American Idol Top 9 Revealed: One Contestant Reduced to Tears, Another Leaves Us That Way

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Plus, find out the ten Top 20 contenders from last season who return Monday night to sing for a chance to round out this season’s Top 10 and a second shot at winning the whole thing!

The Top 12 had to say goodbye to three of their own in an insta-save situation on “American Idol,” and while we ultimately didn’t agree with those results, at least no one among our very favorites went home.

In a way, it’s a testament to how tight this competition is. We felt pretty confident that ten of these singers really stepped up and delivered a great performance, showcasing their talent and artistry. Only two of them floundered a bit.

It was also a night of redemption for both Madison Watkins and Beane, who only made it this far based on last week’s judges’ save. Would they be able to rebound and step it up enough to win America over now when they didn’t before, or was the save just a one-week reprieve?

We also learned this week which ten contestants from Season 18 will be singing Monday night for their chance to return for a second shot at the title. Only one will make it back in from the memorable faces, all of whom made it at least into the Top 20 last year.

As the whole season wrapped during the strictest COVID-19 lockdowns, the contestants performed their entire journeys from home, meaning none of them got a chance to perform on the “Idol” stage for a live audience, so it’s actually a great opportunity for them and for us to see a new side of them.

Will there be an upset in the making, or will the contestant who ranked highest last season rise to the top again? But before we can get to last season’s favorites, we’re still figuring out this year’s Top 9 (to be joined by that Season 18 contestant to make our Top 10).

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, and then see how well they do as the season progresses.

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Beane

(“(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes [from “Dirty Dancing”] – 23, Boston, MA) Beane came out very strong with a minor chord arrangement that put a different layer on those opening lines, but when he shifted into a more traditional performance, it just telegraphed that his thin voice lacks the depth of the original, can’t really compete at the same level as some of the bigger voices in this competition. He’s good at what he does as an artist, but this song is about those big vocal moments, and he wasn’t able to deliver. A song more suited to him tackled more uniquely might have created a more memorable experience. Maybe if he’d stayed in the seat …

Cassandra Coleman

(“Writing’s on the Wall,” Sam Smith [from “Spectre”] – 24, Columbia, TN) If you’re going to just stand there and belt it out, you’re going to have to stand up next to some of the biggest voices in this competition who’ve done the same thing, and Cassandra didn’t quite rise to that level. We also aren’t sure this was the right type of song for her indie/pop vocal vibe and her voice. She sounded a little warbly and unsure of herself, her vibrato was inconsistent and she literally flopped on the ending (it was a little odd) as if she was happy to finally be done. This might not have been enough to continue, despite the support America showed her last week.

Caleb Kennedy

(“On the Road Again,” Willie Nelson [from “Honeysuckle Rose”] – 16, Roebuck, SC) Caleb took to the stage like a seasoned veteran, taking on one of the most iconic songs of all time. We worried early in that he wouldn’t be able to capture all the different nuances of the song, but the arrangement was just perfect for his grit and growl. It took a bit to get there, but he really put some power behind that chorus, and found a gentle cadence at the end, showing both his aggressive push and the softer side in one song. It was a wonderful showcase of who he could be as a country artist.

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Hunter Metts

(“Falling Slowly,” Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova [from “Once”] – 22, Franklin, TN) This song is all about heart and connecting with the audience. Bobby Bones worked with Hunter on it, and he clearly took the notes. Hunter felt very grounded on this, with his voice beautifully sitting in the pocket of the melody. His occasional forays into his falsetto worked well, as in the original, but he wasn’t quite as successful at channeling the emotions that were clearly overtaking him into his vocal. It was touching seeing him break down in that moment, because for sheer connection, this was a breakthrough for him and another great step forward on his path.

