By Chaz Lipp

The other top 12 performed on ABC’s American Idol and someone must’ve told the judges they really needed to start judging. For the first time this season, Lionel Ritchie, Katy Perry, and Luke Bryan actually offered realistic appraisals of the contestants. Remember: the public hasn’t had any say as of yet. As host Ryan Seacrest mentioned, the trio are inordinately proud of their choices and tonight they’ll whittle down this dozen to seven.

Amelia Hammer Harris – “Believer” (Imagine Dragons) – The judges’ take: Katy – “You have your own style of sorts. I really enjoyed it. I hope we can see all the shades you are.” Lionel – “What I love about you is I can sense the experience.” Luke – “You were trying to find your spot a little bit – in the chorus you found it. Don’t let us down, keep the bar set high.”

Stick a fork in her. The judges, if you read between the lines, didn’t care for this. Especially Luke. And it was a terrible song choice that gave Amelia very little opportunity to display any range. My prediction is that she’ll be outta here after the duets the tonight. Grade: D

Garrett Jacobs – “Treat You Better” (Shawn Mendes) – The judges’ take: Lionel – “There’s a point in your life where you’ve got to concentrate on singing. You were concentrating the other way.” Luke – “You’re not the best singer on the stage, but you’re a dadgum heartthrob.” Katy – “I agree with the sentiment of my friends here. You’re fun to watch and to see grow…keep in mind to let it flow. Stop thinking about it. It’s just a bit rocky road.”

Bye-bye Garrett. This was not only boring, it was just flat-out poor singing. And the judges, God bless ‘em, actually called him on it! My prediction: another one bites the dust. Grade: F

Maddie Poppe – “Brand New Key” (Melanie) – The judges’ take: Luke – “You are here for that moment right then. You’re just all-American.” Katy – “You’re so infectious. You stick to your guns and know you are as an artist.” Lionel – “I applaud you. Where you are right now is the road you need to be on.”

This was passable after the opening two back-to-back disasters. But it was ultimately just a good impression of the original. She’s borderline not ready for this competition, as Maddie herself explained in her pre-performance interview. She doesn’t believe she can truly compete and it shows. By the way, Luke—“All-American”?? What’s that supposed to mean? Grade: C

Ada Vox – “Feeling Good” (Nina Simone) – The judges’ take: Katy – “You are here to win.” Lionel – “Your talent is so grand. It begs to put a new category in this equation.” Luke – “Your ability to bring the house down…”

Possible winner of the whole things this season? Everytime the whole Ada/Adam routine verges on annoying shtick, we hear the powerhouse voice and see the unhinged physical performance. For once the judges’ over-the-top praise has a place. Definitely one for the Idol ‘best of’ reel. Grade: A

Caleb Lee Hutchinson – “Die a Happy Man” (Thomas Rhett) – The judges take: Lionel “That voice…it’s crystal clear identity when you open your mouth.” Katy “There’s a timelessness in your voice. Your voice holds so much wisdom and power.” Luke – “It’s a subtle coolness. I wouldn’t say that was the best song for you that you did. Dig in. There was some pitchy stuff here and there, but we can live with that.”

Caleb and Scotty McCreery meet cute in his pre-performance interview. As the “new Scotty,” Caleb probably fits a certain demographic. But he’s sort of a lesser-than Scotty in all ways. If they keep him around (and I question whether they will), it will only be to ensure some stylistic diversity in the top 14. Grade: C+

Effie Passero – “Barracuda” (Heart) – The judges’ take: Luke – “I wouldn’t say you commanded the stage like a superstar…but you’re — You just did Ann Wilson better than Ann Wilson.” Katy – “You’re applying yourself. Just jump into it.” Lionel – “You’re not wishing and hoping anymore, you’re taking advantage of everything you have.”

