“Idol” alums helped mentor the Genre Challenge, including Chayce Beckham, Lauren Alaina, Ruben Studdard, Lee DeWyze, Haley Reinhart, David Cook, and Jordin Sparks.
It was a star-studded “American Idol” as more than 100 contestants headed to Hollywood to sing for the judges, and be mentored by seven “American Idol” alums.
But it wasn’t just a free-for-all with all these superstars hanging out with everybody. The first round of Hollywood Week is the Genre Challenge, and so the show invited back some of its favorites to help mentor the contestants in each genre.
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They also invited reigning champ Chayce Beckham back for general mentoring. He was joined by Lauren Alaina (country), Ruben Studdard (R&B), Lee DeWyze (indie/folk), Haley Reinhart (soul), David Cook (rock), and Jordin Sparks (pop).
It was a night jam-packed with music featuring some incredible performances from audition round favorites. A few of our favorites faltered in this round, but more of them actually stepped it up. Let’s just say, there were more than a few tissues on the night as we found ourselves genuinely moved by some of these moments — even as the contestants were all nervous wrecks.
In a hilarious tension-breaking interlude, we did get to see an impromptu Katy Perry performance of “Teenage Dream” that brought the “skintight jeans” lyric to new life. As Katy sang it, she squatted and literally busted the bottom of her own skintight “jeans.”
As Luke lost it, Katy called for gaffer tape and “repaired” her wardrobe malfunction right there on the spot, with musical accompaniment by Lionel Richie with his own “Stuck on You.” Was he singing about the tape? It was just the kind of tension release everyone needed … including us!
Fair warning, since I’m safe at home, I’m probably going to be a little harsher than my colleagues Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan. But I might be nicer, too. Maybe.
And just for fun, I’m going to rank the performances from worst to first to see who my favorites are. The various genre groups were scattered throughout the night, but for my purposes here, I’ve combined all artists within each round into one ranking per genre. That way I can see who’s the best in each category, and then see how they fare as the season progresses.
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[[see Country Genre Results below for video]]
(“To Love Somebody,” Bee Gees [as performed by Keith Urban] – 24, Fort Collins, CO) Sarahbeth came out with a very retro sound that was sweet and fully realized, but lacked in anything unique or special to get us excited. Right now, she gave a solid enough performance to carry on, but when it comes down to standing out and conveying artistry, we didn’t feel she really did that. It’s one of those hard to quantify qualities that stars have, and it just wasn’t there in the bit we saw.
[[see Ryleigh Madison below for video]]
(“Burning House,” Cam – 19, Louisa, KY) Noah was a huge surprise in his original audition, with his voice scratchy like an old dirt road in the most comfortable way. He was effortless in that moment, despite how green he was as a performer. His buddy Arthur is the only reason he’s even here, as he signed him up without Noah’s knowledge.
Oddly enough, while Noah was incredible and heartfelt in that first audition, there was something missing when he started this one. It was half of a somewhat sleepy and nervous performance and half of a really solid one. He was definitely stronger on the chorus, where we got some of his signature gravel. It didn’t’ quite have the authenticity and connection as his initial audition, though he’s still got a lot of raw potential lurking in there.
[[see Country Genre Results below for video]]
(“Mercy,” Brett Young – 23, Raleigh, NC) Kaylin was extremely confident on keyboards and with this performance. Her voice had a very sweet and earnest sound, though it felt like nerves were pushing her to go a little bigger than she needed to throughout the song. While we appreciate the energy, a little bit of vocal subtlety would have gone a long way in conveying the message of the song a little stronger. Not a knock as she sounded great throughout, just a way to not only impress us, but connect with us lyrically emotionally a little more.
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[[see Country Genre Results below for video]]
(“If It Hadn’t Been for Love,” Adele – 24, Murray, KY) The song actually suits the country genre quite well, though we wish Olivia had slowed it down a bit to live in the lyrics and hold out some of those notes a bit more. There was a whispery quality to her voice, as well as a natural subtle twang, with each complementing the other nicely. Her voice has an interesting texture to it, which could be why we wanted to sink a little deeper into it. What she gave, though, was a very cool and confident vibe, which was also very enjoyable.
