American Idol Top 16 Revealed: America Votes for First Time and Totally Blows It

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Clearly America hasn’t been watching the same show we have all season as they just sent home one of the best singers in the whole competition after one of their best performances — be better!

Things are moving fast on American Idol” and about to pick up the pace even more as the Top 24 became the Top 16 Sunday night on its way to a Top 12 on Monday.

Contestants literally had the span of time during their introductory video packages to enjoy their excitement at advancing into that Top 16 and then just as quickly had to buckle down to do it all over again by performing. Talk about a whirlwind of emotions and pressure slamming into one another.

The pressure really brought out the best in almost everyone, with one front-runner finding new levels of amazing to drop our jaws even more, and even move themselves to tears. That was one of two performances on the night with emotions so palpable the artist broke a little … in the most beautiful way.

It was also a night of genuine heartbreak. Not because our predictions were a little wrong — we were more right than wrong, overall — but because you somehow sent home one of the strongest and most consistent artists of the whole season.

And they didn’t have a bad night, either, as they ranked in our Top 2 on their night of performing last week. Look, we’re not always gonna agree, America, and we accept that. But there is no way someone that scored that high with us should get rejected outright! You’re better than that — as were they!

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.

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TOP 16 (GROUP A)

Alanis Sophia

(“The Story,” Brandi Carlile – 19, Dade City, FL) Alanis needs to work on looking more natural as she walks around on the stage. Vocally, she featured lots of interesting moments and showcased an incredible range in chest- and head-voice. Unfortunately, she was a little sharp several times as she pushed for her big note, while other times she nailed it on the first shot. Despite some shaky moments, this was still an improvement over her misfire last week — that America apparently forgave — and a step closer to the earlier contestant we fell in love with. She’s clearly still on her growth trajectory, but she’s going to have to hurry up as this race tightens to stay in it.

Cassandra Coleman

(Wicked Game,” Chris Isaak – 24, Columbia, TN) Wearing her emotions on her face as the last person picked in this first group, Cassandra poured all of that into the opening lines of this incredibly moody classic. It was palpable in the early going, but later on, it seemed to get the best of her a bit as her vibrato got a little out of control and she missed a few notes. She absolutely owned every bit of her lower register, but was a bit shrill in a few places on the upper end. It sounded like nerves and emotion winning out a bit, but also lack of experience.

Graham DeFranco

(“That’s Life,” Frank Sinatra – 28, Rockwall, TX) As much as we preach against the “Idol power note” so many contestants rely on, we feel like Graham could have used at least one big moment like that. This whole vibe stayed consistent throughout with the coolest tone like he was the Chairman of the Board himself, but will that engage a current audience. We actually thought he kept the song from feeling dated with how he chose to navigate his way through it, riding a lovely higher tone throughout with just a hint of growl. It wasn’t exciting, per se, but it was damned enjoyable.

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Deshawn Goncalves

(“Feeling Good,” Nina Simone – 20, Cleveland, OH) A cappella to start off? We see you, Deshawn. And we are falling more and more in love with you every time you hit that stage. He got a little buried under that full band, but it couldn’t cover up the quality of his voice. His control was  perfect on a song that goes a lot of places in a single syllable. His voice did crack when he was pushing for that big push toward the end, but he made up for it with a falsetto final note no one saw coming. Deshawn is the real deal, but he does need to grow into his power and confidence more.

Alyssa Wray

(“Killing Me Softly with His Song,” Roberta Flack – 19, Perryville, KY) Still a little over the top at the top, Alyssa quickly settled into a very smooth groove, right in the pocket of where this classic lives. She’s got the richness in her tone to really pull this one out and she pulled on every bit of her range and vocal attitude to really dig in and deliver a memorable performance. We really loved her physicality in how she commanded the stage, moving across it like the diva she could be with even more polish and confidence.

Wyatt Pike

(“Use Somebody,” Kings of Leon – 20, Park City, UT) If you’re going to compete with epic voices and you don’t have one, you do it with artistry, vision and a true sense of who you are. That’s what Wyatt has been doing since the very first time we saw him. Here again, he reinterpreted one of the most recognizable songs in recent memory into his style, his vocal approach and managed to find places to soar in a singer-songwriter way that makes you not only believe him, but believe in him. What Wyatt lacks in power and range he more than makes up for in knowing exactly who he is and what he can do up there. And it’s exciting to watch.

