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American Idol Season 18 - Top 20


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This is American Idol. They say the show must go on, and tonight, ours does just that. Even though the lights in our Hollywood studio have dimmed, our Top 20 came to Idol and entrusted us with their dreams, and we can not let them down. Using groundbreaking technology, tonight we make Idol history as we come to you from all across North America, from the panhandle of Florida to Vancouver Island, this is our show like you've never seen it before. But one thing stays the same - you vote, you decide. This is American Idol!


Welcome to American Idol. I'm Ryan Seacrest coming to you from my home in Los Angeles and with stay-at-home orders across the nation, like many productions, we've had to shift the way we make our show. Idol has a history of making the most of the newest technology, so we were determined to make this work not only for you, but for our Top 20. 


Before we get started with the music, please welcome from their homes, our superstar judges, Luke, Lionel and Katy Perry, who is wearing an American Idol Music Sanitizer bottle costume. She just wants to make sure AI is staying as safe as possible. She says this will a time she'll never forget - her first pregnancy and a pandemic, cravings that can't be fulfilled, but there are a lot of things to be grateful for. Luke is really excited to give these kids a chance to pull this show off. Lionel says this is the most excited he's been in a long time because without all the lights, glitter and glamour, these artists will have to bring their light to the table, not just their voice but their personality. 


You can start voting for your Top 10 favorites right now by texting to 21523: 1 for Kimmy Gabriella, 2 for Jovin Webb, 3 for Franklin Boone, 4 for Olivia Ximines, 5 for Louis Knight, 6 for Makayla Phillips, 7 for Aliana Jester, 8 for Faith Becnel, 9 for Nick Merico, 10 for Lauren Spencer-Smith, 11 for Cyniah Elise, 12 for Francisco Martin, 13 for Sophia James, 14 for Dewayne Crocker Jr, 15 for Dillon James, 16 for Arthur Gunn, 17 for Julia Gargano, 18 for Grace Leer, 19 for Just Sam, and 20 for Jonny West.


They have been working with the AI band to bring you their best performances and we're ready to get to the music, starting with Kimmy Gabriela in Lakeland, FL. Singing Leave Me Loney (Ariana Grande w/Macy Gray) from her lush flowerful sun porch, the Idol backup singers appearing on screen with her, her vocal is emotive and powerful, a strong start to the show. She is hugged by family as the judges applaud.


Katy says she didn't recognize her on the screen, there's been some character evolution, he style, her camera presence, she's taking it seriously and evolving as a presentation artist. Luke says he's waiting for the neighbors to peek over the fence. What is impressive is how well she navigates the notes, the falsettos and the low note at the end. It's never been an issue with your season, it's been about being memorable and that was memorable. Lionel says your attitude, acting out your emotions, had me on the edge, in your body language and facial expression, you took it to the next level.


Heading over the Mississippi River to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, It's Jovin Webb from his open air garage, a sign on the door to his house indicating "Dressing Room."  Singing Joe Cocker's With A Little Help From My Friends, his vocal nails the flavor of the song, the only thing missing were fans in he driveway as he belted this powerful anthem. He even has a stage fan to blow his dreads. 


Luke says the most important thing to do as a singer is to stop people in their tracks and his voice does that. Lionel says he has an instant identity when he starts singing, it's a sound that is only yours and you deliver with absolute feeling. Katy says what is cool about this is every contestant get sent the same stuff - mic, access to the band, the same ring light (used to illuminate the "stage" for the camera phone), but not everyone sounds the same. You're in a garage, there is no ambiance, there is no reverb, you just have texture galore in your voice. 


Next up from North Carolina is Music Teacher Franklin Boone, from his beautiful living room, his banjo and guitar behind him and off to the side, his wife and baby girl, holding a "Go Daddy" sign. Singing Everybody Wants To Rule The World (Tears For Fears), his voice as a flavorful coarseness to it even as his vocal flows lightly through the room. He demonstrates some advanced technical prowess as the view switches to a behind-camera, showing off the rest of the room lighting and equipment. Not the most complicated vocal but certainly a pleasing one.


Lionel says he loves Franklin's voice, how he delivered with a little attitude but true to himself, right on point. Katy says she was tearing up and felt ridiculous because hand sanitizers don't cry. You either have It or you don't and he has it. Luke says he had chill bumps the whole way through, having the family cheering you on, definitely emotional.


We roll on to Olivia Ximines in southern California, coming to you from her living room, where she also employs wide shots and focal shots in her performance of Bad Guy (Billie Eilish). A much different vibe from the earlier artists, she's got all the attitude and presence of a seasoned music video performer. Her voice is acrobatic and bouncy, and once it grabs hold, it doesn't let go. Katy says she got to hear how the quality of her voice has grown. Luke says she always brings the show, dancing and having fun. Lionel says for 16yrs old, she has everything she needs to be a superstar. She says it's harder to get the adrenaline to perform in her living room.


