Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called American Idol, which paid tribute to Prince on Sunday — and sent two more singers packing.
Not even a consolatory embrace from the giant arms of guest mentor Nick Jonas could cheer up this week’s eliminated singers: Jurnee and Catie Turner. (For those keeping score at home, that makes this season’s Top 5: Caleb Lee Hutchinson, Maddie Poppe, Cade Foehner, Gabby Barrett and Michael. J. Woodard.)
As disappointed as I am that Jurnee has reached the end of her… journey… I can’t say I’m surprised to see her go. For some reason, America just never fully vibed with her. As for Turner, I’m honestly shocked. I never thought she’d win this thing, but I thought she had at least another week left in her.
Now that we’ve gotten past all that, let’s break down this week’s 14 performances, which — in addition to seven Prince songs — also included seven songs from the year our contestants were born. And I’ve never felt older in my life:
Your thoughts on this week’s eliminations? Which of the remaining contestants are you rooting for now? Vote for your favorite performances from Sunday’s show, then drop a comment with your take on the state of Season 16.
JURNEE (Prince’s “Kiss”)
Jurnee got the party started on a high note with a sexy, confident take on this iconic jam, nailing whistle notes that would make Mariah Carey’s little lamb tail shake with fright. (For the record, that metaphor made a lot more sense in my head.) Sure, I agree with Katy Perry that we could have gotten a little more physicality out of Jurnee’s performance tonight, but like Lionel Richie said, she “took care of business.”
GABBY BARRETT (Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance”)
The official anthem of grocery stores and dentist waiting rooms nationwide, this country classic fit nicely in Barrett’s range. I’m not sure I’m on the same page as the judges, one of whom suggested that this might have been the best performance of the season — whatever Luke Bryan is smoking, pass it on over! — but it got the job done.
MICHAEL J. WOODARD (Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U”)
When it comes to stage presence, everyone in the competition could take a lesson from Woodard, who threw caution to the wind and completely lost himself in one of his best performances yet. I disagree with the judges’ notion that Woodard needs to “relax,” but I’m glad they’re taking the time to highlight his consistent growth. In a season full of authentic personalities, he just might be No. 1. (My apologies to Catie Turner.)
CADE FOEHNER (Jewel’s “Who Will Save Your Soul?”)
I barely recognized this plunky, laid-back tune after it got the full Cade Foehner Treatment™ — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. When he started low, I thought he was trying to make this a Johnny Cash/”Hurt” situation (to a lesser degree, of course), then was pleasantly surprised when he cranked things up halfway through. I didn’t love it, but I appreciated the effort.
CATIE TURNER (Britney Spears’ “Oops!…I Did It Again”)
As a life-long Spears enthusiast, I really appreciated this thoughtful take on one of her first global hits. The attitude was there, the melody was played with just enough, and I really don’t think Turner gets enough credit for nailing such high notes with what seems like minimal exertion. As for her pre-show banter with Jonas, I’m starting to tire of the She’s All That narrative we’re constantly being fed here. Turner is always presented as a mess, then following a single piece of direction (in this case, singing with her eyes open), she emerges as a confident powerhouse. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching her shine — I just wish we could skip the part where we pretend like she has anything to worry about up there.
CALEB LEE HUTCHINSON (Lonestar’s “Amazed”)
Even as a something-year-old youth in 1999, I remember rolling my eyes when this cheese-fest would come on the radio — which is why I’m not the least bit surprised that Hutchinson chose to sing it this week. He’s proven many times over that he’s got the vocal chops for this competition, and he sounded lovely this week, but when he gets on stage, it’s Limp Fish City. (Also, what was Perry talking about when she said that Hutchinson was trying to show us something “different” this week? I feel like this was pretty standard Hutchinson fare.)
MADDIE POPPE (Prince/Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”)
Sometimes I feel like Poppe is competing on a completely different show from her fellow Idol contestants, and this night was no exception. Bryan isn’t known for his way with words, but “mesmerizing” was the perfect way to describe this next-level gorgeous, effortlessly ethereal performance. And are we sure Poppe is only 20 years old? Of all the singers in this competition, her voice may be the most beyond her years.
MICHAEL J. WOODARD (Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”)
When it comes to singing competitions, the theme from Titanic is widely regarded as one of the most over-the-top songs a person can undertake. Fortunately, Woodard has a proven track record for wowing us with his unorthodox choices, so I was more excited than nervous for this one. To borrow a phrase from decades past, this performance wasn’t all that, but Woodard managed to turn things out in a big way at the end.
CADE FOEHNER (Prince/The Time’s “Jungle Love”)
Foehner may have fumbled a bit with his first performance, but this follow-up was a slam dunk. (Those are both soccer references, right?) The growly vocals, the guitar licks, the strong sense of self — this was pure, unfiltered Foehner. And I loved it. (I may not have spoken in tongues like Perry, but trust me, I loved it.)
GABBY BARRETT (Prince’s “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?”)
Barrett was another contestant whose second song totally redeemed any flaws in her first (not that she made many to begin with). I loved seeing Barrett tap into her fiercer side with this gnarly little jam. And can we talk about that Xtina-esque final riff?! Get it, girl.
JURNEE (Brian McKnight’s “Back at One”)
Jurnee did a killer job showing off her range this week, following up that high-energy Prince performance with this simpler — then suddenly huge — R&B tune that served as her parents’ wedding song. And if I’m taking sides with the judges, I’m more aligned with Bryan, who applauded Jurnee for adjusting the song to suit her vocals, than Perry, who simply didn’t appreciate the rendition.
CATIE TURNER (Prince/The Bangles’ “Manic Monday”)
Yikes, friends. Yikes. My heart broke for Turner on that first lyric fumble — because I knew it wouldn’t be her last. Despite her obvious mistakes, though, she held herself together and powered through like a champ. She didn’t even seem to need Bryan’s reassurance (“What happened to you is OK, darlin'”).
MADDIE POPPE (Sheryl Crow’s “If It Makes You Happy”)
Whoever’s whispering in Poppe’s ear, suggesting these song choices, allow me to tip my hat to them. This was another direct hit for the soulful singer-songwriter — though I understand her reluctance to be known as “the singer-songwriter.” Perry may have told other contestants that they’re ready to hit the road, but I’d buy a ticket to the Poppe show in a heartbeat.
CALEB LEE HUTCHINSON (Prince’s “When Doves Cry”)
If all of Hutchinson’s performances were like this, I wouldn’t rag on him nearly as often for being so boring. I never would have expected this from a Prince song — and I certainly wouldn’t have expected it from Hutchinson. This was a spectacular use of his talents, chilling and soulful from start to finish. More of this, please!
Your thoughts on this week’s eliminations? Vote for your favorite Sunday performances below (you can pick up to five), then drop a comment with your take on the just-revealed Top 5.