Hollywood Week on American Idol is typically wheat-chaff territory, and never has that been more clear than on Sunday (March 22) night’s episode.
At the top, Judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan inform the contestants that the longstanding group round has been nixed this year to make way for duet pair-ups. But fear not, masochists, for these children squirm, baby, squirm with the best of them. And in some cases, it’s Trainwreck City.
Louis Knight & Francisco Martin
Louis, if you’ll recall, is the talented, fair-haired Philly (by way of London) pizza delivery guy who Luke pegged in the season premiere to be “the biggest star we’ve ever had.” He joins forces with nervous Bay area talent Francisco Martin, who we also first laid eyes and ears on in this year’s premiere.
Louis looks like he’s instantly regretting being saddled with poor Francisco once Hollywood Week starts to take its toll on the latter’s self confidence. Still, despite Francisco fumbling more than a few lyrics on stage when it’s go-time, the judges push the two of them on through. Luke encourages Francisco to trust that he’s as good as he, Katy and Lionel know he is.
Nick Merico & Jimmy Levy
Former TV star Nick Merico got a harsh ego-check via Lionel after his (second) audition, and it feels like he’s been showing up, doing the work and otherwise laying low since. Tonight is no different, as he and psychic son Jimmy Levy nail their duet on Lewis Capaldi’s ever-present “Someone You Loved.” Lionel praises, “In this case, we could hear you both separately, and the match together is a wonderful match and blend.” Off they go to the next round.
Isa Pena & Olivia Ximines
Have we ever seen this Isa diva before? I can’t quite recall her audition, but then again, I’m already three glasses of wine in. Sixteen-year-old Olivia, you might remember, brought her entire dance squad for support when she tried out. I wrote then that I hoped she wouldn’t get swallowed up by the cruel monster that is Hollywood Week. I needn’t have worried, because she and Isa slay the stuffing out of their duet with Pink’s “Try.” There are moments when they sound downright Heart-esque, and that’s one of the biggest compliments you can give a pair of singing young women.
Jovin Webb & Faith Becnel
Oh, right. Jovin Webb. I keep forgetting how awesome he is. Jovin partners up with fellow Louisiana native Faith, and the two of them give a flawless performance of “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.” Most of all, as Lionel points out, the pair exude feeling and power through their connection on stage, which is not something that can be said for several other duet partners this evening. More on that in a bit.
Travis Finlay & Genavieve Linkowski
This isn’t the only fantastic performance of Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli’s “The Prayer” we’ll hear tonight. Genavieve is getting emotional, as her previous go-to duet partner, her sister, was in a fatal car accident just one year ago. Thankfully, she chose well when sidling up to Travis, as they create absolute magic on stage. Both move on, though Katy gives Genevieve a slight backhanded compliment: “You’ve grown so much in two years [since the contestant’s first stab at Idol] — we still need you to grow some more.”
Cyniah Elise & Makayla Phillips
Here’s that other duet on “The Prayer” that knocked the judges for a loop. Vocal powerhouses Cyniah and Makayla seem at the onset like a match made in heaven, until the latter can’t seem to pull it together enough to learn the actual song. Enter Cyniah’s mother, who helps coach Makayla through the rehearsal. Mom knows her stuff, as evidenced by the contestants’ jaw-dropping performance in front of the judges — who, incidentally, are moved to their feet before the singing is all over. Luke says, “That was like a movie.” Katy adds, “I think you guys did [the song] such justice.” And away Cyniah and Makayla go to the next round.
Just Sam & Sheniel Maisonet
The best, as Idol often is wont to do, is saved for last. Just Sam teeters on the edge of cracking under the weight of Hollywood Week. Her duet partner Sheniel seems calm and collected enough, while Just Sam, at one point, requires a medic to come to her aid as she kneels and puts her head close to the floor. Yeesh. Still, when it comes time to hit the stage and belt out Shawn Mendes’ “Mercy,” it’s like Sam has transformed into a different being altogether. She and Sheniel knock the thing through the roof, and Lionel rightly tells the two, “You’re giving us drama!” We’ll be seeing both ladies again.