Grace Kinstler

(“Elastic Heart,” Sia – 20, Chicago, IL) Grace is all power all the time, and her voice is incredibly strong and resonant. That said, we’d have liked to find a more tender timbre in there to deliver some of the pre-chorus lines so there’d be more dynamic variance on the track. This was better than when she was all big, all the time, but she’s not quite fully there yet. This isn’t to take away from her talent, which is genuinely world-class and among the best we’ve ever seen on the show. We’d just like to see her continue pushing to better pull in and control all that power as it’ll make her even more exciting  to watch in the future — and she should have one.

Willie Spence

(“Set Fire to the Rain,” Adele – 21, Douglas, GA) How the hell does the guy who delivers what’s usually the best performance of the night raise his game this much with a single song. From the moment he went down upon that first chorus, it was clear he was reinterpreting this song. Then he ripped off the microphone, started moving around the stage and took us to the next level of what Willie can do — a level he’d somehow been keeping secret. This had heart, passion, believability, vulnerability, control. How is anyone going to catch him if he’s still got new heights of incredible to deliver?

GROUP A FINAL THOUGHTS

Well, our Bottom Two performers (Cecil Ray and Alana) didn’t make the cut, but then you also cut our fifth and sixth place performers. It has us thinking about how much influence the edit might have by the time we get to these shows. In particular, Andrea Valles got basically no screen time at all before last week’s impressive outing, meaning viewers weren’t already invested in her or her story, and it clearly clost her.

The same could be argued for Anilee List and Cassandra Coleman. We suspected their similar styles would sabotage one over the other, and it looks like that’s what happened. Anilee’s night was definitely more up and down, with one great performance (her duet) and one not-so-great, while Cassandra was more consistent. We also think she’s had a better narrative arc thus far on the season, and you have to factor that in when it comes to viewer votes.

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TOP 16 (GROUP B)

Colin Jamieson

(“Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” Tears for Fears – 22, Boxford, MA) Colin needs to make sure his vocal choices aren’t getting swallowed up by the backup singers who are staying right on the melody. Thankfully, he started taking us to the next level about midway through, showing us more of who he is as an artist and not just the wedding singer who knows all these classic tracks. Instead, we got a glimpse of the type of exciting artist he could be, complete with mesmerizing stage presence and some big vocal moments we’re not sure we’ve ever seen before from him. That was exciting to watch.

Ava August

(“2002,” Anne-Marie – 15, Laguna Niguel, CA) Ava brought an ethereal quality to this performance, and it was almost too much of a good thing. We’d have liked to see her slide into the groove on that chorus as it’s such a mashup of classic choruses. Nevertheless, that quality is her signature style, and she still knows how to caress a lyrica vocally with the perfect coffeehouse vocal to really pull you in. Her voice never really gets big, even though it hit that big note beautifully. Instead, she draws you inside her little world of musical vision. She’s a special kind of artist, but this wasn’t her most standout performance.

Chayce Beckham

(“Waiting in Vain,” Bob Marley – 24, Apple Valley, CA) Look, this might be too much of an artist’s song rather than a showcase piece to score votes from a fickle audience, but Chayce did have a consistently beautiful tone throughout the entire piece, so it may not matter. He’s been more exciting in the past, but he’s always listenable. This just felt more like a deep track the fervent faithful might fall in love with on his album than a breakout single that’s going to push his career to the next level. At least he sounded great on it.

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Caleb Kennedy

(“Midnight Train to Memphis,” Chris Stapleton – 16, Roebuck, SC) Caleb’s weathered voice (somehow at 16 years old) found new depths of pain as he pushed out some big moments on this otherwise moody melody. He feels a clear connection to these country songs, and manages to present the heart behind them in a way that’s still shocking every time you see how young he is. It’s a world of exciting possibilities that just keeps opening up for him. And with country music always more open to artists from singing shows than other genres, it might be a bright future indeed.

Beane

(“Searching for a Feeling,” Thirdstory – 23, Boston, MA) Beane has had a hit and miss season, with last week a major miss. But America must have seen something in him, and we think this performance might be what they saw. It took him about one line to slide into the perfect spot in his voice to deliver the message of this song as if he’d written it. He gave us everything he had and so much more we had no idea he had in there. There’s a person with an artistic vision for themselves. He was connected, believable and emotional and it was like a whole different contestant, in the best possible way. Where has this guy been all season?

