The reboot of American Idol
is down to its Top 24, but even with a new network and new judges, it appears that season 16 is repeating a troubling trend introduced in the previous final season: they don't trust us.
This is the point in seasons of yore when America would traditionally take over the judging process, deciding if we wanted to reward potential, punish subpar performances or, you know, vote for the worst. But in season 15, audiences didn't get a voice until voting on two wildcards to round out the Top 10. And no disrespect to Trent Harmon, but it's not like all that extra hand holding helped produce a Grammy-winning chart-topper.
It remains to be seen when viewers will chime in this season, but for now, all we can do is judge the judges. This is the first time we'll get to see all the performances, so we'll get the full picture and won't have to wonder what could've been with Amalia Watty or Ricky Manning. But I guess it's "In Lionel, Katy and Luke We Trust," at least for the time being.
On the bright side, they used to cram these 12 performances into one hour, which was just too quick.
Radio host and author Bobby Bones is on hand to serve as mentor, as the 12 singers will perform solo and with a celebrity pairing before five are sent packing. Let's find out who's in it to win it, dawg.
Dominique Needs a Job
The man who goes by one name has been talking about quitting his job all season, but he hasn't yet built up the confidence to give his two weeks notice. He's kicking off the show with Rufus and Chaka Khan's "Ain't Nobody," hoping he can impress the judges enough to get one step closer to making music his profession.
The vocals are solid, and the stage presence and energy get the judges on their feet. Katy Perry feels like she was transported to a venue and caught a vibe, Lionel Richie dubs him a star attraction, and Luke Bryan thinks it was awesome.
Layla Spring Chats with Her Idol
Layla is a big Lauren Alaina fan, and luckily for her, Bobby Bones has her on speed dial. After a FaceTime sesh, Layla announces that she's slowing things down in hopes of showing a more emotional side on Martina McBride's "A Broken Wing."
It's more cute than emotive and chock full of unkempt overruns, but she nails the big note at the end. Lionel commends her for not only listening to the judges' critiques, but also actually pulling off their recommendations. Still, I'm not sure I'm feeling the star power.
Catie Turner Seeks Telephone Communication
She's been one of my favorites, blending her quirky and lovable weirdness with stellar talent, and Bobby isn't sure what to make of her. As she peppers him with questions about One Direction, he questions if she's taking it seriously enough.
He urges her to pick songs that leave an impression on people, and she's banking that Blondie's "Call Me" will get the job done. She's wearing a Little Bo-Peep dress with knee-high vinyl boots, and it's probably the shakiest she's been vocally.
But the personality is undeniable, and the judges are smitten. Luke admits that he couldn't stop watching and wondering what she'd do next, and Lionel raves about her epic hair flip.
Dennis Lorenzo is Going to Marry Her Anyway
Dennis and Bobby head to the roof to take in the LA skyline and reflect upon his journey, from being raised by a single mom after his father was murdered to being a married dad competing to be the next American Idol. He wants to get people dancing, and he hopes Magic's "Rude" will accomplish that.
It's a bizarre choice, but he does his best to show off his vocal range, even though it's not really that type of song. It's also cute when he serenades his wife and baby. Katy appreciated the island vibe and stylistic nature, but she and Lionel don't love the selection. Luke applauds the stage presence.
Michelle Sussett Channels Her Inner Bey
She's always dancing, just like her mother, who still lives in Venezuela. She's hasn't seen her mom in more than three years, so Bobby surprises her with a little hometown flavor in the form of a South American food truck.
She's tackling Beyonce's "If I Were a Boy," which is ambitious even before she turns it into a Telenovela belly dance. The vocals are all over the place with one grimace-worthy screech as she speeds up the song, but the judges are blinded by what they call star power. Lionel tells her to keep doing what she's doing, while Katy loves the bilingual aspect and feels that Michelle set the stage on fire.
Michael J. Woodard Lives in the Gutter
Michael meets Bobby at the bowling alley where he works, and around some gutter balls, they talk about him being a momma's boy. His song choices have been all over the map, ranging from Alanis Morissette to musical theatre -- none of which have worked for me -- and Bobby pushes him to figure out what type of artist he wants to be.
This time, it's The Beatles' "Golden Slumbers," and I guess it's fine. It's okay vocally, but I don't like his stage presence or his sense of maturity. He strikes me as being obviously green, even if he's exceedingly likable. The judges love that he's vulnerable and wears his heart on his sleeve, and they hope that he never gets too cool to not appear nervous, whatever that means.
Trevor McBane is the Man in Black
Trevor wears black to reflect the dark times of his life, including dealing with his disabled father who passed away a few years ago. Bobby relates to his struggles and insists that he's not alone, and he urges Trevor to channel all those emotions into his performances.
It's "Way Down We Go" by Kaleo, and he's got a natural country grit that you can't teach. But it's pitchy, and there's too many parts where it seems like he's talking instead of singing.
