What started as a super-talented Top 14 has been whittled down to a near-joke, with precious few of the best and brightest remaining. And the “judges”—Lionel Richie, Katy Perry, Luke Bryan—are a truly sickening bunch. They’re cheerleaders spewing utterly mindless affirmations to each and every contestant, regardless of whether that given contestant has knocked it outta the park or fallen flat on his/her face.

Walker Burroughs – “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” Judges take – Katy – “You really used all of your appendages. You did so great and you sounded so good.” Luke – “America is going to falling in love with that performance. We were smiling. I could not stop smiling watching you perform.” Lionel – “Don’t think at all. Just naturally go out and be present on stage.”

Speaking of falling flat on one’s face… Everything from starting out by serenading Lionel, to his Elvis vocal inflection, this is one of the hokiest performances ever to (dis)grace the Idol stage. He has vocal talent, but this stage has proven too big for him. Grade: D+

Madison Vandenburg – “The Show Must Go On” Judges’ take – Luke – “Way to change to whole game. You do make it look easy. That’s your best performance.” Lionel – “The acting is everything. Can you make us feel like you’re feeling it? You did that in spades. Your voice was impeccable.” Katy – “You have come so far is so little time. You still have a little way to go. I need to see a hair flip.”

Hair flip? Gimme a break. Madison hasn’t “come so far” – she has been there all along. A great vocalist with confident stage presence and a definite shot at Top 2. Grade: B

Laci Kaye Booth and Laine Hardy – “Jackson” (Johnny Cash from Walk the Line) Judges’ take – Lionel – “Laci you got sassy! Perfect song! I loved the performance and I think America will love it too.” Katy – “I would say you guys are connected. I wondering if something else…” Luke – “We don’t even have to pick you guys apart. I’m enjoying watching you guys grow.”

I mean seriously, Katy? It’s one thing to never, ever offer anything constructive, but to embarrass both of them by playing matchmaker? Too much. Anyway, pretty great duet and Laci manages to outshine the favored one simply by doing something other than a ballad. Turns out to be best duet of the night. Grade: B+

Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon – “Who Wants to Live Forever” Judges’ take – Katy – “You really embodied the spirit of Freddie Mercury with that performance.” Luke – “You just continue to spoil us. It was such an emotional ride. You take us on a journey. That was a complete journey. I loved every second of it.” Lionel – “You take the band to the next level. Your voice is really something to be reckoned with.”

Reminds me of when Chris Daughtry years ago chose a relatively obscurity instead of nailing a big hit. I wish Jeremiah had done the song that will later be performed by Wade. But he can sing pretty much anything and here the praise is deserved (as usual). Grade: B

Alejandro Aranda – “Under Pressure” Judges’ take – Luke – “I love how you see the painting in a whole different way. You see it in your way and you stick to that. We’ve heard you be better vocally before, but it doesn’t matter because you’re doing your own thing.” Lionel – “You’re an artist. It’s only going to come out your way no matter what you do. Don’t ever lose that because that’s the core.” Katy – didn’t talk about the performance, just said he needs to think about how he will handle success.

Thanks for nothing, Katy – again. Anyway, Alejandro is perhaps Idol history’s biggest Emperor Has No Clothes contestant. Tonight he brings nothing to the table with this wan “Under Pressure.” His thin, non-committed, high register whisper of a voice does the song no favors. But the judges’ influence is strong with this one, convincing enough voters that he has “it” to keep him out of danger. And five bucks says he is the one that eventually gets the judges’ save. Grade: D

Alyssa Raghu and Wade Cota – “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell from Guardians of the Galaxy) Judges’ – Lionel – “That’s what makes show business, show business.” Katy – “You rolled the dice and you got a full on five. You were really good. I don’t gamble.” Luke – “Alyssa – you are so comfortable. Wade, great job.”

Backstage the perpetually in-trouble Alyssa takes a subtle jab at poor ol’ Wade (“I was skeptical at first,” she says after Ryan Seacrest asks for reactions on this duet pairing.) It’s okay though overall, with Alyssa shining and Wade providing just enough support work to make it relatively fun. Grade: B-

Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon and Madison Vandenburg – “A Million Dreams” (The Greatest Showman) – Katy – “It was so wondering watching you and hearing you hold each other and respect each other.” Luke – “You delivered that like pros and worked around each other’s immense talent.” Lionel – “The two of you should be very proud of yourselves. You managed to stay on top of that song together.”