Hunter Metts

(“Skinny Love,” Birdy [as performed by Bon Iver] – 22, Franklin, TN) A very challenging song to nail, Hunter showed us so many different contextual layers to his voice in these few moments. It was a showcase of what he’s capable of, and at the same time he felt authentically connected to the mood of the piece. His voice found a breathiness that really connected early on, replaced in a bit by some grit and even some smoothness. He really is such a versatile performer with a signature sound — or is that sounds? — that no one can imitate or replicate.

Casey Bishop

(“Black Hole Sun,” Soundgarden – 16, Estero, FL) Casey was absolutely gorgeous on the verses of this song, with a haunting quality that brought a whole new layer of disturbia to the song. Then, she saved her power until her second time through the chorus and then she just blew the roof of the place. There was a natural cry in her voice we’d not heard before, showing just how much diversity she’s capable of even in this rock lane. This is how you make a statement and leave audiences wanting more.

Madison Watkins

(“Gravity,” Sara Bareilles – 26, Fayetteville, AR) We’re not sure where Madison went in her head, but it was such an authentic place emotionally that she delivered the rawest performance of the night. Her voice was transcendent, but her emotional connection was next level. Toward the end, it almost got the best of her, but she maintained control and used that feeling to pull even more out of herself in that moment. It was absolutely beautiful and so far beyond everything she’s done this far. This is the artist peeking out.

GROUP A FINAL THOUGHTS

We definitely did better in predicting this group, getting three of the four eliminated contestants predicted right (Hannah Everhart, Liohana Olayan, and Mary Jo Young). At the same time, though, we absolutely cannot believe that America sent Jason Warrior home. Can the judges’ Wild Card be expanded to fix egregious mistakes like this? Jason has consistently been one of the strongest contestants on the season.

We had him in our number two slot after Monday night’s performance. Somehow, Beane rose up to surpass him. And while Beane impressed tonight, he did not last week. Apparently, America resonated more with his story than with Jason’s, though both are compelling and both got plenty of screen time to this moment. Bottom line is we’re more pleased with ourselves on this round, but also way more upset with you!

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TOP 12 PREDICTIONS

If we’re going to speculate on what might happen Monday night as America picks its Top 10 and the judges round it out with two more contestants to make a Top 12, we’re going to need to combine the rankings above to get an overall feel for how the entire Top 16 stacked up against one another.

  • 16. Alanis Sophia
  • 15. Cassandra Coleman
  • 14. Colin Jamieson
  • 13. Ava August
  • 12. Graham DeFranco
  • 11. Chayce Beckham
  • 10. Caleb Kennedy
  • 9. Beane
  • 8. Deshawn Goncalves
  • 7. Alyssa Wray
  • 6. Wyatt Pike
  • 5. Hunter Metts
  • 4. Grace Kinstler
  • 3. Casey Bishop
  • 2. Madison Watkins
  • 1. Willie Spence

Now, that’s how they ranked based on tonight’s performances, but we all know a lot more goes into America’s vote than just one performance — or in the case of Jason Warrior, all of the performances. We say that because, despite Alanis, Cassandra, Deshawn and Graham being in our bottom four, we don’t think they’ll all go home.

We do think it might finally be the end of the road for Alanis, but then we thought that last week, and we were clearly wrong. We also feel somewhat confident that Graham’s charm won’t be able to carry him forward, at least in part because Chayce is in that lane musically and resonating more — and performed later in the night (will that be a factor, too?).

Deshawn Goncalves is our Jason Warrior pick for this week, as he’s got that same level of consistency — he was incredible tonight — but might be struggling to connect with audiences in the same way Jason must have. We hope we’re wrong on this one, but we’re still hurting over Jason.

If we’re going to be upset in a shocking way again, then we might also be saying goodbye to someone like Wyatt or Caleb. Both are so great in their lane, but is it too insular for voters? And if America doesn’t vote them through, we suspect the judges might.

So rounding out our predictions is the one we’re least confident on, and that’s Colin. He’s so incredibly watchable, but we wonder if that’ll be enough. We’re wrestling with Alyssa and Cassandra as possible replacements for him in that slot, but it’s hard to say what might happen.

The judges voting two in from the six left after America’s vote makes it more interesting, too, as they’re going to be looking at what makes a more balanced Top 12 in genre, style and possibly even gender. So there are so many more things to consider.

Nevertheless, we’re going to plant our flag in the ground and say Alanis, Colin, Deshawn, and Graham are going home. This way we can be super mad (or glad) when we’re wrong!

”American Idol” airs Sundays and Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

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