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American Idol Recap Season 21 Showstopper
Courtesy of ABC

American Idol did not *ahem* go easy on viewers during the first half of this season’s Final Judgment on Sunday, ending on yet another cliffhanger.

With 11 contestants already sent through to the Top 24 ahead of them, Paige Anne and Megan Danielle were called before the judges to learn their fates. But even after their Showstopper performances — Anne managed to slay Sia’s “California Dreamin'” from the safety of her hotel room, while Danielle wowed with a countrified take on Lady Gaga’s “Always Remember Us This Way” — the judges still couldn’t decide between them.

Cue the sing-off! Both fan favorites were asked to perform Adele’s “Easy on Me,” but for the sake of keeping us hooked, only Anne’s side of the battle was shown on Sunday. Without having heard Danielle’s take, she’s certainly got her work cut out for her; Anne came out swinging, delivering a gorgeous, pop-perfect performance, elevated by some really interesting vocal choices that raised an eyebrow or two.

While we wait for Danielle’s turn on Monday’s conclusion to the Final Judgment, here’s a breakdown of the 11 singers confirmed in the Top 24 after Sunday’s episode:

* She may not be an Idol yet, but after that killer performance of Bishop Briggs’ “River,” Kaeyra is already a rock star, a growler of Haley Reinhart proportions.

* One of the night’s biggest no-brainers, Warren Peay once again took to the stage like a seasoned country legend, nailing Allman Brothers Band’s “Whipping Post” even without his trusty guitar by his side. The judges pegged Peay as a Top 10 contender after his audition, and with that laid-back energy and powerhouse vocals, he’s proving them right.

American Idol Nutsa* Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary” was an extremely Nutsa song choice, and to navigate that tricky number while delivering choreography to match the energy is no easy feat. But Nutsa was totally in her element, feeding off the energy of the crowd very well. She also earned Katy Perry’s first insane fake-out: “We did not put you in the Top 24… you put yourself in the Top 24.”

* Perry’s next over-the-top trick was done to Michael Williams, another Top 10 prediction, who brought his perfect hair and golden falsetto to a strong performance of Miley Cyrus’ “Angels Like You.” Perry, who famously fawned over Williams during his audition, now told him, “When you love something, you have to let it go. And we have to let you go… into the Top 24.”

American Idol PJAE Vs. Malik Heard* The night’s other sing-off was between PJAE, who delivered a strong, sultry performance of Luke James’ “I Want You,” and Malik Heard, who had everyone vibing along to Tevin Campbell’s “Can We Talk” with his effortless confidence. Uncertain of which singer to send through, the judges had the two friends return with Billie Eilish’s “Everything I Wanted,” and they both delivered big-time. Heard’s version felt like classic R&B with beautiful runs and all manner of vocal trickery, while PJAE gave it more of a dramatic, theatrical feel. Plot twist: Rather than choosing between them, the judges sent both PJAE and Heard through!

* Did anyone else get major Jennifer Hudson vibes from Wé Ani during her roof-blowing performance of Aretha Franklin’s “Ain’t No Way”? From her booming belts, to her stunning whistle tone, Ani is easily one of the most gifted singers left in the competition. Don’t sleep on this one.

* That sound you’re hearing is the collective cry of all the burgers who will never have the pleasure of being flipped by Zachariah Smith. I couldn’t even hate on the cheesy moves he peppered into Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now,” because his whole schtick feels so genuine. Not to mention his vocals are absolutely insane. I think I might love him. Do I want to love him? That question is irrelevant, for I do not have a choice. I’ve been pulled into Smith’s vortex of charisma, and I am helpless to resist.

* I’m actually annoyed at how the judges tried to trick the audience by making it seem like Tyson Venegas bombed his Showstopper performance. Sure, he forgot a few lines in Lizzo’s “Cuz I Love You,” but even his filler mumbling was spot-on. The guy’s got a killer voice, and no one doubted he would end up here. “We don’t think you are destined for the Top 24,” Perry told him. “More like the Top 10!” At least she admitted that this fake-out was a bit of a stretch.

* The judges enjoyed Haven Madison‘s performance of Sia’s “Bird Set Free,” a song she chose because she wishes she had written it herself, but they advised the teen scribe to trust her instincts and give them more of her original music.

* First of all, Ruben Studdard’s “Flying Without Wings” was an A+ song choice for someone like Lucy Love, who’s never been afraid to let her emotions flow freely on stage. It was the perfect showcase for her voice, building to a big finish that’ll stay with us all week.

Unfortunately, three fan favorites reached the end of their Idol journeys this week: Adin Boyer, who was told that he still has a future in the music industry as a songwriter; Kaylin Hedges, who at least deserves some credit for choosing an underrated ballad like Seal’s “Kissed by a Rose”; and Fire, who finally shed the burden of her backstory this week for a performance that felt free and genuine — even if it didn’t get her into the Top 24.

OK, let’s talk: Are you surprised by any of the singers who made it into the Top 24? And were any of the three eliminated contestants done dirty by the judges? Drop a comment with your thought on Sunday’s episode below.

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