Sunday was Disney Night on American Idol, and Katy Perry got in the spirit, not only donning Snow White drag but even bizarrely staying in baby-talking Snow White character for the entire episode — thus giving me flashbacks to that psyche-scarring Rob Lowe number at the 1989 Oscars.
Katy definitely looked like the fairest judge of all, and her commitment to the evening’s theme was admirable. But there were times when she was more “Snow Black,” as her castmate Luke Bryan put it. Like when she guzzled vodka from a crystal Cinderella slipper. Or as she lurched into jealous bunnyboiler/stalker mode (and seemed more like the Wicked Queen!) when host Ryan Seacrest outed her crush Cade Faehner’s new showmance with top 10 contestant Gabby Barrett. (Someday Katy’s prince may come, but apparently it won’t be Cade.)
This was the first time that an Idol judge dressed/acted in character (no, not even Paula Abdul did that back in the day), but Sunday’s combined top 10 performance and live results show was historic in another, more crucial way: Idol did what no other reality competition program has done before, simultaneously airing live in all U.S. time zones. And in the process, Idol remedied the live-voting issues that have plagued The Voice’s East Coast-centric Instant Save vote and ABC’s long-forgotten one-and-done season of Rising Star.
However, the Idol soundstage still wasn’t the Happiest Place on Earth on Sunday. Why? Because even with a nationally leveled playing field, Idol could not resolve the voting issues that made last Monday’s snow-white-washed top 14 results show so controversial — and three of the contestants that the judges had to save last week (Michelle Sussett, Dennis Lorenzo, and drag queen Ada Vox) went home. Check out their performances below, along with the ones by the contestants who advanced to the top seven.
Maddie Poppe, “The Bare Necessities” (The Jungle Book)
This felt very Frontierland olde-timey saloon, right down to Maddie’s styling, and it didn’t pack the emotional wallop of last week’s tender “Homeward Bound.” But it was adorkable in a Casey Abrams/Joey Cook sort of way. And on a night when most contestants disappointingly went with relatively recent hits from The Lion King, Moana, and Coco, I appreciated that this timeless troubadour did a jaunty ukulele rendition of a 1967 classic.
Jurnee, “How Far I’ll Go” (Moana)
Jurnee went edgy and modern last week with a Nicki Minaj-endorsed hip-hop number … and almost went home. (“This is a business where sometimes people get it wrong,” Lionel Richie shrugged.) “How Far I’ll Go” was a safer performance that showcased her pure vocal ability — no rapping, no dip-it-low-dancing, no booty shorts — and played better to Idol’s conservative audience. The girl can really sang, and there’s no doubt she deserves to go far.
Cade Foehner, “Kiss the Girl” (The Little Mermaid)
As the season’s resident rocker and heartthrob, Cade has the potential for a game-changing David Cook/“Music of the Night” moment doing Disney material. (“I do have a soft Cade in me,” he stressed.) And he had a moment indeed, going the Extreme “More Than Words”/Bryan Adams/Tesla Unplugged route with a semiacoustic power ballad. It was kind of genius. He made Sebastian the Crab sexy, and his cougar base (including Katy and guest mentor Idina Menzel) obviously ate it up.
Ada Vox, “Circle of Life” (The Lion King) *ELIMINATED*
On Idina’s advice, Ada stretched her voice this week — singing lower, warmer, and deeper, instead of just aiming for showoff-y diva notes. It was subtle by Ada standards, but it was another vocal masterclass, almost on par with Jennifer Hudson’s version from Season 3. Looks-wise, Ada was pure diva, however, giving me Beyoncé-in-Goldmember realness in a gilded gown and halo of caramel curls. Forget about Idol’s “Search for a Superstar.” Ada is a star already, and a “movement unto herself,” according to Lionel.
Michelle Sussett, “Remember Me” (Coco) *ELIMINATED*
This was a smart, heartstring-tugging choice for the Venezuelan pop Dreamer, dedicated to her friends and family back home. And it was her strongest, boldest vocal of the season; I didn’t know Michelle had it in her. She was so connected to every bilingual syllable, and she proved she “really, really is a singer,” as Luke put it. Michelle is now gone, but I will remember this performance.
Gabby Barrett, “Colors of the Wind” (Pocahontas)
This was technically Gabby’s second Disney performance in a row, since she covered old-school Miley Cyrus’s “The Climb” last week. She clearly does well with these blustery, triumph-of-the-spirit ballads, and when she most likely prevails this season (“You have all of the tools to win,” Luke told her), she’ll kill her coronation song. I still don’t quite see Gabby’s originality or artistry, but she’s Carrie Underwood 2.0: I see her post-Idol commercial appeal, and I can’t deny her talent.
Michael J. Woodard, “Beauty and the Beast” (Beauty and the Beast)
Speaking of artistry, the season’s most diverse contestant (and possibly most likable: Idina was an instant fan) was less edgy this week — but he still put his stamp on this G-rated classic with his immediately identifiable voice. This was both beautiful and beastly. This performance gave viewers the keys to the Magic Kingdom. “You really make my heart smile,” said Katy, astutely comparing him with Michael Jackson and Frank Ocean. With Ada gone, Michael is my new favorite.
Caleb Lee Hutchinson, “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” (Toy Story)
The warm-and-fuzzy Randy Newman ditty was a sweet choice for the country crooner, and it was extra-cute that Caleb dedicated it to his dog. (Side note: Tonight, Disney’s Goofy confirmed that he is indeed a dog!) This had the same nostalgic Frontierland-singalong feel as Maddie’s performance, which rendered it slightly hard to stand out next to massive productions by Jurnee, Ada, Gabby, and Michael, but Caleb was later the first contestant announced safe. “There’s no way America isn’t going to watch that and want to be in your corner,” assured Luke.
Catie Turner, “Once Upon a Dream” (Sleeping Beauty)
Like her fellow quirky songbird Maddie, Catie went vintage — all the way back to 1959. Unfortunately, this Disney-princess performance felt like a music school recital; I actually wish Catie had borrowed from Lana Del Rey’s dark remake for 2014’s Maleficent, because NOTHING about this felt relevant or hip. That being said, Catie’s multioctave voice was a dream, and the judges adored her. Maybe Catie has a future in opera?
Dennis Lorenzo, “Can You Feel the Love Tonight (The Lion King) *ELIMINATED*
Dennis related to this song because it reminded him of his father, who was murdered; the popular Elton song choice and tragic backstory seemed like pure Idol gold. Personally, I preferred Dennis last week, when he showcased his raw rock ‘n’ soul side, but he almost went home then, so I understand why he tried to deliver a safer performance this time. Too bad America still wasn’t feeling the love for Dennis.
Almost everyone was on top of his or her game Sunday, so this was a tough vote. “Literally, everybody had awesome performances; there wasn’t even one that was remotely shaky,” Maddie said. “You don’t know how America will feel. It’s scary.” And this competition could still go any which way, as Ryan noted that Sunday’s voting was so tight, the difference between two contestants was just 0.19 percent.
See you next week for Prince Night, when probably some other worthy contenders go home. This is what it sounds like when doves — or Idol viewers — cry.
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