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'American Idol' recap: the top 14 perform


AMERICAN IDOL - "113 (Top 14)" - Gabby Barrett closed out the show. SUNDAY, APRIL 22 (8:00-10:01 p.m. EDT). (ABC/Eric McCandless)

Posted Sunday, April 22, 2018 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Voting has finally begun on "American Idol" this season!

Unfortunately, most of the singers disappointed. Fortunately, a few did shine.

Note: this episode was actually taped last night, not live. This enabled the producers to guarantee they would get all 14 performances in on time though in the past, "Idol" has squeezed as many as 10 performances in an hour. That felt super rushed. Seven per hour was manageable.

There will be 10 singers by the end of Monday night. The top six will be voted in by America. The other four will be picked by the judges among the remaining eight who perform Monday. (They allow voting before the performances even begin and yes, nobody needs to call anymore. It's texting and online voting only, where you have until 9 a.m. EST Monday to vote and you can even change votes. You can vote up to 10 votes per person.)

I just adopted a toddler from South Korea and have been out of pocket the past two weeks. I spent today catching up and watching the solo top 24 performances. (Chasing around a new toddler meant I didn't have time to watch the celebrity duets.) Anyway, there was some definite cannon fodder (Brandon Diaz who? Kay Kay what?) and some early favorites (still love me some Maddie Poppe and both Ada Vox and Michael J. Woodard are clear standouts.)

So I'm obviously behind. Anyway, there were some serious disappointments - especially Marcio Donaldson and Jurnee, who were expected to do better. I was hoping for more from both Maddie and Ada but they did alright. My favorite three: Dennis Lorenz, Michael J. Woodard and (surprise!) Michelle Sussett.

First up is Georgia's own Caleb Lee Hutchinson ("Midnight Train to Memphis" by Steeldrivers). He was overweight, close to 300 pounds. So he has since lost more than 80 pounds since last summer. He looks shockingly thin even since the Hollywood rounds shot a couple months ago. Vocally, he is rock solid, probably better than Scotty McCreery. But does he have the personality and stage presence? I'm not 100 percent sure. I  didn't feel it. But given he is the only male country guy, he still has a solid shot at top 10. Katy noted how nervous he was. Luke calls him inspiring but wasn't crazy about the song choice. Lionel said the confidence is there but he wants him to be more "you." Grade: B

Michelle Sussett ("Friends"- Marshmellow and Anne Marie") - She opted for a current song I'm not familiar with. It works well with her breathy voice and she pulls it off better than I expected. She hits some high notes and commands the stage. Luke said this show needs a pop star and she checks that box. Lionel said she owned the song and presentation. "You gave us attitude," he said. Katy: "At first, I felt like I was watching Shakira in her beginning stages. There's a difference between live to the audience and those watching on television and their devices. You might want to play to them. I don't know if that song presented all of your talent." Grade: A-minus

Marcio Donaldson ("It's a Miracle" Barry Manilow) - Look. I love me some Barry Manilow. But this is 2018, not 1978. This was a bizarre, if not suicidal, song choice. Sure, a lot of viewers who vote now are super old but I'm not sure this will generate him oodles of votes. It just felt cheesy and his outfit made it feel like a lounge act in Vegas. He tried hard to instill it a bit of gospel/R&B but this was a big fat miss for a likable guy. Lionel likes his confidence. Katy: "That was really joyful. You have arrived... But one bit of advice... Tell them to not worry about the results and just sing." Luke wasn't sold on the song. Grade: B-minus

Mara Justine ("This is Me" Keala Settle) - I wasn't familiar with this tune but it apparently was an Oscar-nominated song from Hugh Jackman's "The Greatest Showman." Mara decided to focus on her vocals and channeled an impressive amount of intensity, confidence and emotion for a 16 year old.  She ended in tears. The fashion folks tried to make her look older with that hair style but she still felt very young and it felt a bit stagy and overdramatic. Katy said she didn't get going until partway through. Luke wasn't totally emotionally invested in that performance. Lionel  said she's bringing her inner strength. Grade: B-plus

