“American Idol” Recap: The Top 20 Perform The Top 20 perform from home, and America votes.

American Idol has been on the air since 2002, going through many changes and evolutions along the way. Now the best singing competition show ever is about to evolve yet again. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced TV shows to either shut down or repurpose to stay on the air. ABC is taking the latter approach.

During the past two weeks, American Idol has aired two specials about the Top 20 contestants. ABC did this to allow them more time to plan and prepare for the coming weeks.

After getting everybody set up with cameras and lighting, and working closely with the producers over Zoom, everyone is ready for the spotlight as the Top 20 perform from home. Host Ryan Seacrest; judges Katy Perry (in a sanitizer costume), Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie; and in-house mentor Bobby Bones are also at their respective homes. (The same goes for the band, which I didn’t realize they’d actually have.)

This week, the Top 20 will perform. America will vote for the first time in season 18. And then the Top 10 will be revealed next Sunday.

History is being made. The show must go on. This…is American Idol!

Kimmy Gabriella (“Leave Me Lonely” by Ariana Grande)
Kimmy’s singing on her back porch, with flowers flowing down behind her. Nice backdrop. And her voice sounds fantastic! If you only listened to this, you’d almost think this is being done in a recording studio, but it obviously isn’t. I don’t know how the other 19 will do, but Kimmy’s great and opens the night on a positive. Also, sometimes they show the backup singers on the side of the screen.

Jovin Webb (“With a Little Help From My Friends” by Joe Cocker)
I love the rasp in Jovin’s voice. This is the perfect song for someone like him, and he doesn’t disappoint. It’s not until the last moment of the performance that we see that this is being done in his garage–they did a great job decorating it. Like with Kimmy, the judges also love this.

Franklin Boone (“Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears)
Performing in his living room, and with family members holding signs of support standing on the sideline, he delivers a very smooth performance. I think the first two singers stood out more, but that’s not to take away from Franklin, of course. And whoever was in control of the camera isn’t missing any angles–front, back, side, every which way.

Olivia Ximines (“Bad Guy” by Billie Eilish)
Love this song! I don’t know if I’ve heard a cover of it yet, until now. But I’m not sure about this. There are definitely moments when Olivia, in her living room, allows herself to belt it out (in a way that Eilish never did), and that’s when she truly shines. But I’m not quite sure if this is the best song choice for her; the judges like it, though.

Louis Knight (“If The World is Ending” by JP Saxe)
I’m sorry I don’t remember Louis from previous rounds. But that shouldn’t matter if he can deliver. And while playing the piano, he does indeed deliver. There’s something about the tone in his voice that I really like. I’m not familiar with the song, but again, it doesn’t matter because Louis made me love it–absolutely beautiful! The judges like it, but Katy does give some constructive criticism.

Makayla Phillips (“Greedy” by Ariana Grande)
Wow, they’ve added some computer effects to the start of this performance; I guess that’s allowed. Anyway, as for Makayla, she does sound great. I do wonder if she’s more of a replicator (trying to copy what a pop star should sound and look like) than actually knowing who she is as an artist. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s eliminated. While the judges are positive overall (though Katy is critical about song choice), it seems like they’re trying to go easy on her so she’s not disappointed.

Bobby Bones checks in, revealing that next week’s theme is “songs that remind them of home.” He’ll be more involved for that round.

Aliana Jester (“Run to You” by Whitney Houston)
In the garage and with lamps all over the place, she takes on Whitney. Gorgeous vocals, especially at the end. Going with Whitney, it’s interesting that she’s decided not to take on one of the more well-known numbers that we’ve seen a lot on these shows. Obviously, going that way has its risks (also lots of rewards if done right), but maybe “Run to You” makes her a little more forgettable than she should be.

Faith Becnel (“River” by Bishop Briggs)
Another garage performance–and this one looks like it’s done amongst all the exercise/weight-lifting equipment; that’s a little awkward, but the camera transitions make up for it. Putting that aside, I’m blown away by Faith’s voice! Whereas Aliana was more forgettable despite gorgeous vocals, Faith is not forgettable.

Nick Merico (“Hey There Delilah” by Plain White T’s)
Gotta love this song! However, I’m not impressed by this, and I think it’s because Nick’s voice doesn’t have much depth to it; it’s kind of a sleepy performance, to be honest. Luke mentions the need to dig in a little more, and he’s right. This should be an easy elimination.

Lauren Spencer-Smith (“Mamma Knows Best” by Jessie J)
Her home is on a lake, which makes for an absolutely breath-taking backdrop. Jessie J has released some great songs over the years, including “Mamma Knows Best.” I’m intrigued by Lauren. She’s showing a lot of potential here. Every so often, there’s something in the tone of her voice coming through that I really like.

Cyniah Elise (“Warrior” by Demi Lovato)
I’m really into this. When a singer can draw you in, the voice pierces you, you can’t take your eyes off them, and you’re moving along with the music–that’s what happens with me. I don’t know what else to say. The judges are a tad more critical (for some odd reason) while also lavishing praise, but she should easily sail to the next round.

