'American Idol' recap: Top 20 perform from remote locations with Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie judging through videochat
By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 04/27/2020
American Idol featured the Top 20 contestants performing from remote locations across the United States, and even touching down in Canada, during Sunday night's Season 18 broadcast on ABC.
Ryan Seacrest hosted American Idol from his home in Los Angeles, CA, and he revealed the show would be broadcasting from a total of 25 locations in order to protect the cast and others from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The 20 singers were sent special packages at their performance locations containing several iPhones for multiple video angles as well as professional microphone and lighting kits to convert their homes, yards or patios into makeshift performance venues.
The Top 20 contestants sang for home-viewer votes, with the help of the American Idol band, and received feedback from Idol judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie, who also checked in via videochat from what appeared to be the comforts of their own homes.
Katy of course provided a few laughs by dressing as a giant bottle of hand sanitizer.
Kimmy Gabriela, a 17-year-old high school student from Lakeland, FL, kicked off the show with "Leave Me Lonely" by Ariana Grande featuring Macy Gray, and Katy said, "Wow!"
Katy told Kimmy she had done "a little character evolution" since Hawaii when taking into account the singer's style. Katy could tell she's evolving as an artist "presentationally."
Luke complimented how Kimmy "navigates the notes," and he called her "a world-class singer" with "a memorable performance." And Lionel appreciated Kimmy's attitude and how she had acted out her feelings and emotions through facial expressions and body language.
Jovin Webb, a 29-year-old musician from Gonzales, LA, sang "With a Little Help From My Friends" by Joe Cocker from Baton Rouge.
Luke told Jovin that his voice has the power to stop people in their tracks and his talent is "endearing," and Lionel pointed out Jovin has "instant identity" and a unique sound that he delivers with feeling.
And Katy added that Jovin has "texture galore" in his voice and had managed to separate himself from the competition although everyone was using the same equipment.
Franklin Boone, a 27-year-old music teacher from Durham, NC, impressed with "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" by Tears for Fears from his living room.
Luke was jumping out of his chair with excitement, and Lionel said he loves Franklin's voice and how he delivered that tune.
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"You were true to yourself. Your look, your voice and your presentation was right on point. I loved it," Lionel said.
Katy said Franklin's performance brought her to tears and Franklin clearly has a gift, and Luke noted he had "chill bumps" that stayed with him the whole time Franklin sang.
"It was emotional... Definitely Top 10-worthy, America," Luke told home viewers.
Olivia Ximines, a 17-year-old high school student from Menifee, CA, belted out "Bad Guy" by Billie Eilish from her living room.
Katy told Olivia that she loved hearing the quality of her voice and how much it's grown. Katy felt she had gotten to know a different side of Olivia.
Luke praised Olivia on executing a great show and allowing him to have fun, and Lionel gushed about how Olivia has everything it takes to become a superstar.
Louis Knight, a 19-year-old pizza delivery guy from Philadelphia, PA, serenaded America with a performance of "If the World Was Ending" by JP Saxe featuring Julia Michaels from his bedroom.
Luke said he loved Louis' song choice because it really gave listeners a real glimpse of whom he can be as an artist, and he dubbed the performance "artist" and "beautifully done."
After Luke mentioned he was proud, Lionel called his voice "stellar" and said his falsetto was "absolutely incredible."
Lionel clearly loved Louis' vocals, and Katy agreed the singer was "on point" and he had intimate moments. However, Katy gave Louis some constructive criticism by suggesting he should refrain from singing out of his nose and delivering a nasal sound.
Makayla Phillips, a 17-year-old high school student from Temecula, CA, sang "Greedy" by Ariana Grande from her family's home.
Lionel wished they could send all 20 contestants through to the next round, and he complimented Makayla's growth.
"Now that was as professional as it's ever going to be. And just think about it -- this is the start of your career," Lionel gushed. "I loved every moment of that performance."
Katy said Makayla looked so natural performing and she could see herself in Makayla. Katy thought the song was a good choice but she should push herself and try to pull at America's heartstrings.
Luke said he enjoyed the youthfulness and the fun of the song and noted Makayla's starpower had shown through, but he advised Makayla to over-animate her high notes since she makes singing like that appear so effortless and easy.
Aliana Jester, a 19-year-old server from Tampa, FL, was up next and performed Whitney Houston's "Run to You" in a garage.
Katy noted Whitney's song is so difficult and she probably wouldn't have been able to sing it as well as Aliana just did, but the judge asked Aliana to lean into her songs a little more.
Luke predicted America was going to pull for Aliana, and Lionel said she pulled the performance off and made him forget about Whitney. Lionel was proud of the singer for making an iconic song her own.
Faith Becnel, a 20-year-old server from Destrehan, LA, sang "River" by Bishop Briggs in a garage as well.
Lionel asked her to stare the camera down sometimes, but Luke said that was his favorite rendition of the song ever. Katy was happy to hear Faith finally belt a song like that and use a little less vibrato in her execution.
Nick Merico, a 24-year-old server from Woodland Hills, CA, sang "Hey There Delilah" by The Plain White T's from his apartment.
Katy dubbed the performance "amazing," and Lionel couldn't believe the amount of talent they have on the show this season. Luke asked Nick to "dig in a little more," but he liked to see the singer stripped down at his piano.
Katy also complimented Nick on the subtleties in his voice, saying that was one of his best performances yet.
Lauren Spencer-Smith, a 16-year-old high school student from Vancouver Island, Canada, then performed "Mamma Knows Best" by Jessie J from a deck with a lake view.