Garrett Jacobs ("Raging Fire" Phillip Phillips) - He is pitchy and is not a raging fire at all. He's too pretty and his voice gives this song no edge whatsoever. At times, it was just boring. Yikes. No way he's going to get the votes after this dumpster fire. Luke noted the pitchiness but said he took them on a ride. (A terrible ride but hey whatever...) Lionel said he went in and out of consciousness. Katy said she is comfortable on stage but didn't give any particular critique beyond that that made any sense. Grade: C

Ada Vox ("The Show Must Be Go On" Queen) - He starts a bit subdued but that was by design. He hits some big notes toward the end. But emotionally, this was not one that connected with me. I was a little disappointed. Lionel said he is on fire. Katy said she finally started the show. Luke said not much of anything. Grade: B

Catie Turner ("Take Me to Church" Hozier) - Her performances recently have fallen a bit flat. Can she come back? After a missed note early on, she does a perfectly okay job but it felt like a solid cover, nothing more. Her quirkiness seemed to be missing. The judges spent most of their time talking to her about not reading negative social media comments. Grade: B/B-minus

Cade Foehner ("Black Magic Woman" Santana) - He's been a lot of fun so far. This was went old-school guitar-heavy intense. He did a serviceable job. Luke said it wasn't a crazy vocal performance but still get a big audience response is a "feather on your guitar." (Yes, he has a feather on his guitar) Lionel: "We call that the package. You are the package, my friend." Katy gets a lock of hair for her mom. (Not a critique.) Grade: B-plus

Dennis Lorenz ("In My Blood" Shawn Mendes) - He merges R&B and rock seamlessly in this performance. My two-year-old has largely ignored the songs so far but Dennis was the first one she really paid attention to. This was a wonderful mix of sincerity, vocal prowess and stage power. Best of the night so far for me. Lionel said he broke the ceiling. Katy thought it was shaky at the start but once he put his body into it, she became a believer. Luke likes how he has shown so many sides of himself. Grade: A-minus

Maddie Poppe ("Homeward Bound" Simon & Garfunkel) - She has been my favorite and she picks one of my favorite Simon & Garfunkel songs. But this was not my favorite performance. It was good and super pretty but didn't entirely embrace me. Katy compared her to Joni Mitchell and said she has superb musical taste. Luke liked the way she weaved her regular voice and falsetto. Grade: B/B-plus

Jurnee ("Bang Bang" Jessie J, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj) - She came back after missing the semifinals season 15. She starts with low energy and looks clearly nervous. Her vocals are surprisingly weak. This is falling flat and she is never able to give it any real pep. Luke said they didn't expect that and said she brought it. (Really?) Lionel said she was able to affect the crowd. Katy said she had never seen her move and she is now an artist as opposed to some wedding singer. Grade: B-minus

Jonny Brens ("Gospel" Panic at the Disco) - His voice seemed to get swallowed up at points. His inexperience on stage was exposed. The man has inherent charm and he struggled through this one. Katy said he was having fun but said he could work on the notes. Luke said he had to work at the big notes and got points for having fun. Grade: B/B-minus

Michael J. Woodard ("Titanium" Sia) - He is super diverse and opts for a diva tune and makes it his own. He doesn't over-sing it as one might apt to do. He just goes with conviction and understated power. Wow. That was a keeper. Lionel said he's a Martian, giving us another level that is so pure. Grade: A/A-minus

Gabby Barrett ("The Climb" Miley Cyrus) - A producer favorite who gets the first pimp spot. Given that you could start voting at 8 p.m. instead of 10 p.m., having the final slot may mean less than it used to. But it's still important. She does a good but not a terribly memorable take on his Miley classic, at least not to me. She didn't bring that anything real different or special to the song that Miley had originally brought to the table. Luke said that was his favorite vocal of the night. Katy said she went through the "star wash" and sounds like a star. "You rode that song so well," she said. Grade: B-plus


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About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.