeran for this performance, with just a lone acoustic guitar and a mic stand with him on stage. It was fully unique, and MacKenzie's subtle twists on this song's melody and little kicks of blues in his voice was gripping. The cameras shouldn't have spun so much, and should have captured the specialness of this cover, but that's not on him.
04. La'Porsha Renae, "Ready for Love": From the second I heard that La'Porsha Renae was going to be performing India Arie's "Ready for Love," I knew it was going to be magical. And, of course, La'Porsha delivered (as she always does). Her take on this song was more pointed, mournful and contemplative than the original, which worked emotionally perfectly for La'Porsha if you think about her background. She showed off her soft side, giving us a few runs and a crescendo that packed a punch beyond measure. In an evening with odd song choices for the contestants (through no fault of their own!), this one was a winner.
03. Dalton Rapattoni, "The Sound of Silence": Of course, the lyrics to Simon & Garfunkel's "Sound of Silence" are pure poetry, and that's something that Dalton Rapattoni emphasized in his take on this classic track. Starting out his performance sitting with his legs crossed on the floor, Dalton eventually stood and rehearsed these lyrics a bit like they were slam poetry, emphasizing lines about neon lights and subway walls. It was emotionally very effective. His vocals were pointed, determined and artistic. So while he didn't show a lot of range, he showed a lot of passion, and sometimes that can be infinitely more gripping.
02. Trent Harmon, "Simple Man": After getting a little bit of critique on his evolving style from Jennifer Lopez last week, the hat is secured back nice and tight on top of Trent Harmon's head, and it actually is really nice to see. After fumbling a little bit with his first song choice ("Counting Stars"), Trent totally was back in his element. His soulful, Southern side was on full display. His connection to these lyrics was emphasized by a bluesy vocal delivery and a small gospel choir behind him, and like Harry Connick Jr. pointed out, it was an appealing thing to see.
01. La'Porsha Renae, "No More Drama": If La'Porsha Renae's performance of "Ready for Love" was understated, her take on Mary J Blige's "No More Drama" was the intense, show-stopping punch in the gut. Channeling her own past of being in an abusive relationship, La'Porsha put it all out there, twisting the lyrics of this already dramatic, bold single to fit her own life. She started off slow and small, but by the end she was nearly screaming into the microphone, getting bolder and stronger with every passing second. She collapsed in weeps at the end of it all, as did JLo and this reviewer. It was like a butterfly bursting out of her cacoon.