(“Crazy,” Patsy Cline – 16, Whiteville, NC) Ryleigh’s adorably accented pronunciation of her own hometown is probably what people remember about her initial audition. She had the sweetest exchange, crying when she first met Lauren. Lauren then admitted that when she met Carrie Underwood while she was a contestant, she did the same thing. It’s the circle of country life. She took on a stone-cold classic and did a great job of keeping it sounding fresh (the classics always do!). There’s a lovely break in her voice and that natural lilt helps her. It wasn’t as memorable a moment, but there’s no doubt she’s the real deal when it comes to authentic country talent.
(“Things a Man Oughta Know,” Lainey Wilson – 18, Boone County, WV) While most in her group have had plenty of stage experience, Kelsie came to “Idol” having never really sang in front of anyone before. That lack of experience was evident, but her natural talent and ability to pour her entire life story into her voice was even more evident. A true diamond in the rough, confidence is probably going to be her biggest enemy. Lauren cried watching that audition with Kelsie, offering her words of encouragement and offering to practice with her.
She was terrified when she came out on stage, visibly shaking and looking around and stammering. With the judges offering encouragement, she was finally able to get going. She fought through those nerves and gave such a sweetly intent performance. There was a softness that the nerves brought, but a tenderness that was all her. With some confidence behind her, she’s going to have an incredible voice and could emerge a wild card with a real vision for herself. There was a beauty about this performance that was undeniable.
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(“Burning House,” Cam – 27, Warrenton, VA) After his initial audition when we learned his mother was sick, Mike went home to find out she’d been diagnosed with leukemia, making it bittersweet that he’s away on this journey right now. With her full support, Mike came to Hollywood and made a statement by kicking off the show and delivering an incredibly soulful and resonant performance. There was storytelling, but also a rich vocal texture that reminded us of gospel a bit. It’s such a full sound for country, and beautiful for interpreting lyrics and storytelling. This guy’s going nowhere!
It was a clean sweep for the first round of the country category, at least among the artists we saw (Sarahbeth, Kaylin, Olivia, Kelsie and Mike). We have no complaints with these results as all showed enough artistry and unique flavor to what they did that they would be fun to watch, while also having room yet to learn and grow into whatever artist they’re going to hopefully emerge as.
The second round of performances and results featured just two performers: Ryleigh and Noah. Ryleigh definitely did enough by our book to advance, while Noah definitely struggled more of the two. Still, we agree with the judges that it would just take a boost of confidence, and maybe a song he’s more passionate about, for him to really stand out. Both of them, along with their entire line, advanced.
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[[see R&B Genre Results for video]]
(“Back at One,” Brian McKnight – 26, Como, NC) After hearing him put a run on every other word in the opening line of his song, Ruben told him to calm down and hold that back for the right moment. It’s not about overwhelming the audience at every turn but keeping them in the palm of your hands and giving them wow moments.
It was a problem he had in his initial audition, and he seemed determined to ignore this advice, saying he needs to bring his A-game every time. Someone needs to tell him that quality of voice is A-game, too. He’s got a great instrument but he overdoes the runs to the point of losing the melody as he bops up and down. It looks like showing off instead of artistry. If he won’t take guidance from professionals and former alums, is it worth investing in him?
[[see R&B Genre Results for video]]
(“One and Only,” Adele – 21, Los Angeles CA) Za is second-generation “Idol” as the daughter of Nadia Turner from way back in Season 4. Mom made it to Top 8, so can Za outdo her run? We only got a snippet from Za’s performance, but she definitely blew the start, missing her start and then had some timing issues trying to catch up and get it back on track. It didn’t seem to rattle her vocally too much, though you could see on her face and in her body language that her stomach was probably a ball of anxiety throughout. Was it enough?
(“Saving All My Love for You,” Whitney Houston – 23, Baltimore, MD) Katyrah had runs in her performance, too, but she also would sometime just land on a note and linger there. It made for a more dynamically diverse performance and one that felt more authentic. Yes, the runs were clearly calculated as she hit them so precisely, but it was tastefully determined. On top of that, she’s got an incredibly full texture with a hint of grit at the bottom and a beautiful upper end. That’s an exciting performance without overdoing it on a song that almost begs you to try and overdo it.