And now, the low points:
Madison Paige & Peyton Aldridge
Texas songbird Madison can’t seem to find her duet partner Peyton so they can make a joint decision on a song to practice — so she chooses Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson’s “Don’t You Wanna Stay” for them by herself. By the time she and resident mentor Bobby Bones frantically hunt Peyton down, he tells them he had been holed up in his hotel room eating chicken wings that he snagged across the street at a gas station. Glamour.
From there, things spiral downward rapidly. Peyton does Madison the ultimate injustice once they’re onstage by making the selfish last-minute decision to nix their accompanying pianist and play his guitar. The move throws Madison off, though she does her best to vocally roll with the punch. The judges look like they’re about to give Peyton the toss until he interrupts them to apologize to Madison and to his own family, for the professional wrongs he did. Lionel tells them both, “Your performance was not up to par, but we realize what you’ve done in the past [with their auditions].” And so both squeak on through to the next round.
Zack Dobbins & Courtney Timmons
West Virginian Zack Dobbins displayed a rough charm and talent reminiscent of Kurt Cobain in his audition, but, man, does he royally screw it all up tonight. He and his unfortunate duet partner Courtney Timmons first choose “Higher Love,” which Idol sloppily credits to “Steve Winwood & Whitney Houston.” (Steve Winwood did indeed croon the OG version of the song, along with Chaka Khan on backing vocals, while 33 years later Kygo remixed a previously unreleased vocal track of Houston covering “Higher Love.” Sigh.)
Zack insists on playing guitar for their performance, but can’t work out the song’s arrangement, so they scrap it for “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” instead. Then, after literally staying up all night but getting nowhere with rehearsing that tune, they go back to the drawing board in the 11th hour and select Ariana Grande’s “Dangerous Woman.” They needn’t have bothered, as this contestant combo was going to be a disaster no matter what. Needless to say, they both get the axe.
Margie Mays & Jonny West
Margie, in her second shot at Hollywood Week, is extra to the point that you can see the desperation all over her face. I like Jonny West’s voice and I’m rooting for him, but he seems like poor Captain Ahab, doomed to be dragged down to the depths by intense girlfriend Margie.
The lovebirds opt to perform Meghan Trainor’s “Like I’m Gonna Lose You,” but Jonny is feeling overwhelmed by the pressure of Hollywood Week that’s felled so many before him. Margie, looking spot-on like she’s channeling Ashley Tisdale in High School Musical, locks her eyes with Jonny’s and seems to be willfully lasering “don’t f–k it up, kid” vibes into the guy’s skull.
When all is said and done, Katy tells the two of them in a roundabout way that they need to give each other space to let their individual talents grow. She adds, “You both are barely passing on to the next round.”
Robert Taylor & Tito Rey
Now, here is a catastrophe. Openly gay contestants Robert and Tito first hit it off after having been paired up as roommates. They’ve each got vocal chops to be reckoned with, so they’re excited to give Idol its the first-ever gay love song duet. Alas, the pals allow themselves to become so deluded at their seeming ability to take things to the next level that they scrap traditional song structure and yelp and yowl something that barely resembles a tune.
For the record, they’re supposed to be singing A Great Big World’s “Say Something.” But as Lionel puts it to them, “What we just witnessed was vocal gymnastics. I don’t know how to judge it because it was too acrobatic. It was a chance for us to know personally that you all can hit every note possible there is in the universe.” None of this is a compliment. Robert scrapes his way into the next round, but it’s the end of the line for Tito.
Others who didn’t make it: It’s time to bid farewell to Jordan Moyes, Ren Patrick, Hannah Prestridge, Kyle Tanguay and Alex Garrido. Yes, handsome Alex is sent packing, while his girlfriend Kat Lopez moves on through.
More contestants you’ll be seeing again: Franklin Boone, Lauren Mascitti, Cameron Havens, Grace Leer, Jordan Jones, Dwayne Crocker Jr., Lauren Spencer-Smith, Makayla Brownlee and Dillon James are all safe tonight.
Hollywood Week wraps up Monday evening. After that, the future of this season is up in the air, as live episodes, which were scheduled to begin airing March 30, are in jeopardy in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic. Stay tuned?