Someday they’ll let the public vote on this crop of contestants, and things’ll finally get interesting. For now, the judges/cheerleaders Lionel Richie, Katy Perry, and Luke Bryan have iron-fisted control over their destinies. And it sure does appear they already knew exactly who among the first ten of the Top 20 are going to be sticking around.

Walker Burroughs with Jason Mraz – “Have it All” Judges’ Take – Luke – “Great job. It sounded like you were meant to be on stage together. You never let us down.” Lionel – “You’re actually making a pair of glasses sexy. You’re having the best time of your life. That was a perfect performance.” Katy – “I thought you were so cool and composed. Everything was no big deal and was so much fun.”

Earnest guy, this Walker, and he has an agreeably clean, pitch-accurate delivery. But he’s also bland. Seeing him try to “act cool” in rehearsals with Mraz was more fun than the actual performance. Grade: C

Kate Barnette with Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo – “Heartbreaker” Judges’ Take – Katy – “I thought you grew up with that song. Pat sounds amazing. You were a really great complement.” Luke – “You probably learned some stuff about yourself. Good job.” Lionel – “It was wonderful to see you on stage and your reaction to her.”

Uh-oh. The judges seem to be waving goodbye to Kate. And quite honestly, Ms. Barnette hasn’t made much impression so far and that hasn’t changed tonight. Benatar sounds great and Kate feels overwhelmed by the moment. Grade: C

Riley Thompson with Brett Young – “Like I Loved You” Judges’ Take – Lionel – “You have grown so much. You are handling this pressure so well. That was a really great performance.” Katy – “Our jaws were all on the ground. Where did that voice come from?” Luke – “That was your best performance we’ve seen from you. You look like a natural seasoned performer.”

Wait, what? Speak for yourself, Katy, if your jaw was really on the ground for this. Riley is a perfectly-presented, beauty pageant-style performer but she is just bush league for American Idol. The hype about the abundance of talent this season is real and Riley really isn’t cutting it. It doesn’t help that the sound is so unmemorable. Grade: C-

Uché with Shaggy – “I Need Your Love” Judges’ Take – Katy – “Yippe Kay Yay O. That was so much fun. Make conscious choices when it comes to the runs.” Luke – “You can make a vocal slip and no one cares.”

Maybe not the most fun song choice, but Uche is an incredible performer. Shaggy seems to recognize that and basically cedes the stage to him. This is the first duet where the contestant shone brighter than the established star. And Luke, exactly where did Uche make a “vocal slip?” Grade: B+

Madison Vandenberg with Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo – “We Belong” Judges’ Take – Luke – “For you to sit there and literally go toe to toe, it was incredible.” Lionel – “You took it to the next level.” Katy – “First and foremost you look flawless. Your voice is a Ferrari. You should never be scared to show off your Ferrari.”

Give me a break. Madison is no “next Kelly Clarkson” no matter how much they try to sell it. Mind you, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with her – great voice, just a little blah in her overall delivery and presence. This was not “next level,” Lionel, not by a long shot (whatever that is supposed to mean). Madison is still one to keep an eye on, but she’s getting swallowed up by the bigger, brighter talents this year. Grade: B-

Shawn Robinson with Elle King – “Proud Mary” Judges’ Take – Lionel – “When things go right they go right and when things go wrong no one is supposed to know.” Katy – “You did shine.” Luke – “Your run at the end at the end – Katy and I were like ‘what the heck was that?’ It was a great vocal performance.”

Er, what the heck? Vocal/timing flub aside, neither Shawn nor his singing partner King seem to connect with this rather ghastly hybrid of the Ike & Tina and Creedence versions of a rock classic. Terrible, pitiful, misguided choice for Shawn. Poor guy. But he seemed to be fodder for early dismissal for awhile now anyway. Grade: D

Ashley Hess with Jason Mraz – “I’m Yours” Judges’ Take – Katy – “The way you guys changed it and opened it up, it was so fresh.” Luke – “It just felt right. I just felt real comfortable watching the whole thing.” Lionel – “Your voice was pristine and the two of you together were just locked.”

Ashley is so polished, poised, and professional she seems like a ringer. This is one of the night’s most effective duets and one of the rare times the judges’ comments match the quality of the performance. Ashley is almost “too good,” in the sense that Idol voters often favor underdog, ‘little engine that could’-type performers. Grade: A

Bumbly with Shaggy – “Angel” Judges’ Take – Luke – “That was a really, really great vocal” Katy – “I love the sound of your voice. It so fun.” Lionel – “You looked like you were having the best time of your life. I loved it.”

I’ve taken some time to warm to Bumbly and now, based on the judges’ comments, it seems like she will be bidden farewell. But this was a strong performance. As with Uche, Shaggy seems content to hang back and let the contestant really shine – and Bumbly does here with a confident take. Grade: B+

Laci Kaye Booth with Brett Young – “Mercy” Judges’ Take – Lionel – “That was an incredible performance. This is going to be big for you.” Katy – “From the moment you walk on stage you sprinkle stardust everywhere. I felt like I was watching something on the Grammy’s.” Luke – “When you sing I really feel something. It’s an amazing gift you have.”

Uh… I’m not feeling Laci Kaye and haven’t since the audition phase. She’s okay – and better than Riley. But she seems to exclusively trade on breathy ballads. Not enough versatility to compete with the season’s heavy hitters. Grade: C

Laine Hardy with Elle King – “The Weight” Judges’ Take – Katy – “You look like a rock star.” Luke – “No matter what happens…I’m just excited to see what songs find you and what songs you write.” Lionel – “The talent is in you. You have developed into a wonderful artist.”

Man, I’m pulling for Laine, I really am. He was one of most unjustly dismissed last season and I’m thrilled to see him back and even stronger. That said, he seemed to be coasting a bit through Hollywood, and this easy song choice (the one he auditioned with) continues that trend. But also, he and King hit their strike in a way that Shawn and King did not. But omitting the escalating and’s from the song’s chorus made for an awkward sound. Grade: B

Going home: Kate, Bumbly, Shawn – Kate and Shawn I get. Bumbly, though not a surprise decision, should’ve been retained. Riley should’ve been sent packing.

Ten more tonight, including some of this season’s strongest voices.

Cinema Lowdown

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