This is no ordinary duet episode of American Idol. What begins as a familiar collaboration between wide-eyed contestants and hardened, weary adults like Pat Monahan becomes a death march at episode’s end when Lionel “That Reminds Me of Me” Richie, Luke “Everyone Did a Great Job” Bryan, and Katy “Dressed Like a Gay Shogun” Perry select only 7 of the night’s 12 performers to advance to the Top 14. It is a night of solid entertainment and worthless commentary, so let’s fill in our own and rank the night’s performances. Warning: After every performance description, I give away whether the judges selected that performer for the Top 14. If that kind of spoiler bothers you, the internet should be taken from you here and now.
12. Jonny Brenns, “Back Home” with Andy Grammer
As a pale person with rosacea and wispy hair, I instinctively root for Jonny Brenns. But as a fan of born superstars like Madonna, I can’t continue rooting for someone who seems this nervous all the time. Jonny looked like he’d been dragged to that stage by his Prom King bestie, the affable Andy Grammer. Is it possible Jonny was intimidated by Andy Grammer? How? Was it Andy’s … nice haircut that cowed him? Whatever happened, I sensed Andy enjoying himself and Jonny actively reminding himself to smile. And that’s Ryan Seacrest’s job, not Jonny’s.
Does he advance? Yes. After all, he looks like someone who dates the daughter on Modern Family, which is what most American Idol winners look like.
11. Kay Kay, “Drive By” with Pat Monahan
It was shady of Idol to out young Kay Kay’s inexperience performing with a live band, no? In rehearsals, Kay Kay couldn’t hear herself in her earpiece, which seemed like a big surprise to everyone around her. It wasn’t a pleasing edit, and I was happy to see her redeemed with a formidable vocal alongside Pat Monahan, who looks like if Jason Bateman were a shift manager at Topman. The performance was dogged by a lack of comfort and chemistry between the two singers, who seemed to have a nice rapport during rehearsals. I wonder how she’d have handled “Wake Me Up,” a song way more suited to her brand of command, which we heard earlier in the episode.
Does she advance? No. Train done derailed Kay Kay.
10. Brandon Diaz, “Despacito” with Luis Fonsi
I watched Brandon Diaz dive into the lickety-split Spanish of “Despacito” the way you watch a co-worker attempt stand-up for the first time: holding a jagged smile while gently stabbing yourself with a fork under the table. Brandon admitted that the foreign-language element daunted him, but he held it together while Luis Fonsi provided vocals that zap you right back to the summer of 2017. For Brandon, it still felt like a college audition rather than the work of a born superstar, but his amiable appeal is not out of place in the Top 24. But hit us with that verve, ya blue-eyed bunhead! How hard is it to look an audience in the eye and demand their attention? Do children not study the lyrics to “Brass in Pocket” in school anymore?
Does he advance? No. We already have a blue-eyed white person who needs to work on his stage presence and that’s Jonny Brenns!
9. Michael J. Woodard, “Angel in Blue Jeans” with Pat Monahan
Uggggggh. Undoubtedly the worst song of the night, “Angel in Blue Jeans” is the blandest of radio hits and just an annoying image altogether. Michael Woodard loves a surprising song choice, but it appears he was tricked into choosing this by the Rumpelstiltskin of Armani Exchange, Pat Monahan. You could hear him try to sneak pretty vocal pyrotechnics into the proceedings, but that’s a cinched melody with no room for sensuality. I give Michael credit for trying to work out what he could. If he had to choose a Train song, I think “Drops of Jupiter” would’ve given him more space for dynamic vocals and cool Tae Bo moves.
Does he advance? Yes, thankfully. America needs a man who loves “Maybe This Time” in its life. Trust me on this.
8. Trevor McBane, “River” with Bishop Briggs
Bishop Briggs’s signature song really gets Bishop Briggs going. She was popping off all over the stage like a one-lady ska revival. Trevor McBane was content to gurgle murder sounds behind her, and I both respected him and feared for him because of it. Why do so many of these contestants think standing still is a winning move? Just because Luke Bryan stands there looking like he’s so proud of his repainted deck doesn’t mean you should. Trevor sounded fabulous at certain points, but his cautiousness only mounted as the song went on. Let’s face it: If anyone should feel comfortable gurgling a song called “River,” it’s this denim-clad grizzly crooner.
Does he advance? No. Trevor McBye.
7. Cade Foehner, “Never Tear Us Apart” with Bishop Briggs
I’d never seen Bishop Briggs before this performance but something is important about her: She is styled exactly like Bif Naked, and late ‘90s personalities from MTV’s Say What? Karaoke (including our recapping hero Dave Holmes) are my patron saints. Now, I hate to say it, but Cade Foehner is the kind of talent that … bores the hell out of me? He’s not a rocker; he’s a rocker avatar from The Sims. He adds nothing to your preconceived ideas about rock singing, rock wardrobe, or rock swagger. I assume if you see him live, the voltage of his voice splits open your brain, but when I watch his performance here, all I get is an in-tune growl and a pantomime of angst. At least Bishop Briggs added some punky twitching to the mix. Idol winners should coruscate individuality as much as talent, and I hope Cade becomes more than a headbanging silhouette from a 2007 iPod commercial soon.