Katy calls him a thunderbolt in a bottle and wants to pull off the restraints, Lionel is slayed by the look alone but is waiting for Trevor to come out of his shell, and Luke urges the goat farmer to cut the horses loose.
Jonny Brenns Finally Has Support
Fan appreciation was all Jonny ever needed, but seeing his family turn out for his showcase fulfills a dream but also adds to the pressure. He needs to perform to prove to his parents that music is a viable way to pay the bills.
He's singing Vance Joy's "Georgia," and it's one of the best so far outside a few awkward what-do-I-do-with-my-hands stage presence moments and a couple bits where he's trying too hard. Oh, and the song is for grandma.
Lionel senses the sexy coming out and launches into a drawn-out story of his own development, to deliver the message that Jonny needs to get comfortable in his own skin. Katy applauds the song choice, and Luke calls him a big star who doesn't know it yet.
Kay Kay is Thinking About Love
Katy Perry's parents are in the house, and what the hell is her dad wearing? He's got a giant metal chain over a sparkly red T-shirt under a sport coat, earrings, giant glasses and a shiny hat with a metal belt buckle on it. He looks like Ed Hardy threw up on Jimmy Iovine.
We didn't see Kay Kay until Hollywood, but she's always had the look of a star. The judges have continually urged her to let them in emotionally, and she's hoping to make that connection with Rihanna's "Love on the Brain." She's also wearing hula hoops as earrings.
Yeah, I'm not feeling anything watching her absolutely scream and over-sing her way through the song, and it's not good, even though the judges leap to their feet at the end. Luke believes that a star is born, and Katy thinks all the puzzle pieces have finally come together. Lionel is proud of her and can't imagine how high her ceiling could go. Were we watching the same performance?
Brandon Diaz Says Hello
We haven't heard from this dude at all since he delivered one of the best auditions of the season, but he's apparently made it to the Top 24. And now he's singing Lionel Richie in front of Lionel Richie. Bobby urges him to make it his own without taking creative liberties too far.
His take on "Hello" isn't perfect, but it reminds me of why I initially liked him so much. There are moments of pure brilliance, and the audience appears captivated. Lionel offers a hearty round of applause, and the judges appreciate his brave decision.
Katy believes this is both a blessing and a curse, with Brandon landing squarely in the middle. Lionel wishes he'd gone further in personalizing it, while Luke is critical of the vocals. They conclude that he'll need to sway them in the duet round, and then Lionel treats everyone to his own rendition with some help from Ryan Seacrest.
Gabby Barrett Takes Us to Church
Gabby has steadily improved since her audition, and she tells Bobby that her goal is Madison Square Garden in five years. He believes it's a great time to be a female in country music, and he hooks Gabby up with his friend Kelsea Ballerini to offer tips of the trade. Then it's on to "My Church" by Maren Morris.
I've never been a fan of the genre, but I have to admit that this girl is the total package. It's a bit nasally in the beginning, but she only gains strength and power before absolutely slaying it at the end -- like, professional grade. Lionel's only criticism is to show her personality earlier instead of holding it until the end, and Katy also wants more revving in the middle. Luke lauds her shine, sparkle and "it" factor.
I'll be shocked if she's not in the Top 3, if she doesn't win the whole thing.
Cade Foehner Gives a Reason to Get Excited
He's another guy we didn't see until Hollywood, and the country rocker has done nothing but impress. I put him up there with Daughtry and David Cook after his last performance, and now -- in the symbolic pimp spot -- he's closing the show with the song that shut down my college bar every single night.
He's a rock star, and his take on Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" fits the billing. It's easily the most fun the band has had all night, and Lionel Richie can't help but shake his head in knowing wonderment. The performance cues some awkward banter from the judges, but at the end of the day, they agree that he's going places no matter what happens on the show.
On to the Duets
That's it for the first half of the Top 24, and overall, it was a pretty solid experience. No one was terrible, though the herd is beginning to travel at different speeds. And, holy hell, did Cade Foehner and Gabby Barrett sprint to the lead. Those two are on a completely different level, and it's hard to imagine anyone from this group catching them.
If I'm choosing five gazelles to get picked off at the rear, it's Kay Kay, Trevor McBane, Michael J. Woodard, Michelle Sussett and Layla Spring. But it's difficult to get any sort of perspective when there's universal praise for everyone. Kay Kay was the worst of the evening, yet the judges claimed that she "turned a corner" and is "blossoming," so who knows? Thankfully, we've got one more performance before the ax falls.
Who were your favorites and who let you down? Do you agree that Cade and Gabby were the standouts and who do you think established themselves as contenders? Are you on my side with Kay Kay, Michelle Sussett and Michael J. Woodard, or do you stand with the judges? Finally, which five singers do you think should be saying their goodbyes? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
(Image and videos courtesy of ABC)