Whether we like it or not, American Idol is back. And dare I say, better than ever?
After spending just less than two years off the air, this reality television mainstay is giving us the strongest field of competitors, or at least, most interesting, in years.
I’ve written in the past about why Nicki Minaj and Harry Connick, Jr. were wonderful additions Idol’s judging panel, but I truly think that Katy Perry is a perfect Idol judge. She understands the silliness of American Idol, and has given us plenty of fun, memorable moments so far. And yet, Katy is able to give thoughtful critiques, not just on the quality of the vocals, but on the quality of the performance. She’s embraced the show’s original subtitle, “the search for a superstar,” and has provided tailored insight into successful stardom along the way. Katy seems to genuinely care about these young singers and gosh darn it, I’m into this show again! It’s a shame that it’ll be over in just 5 short weeks.
Here’s how I’m ranking Season ‘s Top 14, from most to least favorite contestant.
Jurnee: Jurnee is an 18-year-old whose wife is serving in the military. She’s my American Idol, and unlike my favorites from seasons past, she could actually win this whole thing (Sorry, Majesty Rose!). She exudes an effortless cool and an awesome control of her instrument. Her voice is so clear, so strong, with beautiful shades of vulnerability. Plus Jurnee’s song choices of The Greatest Showman’s “Never Enough” and (to a lesser extent) Pitch Perfect’s “Flashlight” show that she has shrewd ability to choose songs that haven’t been sung to death on reality television, yet are contemporary enough to make an impact. Actually, I’d like to give props to all the contestants this season for picking fresh songs to perform. Good job, young people!
Ada Vox: Ada Vox is serving us vocal explosion eleganza. She is a consummate entertainer and holds us in the palm of her hand with every vocal flourish. It’s honestly amazing how far we’ve come on American Idol. Adam Lambert didn’t come out publicly until after his season ended, and here we are, nine years later and a drag queen is slaying the each performance and reading all the other contestants for filth. (Yes, I’ve finally started watching Drag Race this year.) Long live Queen Ada!
Gabby Barrett: Gabby is armed with radio-ready vocal chops and an understated confidence. It’s encouraging that Gabby has ventured outside of her country lane, with a performance of Aretha Franklin’s “Ain’t No Way” earlier in the competition. Gabby’s performances tend to start slower, then build to a raucous finale, so here’s hoping in future performances that she can electrify throughout a song.
Maddie Poppe: Of all the contestants, Maddie has the strongest handle on who she is as an artist. It’s refreshing to watch her lean so far into what makes her distinct. She’s confident enough, that she doesn’t need to set off vocal pyrotechnics at every turn. And as evident in her original song performance in Hollywood Week’s solo week, Maddie can just be herself.
Jonny Brenns: If I were ranking these contestants solely by how much I enjoy the timbre of their voices, Jonny would probably be at the top. His voice is so smooth and syrupy. It’s a comforting warm blanket. It’s more synonyms and metaphors that describe his rich tone. As it stands, Jonny lacks apparent charisma, confounded by his gangly 6′ 5″ frame, but his boy-next-door-ness and massive feel-good support from his family should propel him far into the competition.
Marcio Donaldson: There’s no doubt about it: Marcio brings the capital D Drama to the stage. His velvet tones paired with his pliable facial expressions, are well-suited for television, giving the sense that he is really FEELING the music. His beautiful baby in the audience signifies just how much this opportunity means to him, and as a result, he wears his heart on his sleeve as each note pours through his soul. Not every note has been perfect, but Marcio’s passion definitely shines through.
Michael J. Woodard: Michael has surprised and delighted us with his left-field song choices, from Cabaret’s “Maybe This Time,” to Alanis Morissette’s “You Outta Know,” to The Beatles’ “Golden Slumbers.”His giddyness and enthusiasm is certainly infectious, and his voice has a rich, complex tone, but outside of his quirky song selection, who is Michael? Hopefully he’ll stick around long enough for him to uncover more delightful layers of his artistry.
Michelle Sussett: Bilingual performances have appeared several times before on Idol, starting with Karen Rodriguez’s “Hero” back in Season 10, but they’re truly never gelled. Enter Michelle Sussett, who brings the dynamics and theatrics to the stage, with some of the weaker vocals of the Top 14. I just appreciate that she just gives us more and more (I, for one, *loved* Naima Adedapo’s electricity). Michelle’s antics are all over the place, but hopefully, she’ll be able to raise the bar on her singing to match her stage presence.
Dennis Lorenzo: Dennis is a smooth operator, with a beautiful upper register. While his solo performance of MAGIC!’s “Rude” was a truly awful song choice (it screams one of those performances where all the contestant can say afterwards is that they “had fun”), but thankfully, his celebrity duet with Allen Stone, was an intimate, smoky, and cool affair. More of the latter, please!
Mara Justine: At just 16 years old, is Mara Justine too young to be competing on American Idol? I’m going to say yes. Her voice is undeniably powerful, but she reads as a teenager merely performing what she thinks a great singer should be. It comes as no surprise that she competed on America’s Got Talent at the age of 11. Yes, she does have massive talent, but it’s too raw and too overly-polished at the same time.
Cade Foener: Cade has everything together. The enviable style and swagger. The rocker hair. The passionate guitar playing. The vocal strain that gives his performances a gritty air of authenticity. Cade’s experience fronting a rock band certainly gives him a step up from his fellow contestants, but I’m just not energized by his performances.
Catie Turner: The very first audition of this American Idol revival featured a fresh-faced Catie Turner and we have been force-fed her self-proclaimed awkward antics ever since. The juxtaposition of her mature vocals and idiosyncratic personality was barely interesting the first time, and has now become tiresome. Her over-exposure has never charmed me. I give up, Idol producers; I have Catie fatigue. I’m done.
Garrett Jacobs: WHY? Why on Earth is Garrett in this competition? He’s been called a “heartthrob” over and over by the judges, but don’t we already have Jonny and Cade? Each person in the Top 14 brings something different to the table, while Garrett offers up… what, exactly? Messy-to-decent vocals? The ability to hold a guitar? Garrett had the worst performance of the Top 24, and yet he advanced over the talented Alyssa Raghu, Effie Passero, AND Shannon O’Hara? I demand a recount.