Madison Watkins

(“Run to You,” Whitney Houston [from “The Bodyguard”] – 26, Fayetteville, AR) Her transition from that big ol’ power note back into the normal rhythm of the song was a bit jarring, but every other moment was transcendent. Madison has kind of been sleeping on America in this competition, because she’s much better than how she’s been doing thus far, even from the judges. This was a confident, controlled performance and considering this is Whitney, it’s remarkable how much poise she had. Madison looked so comfortable with the song, it’s clear it’s a favorite that means something to her. More importantly, we felt that in her performance.

Grace Kinstler

(“Happy,” Pharrell Williams [from “Despicable Me 2”] – 20, Chicago, IL) The judges wanted Grace to go more classic, but we think this was a smart move. We already know she can belt out a soulful classic and that she has one of the biggest voices ever. This showed that she can pick up the tempo and still have total mastery of the vocal. She had her moments to shine and show off her range, but she also showed off her youthful energy on stage. She’s in such a good spot that she’s in no danger of going home — or shouldn’t be — so what better time to show off some diversity.

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Ava August

(“City of Stars,” Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone [from “La La Land”] – 15, Laguna Niguel, CA) Ava’s voice sits in such a lovely lower register and she fills it with such a breathy delivery, she really sounds like no one in popular music today. On top of that, she can deliver this airy higher voice that’s just so achingly pretty. She put so much melancholy in this piece, it was all mood from top to bottom. And even though it didn’t go too many places vocally, that mood carried it through. Her voice has a mature resonance and connection to the atmosphere of a song you should not be seeing in someone this age. It’s remarkable every time.

Chayce Beckham

(“(Everything I Do) I Do It for You,” Bryan Adams [from “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves”] – 24, Apple Valley, CA) One of the most recognizable songs of the 1990s, Chayce rearranged it just enough to make it sound fresh, adding a bit of grit and strength into it. It took it from the way Bryan Adams performed it and made it the way Chayce performs it. The heart was still there, as was that emotional connection, but it also had an unexpected power. This was easily his best moment on the show thus far. We knew he was good, but we didn’t know he was this good.

Casey Bishop

(“Over the Rainbow,” Judy Garland [from “The Wizard of Oz”] – 16, Estero, FL) What an unexpected delight from our resident rocker this season. Casey played this just about as straight as Judy Garland, and she nailed that incredible range with seemingly room to spare. Who knew how much power, control, range and smoothness she had in her voice. It’s a brilliant move to show off this side of her voice, as this is the foundation for all of that rock prowess we’ve been seeing. This is the true singer that’s earned the right to play. It was stunningly simple, straightforward and beautiful.

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Alyssa Wray

(“This Is Me,” Keala Settle [from “The Greatest Showman”] – 19, Perryville, KY) This is one of the greatest empowerment anthems in recent memory, and Alyssa certainly has the pipes to pull it off. She missed a few moments when she first started reaching to her full power, but it didn’t matter. The emotional connection we felt for this piece throughout, and especially in the final moments, was palpable. As Katy told Hunter Metts tonight, we don’t need perfection all the time. Making us feel what you’re singing, what you’re feeling is the greatest gift that art has. Alyssa has displayed this ability before, but on the right song — like this one — she’s magical!

Deshawn Goncalves

(“The Way We Were,” Barbra Streisand [from “The Way We Were”] – 20, Cleveland, OH) We knew Deshawn had a great voice, but we were never really talking about him as a true contender in this competition. Now, he has to be in that conversation. This was tender, powerful, emotional, powerful and presented with so much heart and sincerity. Barbra Streisand is no joke, but Deshawn tackled this like it was just no big deal. And it was unbelievably gorgeous as a vocal. Even the subtlety of his performance worked perfectly here.

Willie Spence

(“Stand Up,” Cynthia Erivo [from “Harriet”] – 21, Douglas, GA) Can anyone touch Willie in this competition? As this was beginning, we wondered if this might be that performance where we’re thinking he wasn’t the best of the night, but he’s always in the mix. It just comes so naturally to him. This had so much emotional heart and the perfect amount of dramatic texture to capture the stirring story of the song and the film. Willie is such a rare gift, it would be shocking at this point if he wasn’t just running away with this thing.