Honestly, of the three artists we saw, Katyrah was the only one who really brought her best to the show. We’re a little frustrated at this point that Tobias seems determined to ignore everyone’s advice and over-sing everything to the point you can’t even enjoy it. We could see giving Za another chance as hers was more a timing issue and she never quite recovered. But that’s not how it turned out. The judges liked the quality of Tobias’ voice, which is nice. The fear is that by advancing him like this, he’ll be more convinced than ever that he has to give more runs and more runs. Katyrah also advanced, while it was the end of the road for Za.
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(“Sk8er Boi,” Avril Lavigne – 20, Normal, IL) A bundle of “weirdo” energy from the moment we first met her, Leah is an entity all unto herself and you can’t help but smile when in her presence — even through a TV screen. We love how she interpreted the song, really leaning into the story behind the song and even changing the melody at times to emphasize different phrases and words than the original. She showcased her artistry and her voice, which has a wholesomeness to it, while also sharing rock-solid control and more range than you might expect at first.
(“Unsteady,” X Ambassadors – 23, Tyler, TX) Fritz opened up about confidence issues, which were shaken a bit when Luke did not vote to advance him to this round. He then took his nerves and created a genuinely magical moment in one verse and a chorus. His voice is everything it needs to be in this genre and on this show. It was pure emotion and angst and pain through those lyrics, with a cry in his voice that had us emotional from the start. He’s a true artist and he has no idea. The potential here is through the roof if he starts to believe it.
There are only two videos above, but we did get a quick montage of a few other artists that also appeared to deliver solid performances. They went by so quickly as Lionel talked about the group that the graphics department didn’t even bother to identify all of them. But we’d pass them all through. Lionel was the one to give the news, singling out Leah and Fritz as going through. Did the others make it? It’s possible, but we won’t know until the duets round. Hollywood Week gets a little muddy when it comes to keeping track of who’s in and who’s out.
Amazon Studios / Getty
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[[see Tristen Gressett below for video]]
(“First Heartbreak,” Tori Kelly – 18, Muscle Shoals, AL) Cadence had her father at her side during her audition, and she said he not only knows how to accompany her, but he knows how to soothe her nerves. Without him, even Katy noticed she’d been crying when she came out. She had a little bit of anxious energy in the performance, but it was one that had a lot of strength and command. We could feel her power and her ability, but we didn’t quite feel the lyrics. Nevertheless, she’s got the tools, she just needs to find the confidence and believe she’s worthy of this shot and she’ll be just fine.
(“Try Me,” James Brown & The Famous Flames – 17, Pell City, AL) Tristen came into his audition at about a 15 out of 10 in every way. It was all just too much toomuchness and the judges rightly told him to tone it way, way down. There was talent in there, but could he keep the rest in check? A lot of it is just maturing into your unique personality and learning how to navigate an adult world without losing yourself entirely.
What was beautiful to see was that he took every note, every coachable moment from that first audition and he applied it to this one. He led with his voice, and gave a stripped-down, straightforward, confident performance. With that quality to his voice, he doesn’t need to rely on the schtick to stand out and entertain. His talent is enough for that. The rest should be dressing — used strategically and perhaps sparingly.
(“Tired of Being Alone,” Al Green – 23, New Orleans, LA) Kevin dropped a stank face during his opening measures on piano like he wasn’t sure what was happening. But he was just faking the judges and audience out before going into an incredible take on how “tired” Al Green is of being alone. It was a great way to wake everyone up, and it definitely helped him stand out — though we think his brilliantly confident voice would have done enough on its own. He showed a lot of personality and playfulness, though, which is how you endear yourself to a crowd (and voting audience).
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(“Easy on Me,” Adele – 17, Los Angeles, CA) Sometimes you just have to deliver the song as written. Adele isn’t easy for anyone, and this song requires such focus and intention. There is nowhere to hide vocally on this track, and it’s not an easy range or emotion to nail. Danielle had it like she’d written it herself. Her runs were subtle and beautiful, her upper register was just stunning. And better than all of that, it was heartfelt. We felt it. That’s how you have a moment, and what a wonderful way to honor her grandfather.