Better than Ann Wilson? Sorry, Luke, but no. Effie delivers a good enough Ann Wilson impression that she could easily front a solid Heart tribute band. She put a lot into it, but I think she’s on the border. Grade: B-

Alyssa Raghu – “Stay” (Rhianna) – The judges’ take: Luke – “You didn’t have me until tonight.” Katy – “Your tone is what separates you from everyone else in this competition.” Lionel – “You start out with a little chicken on Monday, but by the end of week it’s a full-grown chicken. You’re so fragile. You’ve got it.”

“You’ve got it!” — Lionel’s favorite judging crutch. Young Alyssa does, in fact, have something very special. She carries herself with a maturity that’s rare for a performer her age. And her voice is very strong. This was not her most memorable performance, but I think they want her to stick around. Still one to watch. Grade: B-

Marcio Donaldson – “Inseparable” (Natalie Cole) – The judges’ take: Lionel – “You have every right to stand…” Katy – “I love you so much…I’m so impressed with you and I’m so proud of you. You can do no wrong, just trust and believe in yourself. You’ve got it.” Luke – “They’ve already said it. I’ve got one word—you’re a survivor. You delivered a world class performance.”

The crybaby delivers. This was a bold song choice, well delivered. Marcio turned on the waterworks before it was all over, of course. He really should work on reigning in his emotions. The always-crying act turned me off from him early on, but this performance won me over. Based on tonight alone, he ought to carry on. Second-best of the night after Ada. Grade: B+

Mara Justine – “Run to You” (Whitney Houston) – The judges’ take: Luke – “We’re spellbound here. You just showed us another side. Way to show up today.” Katy – “I know how versatile you are. You can sing anything. You could sing addresses in a phone book and I would still listen. What you showed us today was so raw and so beautiful.”

So the firecracker shows she can tone it down and slow-build a performance. Mara toned-down her usual hyperactivity to just stand and sing. It started off kinda ‘whatev’ but became almost-special by the end. No way she’s leaving yet. Grade: B

Jurnee – “Flashlight” (Jessie J.) – The judges’ take: Katy – “Wow. That was so beautiful and so effortless. You sing circles around everyone. You’ve got to have a confidence that puts you on the map. I know you can blow me away, but sing something that brings me to my knees.” Lionel – “Give me attitude. You’ve got it to give.” Luke – “Don’t make it look so easy. You’re spoiling us with your effortlessness. We want America to think you’re earning it. You’re awesome.”

This was really average and if it were up to me, she’d be gonesville this week. She’s certainly not a bad singer, this just felt really blah at a time when all the contestants should be stepping up big time. Grade: C

Shannon O’Hara – “All I Ask” (Adele) – The judges’ take: Lionel – “That was your moment. I think you did a great job.” Luke – “You did a great job. You took it to another level.” Katy – “Great song choice, I love that song. I love you because you’re so versatile. I think you really so great with what you do and what you deliver. We’ve got see more identity, individuality. Study your competitors and figure out what makes you the most unique.”

Another good singer delivering another so-so performance. I think she’s on the line here. Five need to go and based on this I felt she disappeared into the crowd a bit. Grade: C

Ron Bultongez – “Dancing on my Own” (Robyn) – The judges’ take: Luke – “I felt it. I’m feeling some hurt. I think that was the best that we’ve ever heard you from top to bottom.” Lionel – “Do you know how far you’ve come? How badly do you want it? You are proving to us all that you want it that badly.” Katy – “You have style and you’re so intelligent. I still feel some of your nerves and I hate that.”

What? The coveted “pimp spot” for this? Ron didn’t sound that great, didn’t choose a very suitable song, and displayed a stunning lack of charisma and confidence. Luke over-praised, but both Lionel and Katy seemed to allow their disappointment to show. This was boring crap, quite frankly. I’d send him packing. Grade: D

Duets tonight, last chance to make the Top 14 that will be judged by the public. My predictions for the first departures: Amelia Hammer Harris, Garrett Jacobs, Caleb Lee Hutchinson, Effie Passero, Maddie Poppe. I’ll eat crow if I’m wrong!

Chaz Lipp

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