Francisco Martin (“Teenage Dream” by Katy Perry)
I’m not sure what to make of Francisco’s chances. He starts off kind of “meh,” then he constantly improves as the song goes on, which helps a lot–he sounds great during those moments. So this is a little bit of a mixed bag. On a side note, is anyone else distracted by the blank picture frames behind him? There are some actual pictures hanging, but there are also two frames with nothing in them–did they not want those ones shown on TV or something? Odd.

Sophia James (“Burning” by Maggie Rogers)
She’s been one of the stronger singers in previous rounds. This is an enjoyable performance. It’s probably not the most memorable song choice, but she’s still able to belt it out in a great way–I mean, she still sounds fantastic. I hope she’s here next week, and I hope it’s a great song.

Dewayne Crocker Jr. (“I Got You (I Feel Good)” by James Brown)
It must still be Christmas in the Crocker house, with the Christmas tree off to the side. Dewayne…he’s got a really nice, smooth voice. You can’t say it’s bad at all. However, what I will say is that he needs a song that’s better suited to his sound. To take on James Brown, you need a particular kind of voice, but Dewayne’s is more clear/thin. Luke mentions you need a growl-like voice on a James Brown song, and he’s right. If he gets another chance, he better work on song choice. But if he’s eliminated, it won’t come as a surprise.

Dillon James (“Let It Be Me” by Ray Lamontagne)
The wood shed behind him gives a rustic backdrop that’s a nice change from the living rooms of most of these contestants. That’s the extent of my compliments. His voice just isn’t very memorable. If he had a more gruff-sounding voice to match the shed backdrop, this could’ve been a great delivery. I expect Dillon will be eliminated.

Arthur Gunn (“Lovin’ Machine” by Wynonie Harris)
Arthur has been one of my top favorites this season. And he doesn’t disappoint here. I’m moving along to the music. He sounds really good. This is a lot of fun, plain and simple. And I don’t know why, but the feel of this song goes really well with him singing it on the back porch; I don’t know, it just worked.

Julia Gargano (“Human” by Christina Perri)
I love Julia’s voice. I love this song. She’s right at home at the piano. One of the judges mentioned to an earlier performer that they need to look into the camera more instead of constantly looking down at the piano (eye contact). Julia is at the piano here, but she’s looking at the camera most of the time and really connects with the audience. She’s one to keep an eye on over the next several weeks; she could do really well in this competition.

Grace Leer (“Cry” by Faith Hill)
Grace won the final spot in the Top 20 by America’s votes–I voted for her! It’ll be interesting to see if that extra attention will help her for this week’s vote. I’m not in love with this performance, though. Her voice isn’t bad by any means. But it’s almost a little too throwback-y. (I know, I know, this song is 20 years old, but still.) Can she be current in today’s country music scene?

Just Sam (“I Believe” by Fantasia)
What a coincidence that Just Sam has gone with a Fantasia song (and it’s her coronation song, no less) because I have been saying (or more thinking to myself) in the previous rounds that she reminds me a lot of Fantasia–unique sounding voice, her own fashion style, she’s been through some things in her life.

Just Sam has been my number one favorite this entire season so far. In the previous round in Hawaii, she came out and showed off a true transformation, blowing us all away. I was kinda hoping for something like that again. She wasn’t quite up to that level this time around. But I just love that she chose this song, and the message is really fitting for her.

Jonny West (“What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong)
If you learn anything about me, know this: “What a Wonderful World” is my absolutely favorite song in the entire world. So it’s hard for me to hate this; at the same time, I probably won’t consider this one of my favorites of the night. I am surprised that the producers have decided to end the show on a slower performance; they must really like him.

My Favorites of the Night
Cyniah EliseJulia Gargano and Louis Knight

The Weakest of the Night
Makayla Phillips, Nick Merico and Dillon James

Who I’m Voting For
Julia Gargano (30 votes), Arthur Gunn (30 votes) and Just Sam (30 votes)

Top 10 Predictions
Jovin Webb, Louis Knight, Faith Becnel, Lauren Spencer-Smith, Cyniah Elise, Sophia James, Arthur Gunn, Julia Gargano, Just Sam and Jonny West

Elimination Predictions
Kimmy Gabriella, Franklin Boone, Olivia Ximines, Makayla Phillips, Aliana Jester, Nick Merico, Francisco Martin, Dewayne Crocker Jr., Dillon James and Grace Leer

I could easily see Faith and Franklin being switched. Kimmy doesn’t deserve to leave, but for viewers who wait until the end of the show to vote, she might have been forgotten.

Two hours and 20 performances later, American Idol has made history. I’m always amazed when these singing competition shows try to stuff this many performances into just a couple hours. But they managed to make it work.

What they also managed to pull off was this “at-home” edition. It was a whole lot better than I thought it would be. The quality was really good, and it gives me hope for the rest of the season. I just wish we weren’t getting rid of half of the field in one week.

Next week, half of the competition will be eliminated, and the remaining Top 10 will perform again for our votes.

American Idol airs Sundays at 8pm on ABC.

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Image: ABC

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