Does he advance? Of course.
6. Catie Turner, “Good to Be Alive” with Andy Grammer
Andy Grammer specializes in songs you can safely sing with a Boy Scout troop, and “Good to be Alive” gave Catie Turner — who might have a full sash of merit badges next to her hope chest — a chance to be wholesome and rollicking, which is her whole thing. You can picture the performance. “Good, good, good to be alive right about nah!” she crooned with a big ole grin on her face. Together, Andy and Catie kept the energy high, but it must be said: Andy had more stage presence than Catie, and I think it’s because Catie is (cough) still obsessed with pointing out her own awkwardness instead of slaying us. It feels like a ploy to me. You’ve all seen All About Eve, right? Go watch Anne Baxter usurp Bette Davis’s career via compulsive adorkability and report back to me. Then we can have a separate conversation about the Best Actress race of 1950 and we’ll both get our life.
Does she advance? Aw shucks, it’s a yes!
5. Layla Spring, “Stuck Like Glue” with Sugarland
Guys, this Jennifer Nettles woman from Sugarland seems really nice and cool. She wore her best ABBA onesie, pinched Layla Spring’s cheeks, and gyrated around like the kooky gym teacher doing the Macarena with the kids. She really got out of Layla’s way and let her have a moment too, and I was psyched to see that. Was the performance extraordinary? No, but it was unpretentious and smiley and chilled out, which stood in stark relief to some of the other performances. There’s a moment in the song that almost felt like a reggae break, and it frightened me. But this was a southern picnic with plenty of peanut butter and banana sandwiches for all. (I have no understanding of southern food.) I thought Jennifer was gonna give that little McNugget a piggyback ride, they were having such a fine time!
Does she advance? No! Which would be shocking if Gabby Barrett weren’t around, but she is. The pipsqueak community is sorely underrepresented now.
4. Dominique, “Wake Me Up” with Aloe Blacc
This reminded me of Lady Gaga’s “Do What U Want” duet with Christina Aguilera, the one she released after remembering R. Kelly might be the single worst human being. It was easy to mix up Dominique and Aloe Blacc’s voices, but their similar power was striking. The performance felt genuine and kind of moving, which is wild to say for a song that you’ve heard at CVS for four years straight. My appreciation of Dominique’s talents (which he used serviceably on Sunday’s “Ain’t Nobody”) just upped a bit.
Does he advance? No! Which is both tragic and sensible. Dominique was always more of a session vocalist than a star, and this is the proper moment for his departure.
3. Gabby Barrett, “Stay” with Sugarland
Jennifer Nettles, who is the Miranda Lambert of Trisha Yearwoods, once again nurtured a young Idol Pollyanna into a grown, divorced mother of three right in front of our eyes. Gabby Barrett has the crispest country vocals of the season, with vigor and fun and a little bit of rage to share. For a song like “Stay” that is definitely not a duet, these ladies worked out a charismatic back-and-forth dynamic. We were watching two pros trusting each other and listening to each other work. Jennifer kept pointing at Gabby as if to say, “This little lady right here? What a gas! Hope she ain’t allergic to nutmeg because she’s gettin’ three slices of my pecan pie for the road!” If anything, I almost regret how picture-perfect Gabby’s look has become. She’s a pillar of Stefani tresses and Grammy gowns waiting to be crowned the season’s queen. And she might be!
Does she advance? Yes, you cheatin’ man, you!
2. Michelle Sussett, “I Can’t Make You Love Me” with Luis Fonsi
What an intense rebound from that forgettable performance of “If I Were a Boy” yesterday. It’s kind of B.S. to perform a classic ballad as your duet when the original artist isn’t there to sing it with you, but give it up: Michelle used that cat-like charisma to make this smoky tune relevant for a 2018 demo. Luis was fabulous too, with not a single rushed or insincere moment in the whole performance. Sure, it’s an Idol standard handled by everyone from Carrie Underwood to Kimberley Locke, but I think Michelle’s version has enough specificity to warrant its selection. But now that I mention her cat-like qualities, I would really like to see her perform “Black Cat” by Janet Jackson with full bad kitty choreography. Cade Foehner can play the guitar lick in back since he loves his guitar so much!
Does she advance? Yes. Good for Michelle, but I’m already getting 10th or 11th place vibes from her.
1. Dennis Lorenzo, “Unaware” with Allen Stone
Now, how is this above board? Dennis Lorenzo auditioned with Allen Stone’s “Unaware,” wowed the judges, and now he gets to do it again? A re-wowing? I haven’t seen tactics like this since Amber Holcomb performed “My Funny Valentine” twice in season 12. But that’s enough complaining because this was delectable, a light-as-air duet with dynamite synergy. These guys should form a duo or a choir or a happenin’ Bee Gees cover band. Tell me you didn’t want to see them take on “How Deep is Your Love” after that performance. I want more. I really think they could teach me how to mend a broken heart, or remind me I should be dancing, or duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive. Whatever they want.
Does he advance? The yes of yeses.
See you next week when 12 more children with horrifying life stories sing songs for our fickle love.