RESULTS

Based on our rankings for the night, we would be saying goodbye to Beane, Cassandra and Caleb. As far as we’re concerned, those first two should definitely be saying farewell, but Caleb is alone in the country lane, and he wasn’t bad at all.

In fact, the entire Top 10 (per our rankings) was rock solid, so it’s hard to see any of them go, and even harder to try and predict who that might be. As it was a night of live voting during the coast-to-coast live broadcast, it’s even harder to imagine what America would do.

We have to imagine performing earlier in the evening could make things harder, which has us a little worried for Hunter. Would his minor flub cost him, or did the tears endear him to fans? Was Ava’s song too melancholy for voters to remember her as the night progressed? Did Madison not quite rise to Whitney’s level in their eyes?

Our final pick going into these insta-results would be that it was time to say goodbye to Beane, Cassandra and Madison. She didn’t resonate with viewers last week, so we’re just going to speculate they weren’t blown enough away this time to change their minds.

To drag it out, Ryan instead revealed the nine contestants carrying on to the next show. He started with Grace, and then carried on through Casey, Willie, Alyssa, Caleb, Deshawn, and Chayce. Then Cassandra nabbed a spot, throwing a wrench in our predictions. America loves her, apparently!

That left Madison, Ava, Beane and Hunter in the bottom four, with only one spot remaining. Our pick would be Ava, but America went with Hunter instead. It was a beautiful performance, but we’re thinking the tears and his heartbreak sealed the deal.

We’re also devastated to lose the incredibly talented Ava, the uniquely quirky Beane (who still needs to find his artistic direction) and the continuously unappreciated Madison. Was she splitting votes with Cassandra? We may never understand your choices, America.

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COMEBACK KIDS

Now, the word is out as to which ten contestants are returning from last season for a shot — one shot — to round out this season’s Top 10 and get a rare second chance at winning the whole show. Monday night is the first-ever “Comeback Show.”

  • Aliana Jester [Top 20] (“I’ll Never Love Again,” Lady Gaga [from “A Star Is Born”])
  • Arthur Gunn [2nd Place] (“Iris,” Goo Goo Dolls)
  • Cyniah Elise [Top 20] (“Edge of Midnight,” Miley Cyrus & Stevie Nicks)
  • DeWayne Crocker Jr. [Top 20] (“Voice of God,” Dante Bowe)
  • Faith Becnel [Top 20] (“Cry Baby,” Janis Joplin)
  • Franklin Boone [Top 20] (“Meant to Live,” Switchfoot)
  • Louis Knight [Top 7] (“Maybe That,” Louis Knight)
  • Makayla Phillips [Top 11] (“Anyone,” Demi Lovato)
  • Nick Merico [Top 20] (“City Lights,” Nick Merico)
  • Olivia Ximines [Top 20] (“Say Yes,” Michelle Williams)

Interestingly, the majority of the returning contestants were cut at the Top 20 stage, making it feel less strange to give them another chance so soon. But they’ll have their work cut out for them against Top 11 contestant Makayla Phillips, Top 7 fan-favorite Louis Knight and the man many thought would win the whole thing, runner-up Arthur Gunn.

Arthur, especially, clearly had a huge fanbase among “Idol” viewers. So will this simply be a competition to see if anyone can beat him, or is he inevitably going to join this season? His artistry always made him exciting to watch, but some of these others didn’t really get their chance to shine. Maybe someone will blow us away on this stage.

Franklin is an incredibly musician and artist, while Olivia seems to really open up and shine when she gets in front of a live audience. Faith is a tour de force, and several others had those special qualities that made it frustrating when they were cut.

Last year was such a strange Covid-induced at-home season, we’ve never really seen these people with a live band or an audience, so perhaps they’ll all surprise us.

”American Idol” continues Monday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC before taking next week off entirely for the Oscars and a “Sesame Street” 50th anniversary special.

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