For the first time all season, Sunday’s American Idol dimmed the lights to reveal (half of) the singers proceeding to the live episodes, sending three hopefuls home in the process.
But that made the night sound way more depressing than it was. With a little help from some of the most recognizable voices in music — including Jason Mraz, Shaggy and Pat Benatar — Sunday’s episode gave us a handful of really incredible duets
But before we get to the results, let’s critique all 10 of tonight’s performances. The judges apparently didn’t feel like being hard on anyone, so forgive me in advance if any of my (completely inconsequential) grades seem too harsh.
Walker Burroughs with Jason Mraz, “Have It All” | The first duet of the night was a lovely full-circle moment for Burroughs, whose first-ever performance at the tender age of eight was of Mraz’s smash hit “I’m Yours.” (In other news, upon realizing that Burroughs was eight years old in 2007, I immediately turned into a pile of dust and blew away in the wind.) Unsurprisingly, he managed to match Mraz note for note, never missing a beat. The harmonies were tight. The dancing was not.
Kate Barnette with Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo, “Heartbreaker” | Having grown up listening to mostly Disney soundtracks and gospel music, Barnette was admittedly nervous about tackling this iconic song alongside the icons who gave it life. But she powered through it, and the few part she nailed, she really nailed. Honestly, the fact that she could even play guitar back-to-back with Giraldo without completely falling to pieces is impressive enough.
Grade: B- (Click here to watch!)
Riley Thompson with Brett Young, “Like I Love You” | I’m not sure who thought it was a good idea to have a 38-year-old man do a romantic ballad with a 16-year-old girl, but on a strictly auditory level, I very much enjoyed it. Made all the more impressive because it was literally her first-ever duet, as noted several times, this was peak Thompson: soft and sweet throughout, peppered with well-timed surprises that showcased the power in other facets of her voice.
Uche with Shaggy, “I Need Your Love” | Now this was a pairing that worked on every level. The vocals weren’t the most impressive, but it was the first performance that made me feel like I’d been dropped in the middle of a concert. The two showmen matched each other’s energy perfectly throughout, sharing the spotlight and giving each other ample opportunities to shine.
Grade: A- (Click here to watch!)
Madison Vandenburg with Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo, “We Belong” | Even though I feel like Benatar overpowered Vandenburg for much of the song, I thought she still managed to hold her own. Frankly, it was her final note that really sold me on the whole performance. Either way, she was never in danger of elimination.
Grade: B+ (Click here to watch!)
Shawn Robinson with Elle King, “Proud Mary” | Poor Robinson. I take no pleasure in saying that this performance was kind of a mess, and not just because he jumped into a verse early. (To his credit, he recovered nicely.) Robinson was nervous going into this one, thanks to a last-minute change in the arrangement, and his fears were definitely realized, even if the judges chose to give him largely positive feedback.
Grade: C+ (Click here to watch!)
Ashley Hess with Jason Mraz, “I’m Yours” | Hess feels like the kind of artist Mraz would collaborate with on his own, so I had high hopes for this slowed-down duet, which were absolutely met. Hess’ buttery voice melted perfectly with his, resulting in stunning harmonies and magical chemistry.
Bumbly with Shaggy, “Angel” | First of all, I love that Shaggy was strictly paired with single-named contestants this evening. I’ve always believed that the true beauty of American Idol rests in its subtle nuances. Anyway, this was a fun little performance, and I appreciated that it gave Bumbly a chance to show off her vocals, if only mostly towards the end.
Grade: A- (Click here to watch!)
Laci Kaye Booth with Brett Young, “Mercy” | I know I say this every week, but I can’t even believe that Booth’s voice is real, it’s so perfect. Tonight, we were all her mom sobbing in that audience. While some other contestants were eclipsed by their professional partners, Booth fully dominated this duet, commanding our attention and stunning us with those smoky vocals.
Laine Hardy with Elle King, “The Weight” | King paired much more naturally with Hardy than she did with Robinson, resulting in a well-rounded rock ’n’ roll performance. But as nice as it was to see Hardy’s family in the audience, I would have preferred a shot King’s. Every time I remember that her father is Rob Schneider, my mind explodes all over again.
Then came the (somewhat) hard part. Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan stood before the contestants and revealed which seven are going through to the live episodes, announced in the following order: Laci Kaye Booth, Ashley Hess, Walker Burroughs, Madison Vandenburg, Uche, Riley Thompson and Laine Hardy. So Sunday’s episode marked the end of the road for Kate Barnette, Shawn Robinson and Bumbly.
Do you think the right three singers were knocked out of the competition? Weigh in via our poll below, then drop a comment with your reviews of tonight’s duets.