(“My Future,” Billie Eilish – 21, Patchogue, NY) Christina was a shaky bundle of nerves in his audition, so he set the goal for himself of going out with more confidence and more of who he is this time. He opened up about a disease he’s battled that was going to make him fully blind. At 13, experimental gene therapy returned a lot of his vision, and confidence with it. He needs to be careful he doesn’t bend his words too much (that soft “e” was a bit rough a couple of times), but we loved how he jazzed up the song and put more volume and energy on the track than Billie does, making the piece his own. He was a different artist this time around with incredible range and power that we didn’t see coming.
In the first round with this group, we only saw Danielle and Christian. But we saw enough with both to believe think they’re going to be around for a while, and could well find themselves in this season’s Top 20. They are great in their genre, but with all the tools in their arsenals and control and connection, the other genres should be worried, too, when we shuffled them all back together. Of course both advanced.
Cadence, Tristen and Kevin came out later in the show, and it was definitely a case of two being stronger than the third. Kevin was right in his element, playing with the audience and the show, while Tristen proved that he could really stand out as a personality without being overwhelming. Cadence is the one we’re not sure about, among such incredible competition. The judges, though, gave her another chance, as they advanced this entire line of singers.
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(“Vienna,” Billy Joel – 22, Manasquan, NJ) Cole endeared us singing with his younger sister in his audition, but he was alone in Hollywood. Luckily, he brought that sister confidence with him, giving us a singular performance that was a tribute to the original but with his own vocal inflections and qualities. It was a tasteful adaptation that was true to the original, but with a nice bit of gravel along the way, and subtle twists that really helped create a beautifully melancholy tone. He’s a unique voice in this competition, which is a great way to stand out.
As always, rock gets the short shrift in these episodes, even though we saw a bunch of them out there. Cole was the only audition we got to see, and we thought he was far more solid and compelling than the judges did. They called advancing him “rolling the dice” with him, but we’d call it the competition wouldn’t be the same without him. He’s already grown this much from his first audition to Hollywood, and he’s got such an interesting voice. We’re here for it.
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(“Say Something,” A Great Big World – 28, Peachtree Corners, GA) Sam touched our hearts with his story and the potential of his voice in his first audition. It was strong and he sits in that higher range that is rare among male vocalists. He said he wanted to show people that they could do anything, and then he took on a song that was all about nailing a killer vocal. It was respectable and he certainly gave it his all, but it felt like a strong karaoke performance. It lacked authenticity and a little vocal control. He should be proud he followed his dream this far, but we don’t think this was enough to carry on.
(“I’ll Never Love Again,” Bradley Cooper & Lady Gaga – 21, Queens, NY) Danielle’s voice actually screeched a bit at the top of this number in a crack and she seemed to be singing at an 11 the whole time. There was just one level to her performance, and with the song there was an opportunity to step out of high gear at least a little bit and showcase a more tender side. There’s a lot of emotion in the lyrics and Danielle didn’t give us any of it. She was much stronger in her audition; it’s just a matter of whether or not she can bring it down a notch and find that again.
(“Make Me (Cry),” Noah Cyrus & Labrinth – 28, Dansville, MI) Jordin told this two-time Hollywood Week contestant that she never learned to conquer her own nerves, instead that they help her realize she’s about to do something great. We didn’t get a whole lot from him, but other than that incredible range and power at all levels of it he has, we didn’t feel he was as connected with this particular song choice. He has the power to move us and we weren’t moved this time.
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[[see Pop Genre Results below for video]]
(“Anyone,” Demi Lovato – 17, Fombell, PA) We only got a few seconds of this, but with this song, you’ve either got it and you’re incredible or it’s going to be an absolute disaster. There is no room for error with presentation or emotional content. From what we saw, Morgan took to it like a natural, giving a very confident and powerful performance. Even Katy said, “I don’t know why she’s not sitting up there,” referring to the Platinum Ticket holders looking on from the balcony.