Next from his spartan bedroom, Louis Knight has added blue mood lighting to accent his framed soccer (futbol) jersey and photos. Playing his keyboard and singing If The World Was Ending (J.P. Saxe w/Julia Michaels), his voice is soft and sensitive, effortlessly riding up and down the scale, his accent giving his vocal a more exotic energy, his face emoting through multiple camera angles. Luke says great song choice, it gave a clear glimpse of who he is as an artist, an artistic performance. Lionel says his voice was stellar, his falsetto incredible, and that cry that makes it believable was right on point. Katy says the message of the song was on point, inflections were cool, intimate moments, but sometimes a little nosily, so watch out for singing from your noise.


Now we head to Temeucla, CA where Makayla Phillips joins us from her living room, where a baby grand piano is insulted with a table lamp. Singing Greedy (Arianna Grande), the video starts out in black-and-white then jumps to a pink-trimmed color as she kicks into the song with a sultry, dancing vocal, full of energy and confidence, with band cut-ins and a bit of oomph at the end. Lionel says 17yrs old and her growth already is already about as professional as it could be. Katy says this reminds her what it was like to be home, practicing in front of the mirror with hairbrush, and she saw herself in that performance, but there are other songs she could lean into more to pull the heartstrings of the audience. Luke loves the youthfulness and fun of the performance, and the star power and vocals at the end.  You can never over animate the big notes because they come to you so effortlessly.


We meet with Bobby Bones who introduces next week's theme of songs that remind the Top 10 of home. The artists will be taking the judges critiques and learning better how to perform without an audience. Just when you think you know them from the show, you get to see them in their backyard or living room, so it's really fascinating this season. 


We are off to Fort Walton Beach, FL where we find Aliana Jester in her closed-door garage, beautifully decorated with rugs and floor lamps, a motorcycle off to the side. Singing Run To You (Whitney Houston). Her voice is soft and simple, clear and confident as she croons a quietly powerful performance, reaching out with a piercing vocal. Wow, says the judges as the kids and family run in to congratulate her. Katy says she couldn't have done that song as well, incredible dynamics but she needs to lean in a little more. Luke says he had chill bumps from the start. Lionel says not many can do Whitney and then pull it off and turn into their own; I almost forgot about Whitney and just started watching you.


We catch up with Faith Becnel in her home gym, singing River (Bishop Briggs). Employing some mirror-imaging tricks, the two Faiths become one voice of strength and command as she plows through this performance, with vocal acrobatics and power notes. Dang, says Luke. Lionel says every chance you can stare down the camera, open your eyes and look right in. Luke says she can hit big time notes, that was my favorite rendition of that song. Katy says your vibrato stuck that time - six and 1/2 sanitizer squirts.


We head next to the apartment of Nick Merico in Woodland Hills, CA, where a soft texture floor-to-ceiling cloth background has been hung, accented with wood crates and a large electric keyboard. Singing Hey There Delilah (Plain White T's), his voice is soft, quiet and full of longing, a solid, moving performance. Lionel says he forgot what talent is on this show. Luke says he would have liked him to dig in more, a big choice just going with himself on the piano. Katy says she heard the subtly of his voice and that was one of his better performances. Nick says the technology Idol provided is so good he can hear his heart pounding.


16yr old Lauren Spencer Smith comes to us from her the back patio of her lake house home with a powerful rendition of Mama Knows Best (Jessie J), channeling the power of nature behind her with a dynamic vocal, full of attitude, punching the band boxes off the screen, running through the performance at full throttle, her dog and family joining her at the end in celebration. Katy says not a horrible place to be quarantine, she has figured out how to grow as a star. Luke says her voice has grown incredibly, her voice is amazing. Lionel says her attitude was on point, he felt she felt that song.


From Jonesboro, GA, it is Cyniah Elise in her living room. Singing Warrior (Demi Lovato), she starts off soft and inviting, bringing us into her story, working multiple camera angles as she builds up to the chorus, her voice confident and determined, leaping into a powerful vocal. Luke gives her the Stanky Luke Face, saying she's one of the best in the competition but still needs to work on connecting with people, sky's the limit. Lionel says she makes it look effortless, going anywhere she wants to go, the voice of life. Katy says she can do more of that, work that camera like she works that mirror. 


We head 2492 miles across the country to Daly City, CA outside of San Francisco where Francisco Martin calls home. From an upstairs den with his faith on display, he sings Teenage Dream (Katy Perry) with a youthful smile on his face, playing his acoustic guitar and singing to each and every girl watching, his voice full of confidence and energy as he adds vigor and star quality to the night. Gone is the insecure little boy that first auditioned. Katy says that dice roll song choice really worked, the one note was amazing and then it was all uphill. Maybe bringing it back down to where you started at the end, but that's just me being overly critical of my own song. Luke says he was nervous but he made it him, he has the magic. Lionel says you can take anyone's song and turn it into your song. 


