Bobby Bones hosts for an ailing Ryan Seacrest, the first show he has missed in the entirety of American Idol‘s existence. Maybe he should’ve actually filled in for the judging panel – all three of them – based on the boneheaded decisions they make at the conclusion of tonight’s show.

Obviously these duet nights were not competitive in nature. Nothing any of the Top 20 did with these celebrity guests made any bit of difference to Lionel Richie, Katy Perry, or Luke Bryan. The dismissals have been pre-decided. Perhaps the producers, mentor Bobby Bones, or some additional unseen entity also has a hand in making these calls, but the Top 14 had obviously been “cast” before any duets occurred. The three judges are the most logical target of scorn as the panel has the appearance, at least, of having made the decisions unilaterally.

Yes, I’m mad. Because they got it wrong. Woefully wrong. Idol is not, and never has been, a variety show, a musicians’ showcase, a songwriters’ workshop or anything other than a singing competition. And based on tonight’s results, the judges decided to treat it as something else. All while delivering mostly meaningless, empty, feel-good platitudes about how each

Alyssa Raghu with Julia Michaels – “Issues” The judges’ take – Katy – “That was such a fresh take. You did some alternative melodies that were so good.” Luke – “That song is such a big, big song. You didn’t try to overdo yourself.” Lionel – “You really brought the sauce, sister. Sixteen years old with this much talent and confidence.”

Alyssa is a good singer. She was basically just as good last season, she’s just worked on her stage presence. She almost seems a bit too cocky now, truth be told. This was a terrible song choice (they should’ve stuck with well known tunes, not allowing the guests to promote their own material—unless, as was the case with Shaggy and Pat Benetar last night, the guests have their own classics). Hard to say Alyssa was good or bad here as the song didn’t allow her to do much. Grade: C

Eddie Island with Lukas Graham – “7 Years” The judges’ take – Luke – “I love that song landed with you. That’s the perfect fit with what we wanted from you. You’re hitting the notes. Good job.” Lionel – “You’ve managed to make every performance as if you’re having the time of your life. You can actually sing. What started out as a joke is no joke now.” Katy – “Whenever you come on stage, I’m on a different planet with you.”

Every time Lionel offers Eddie feedback, he refers to him as having begun as a joke but has now transcended that situation. “You can actually sing”?? C’mon Lionel, should that even need to be stated this far into the season? The fact is, Eddie isn’t that good, in fact he’s arguably the weakest vocalist of anyone in the Top 20. And the cutesy duet, which found Eddie lipsyncing while Lukas Graham sang and vice versa, didn’t represented a step forward. Grade: D

Wade Cota with lovelytheband – “Broken” The judges’ take – Lionel – “You have a voice to be reckoned with. I am so happy that we’re at that stage in the competition that you’re feeling comfortable.” Katy – “You’re turning into a real bonafide rock star. You’ve really tapped into some otherworldly energy.” Luke – “Your voice is so powerful and when we see the antics around it, it just pulls us in more.”

I really like Wade and hope he goes far, but this duet was no among his best moments. Again, unless you’re already a lovelytheband fan, the song is unfamiliar to most and therefore inherently less memorable than those who were blessed with well-known songs. It didn’t suck like the previous two, it just didn’t allow Wade to show off his distinctive voice. Grade: C

Ryan Hammond with Cynthia Erivo – “Hold On I’m Coming” The judges’ take – Katy – “I felt like I was at church. You really held your own in that. Your voice is amazing on all levels and you have such class about you.” Luke – “Your voice will carry you so far and if you just add a little more swagger.” Lionel – “The fact that you never hear that song and you did what you did tonight. Your voice in on the way to stardom.”

On the way to stardom? Is that what you said, Lionel? Ryan has one of the best voice ever in this show’s history. And he tore it up on this Sam & Dave soul classic. But the judges obviously had predetermined they would deliver a round of adios speeches to this truly gifted vocalist, all while praising several mediocre contestants to the skies. Grade: B+

Evelyn Cormier with Chris Isaak – “Wicked Game” The judges’ take – Luke – “It’s like I’ve got a front row seat to a special moment.” Lionel – “Chris is a stylist. What makes you unique is that you’re also a stylist.” Katy – “It was so sophisticated. It was just so beautiful. I believed every word you were singing.”

Speaking of mediocre contestants… The female Chris Isaak impersonator did exactly what we saw her do for her audition, only this time with the real Isaak singing circles around her. On top of limited vocal ability, ever notice how conceited Evelyn comes across? Grade: C

Logan Johnson with Julia Michaels – “What a Time” The judges’ take – Lionel – “Logan you passed the test. The first rule of doing a duet is listening. You did a great job at listening.” Katy – “I was hanging on every word of that song.” Luke – “Always take every opportunity you can to make sure your vocals come through. The whole vibe of the song was really solid.”

The critiques were clearly designed as a goodbye, though unlike Ryan, Logan really does deserve the boot. His thin voice is the very definition of unmemorable. Yet it was somehow still better than Island. Grade: D+

Raquel Trinidad with lovelytheband – “Tiny Dancer” The judges’ take – Katy – “I never heard you sing that well. You brought out some heavy-hit notes.” Lionel – “From now on whenever you sing a duet or sing anything at all, look at the audience.” Luke – “Your voice is very, very recognizable. You really showed us a new dimension to your voice.”

Two kiss-offs in a row from the judges. Much like Kate the previous night, Raquel seems to have made it this far solely so the judges have a few easy targets to pick off when narrowing down to the voting stage. Not that Raquel isn’t still better than some of these contestants (Eddie Island, anyone), but the judges clearly have it out for her. Grade: B-

Alejandro Aranda with Ben Harper – “There Will Be a Light” The judges’ take – Luke – “Welcome to the Alejandro show.” Lionel – “You’re in a rare air groove with your unique guitar playing and your voice. I can guarantee you have a career.” Katy – “You embody authenticity. Nothing is going to change you.”

The Emperor’s New Clothes, ladies and gentleman. Alejandro seems like a harmless enough guy. His stage presence and performing ability is null (and Luke was lecturing Ryan about “swagger”?), but that doesn’t bother the judges. His voice is exactly the same in tone, inflection, and emotional conveyance on literally every single song he sings, but the judges don’t get on him about having ‘one gear’ etc. He’s been pre-sold as one of the ones to beat and it will be interesting to see how voters respond. This was a competent duet, sung well enough by Alejandro. But like all of his vocal performances, it’s pleasantly dull. Grade: C+

Dimitrius Graham with Lukas Graham – “Love Someone” The judges’ take – Lionel – “It was like one fabulous duet, perfectly executed. Both of you were in such control.” Katy – “That was the best-sounding duet I’ve heard today. I’m so proud you’ve taken our advice. You did not overdo it. It was perfect.” Luke – “You’re one of the best singers I’ve ever heard.”

Great vocal from one of the true dark horses this season. Best of the night, nuff said. Grade: A

Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon with Cynthia Erivo – “Time After Time” The judges’ take – Katy – “It was like your guy’s souls were singing to each other. You’ve got crazy range.” Luke – “Bravo. That’s all I have. It was incredible.” Lionel – “We just witnessed a masterful performance. Love you so much.”

Jeremiah is a great singer, no doubt. This song suffers from overexposure on Idol but he nonetheless delivers a controlled, tasteful performance. Grade: B+

Going Home – Ryan, Raquel, Logan — Yes, for both Raquel and Logan, the time seemed right to send them home (actually neither one of them really deserved to make it this far). But dumping Ryan is one of the biggest injustices committed by an Idol judges’ panel.

Cinema Lowdown

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