This just didn’t let either shine and the whole duet didn’t really register. It was fine, but characterless. Grade: C

Laine Hardy – “Fat Bottomed Girls” Judges’ take – Luke – “You are a country boy, but you have to think rock star when you’re on stage. It was a great job.” Lionel – “You are the head cheerleader. If you’re not pumped up, we won’t be. If you don’t feel it fake it, and by the way, you felt it.” Katy – “You faked it, you shaked it and you faked and baked it.”

A fun, rocking night for Laine who is the annoited Golden Boy of this season (especially as some of the best talent has already been voted off). As with most all Laine’s choices, this one doesn’t test his (limited) vocal range, but the fun he was having was infectious. Grade: B+

Laci Kaye Booth – “Love of My Life” Judges’ take – Lionel – “That smoky voice can take you forever and ever. This could be the star right here on this stage.” Katy – “You are sparkling like the diamond we always knew you were. It’s important to see how far you’ve come. You are so special.” Luke – “Watching you sell the emotion of the song is one of the best things I’ve seen while judging. Tremendous job.”

Back to a ballad for Laci. Man, wouldn’t it have been cool for her to break out with something a bit more uptempo? Forgettable, if pleasant. Grade: C

Alejandro Alandra and Walker Burroughs – “Mrs. Robinson” (Simon & Garfunkel from The Graduate) – Judges’ take – Katy – “Your voices are like two peas in a pod. That was wonderful. You did a great job.” Luke – “You are savants of the group. You were really creative with that. Great job.” Lionel – “It was wonderful. That performance shows off your true abilities.”

The perpetual “aw shucks, am I really good enough to be here” Alejandro manages to take a subtle swipe at one of pop music’s great voices. Post performance he says, “I was Garfunkel,” with a defeated shrug. You wish, buster. Think you’ll ever inspire millions worldwide the way Art did with his original reading of Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water?” Actually… I don’t think Alejandro does really believe he belongs here. His “I’m not that good” attitude is his primary endearing quality. Grade: C

Wade Cota – “We Are the Champions” Judges’ take – Luke – “We heard some vibrato and some real singing. It was pretty awesome.” Lionel – “You fought through this. I kept cheering for you. You’ve already won.” Katy – “You really pushed yourself. You show off a different side of yourself every single time.”

Wade is criticism-proof. He won’t win, but he keeps on keepin’ on because… well, he’s a likable guy. And that can get you quite a ways on this show. He gets suitably pumped up for the chorus, but his verses here suggest Harvey Fierstein auditioning for the role of Freddie Mercury in a Broadway adaptation of Bohemian Rhapsody few would wan to see. Grade: C-

Alyssa Raghu – “Somebody to Love” Judges’ take – Lionel – “You’re the epitome of determination. Never lose your determination. You’re on fire.” Katy – “I’ve been championing your for years now. I believe in you all the way.” Luke – “We’ve enjoying hearing your voice so much. There’s some of that high-end power we’re not capturing all the way, but great job.”

Every single gesture, every single move – over-rehearsed. From the opening diva pose to the mic thrusts toward the backing singers to the air guitar to the a fan glad-handing… Too much prep. Alyssa works hard and she has a really, really excellent voice. I’m not saying she would’ve fared better without the dramatics; if she has simply stood and sang arguably Queen’s greatest song with nothing but heart, soul, and passion. But it certainly would’ve come across as less desperate (and to underline it, she talks nonsense about needing water and loving Luke—who actually chooses this very moment to offer some negativity for the first time—before literally begging people to vote for her). Grade: C+

Bottom 2 – Walker Burroughs and Alyssa Raghu

No save.

Poor Alyssa. I voted for her. I wanted her to stay. She’s got talent and she puts in tons of effort. But her dismissal was inevitable. As for Walker, a bunch of preteens and grannies are left weeping, but they’ll get over it. He’s got vocal ability but this simply wasn’t the showcase for it.

Cinema Lowdown

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