Sophia (Wackerman) James manages to introduce some pyrotechnics from her Long Beach living room as her father lights a fire in the fireplace to accent her performance of Burning (Maggie Rogers). Playing her keyboard, her vocal is light and bubbly, swinging to a strong, joyous rock beat, delivering powerful notes and an energetic crescendo, her loving brother barely waiting for the music to end before coming in for the hug. Katy says she's so talented, the ambiance. Luke says she's sneaky good, but looking down to hit the notes on the piano makes it hard to connect with the iPhone camera. Lionel says you are learning your looks, when you look into the camera, you can melt hearts. Katy adds that one run was crazy.


Next from his living room in Castle Rock, Colorado (where he STILL hasn't taken down the Xmas tree), here is Wayne Crocker Jr., singing James Brown's I Got You (I Feel Good). This is a case where the smallness of the room may have impacted the quality of the vocal. With his family dancing in the door frame, his movements feel more limited in front of the mic stand, though his voice spreads its wings and fills the room. If only his body language reflected the fun times of his vocal. Luke says an impressive run at the end, a little slick, not enough gravel. Lionel says not many could handle that run, just let yourself go a little more. Katy says it needed to be a little bit dirtier to connect emotionally.


Next, Dillon James takes us to his woodland backyard (is that an outhouse?) in Bakersfield, CA, where he sings Let It Be Me (Ray Lamontagne). Sitting and playing his guitar, his soft, countrified performance is honest and sincere, his voice confident and optimistic, his vocal personal and inviting. Not the most powerful but perhaps the most raw and real. Lionel says his look and sound and presentation is world class, totally believable. Luke says you need to write the songs and make the music you want, the rest is in your hands, you have the steering wheel. Katy says Gabby Barrett (Season 16) just cut a #1 country song and she didn't even win Idol. If you get to be Top 10, that could be your future, your dreams are in your hands. 


From his back porch in Wichita, Kansas comes Nepalese-born Arthur Gunn who rocks out to the Lovin' Machine (Wynonie Harris), delivering a foot-stomping vocal that makes you want to take your partner for a swing. His vocal was fun, the joy of song in his expression, a rolickin' good time. Ryan says the body language said it all. Katy says he gave it his all but he has to connect to the camera with his eyes. Lionel says his shyness is his secret weapon, you draw us in then all of a sudden you explode and give it to us. Luke says your vocal quality and sound is undeniable, your natural ability, and once you learn how ginormous a star you can be, it'll be like a wildfire.


We head next to Staten Island, NY where Julia Gargano welcomes us into her home with Human (Christina Perri). Opening with a quiet multi-image performance playing her piano, her voice carries a quiet confidence building into the chorus, offering a strong, emotive vocal, building in power, then dialing back for the end where she is smothered by her mom. Luke loves hearing the nuances in her voice. Lionel says being a stylist singer makes a career and that was in her style, delivering the goods. Katy says you check all the boxes, you played in your socks, a beautiful performance.


We head to the backyard garden of Grace Leer's San Ramone, CA home where she performs Cry (Faith Hill). Opening with a somber, serious vocal, she raises her voice into a stronger octave for the chorus and then breaks out into song, releasing her power and confidence, the flowers dancing to her vocal stylings in the gentle breeze. Lionel says we're not finding singers, we're discovering true artists and he felt every bit of that performance. Katy says you rode that bull real well, playing with the dynamics, getting big in the end, a lot of boxes checked to be a country star. Luke says the song lacked a little at the start, but halfway through to the end, you spoiled us with big, amazing notes. 


Just Sam decided to stay in California when the rest of the Idols went home at the start of March. Performing in front of artwork in her small apartment, she sings I Believe (Fantasia) with a soft, sensitive open, raw and as revealed as her tattoos, then blossoming into a confident performer, happy to be singing, her voice ringing out, earnest and hopeful. Katy says it is so excited to see her flourish beyond AI. Luke says she owns every aspect of her range from top to bottom, her confidence has grown so much. Lionel says if there has ever been an inspirational figure in the group, its not where you come from, it's where you go and there's nothing in your way.


The last performance tonight comes from Jonny West in his Studio City, CA living room, singing Beautiful World (Louis Armstrong), sitting on his couch and playing his piano. His voice is soft, sincere, breathing life into this classic ballad, his vocal energized for the chorus, deep and meaningful for the verses, it's a stripped down but impactful performance. Luke says he heard 10 deviations of music career there, he can go wherever he wants to go, he heard so many things. Lionel says he has a vocal arsenal, musical chops, you have it all. Katy says so moving and emotional, he can really play his subtleties when performing from home like that, Top 2 favorite performances tonight. 


Did you like what you heard and saw tonight? Remember, the vote closes at 9am tomorrow morning. Your votes will decide who performs next Sunday in the Top 10. Stay safe and well, America, and good night.

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