A lot changed between Sunday night’s Top 16 showdown and Monday’s live episode to reveal the Top 12 contestants on Season 19 of ABC’s American Idol. Monday, April 13 was the first live show of the season, and they had the chaos to show it. After Luke Bryan tested positive for COVID-19, original judge Paula Abdul who served from 2002 through 2010, stepped back on the Idol stage to take his place for the episode.
“It’s kind of nostalgic,” she said of being back at Idol. “I feel like I’m visiting my little brother on the show that we started with our other brother Randy… and, of course, our grandfather Simon [Cowell].”
Before announcing the lucky dozen contestants who survived from the Top 16, host Ryan Seacrest shared that Wyatt Pike —one of the most promising talents so far—has dropped out of the competition.
The Top 12 was not as clear-cut as in previous rounds. Ten singers were voted into safety following their Sunday night performances: Casey Bishop, Deshawn Gongalves, Cassandra Coleman, Caleb Kennedy, Ava August, Chayce Beckham, Alyssa Wray, Willie Spence, Grace Kinstler and Hunter Metts. While, Colin Jamieson, Madison Watkins, Beane, Alanis Sophia, and Graham DeFranco did not receive enough votes, and therefore must compete for the remaining two positions.
Casey Bishop made a bold entrance, as the first to make it through the Top 10, with a fiery rendition of “House of the Rising Sun.” The 16-year-old took The Animals 1983 anthem by storm with two action-packed minutes of rock-show trickery, taking her timeless voice to new heights with twisting and turning runs.
Deshawn Goncalves accepted the judges’ challenge for an uptempo track, bringing the judges to their feet with Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground.” Cassandra Coleman stepped up her stage persona with an envisioned recital of “Leave the Light On,” by Maggie Rogers. However, the rehearsed performance, requiring more movement, extracted some of her characteristic vocal alignment. Caleb Kennedy’s decision to perform an original track, “Nowhere”—also performed during his audition—exhibits the growth judges like to see.
15-year-old Ava August took Sunday’s advice to heart, and swapped her pop-leaning selection for Queen’s “Love of My Life” allowing her vocal “elegance” and “grace” to glisten in a more mature performance. Richie says, “You make me forget fifteen.” Perry agreed, adding, “You have an incredible old-soulness.” According to Abdul, she is “reaching for notes people don’t know exist.”
After Jennifer Hudson DM-ed her advice, Alyssa Wray continues to beam through the next round. Her shimmering performance of Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All,” solidified her inevitable path to stardom, confirmed by Abdul’s praise as “magnetic.” Hunter Metts breathed a previously unimagined life into Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me.”
By the end of Willie Spence’s dazzling take on Rhianna’s “Diamonds,” the whole studio was dancing. He took his audition song, added a backing band, and according to Perry evolved from a “diamond in the rough” to “brilliant.”
Despite heart-sinking news of ‘The Danger Zone,’ Colin Jamieson, Madison Watkins, Beane, Alanis Sophia, and Graham DeFranco managed to shine through their performances. Halfway through Beane’s Ben Platt cover of “Waves,” Richie recognized an easing of nerves that have held the contestant back in the past. The judge says, ” you’ve grown in your artistry.” Madison Watkins infused enviable soul into Drake’s “Hotline Bling,” while Graham DeFranco exhibited vocal clarity with a raw rendition of Jason Isbell’s “Cover Me Up,” electrifying the singer-songwriter’s track for the final verse. Richie tells him he has a shot at this business, and he needs to “take it and run as far as you can.”
On Sunday (April 17), the Top 12 will be competing to make it into the Top 9. Then on Monday (April 18), 10 previous contestants from Season 18 will be back for a second chance—since they never got to perform on the big Idol stage due to COVID, and Wyatt Pike now needs replacement. So one of the returning 10 will be voted through (to replace Wyatt), turning the Top 9 of season 19 into the Top 10 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.