Ten contestants remain in season 16 of American Idol
, and thanks to this wacky live voting experiment, we'll be down to our Top 7 before this recap is over. But first, we're headed to the Happiest Place on Earth for the show's first-ever Disney Night.
Access to this vast songbook is one of the perks of the reboot being on ABC, and who better to guide these singers on their magic carpet ride than Queen Elsa herself, Idina Menzel? The Broadway legend is serving as the guest mentor as the Top 10 prepare to sing for their Idol
lives, in real time.
For the first time in the history of American television, a reality competition is airing live in all time zones, allowing viewers to watch and vote from coast to coast simultaneously. But there are many questions, most notably what effect the order will have on vote totals.
The coveted position has always been the so-called pimp spot, with the best performance (or someone the judges simply want to stick around) strategically slotted last. It always stood out as the most memorable, as people tend to want to see how someone does before casting votes. That blueprint falls by the wayside, however, in a two-hour voting window.
Is it now better to go first and have more time to accrue votes? Or will enough people voice their support in the final 10 minutes to make saving the best for last worthwhile? And since this has never been done before, is there a plan in place if one of the three eliminations is a time-sensitive travesty?
The answers to these questions are presently unknown, but what's certain is there's never been such an impetus on watching live. So if you want to get in on the action, why not watch live with me? After all, I can show you the world. And it's shining, shimmering, splendid.
The Live Blog Begins Now
Mickey and Minnie are on hand for the judges' introductions, and Katy Perry is rocking a full Snow White getup, complemented by Lionel Richie's sparkly red "there's no place like home" jacket. Luke Bryan, sadly, looks normal.
Ryan Seacrest tells us how to vote, starting now, and then the Top 10 are whisked away to Disneyland for a meet and greet with the original Elphaba. Maddie Poppe is up first, and she's brought her best friend from home along for the ride.
She's singing "The Bare Necessities" from The Jungle Book, and Idina Menzel helps her gain confidence in her range. She wants to show that she's more than a one-trick pony, so she's throwing in some falsetto while playing a ukulele. It's a fun and flawless performance from someone destined for the Top 3, and you could put her on a Disney album right now.
Lionel hopes she's having fun because she's coming of age before our eyes. Katy is proud and appreciates Maddie for taking chances with new notes. Luke believes her voice is timeless and gets better with each new step.
Jurnee's Emotional Roller Coaster
I guess it's inspirational person week because Jurnee spent Disneyland day with her mom. She's certain that this is going to be her best performance, and Idina urges her to be confident in the pure beauty of her voice and avoid overthinking.
Jurnee is hopeful to make a connection with "How Far I'll Go" from Moana. She does have one of the most ear-pleasing voices around, but there are definitely some shaky moments. It's great, but unfortunately it's not as great as it could be and doesn't quite live up to Jurnee's own potential.
Katy felt the connection and Jurnee's vulnerability, and she touts the special connection between mothers and daughters. Luke urges her to keep believing and dreaming, and he doesn't want the fact that the judges had to save her last time to get in her head. Lionel again bashes America (what is this guy's deal?), and he feels that Jurnee was present in this performance. #JudgeBias.
Cade Foehner Wants to Smooch
Cade's sister is his person, and it's difficult for her to imagine her pudgy little brother as a heartthrob. He's going with "Kiss the Girl" from The Little Mermaid to show that this rocker has a softer side, and Idina believes he can be impactful even without his usual energy.
It's a slowed-down version with a little Joe Cocker grit and growl, and it's his first Kiss "Forever" power ballad moment. Disney is a tricky subject matter for him, but he pulls it off well enough. He's going to crush it, however, when he tackles a traditional '80s hair band ballad.
Luke believes Cade can reinvent the rock genre, and he loves seeing another side of him. Lionel lauds his self-awareness, while Katy fans herself and describes feeling like the only gal in the room. He apparently had someone in mind while singing, and a quick cut to an embarrassed Gabby Barrett seems to indicate that we've got a little romance brewing.
Katy demands to know how long this has been going on and threatens to flip the table.
Ada Vox is the (Lion) King
After Katy molests Goofy, and Ryan offers him a biscuit, the drag queen meets the Disney queen. It's "Circle of Life" from The Lion King, and Idina urges him to show the warmth in his voice and cut out a diva riff or two to keep it personable. Then his fiance shows up for some of Cinderella's castle fireworks.
She's decked out in solid gold with a fierce Mufasa mane, one that was never meant to be tamed. And as such, the restrained first half devolves into an explosion of gigantic notes. The pipes are unmatched, for sure, but I'm not sure this is going to sway anyone who might be on the fence with the shtick.
Lionel calls Ada a movement unto herself, Katy applauds yet another mic drop and the authenticity of the persona, and Luke appreciated the more subtle approach, even though it didn't really happen.
Ada and Jurnee are definitely the ones the judges are attempting to prop up, and it's worth noting that they appear to be front-loading the show with those they want to succeed. I'd bet Gabby is coming up soon, and perhaps Michelle Sussett closes the show?
Michelle Sussett Hopes You Remember Her
Welp, so much for that. She's doing "Remember Me" from Coco because the judges urged her to continue to sing bilingually. She's missing her family back in Venezuela, especially her mom, but her aunt and uncle have made the trip west to remind her that she's loved.
Of course, it's the perfect song choice for her because not only does it allow her to sing in Spanish, but it also masks her foreign pronunciation of some English words. The opening bars elicit goosebumps, and she'll get a call if there's a Coco 2: Land of the Deader. I'm still not on the bandwagon, but the stars aligned for her this time.