(“Train Wreck,” James Arthur – 18, Houston, TX) Douglas was this incredible surprise in his initial audition with raw talent just oozing from his pores. He pulled this off despite confidence issues due to a lifetime of bullying for how he looked. This time around wasn’t as strong as his first, as we could hear some of that insecurity creeping around the edges of his voice. But he’s still got that incredibly full sound, powerful vibrato and that ability to connect. He’s so talented and so close to realizing his own potential and blowing us all away.
(“Love in the Dark,” Adele – 16, Cleveland, OH) There were a few minor cracks (nerves?) in her voice, but otherwise Emyrson came out with a much stronger and more confident performance than her audition. The judges “rolled the dice” on her then, but she has to be more of a lock now. She taught herself piano and really doesn’t have a lot of experience as a singer, but there was a depth and quality to her voice that was agelessly beautiful and well beyond her tender years. She’s still yet a little raw, as they called her before, but that rawness is already tenderizing into something that we couldn’t take our eyes or ears off of.
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[[see Ava Maybee below for video]]
(“True Colors,” Cyndi Lauper – 28, Chicago, IL) Blayke challenged himself to put his story into his music and he really came through on that with this one. It was an homage to the original song, but more it was a showcase for what he could do vocally and how much he could pull an audience in with just his voice. He had people breathless waiting for his next note, and he toyed with them. It was an incredible performance, and one that impacted him emotionally, too. This is Blayke finding the artist within and if he can keep that up, he’s got a bright future ahead.
(“everything i wanted,” Billie Eilish – 18, Toronto, Ontario) Nicolina was everything you want on a show like this in her first audition. Once again, she gave us everything we wanted in that performance. She didn’t stray too far from how Billie performs it, but that still leaves so much room for her to give us nuance, range, differing textures. It was just a stunningly gorgeous and emotional performance. That’s true artistry right there, rare and magical and beautiful to behold. And if it’s even possible, we think she got better from that stellar first audition.
(“Roxanne,” The Police – 20, Los Angeles, CA) While it wasn’t mentioned during her initial audition Sunday night, Ava came clean that her father is Chad Smith, the Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer in Hollywood. Determined to make it on her own, Chad didn’t join Ava for this journey. Honestly, with this performance, Ava could pick any genre she wants to. There were hints of soul in this, a strong indie-folk flavor and enough grit island power in her voice for rock. What it was was true artistry shining through. She knows exactly who she is, how her instrument works and how to make the most out of each moment. It was a masterful performance.
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In the first round for this genre, we got just Morgan and Emyrson, with the only word from Luke being that the whole group went through. The line may have already been divided with some moving forward and some staying back, but the very least we know is that both Morgan and Emyrson advance. It’s absolutely the right move as Morgan has it and Emyrson is growing into it in a hurry.
The second round featured Blayke, Ava and Sam. The first two blew away every pop singer we’d seen in the first round. They were definite no-brainers, especially for Ava as one of the stand-out performances of the entire round (based on the ones we actually got to see). Sam, on the other hand, didn’t feel ready at all for this. Blayke and Ava soared through, while it was the end of Sam’s journey here, but not his story.
For the final round of pop singers, we got a bunch of them and they ranged dramatically. We found ourselves a little stunned and disappointed with what happened with Jacob and Danielle as neither lived up to what we were expecting. Douglas faltered a bit as well, but there’s so much raw talent there, we’d roll the dice, as they say, on him one more time. As for Nicolina, she is one to watch for a long run on this show. After messing with them a bit, the judges took a chance on all four, so we’ll get to see if the other three can get it together in Duets.
In a quick-montage, Ryan Seacrest highlighted a few other Audition Round favorites who didn’t make it through this round. They included singing babysitter — who was brought by the woman whose kids she watches — Delaney Renee, mustachioed Mark Osborne, bass singer Luke Taylor and ball of frenetic energy Thomas Moran.
We also got a quick peek at some favorites that will be carrying on, even if we didn’t get to see them sing this round. They included Taylor Fagins, Lady K, Betty Maxwell, Elli Rowe, Sam Moss, Haley Slaton, Allegra Miles and Dakota Hayden.
“American Idol” continues Sundays and Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.