Alyssa Wray Shines on “Killing Me Softly With His Song,” Leading American Idol’s Top 16

19-year-old Northern Kentucky University student Alyssa Wray led the charge into the Top 16 of American Idol’s nineteenth season. With an unscalable vocal range, the promising contestant took brazen liberties with Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly With His Song.”

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Following last week’s rendition of Carrie Underwood’s “Something in the Water,” Judge Katy Perry warned against leaning too far into the theatrical, advising she “be more real, a vibe.” After last night’s performance, Perry responded, “That was totally a vibe.” Pointing to the song selection and her choral run, Perry added, “You were actually an artist for the first time in my eyes, today.”

Luke Bryan followed suit, praising Wray for her song choice. “The beauty of what you did is you started it really classic,” he said. “And then you made it your own, and you made it modern day, and made it really fit.”

While gushing over her talent, Lionel Richie provided a structured response to her performance. He points to the components that created a “stellar performance. It all comes down to confidence,” he added. “Your vocals abilities are one thing; pacing is the part. If you have the guns, hold it. You don’t have to give it on the first shot, and then you gave it to us.”

Graham DeFranco, visibly shocked to have arrived in the next round, follows suit with a sultry performance of Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life.” According to Perry, he “picked the best song” for his “cool and comfortable” voice. Bryan “sees so much promise” in Grace Kinstler’s take on Sia’s “Elastic Heart.” The judges liked Alanis Sophia’s sentiment with Brandi Carlile’s “The Story” but felt it highlighted a pitiful in the lower points of her vocal range.

Deshawn Goncalves’ soulful rendition of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” rivals John Legend’s rendition from Joe Biden’s Inauguration in January. The judges praised the performance as a “next level”, growing immensely from the contestant he was in the last round and previous. Bryan said his growth trajectory is “why we sit in these chairs” as judges. Beane, who the judges decided will now be called “Beanie Babies,” took Thirdstory’s “Searching for a Feeling” by storm with a highly engaging performance—the reason that the audience, as Richie said, is “falling in love with him.”

Towards the end of the night, last Monday’s star, Ava August, stepped away from the singer/songwriter approach that has defined her run through this season so far. Her poppier performance of Anne-Marie’s “2002” was age-appropriate for the 15-year-old contestant. But Bryan doesn’t want her to forget her “elegance” and “grace” as a vocalist that carried her to this round. Perry kindly reminds her that “classic always trumps cool.”

Cecil Wray, Anilee List, and Jason Warrior were three of eight contestants who cleared the way for the next 16 to shine on Sunday’s episode. Monday night, only half of these 16 artists will continue on the accelerated forward path. Voting is now closed for the April 4 contestants. On Monday, April 12, American Idol performances from the remaining contestants continue at 8 PM ET on ABC.

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