Katy offers a hearty "Dios mios" and appreciates that Michelle prioritized sound over performance value. Luke believes she nailed it and proved that she's a singer, and Lionel saw her true identity come through.
Gabby Barrett Has Heard the Wolf Cry
Gabby and her bestie little sis race around the park, hitting up as many rides as possible. She was nervous to meet Idina, but she manages to blow her away with a simplistic take on "Colors of the Wind" from Pocahontas. It's not always about belting it out, rather forging an emotional connection.
She still makes funny faces and puts a weird emphasis on certain words, but what can you say? The girl is going to be a star. She has as much potential as anyone to come out of Idol over the past half-decade.
Luke believes she has all the tools to win, Lionel calls her the total package, and Katy appreciated seeing the pop stardom side over the country twang.
Michael J. Woodard is a Beast
He's never been to Disneyland before, and he's adorable tooling around the park with his grandma and Mickey ears. He's going with the titular song from Beauty and the Beast, and he hopes to capture its timelessness. Idina likens him to an angel with his innocence and joy for living, but she tells him to cut out the Stevie Wonder swaying.
He heeds the advice, standing like a statue while delivering a stripped-down performance. He puts a bizarre inflection on every word in the first half of the song, but then he opens up, raises his arms and delivers one of the best singular notes of the season on a stunning second half. The highs are incredibly high, while the lows are simply weird.
Lionel loves him so much, Katy calls him "my angel" who makes her heart smile, and Luke believes he is magical like Disney.
You've Got a Friend in Caleb Lee Hutchinson
It seems fitting that the man who solidly delivers week in and week out but can't manage to flash brilliance would pick a freaking Randy Newman song. And so here's Caleb, prepping "You've Got a Friend in Me" from Toy Story.
His new look is getting him a lot of attention, and his best friend Harley can barely recognize him. Idina asks him who the song makes him think about, and it's his chocolate lab Hershey. He wants to win to get the pooch a big yard, and he's giddy when Idina calls his voice sexy.
The crowd claps along to his campy performance, which isn't a criticism because it's a campy song. It's fun and fine, par for the course, really. But I definitely question the choice because it doesn't give him any room to shine.
Katy loves the song choice and believes Randy Newman would be proud, and it was so friendly because we want to be friends. Luke can't see any way that America could watch this and not want to be in his corner. And Lionel congratulates him on being identifiable. You can never discount the country vote combined with WGWG love.
Catie Turner is Awake and Dreaming
Catie's Disney squad is her mom, who reluctantly rides some roller coasters before a meet and greet with the princesses. Collaborating with Idina is one of the most surreal experiences of her life, and she credits the star for saving her take on "Once Upon a Dream" from Sleeping Beauty by advising her to shorten the humming part in the middle.
She's doing her best princess impression, complete with fancy ball gown, and it's vocally stunning but a bit boring, if I'm being honest. I'm hearing it, but I'm not feeling it.
The judges give her a standing ovation, and Lionel feels as if he's been taken on a magical journey because Catie is proof that dreams come true. Katy lauds her growth, as she showed a maturity and evolved from a girl to a woman. Luke is at a loss for words, and he hopes that America is as inspired.
Dennis Lorenzo Feels the Love
So is the pimp spot the place to be? Dennis Lorenzo is about to find out, as he closes the show with "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" from The Lion King. It seems like a wheelhouse song if he doesn't overdo the runs, and it's the right amount of well-known and emotional to make a moment.
He cries tears of joy when his daughter surprises him, as he apparently has not seen her since two Christmases ago. It's easy to channel those emotions into the music, and he has another connection with it because he saw the film in the theater right before his dad was murdered. He associated himself with Simba, and his dad with Mufasa. So, yeah, this is going to be heavy.
It's raw and real, which does lead to some pitchy moments and off-key notes, but the connection is there and the last note is huge. It's also possible that he fudged a lyric or two.
Luke calls it a home run and congratulates him for knocking it out of the park, Lionel is proud of him for stepping up as a dad, and Katy is stress-eating her poisoned apple.
The Votes Are In
Ten entered, but only seven can move on, and it's time to see how the live voting plays out. Nobody was terrible, but the nature of this beast is as much voting for the person as it is the performance. If I had to venture a guess, we'll be saying goodbye to Caleb, Ada and Jurnee, which wouldn't be correct but could happen. That being said, it's impossible to even begin to speculate.
The votes have been tabulated -- and, Kieran, dims the lights. Headed to the Top 7, in no particular order, are:
Caleb Lee Hutchinson (I'm striking out left and right this time)
Michael J. Woodard
And so it's the end of the line for Ada Vox, Michelle Sussett and Dennis Lorenzo, which I guess isn't completely surprising. Michelle was a questionable addition to this group, but she couldn't have done better than she did with Coco, and I thought it might've granted her a reprieve.
Similarly, Dennis came up a bit short vocally even if he offered the feels, and the coming weeks will determine if the pimp spot is cursed with real-time voting.
Then there's Ada, who never seemed to curry America's favor, despite the impressive pipes. I said at the beginning of the season that it would be tough to win with a gimmick (and AGT fans know I was never on board with Puddles Pity Party because I simply didn't get it), and she needed truly transcendent performances to rise above the persona. The Lion King and Dreamgirls were impressive, but as I wrote last time, others have done it better.
And please, for the love of Jesus, somebody watch live with me next time!
Did America get it right or should someone else be going home instead of these three? Who were your favorites and who disappointed you? Are you a fan of Disney Night and how do you think the contestants did with their song choices? What would you have liked to hear and from whom? Finally, are you on board with live voting or do we need more time? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.