American Idol Shocker: Did the Judges Use Their Save on the Right Singer?

American Idol Recap

Everything comes with an expiration date, including the American Idol judges’ coveted save, and Sunday’s episode marked their final opportunity to use it this season. Six singers remained atop the two-hour event, but as we learned from last week’s double elimination of Walker Burroughs and Alyssa Raghu, no one — not even someone the judges love enough to nickname — is ever really safe.

The name of the game was “Woodstock & Showstoppers,” meaning that each finalist would sing a song performed at the 1969 music festival, followed by an “inspirationally powerful” second song of their own choosing — the latter of which included a complimentary coaching session with former Idol contestant-turned-Grammy winner Lauren Daigle.

But before we get to Sunday’s results, let’s break down each of the top six’s performances:

MADISON VANDENBURG (Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart”) | Here’s the thing about this performance: The notes were there, the energy was there and the confidence was off the charts. Really, it was one of VanDenburg’s most impressive displays of the season. She even followed Katy Perry’s advice from last week and flipped her damn hair! I’m just not sure it was the best song choice, as the final product felt somewhat watered down without a Joplin-style grasp. That said, it deserved much more than these nonsensical remarks from Lionel Richie: “You are not just a pretty face, my dear. The talent is showing all over the place.”
Grade: B+

LAINE HARDY (Joe Cocker’s “I Don’t Need No Doctor”) | All of my thoughts about Hardy’s first performance this week could be copied and pasted from any thoughts I’ve had about him all season. I agree with Luke Bryan that Hardy consistently picks the right songs for his voice, but I’m still waiting for him to pick a song that doesn’t bore me to tears. I appreciated Perry telling him to “get scared” and push himself harder, but his tepid reaction to her advice doesn’t give me any reason to think he’ll change up his strategy this late in the game.
Grade: B (Click here to watch!)

JEREMIAH LLOYD HARMON (Joan Baez’s “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”) | I’m not sure who decided to dress Harmon like a circus ringleader tonight, but I’m not mad that they did it. I also don’t have anything negative to say about Harmon’s performance, which blended together everything we’ve come to love about his signature style — a little piano playing, some stunning vocal runs and a whole lot of gospel flavor. “You may have taken a pause from the church, but the church is still in you,” Katy told him. I agree with that statement… I’m just not sure why she chose to say it like someone was after her Lucky Charms.
Grade: B+ (Click here to watch!)

LACI KAYE BOOTH (Janis Joplin’s “To Love Somebody”) Unlike VanDenburg’s attempt at a Joplin classic earlier in the night, Booth’s performance felt like it would have been right at home on the Woodstock stage, with those smoky vocals pouring over the song like chocolate syrup on ice cream. Or maple syrup on pancakes. (Can you tell that I forgot to have dinner tonight?) Anyway, this song might not have shown off Booth’s impressive range, but that gorgeous growl worked overtime to fill in the cracks of the performance.
Grade: B+

ALEJANDRO ARANDA (Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit”) | Easily the biggest — and most pleasant — surprise of the evening, Aranda put a dramatic electronic twist on this trippy tune, resulting in something that felt completely unique. His ability to make a song seem both timely and timeless is what sets him apart from the rest of the pack, and his shrug-emoji attitude makes him impossible not to admire. He’s. Just. So. Cool.
Grade: A- (Click here to watch!)

WADE COTA (Joe Cocker’s “With A Little Help From My Friends”) | “Perfect” is a word that I hesitate to throw around with this show, but since Richie did it first, I’ll just echo him: I can’t imagine a better song to pair with Cota’s signature growl. And if you told me that Cota was briefly possessed by Cocker’s spirit, I wouldn’t immediately dismiss your theory. (Cota did say he felt sick backstage…)
Grade: A- (Click here to watch!)

MADISON VANDENBURG (Celine Dion’s “I Surrender”) | I was pretty sure I’d heard most of Dion’s catalogue — the household hits, at the very least — but I have to admit I’m not super familiar with this particular ballad. I feel like it was a solid introduction to the song, one that reminded viewers just how powerful VanDenburg’s voice can be. I think her nerves kept this performance from being truly flawless, but it was definitely enough to keep her in the competition.
Grade: B+ (Click here to watch!)

ALEJANDRO ARANDA (“Poison,” an original song) | God bless Aranda for keeping this show interesting. Choosing to perform one of his original songs as a “showstopper” was certainly a risk, but I had little doubt that it would pay off big time. His beautiful vocals and masterful guitar skills left the judges speechless; Bryan practically begged America to consider just how difficult it is to pull something like this off. And I second Perry’s prophetic statement: “How wonderfully interesting it will be when you change American Idol by winning American Idol.”
Grade: A

LACI KAYE BOOTH (Journey’s “Open Arms”) | Was anyone else blown away when Booth revealed to Daigle that she’s never had voice lessons? After seeing how much she learned during their rehearsal together, my head is spinning with possibilities. What we got tonight was a polished, Laci-fied version of this karaoke standard, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. As Richie noted, she stayed in her comfort zone tonight, which seemed to serve her well.
Grade: B+ (Click here to watch!)

JEREMIAH LLOYD HARMON (“Somewhere” from West Side Story) | When it comes to versatility, no one else in the competition even compares to Harmon, whose take on this musical theater classic (in the style of Barbra Streisand) excelled on every level — even if those first few notes at the beginning weren’t quite there. The rest of the performance more than made up for that initial misstep, culminating in a powerful finish that left Richie “mesmerized.”
Grade: A- (Click here to watch!)

WADE COTA (Shawn James’ “Through the Valley”) | Cota claimed that his nerves got the better of him earlier in the night (…did they?), but he remained calm, cool and collected throughout this second performance — a solid commercial for everything that Cota is selling. I also love the idea, as Perry suggested, that his voice is secretly 1,000 years old. Between that and Cocker’s ghost possessing him earlier in the night, there’s a surprising amount of mythology involved in this week’s Idol.
Grade: A- (Click here to watch!)

LAINE HARDY (Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode”) | I give Hardy a lot of crap for being boring, so I feel the need to commend the progress he showed in this last performance. I was engaged! I was feeling it! I think I might be — dare I say it — ready to party with a Hardy. Talent has never been an issue for Hardy. His problem has always been his inability to stir up excitement and connect with the crowd. Problem (mostly) solved!
Grade: B+

OK, time for the results… After America’s vote, the following four contestants were marked safe in the competition: Madison VanDenburg, Laine Hardy, Alejandro Aranda and Wade Cota.

This left Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon and Laci Kaye Booth on the chopping block, with both of their fates now in the judges’ hands. Surprising absolutely no one, the judges chose to save… Booth! (Honestly, I’m a little speechless. How did they let Harmon slip through their fingers?!)

More videos of tonight’s performances will be added as they become available. In the meantime, vote for this week’s most impressive singer below, then drop a comment with your thoughts: Was the right person saved? And was the right one sent home?