Katy told Lauren she sounded amazing and was continuing to grow as a star, both in appearance and voice, and Luke called her voice "amazing."
Lionel applauded Lauren on bringing attitude to the table and singing an unbelievable vocal.
Cyniah Elise, an 18-year-old high school student from Atlanta, GA, belted out "Warrior" by Demi Lovato.
Lionel stood up on his feet for the vocalist from his home and he was yelling out, "That was crazy!"
Luke had "a stanky Luke face" on him that showed Cyniah had killed it.
"Cyniah, you are one of the best singers in the competition, but we still have to focus on really, really making people connect with what you're doing," Luke noted. "That was a great song choice... The sky is the limit."
Lionel added Cyniah made it look so effortless and she has "the voice of life."
Katy advised Cyniah to work the camera and do a little more work, but it was clear the judge loved her performance.
Francisco Martin, a 19-year-old college student from San Francisco, CA, impressed with a unique rendition of Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream" on his guitar from Daly City.
"What a dice roll to do that song! Good for you because it really worked!" Katy gushed, although she would've liked to see Francisco come back down in his vocals at some point.
After Katy admitted she was being over-critical, probably since it was her own song, Luke pointed out Francisco had made the song his own and "has the magic."
"I'm jealous!" Luke shouted.
Luke said it was warming to watch Francisco take a chance and succeed in making a hit song his own. Ryan even felt the need to call Francisco so kind and "humble."
Sophia Wackerman, a 20-year-old college student from Long Beach, CA, who called herself Sophia James on this episode, sang "Burning" by Maggie Rogers.
Katy told Sophia she's constantly evolving into a better version of herself and she's so talented and the song was "pleasing to hear."
Luke dubbed Sophia "sneaky good" and sneaky with her talents, but he advised her to connect with the cameras more rather than looking down at the piano while she plays the keys.
Lionel said Sophia has the ability to melt hearts, and Katy noted one of her runs was "crazy" good.
DeWayne Crocker Jr., a 23-year-old worship leader from Pensacola, FL, performed "I Got You (I Feel Good)" by JAmes Brown in his living room in Castle Rock, CO.
Katy spun in her chair with excitment, and Luke said he had a really, really impressive run at the end. Luke thought some parts were "a little too slick" but he certainly showed his talent.
Lionel admitted he was looking for "the growl" in DeWayne's voice but his run at the end was remarkable, and Katy agreed she needed to hear more growl, grit and dirt in his voice in order to really connect with the song.
Dillon James, a 26-year-old construction worker from Bakersfield, CA, then put his spin on "Let It Be Me" by Ray Lamontagne in an outdoors performance.
Lionel told Dillon he looks and sounds like a world-class artist and his performance was totally "believable." Lionel said it was hard to believe Dillon didn't have records out already.
Luke praised Dillon's talent and instructed him to make music and put out records, and Katy said making the Top 10 could be his future and his dreams were in his own hands.
Arthur Gunn, a 21-year-old musician from Wichita, KS, belted out "Lovin' Machine" by Wynonie Harris on his deck.
Katy told Arthur he had given listeners "such a vibe" but needed to connect with his eyes, and Lionel pointed out his shyness was his secret weapon. Luke added Arthur can be "a gianormous star" and catch on like a wildfire.
Julia Gargano, a 21-year-old college student from Staten Island, NY, performed Christina Perri's "Human" on the piano.
Luke loved hearing the nuiannces in her voice, saying he could hear how truly great she is. Luke said five superstars just performed one after the next and his brain was "scrambled."
Lionel thought it was an "amazing performance" in Julia's style. He appreciated that Julia stayed in her wheelhouse, and Katy admitted she had believed in the singer from the start.
"Way to just deliver, like, a beautiful performance," Katy noted.
Grace Leer, a 28-year-old in technology sales from Nashville, TN, was up next and chose to sing "Cry" by Faith Hill from an outdoor patio in California.
"Wow," Katy responded.
"We're not finding singers. We are discovering true artists," Lionel bragged, adding that he was so proud of Grace for rising to the occasion.
Katy told Grace she really played with the dynamics of the song and loved how big it got at the end. Katy figured Grace could become a big country star.
Luke wasn't convinced Grace owned her performance from the beginning to the end, but he said she spoiled them at the end of the song with her big, powerful voice.
Just Sam, a 21-year-old subway singer from Harlem, NY, decided to stay in California for her performance and sang "I Believe" by Fantasia Barrino.
Katy told Just Sam that she looked amazing and the judges were so proud of her. Katy said she couldn't wait to see Just Sam flourish even beyond American Idol, and Luke said she owned "every aspect of [her] range from top to bottom."
Lionel apparently starts crying every time he sees Just Sam, and he called her "an inspirational figure." Lionel was glad Just Sam let nothing stand in her way of her dreams.
And finally, Jonny West, a 23-year-old piano teacher from Murietta, CA, sat at the piano and performed Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World."
Katy said the judges "were not worthy" to hear him perform, and Luke told the artist he can take his career wherever he'd like to take it, maybe even to making movie soundtracks. Luke asked him not to stop his music journey no matter what happens.
Lionel told Jonny he's a writer with vocal chops and a "vocal arsenal."
Katy said his performance was moving and emotional, adding that he had one of her "Top 2 favorite performances from the day."
Unfortunately, the Top 20 will be cut in half and become the Top 10 contestants next week based on America's votes.
The theme of American Idol's next broadcast will be the Top 10 contestants singing songs that remind them of home since they will all be singing in their respective homes.