American Idol Top 14 Recap: 'Live' Finals Get Off to a Rocky Start

American Idol Recap

“I’m Ryan Seacrest, and this is… a series of terrible song choices.”

At least that’s how Sunday’s American Idol probably should have been introduced. Though the performances improved dramatically as the two-hour event progressed, this episode — the first one where America’s opinion actually matters — found some of Season 16’s best singers at their worst.

But was it all because of nerves? Or are we finally separating the dreamers from the achievers? You be the (fourth) judge as we break down all of tonight’s performances:

Katy Perry nailed it when she praised Hutchinson for his remarkable evolution. This guy has come a long way. Was “Midnight Train to Memphis” the best song choice? No. But the confidence and the energy was there in a way I wasn’t expecting. I also never thought I’d say this, but… sick banjo solo?
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OK, seriously, who approved tonight’s songs?! Marshmello’s “Friends” was a questionable choice for Sussett, but like Hutchinson before her, she did the most with what she was given — though I think Perry was a little generous telling Sussett that she reminds her of Shakira early in her career.
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I look forward to falling more in love with Donaldson every week, but his performance of “It’s a Miracle” barely moved the needle for me. It was good, but like Luke Bryan said, “I wasn’t sold on the song” (a common problem tonight). It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t what I’ve come to expect from him. (His fault for raising his own bar!)
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Ironically, The Greatest Showman‘s “This Is Me” was the perfect song choice for Justine — she just kind of dropped the ball. This could have been another knockout for Justine, akin to her performance of Whitney Houston’s “Run to You,” but the moment I heard her sniffling at the top of the performance, I knew trouble was a-brewin’. Despite a few high points, she never recovered from that initial fumble.
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Despite a pitch problem or two, Phillip Phillips’ “Raging Fire” was probably Jacobs’ most vocally impressive performance yet. (It certainly didn’t hurt that he followed a series of stinkers.) I was also impressed with his stage presence; I was sure he would be swallowed up — the giant, swirling flames behind him did nothing to quell my concerns — but he held his own, oozing confidence throughout. (And he didn’t even need to rely on eyebrow-ography this time!)
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Celine Dion set the bar pretty high for covers of Queen’s “The Show Must Go On” with her 2016 Billboard Music Awards performance, but Ada knocked it — maybe not completely out of the park — but at least somewhere in the outfield. Like a few of the contestants before her, I think she was a victim of her own nerves, but she still looked great and ended the song on a scream, so who am I to complain?
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It took a second for Turner to warm up, but once she arrived at her sweet spot, it was smooth sailing for the rest of Hozier’s “Take Me to Church.” We’ve seen Turner take on similar jams in the past (see her performance of the Beatles’ “Come Together” for further proof) and it seems to be where she’s most comfortable. And in the event that America makes the egregious error of sending her home tomorrow night, at least she has a standing invitation to sing with Perry.
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OK, now we’re cooking with gas! This take on Santana’s “Black Magic Woman” gave us every color of the Foehner rainbow: the growly vocals, the guitar licks, the raw sexual magnetism that can only come from… years of singing with pigs in kale fields, apparently. Honestly, giving Foehner a pair of shoes might be the only change I would have made. (I’ve seen Showgirls too many times not to worry about on-stage slippage.)
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Lorenzo has always been one to watch, but his work on Sunday’s episode took him to the next level. You could feel every emotion throughout his performance of “In My Blood” — a powerful song that, I’ll admit, I was surprised to learn was plucked from the Shawn Mendes library. It was the perfect choice for what Lorenzo was hoping to accomplish. This performance took me on a ride, and I wasn’t ready for it to end.
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Excuse any typos in this blurb, as it’s difficult to operate my keyboard while I’m floating away on Poppe’s pillowy, cloud-like vocals. With her ethereal performance of “Homeward Bound,” Poppe proved that a gentle wind can blow an audience away just as effectively as a powerful blast. This girl is a star.
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“Bang Bang” might have seemed like a good idea to Jurnee in the shower, but by the time it got to the Idol stage, it was kind of all over the place — though I’ll give her credit for nailing that big “You need a bad girl to blow your mind” moment. I have to imagine that even Jessie J would be impressed.
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At the risk of angering Brenns’ fans — a group I consider myself a part of, for what it’s worth — I’m starting to wonder about his place in this competition. He did a serviceable job with Panic! at the Disco’s “This Is Gospel,” but I still see him as more of a lounge singer than a stadium performer, and I’d rather the judges not continue to change him, effectively trying to turn him into something he’s not. (That said, if ABC decides to order a reality show about Brenns learning ballet, I’d set my DVR immediately.)
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“Titanium” may have been a surprising choice for the gospel-heavy contestant, but Woodard (as always) surprised me with an emotional, thoughtful rendition of this well-known Sia jam. It didn’t go to any crazy places, but with the mixed bag of performances we got tonight, playing it safe wasn’t a bad move. Woodard also brought back the jumpsuit, which is becoming his trademark lewk at this point. (No complaints.)
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The producers knew exactly what they were doing when they chose to let country queen Barrett end Sunday’s episode. I’m 100 percent in agreement with Bryan that she delivered the best vocals of the night, giving a more mature edge to Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb.”
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If I had to pick my favorites this week, I’d give top honors to Barrett, Lorenzo and Poppe.

Which four singers do you expect to get the boot tomorrow night? Vote for your favorite performances below (you can pick up to five), then drop a comment with your full reviews.