No one expected Monday’s episode of American Idol — which narrowed its crop of finalists down to 10 — to be easy, but I don’t think anyone expected it to be this messy, either.
From Ryan Seacrest’s uncomfortable walk-and-talks with the contestants (most of whom responded with one-word answers in a desperate attempt to move on) to his super awkward announcements of the individual results (those fake-outs were… bad), the season’s first official live episode was… kind of a mess. And that’s not even including the times that the judges literally discussed how awkward this show’s elimination process is.
Let’s begin with the artists that America voted through to the Top 10: Madison VanDenburg, Walker Burroughs, Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon, Wade Cota, Laci Kaye Booth, Laine Hardy and Alejandro Aranda. Those finalists treated the audience to a few victory tunes, while the less-fortunate few — Evelyn Cormier, Riley Thompson, Alyssa Raghu, Dimitrius Graham, Ashley Hess, Eddie Island and Uche — had to sing for… their… lives. (Where’s RuPaul when you need her?!)
Before we get to the final results, let’s break down each of tonight’s performances:
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MADISON VANDENBURG (Lady Gaga, “You and I”) | Even though VanDenburg didn’t quite seem ready to rock ‘n’ roll — the first of many uncomfortable moments from tonight’s live show — she pulled it off, starting off gentle and crescendoing into a dramatic vocal explosion. It was a solid start to a tense evening, and I never doubted for a second that she had a place in the Top 10. Grade: B
EVELYN CORMIER (Kansas, “Dust in the Wind”) | I seem to enjoy Cormier a lot more than your average Idol viewer, so I wasn’t surprised to learn that America didn’t choose to put her in the Top 10. And this folksy classic was a much better song choice than last night’s Jimmy Eat World jam, which proved a little too aggressive for Cormier’s airy style. It was a fine performance — despite her understandable nerves, brought on by the show’s admittedly “awkward” elimination process — but it was exactly the kind of thing we’ve always gotten from her in the past. She has great tone, but very little range. And in that moment, I realized that I would be OK losing her tonight. Grade: B- (Click here to watch!)
WALKER BURROUGHS (Jonas Brothers, “Lovebug”) | I was starting to wonder about Burroughs’ place in this competition after last night’s Sound of Music curveball, but my doubts washed away after watching his cutesy performance of this (admittedly already) cutesy Jonas jam. The energy was there, the vocals were there… but we really need to talk about this wink:
Like, how do we feel? I kind of hated it, but I won’t deduct points for it. Grade: B (Click here to watch!)
RILEY THOMPSON (Alan Jackson, “It Must Be Love”) | Surrounded by glittery hearts and wearing something straight out of Glinda’s closet in Wicked, Thompson looked like a Valentine’s Day card in human form. And her performance of this upbeat country bop was just as sugary sweet, while remaining vocally solid. Luke Bryan couldn’t believe America didn’t vote her in, but I could. America is a hater. Grade: A-
JEREMIAH LLOYD HARMON (“Almost Heaven”) | As a thank-you for putting him through to the Top 10, Harmon — after a super awkward walk-and-talk with Seacrest backstage — treated America to an encore performance of the original song he used for his unforgettable audition. From an exposure standpoint, this was a brilliant choice on Harmon’s part; this former church janitor has managed to turn a song he wrote into a bonafide ear worm, one he can carry with him long after his time on Idol. That said, it simply wasn’t as impressive this time around (despite now being backed by a full orchestra), and Harmon’s vocals weren’t as strong as I’ve come to expect. Grade: B (Click here to watch!)
ALYSSA RAGHU (Katy Perry, “The One That Got Away”) | America may not have voted Raghu into the Top 10, but that sauce was cooking tonight, serving a truly heartfelt rendition of this Perry hit. (Honestly, I give her credit just for singing this in Perry’s presence.) As far as I’m concerned, this performance earned Raghu a save. Grade: A-
WADE COTA (Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Simple Man”) | I was glad to see that America put him through, and I wasn’t at all surprised by the killer performance he thanked them with. It was all the growl and energy we’ve come to expect from him at this point. What else is there to say? Grade: A
DIMITRIUS GRAHAM (Billie Eilish, “When the Party’s Over”) | There’s no doubt that Graham put his entire heart and soul into this performance. He sang like someone who knew his days in the competition were numbered. And while I’ve been rooting for him all season, there was very little to enjoy here, save for a few stand-out high notes. Grade: B- (Click here to watch!)
LACI KAYE BOOTH (Fleetwood Mac, “As Long As You Follow”) | I’ve always thought that Booth was one of this season’s cooler contestants, and she proved that again tonight with her effortless performance. Waltzing around the stage like she’s been doing this for decades, she gave us all the sultry emotions and raspy tones we’ve come to crave from this country crooner. Grade: A-
EDDIE ISLAND (Kings of Leon, “Use Somebody”) | As someone who genuinely enjoyed whatever it was that Island had been selling us up until this point, I take no joy in saying that this was easily the worst performance of the season — and not just Island’s. Those vocals were all over the damn place, and that’s when they even bothered to show up. Seacrest did his best to put on a happy face during the post-song interview, but there was no covering up this mess of a performance. Grade: D (Click here to watch!)
ASHLEY HESS (Stevie Wonder, “Sir Duke”) | America was 100-percent wrong for not putting Hess through to the Top 10, which she reminded them by rocking this Motown classic — while rocking a sparkly black pantsuit. A natural performer, whether behind a piano or on her feet, she’s just great. Grade: A- (Click here to watch!)
LAINE HARDY (The Band of Heathens, “Hurricane”) | Last night, I said Hardy was so comfortable on stage, it almost looked like he was bored. Well, tonight was my turn to be bored, as I could barely stay awake through Hardy’s same old shtick. Did he sing it well? Sure. But we deserve better. (And I could do with about 50-percent less of Perry fawning over “smoking hot” Hardy.) Grade: B (Click here to watch!)
ALEJANDRO ARANDA (“Cholo Love”) | It blows my mind every time the word “dishwasher” flashes on the screen under Aranda’s name. Surely, it should say “multi-platinum recording artist,” no? Every original song we’ve heard from him sounds radio-ready, and this one’s no exception. I’m glad America voted him into the Top 10, but I’ll be curious to see how far he makes it into the competition. Regardless, he’s going to be a star. Grade: A- (Click here to watch!)
UCHE (Rihanna, “Diamonds”) | The spirit of La’Porsha Renae was with Uche tonight as he delivered one of the most dramatic renditions of this song I have ever heard. It wasn’t perfect, but it was powerful, mostly because you could feel Uche’s pain — even before he received dual sympathy hugs from Seacrest and Lionel Richie (the latter of whom may have just been trying to steal Uche’s essence, I didn’t get a good look). Grade: B+
But heartbreak quickly paved the way for victory, as Richie voted to put Uche through to the Top 10, leaving two spots up for grabs: Bryan, who changed his mind three times tonight, chose to save Graham, while Perry opted to keep Raghu. Shocker.
Ladies and gentlemen, your official Top 10: Madison VanDenburg, Walker Burroughs, Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon, Wade Cota, Laci Kaye Booth, Laine Hardy, Alejandro Aranda, Uche, Dimitrius Graham and Alyssa Raghu.
Do you think the right four contestants were booted from the competition tonight? Vote for your favorite performances in our poll below, then drop a comment with more of your thoughts.