It is near impossible to realize that “American Idol” has just three weeks left before its celebrated and historic reign as the original and true competition that crafts stars and true artistry ends. At the end of this Thursday’s March 17 evening of fan-submitted songs, only five finalists would remain, so along with the sentimentality of the show’s farewell comes the emotional struggle of accepting the fate of the pruning process week to week. A yoga lesson was offered to provide a respite of relief. The beauty lies in the fact that even with that hard truth, even under that pressure, there are performances that captivate and transport to such emotional and beautiful peaks that all else is forgotten. Those kind of moments came, particularly with an unforgettable closing performance, unlike any other through “Idol” history, and with clear evidence that every one of these aspiring contenders has already launched a career beyond their dreams. This is far more than a long-running, legendary talent competition. “American Idol” represents lives forever changed.
Adding to the emotional impact, Adam Lambert opened with the verses he performed all the way back in 2009 from “Mad World,” and later took to the stage with Swedish singer-songwriter, Laleh, for performance of his single, “Welcome to the Show,” released in exact conjunction with its debut. After wrapping his current solo tour, he embarks for another summer with Queen. It was clearly excited to see the judges’ response, as well as the welcome for his return.
It took no time for the first of the seated finalists to be deemed safe, and start singing. That was Trent Harmon, who had lots of hometown messages to spur him on, but his fan-selected song was One Republic’s “Counting Stars,” and with its rapid tempo, hardly allowed him to catch a breath, much less get all the verses out. Trent is definitely demonstrating stagecraft now, and how to connect with his audience, who gave him a big, approving roar, but this particular song was a tough climb. Keith Urban concurred, saying he was “never pulled in,” and that the song was “not for me” as a choice for Trent. “You did everything you could with that song,” Jennifer Lopez added. Harry Connick, Jr. was quite complimentary, saying that when Trent was clapping, he felt like he was at a hoe-down, and he loved it! Second to safety and the stage was Dalton Rapattoni, who was cheered on by his grandmother and the beauty shop ladies! “Numb” by Linkin Park was the chosen number for Dalton, and it just seemed too dark, however deep, for his giving spirit. Jennifer Lopez said that the “umph” was missing from the performance, while Harry loved that “you poured your guts into those lyrics.” Keith urban said that the song didn’t work because it was in between “Daltonized and a cover.”
The third name called was a charm for La’Porsha Renae, and her chosen song, India Arie’s “Ready for Love,” sounded as if it was sung straight from her heart, and everyone felt it. One of her fans expressed her wonder as coming from “sincerity, resolve, and being simply gifted,” and America heard all of that, and more. There was such a sense of personal truth in her performance, it seemed right that a glow of light surrounded her. Harry Connick, Jr. described that the lyrics were “pleading, mournful, and you expressed all of that from your soul.” Keith Urban called it a “captivating” performance, and Jennifer Lopez said it could not have been more “complete,” and that she was transported by La’Porsha.
Jessie Smollett and Yazz performed “Never Let It Die” from FOX’s megahit series, “Empire,” and they invited the finalists to help them finish the song. MacKenzie Bourg was the next summoned to safety and song, and he did a fine job with the Cat Stevens song that he likely knew nothing about, “Wild World.” Taking more of the worry away from the words, and making it more of a shuffle, smiling. MacKenzie made it his own. Keith Urban said “you are like cake batter, no matter what form you take, you still taste good!” Jennifer Lopez also confided that she “thoroughly enjoyed it,” Harry was happy that MacKenzie had an up-tempo song, so much so that he said that the song could be recorded today.
Quickly, the time came for dimmed lights and another trial by fire. Sonika Vaid and Tristan McIntosh were tasked to sing for the final save of the season. Tristan was up first, going straight to her safety zone with Martina McBride’s “Independence Day” on piano. She has the voice, and passion through and through– what she doesn’t have yet is raw living to bring experience to pour into her words. That will come. She got a roar of approval from the audience, and Jennifer Lopez gave her advice to “try different things,” not always turning to places where she feels safe. That builds an artist. Harry reminded her that her best approach is to sing from a place of pain, that she needed more living to grow. Keith suggested either going big all the way with a song, or stripping it down to bare basics to make a performance stand out. Sonika Vaid again was singing for safety, and this time, she did Demi Lovato’s version of “Let It Go,” and the moment was big enough to give her another shot. Harry called it “a smart choice, very strong,” Keith remarked how good she looked in blowing wind, and suggested that each of the panel should have wind of their own! Jennifer Lopez praised that the performance showed that Sonika was a “fighter who still deserves to be here.” After brief deliberation, Sonika was granted safety again.
Dalton was up for his selection first in the second half of personal picks, and he delivered a perfect performance of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence, ”made especially more poignant following the disclosure of his bipolar diagnosis at age 9. The song was a perfect fit, and his performance was offered perfectly, with his very personal dramatic interpretation. Keith Urban praised how his interpretations brought such justice to the song and its lyrics. Jennifer dubbed it “so real and powerful,” and Harry compared Dalton to a graffiti artist, painting his impressions into the words, and advised him to always keep “digging for the meat” of songs. MacKenzie did a fine job following Dalton, sharing his personal trial with illness that led to congestive heart failure, and doing a very distinctive version of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” like nothing done before. Jennifer Lopez told him that the performance “proved exactly why you’re here.” Keith complimented that MacKenzie made him think about the lyrics like he had never done before, and Harry simply said “I’m a big fan of yours.”
Trent Harmon rebounded from his tough start with a spectacular turn on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s his Shinedown’s “Simple Man,” so beautifully infused with gospel cadence and feeling that it seemed like a church service. Trent was channeling every shred of his Southern Mississippi roots and it was so real. His recollection of the loss of his best friend made his moment real, and Harry said that feeling that essence from Trent was the factor that set him apart. Harry also said that Adam Lambert and Trent singing together, with glasses breaking everywhere, would be a real treat! Keith Urban praised that the song was a perfect fit. Jennifer Lopez gave highest praise, telling Trent that “this is why I love being on ‘American Idol’– when the perfect song and the perfect singer come together,” and her tearful eyes verified that affection.
Sonika offered “Clarity” by the German electronic band, Zedd, as her final song. The performance showed just how far she has come through this process, and the setting and the lighting gave her all the room she needed for a big finish. Keith was pleased, noting that it was “such a good song.” Jennifer Lopez had a different opinion, not loving the song, but still loving the singer. Harry called it simply “pretty good,” and praised that Sonika was learning to choose songs “that are who you are.”
There’s nothing better than La’Porsha Renae closing the night, but this was a performance that called for so much beyond talent from the young mother. Describing the pain and scars left from her abusive relationship, and still, her longing for love, she took to the stage leaping into Mary J Blige and “No More Drama” from the gut, and the depths of hurt, like nothing ever done by a finalist from that stage, yet never losing control until after the final note, when tears poured, not only from La’Porsha, but from Jennifer Lopez, who supported her with the truth that “we’ve all been through stuff like that, we know, baby” and by that time every set of eyes in America were pouring, too. This is a performer with so much more than talent. This is a performer who lives a testament of overcoming, and this competition is about so much more than winning. Beyond all the ovations, and Keith’s hushed words of “so inspiring,” this competition means transformation, and this performer has earned it the hard way.