From thousands, now just 51 “American Idol” talents faced the truest test of any performer on February 4—can they move a live audience to feel their music and soul so much that they don’t dare fade from rapt attention? Watching from their balcony view, judges Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban, and Harry Connick, Jr. see it all, and see some things the singers themselves can never see, and make the final cuts to whittle down to the Top 24. Tears are a certainty, and this time, there’s no encouragement that any talent can “come back next year,” so the sting goes even deeper. Painful though it was, the selection process produced a richly distinctive, diverse, and dedicated two dozen, now each running a personal race for that title, with lives already transformed forever.
It seemed fitting that Stephany Negrete was the first to face judgment, seeing as she was so worried about facing the big stage all by herself, without support of her family, and worried for her father’s heart procedure. When she jumped into “Girl on Fire,” she grabbed the audience in a vice grip, like a real showgirl, and the judges agreed, hardly stringing her along at all. She was first to the top. Shelbie Z told the judges that her most memorable moment was grabbing the mic during her powerful, lay down the law, delivery of Heart’s “Alone,” and she stuck Heart again for her live show, this time with “Barracuda,” and it brought her luck because she got into the Top 24, too. Harry Connick, Jr. got quite the chuckle from her promise that “I’m gonna put y’all in the show!” Sweet Michelle Marie made that long walk, looking precious as ever as a cowgirl cheer leader, as Jennifer Lopez compared, knowing how this experience could move her family from their trailer to a better circumstance. The verdict for her, however, was not what she dreamed, but she certainly has the future in music, and Ryan Seacrest reminded her that he would always remember her. As much promise as fiery-haired Colete Lush held in her audition, Harry said he just didn’t feel from her that “she wants to win,” and it might have been that fear that moved the judges to turn her down this time. If she keeps singing with confidence, someone, somewhere will hear that voice, and change her future. Dreams were dashed early for Jessica Cabral, Jessica Clark, Ameet Canon, and a very tearful Terrian, too. MacKenzie Bourg may be absolutely most of his stage moment, after winning the panel over in his soul around with his own song, “Roses.” This time, he went with an old classic, “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You,” and his beautiful tone had everyone singing every word, along with his original, very unique arrangement. It was a unanimous choice for the top.
When Trent Harmon made his long walk to the platform to hear from the judges, he said “I’m just glad this chair is here,” before plopping into the white seat. Still reeling from the effects of his mononucleosis, he made it through somehow in stunning fashion with “Tiny Dancer,” done in his own distinctive manner, and it made him another to join the two dozen! Jenna Renae, Adam Lasher, Kory Wheeler, and James VIII won the votes to join in at the top, too. Jeneve Rose Mitchell got confirmation that she was meant to sing on stage for the rest of her life, as her performance of “Ring of Fire” was unlike anything else heard, and the panel agreed as well, giving her a place in the elite 24. CJ Johnson has been playing around small gigs and bars for years, and he put it all on the stage big time, singing “Parachute,” and it all paid off, because he’s in the top bunch, too. Amelia Eisenhauer added her fiddle to “New York State of Mind” and her kind of artistry got the affirmative vote from the judges, told her she was in the Top 24. Lee Jean is young, and as Jennifer Lopez told him, “that immaturity showed,” especially when he shushed the audience, not once, but twice during his song “Make It Rain.” The judges felt enough raw talent that they gave him a shot to become more of an artist in the top group. Avalon Young took it with smooth R&B on the Pharrell/Jay-Z collaboration, “Excuse Me Miss,” and she is not excused from the top, winning her own spot, and showing true stage command.
Chynna Sherrod took being turned down really hard, and it was tough for Mary Williams, and multitalented, already professional musician, Zach Person, too. They will find another way to success, for sure. Dalton Rapattoni was still so stressed, Harry was reminding him “sing the words” from the balcony, and Harry told him that his inconsistency was one of his greatest qualities as an artist, and welcome him to the 24! Manny Torres may have known that he was on the bubble, so he knocked it out of the park on Stevie wonder’s “Jammin’” and that did just enough to get him in the top group. Sad news came for Isaac Cole, Laurel Wright, and Anatalia Villaranda, whose mom went to battle in the group rounds to get her the right song! Hard news came for John Claasen, Kassy Levels, and Andrew Nazerbakian as well. Thomas Stringfellow had more than one blow weighing on his heart, since his longtime girlfriend broke up with him, for fear that he would leave her through his “American Idol” journey! He put all of that emotion into singing “Story of My Life,” and Harry told him that there were better singers than him, but he had that “something special” that judges always look for, and he was in the Top 24. Talk about a bittersweet week! Sonika Vaid still has something to bring out, as Jennifer Lopez told her, beyond her beautiful voice, and she will have a chance, too, as she made the top cut.
Malie Delgado had been coping with illness throughout Hollywood week, but she did all she could on “Little White Church,” but it wasn’t enough this time, and she’s on her way home. Olivia Rox proved that she could deliver on a big stage, surprising Jennifer, and earning her a ticket to the top. Emily Brooke said herself that she felt “10,000 times better” as a performer over last year, and she sang Carrie Underwood’s “So Small” in a big way, and she’s on her way to the big time, this time! Sara Sturm, such a close friend with Lee Jean, didn’t get the same good news, as she’s going home, along with Jordyn Simone, Mionne Destiny, and Tiffany Lamay. Gianna Isabella was stuck between her mother and musical director, Rickey Minor, in the guidance department, until he admonished mom to let him handle the music. Gianna sang her own mom’s hit song, and mom gushed with pride. The panel wanted to make sure that the daughter had freedom to be herself, and that said, she got news that she made the top two dozen. Jen Blosil has always been different as an artist, and her choice of “The Hanging Tree” was definitely daring. That didn’t daunt the judges from giving her a spot in the top group. Christian Eason and Kelsie Watts got word that their journey had ended. Tristan MacIntosh had her mom there as she got word that she would be part of the Top 24, and mom took it with even more excitement than daughter did.
There were four hopefuls left, and only two places, so the time came to send them in pairs for the last decisions. Kayce Haynes (recently changing his first name from Casey) went with Jordan Sasser for the moment of truth. Jordan sang “Till the Love Runs Out” for his performance, and the judges noted that the two singers had so much in common, but it would be Kayce who would head home. He’s still got music to make for years ahead. La’Porsha Renae and Lindita held hands as they walked the long wait for their news. Both ladies really delivered in their performances, with Lindita choosing “Bang Bang,” and La’Porsha choosing to go way back with “House of the Rising Sun,” filling it with soul. Harry loved that Lindita was “so sexy,” but ultimately, La’Porsha got the nod to complete the selection. She encouraged her friend “you stay in touch with me, now, and keeps singing!” Both of these beautiful talents with big voices have stardom to come.
Next week, the Top 24 do solo songs, and duets with past “American Idol” winners. It should be a treat!