American Idol Top 24, Live Voting: The Complete Rankings, From Yawn To YASSSS

Photo: Michael Becker/Fox.
“It does NOT feel like it was just yesterday,” 2003 champ Ruben Studdard admitted on Thursday’s Great American Idol Burnoff. The heart and soul of season 2 — now featuring the “tightest mustache” Ryan Seacrest’s ever seen — joined all-stars Fantasia Barrino, Scotty McCreery, Lauren Alaina, Caleb Johnson, and Nick Fradiani to mentor and duet with the season 15 semifinalists.

I like the reunion idea in general, because it very clearly shows who’s ready to be a professional or at least fake it ’til they make it starting today. It’s certainly a generous showcase for the returning Idols, who still have a lot to prove…provided anyone’s watching. (IS anyone watching? Don’t answer that. I knew you wouldn’t.)

Still, all of the contestants could have used a few more live solo performances before facing off against LIVING LEGENDS. So in the ghastly spirit of the entire farewell season, the situation felt way too rushed. What’s really sad is that the duets seemed to have no real bearing on either the judges’ lukewarm comments or their decisions on who should sail through to the top 14. It’s very clear the producers had their favorites and those kids were safe.

So it’s an unceremonious goodbye to Jordan Sasser, Jenna Renae, Stephany Negrete, James VIII, and Emily Brooke. Here’s my ranking of the seven moving on, from Yawn to Yaaaaas!

Gianna Isabella and Nick Fradiani, “Beautiful Life” No. No! How could anyone consider either of these two a “standout” with a straight face? The 15-year-old sounded erratic and the season 14 winner sounded forgettable. Which is worse? THIS! This is what American Idol has come to.

Jeneve Rose Mitchell and Scotty McCreery, “Gone” Little Scotty became a big ol’ man, y’all. The season 10 winner always sounded like a man, of course, even when he was 17 and probably when he was 5. Idol’s prize cowboy couldn’t have been kinder to blushing bale of hay Jeneve, but their Montgomery Gentry cover was a hot mess of googly eyes and awkward jigs. He upstaged her so completely that I stopped wishing she’d turn invisible. So that’s fun, I guess. “Some rare talent right there,” monotoned Seacrest.

Thomas Stringfellow and Nick Fradiani, “Man in the Mirror” How very peculiar that the kid with the annoying hiccup patterns during Wednesday night’s “Creep” would get to sing a Michael Jackson classic dependent on hiccups to sell it! Obviously I’m not buying him either way, but Harry Connick Jr. longed for more of the “phenomenal” originality Thomas had displayed during Wednesday’s solo. White suspenders and crazy, poufed-up hair on a string bean must be more manipulative than I thought.

Sonika Vaid and Caleb Johnson, “Skyfall” Bless season 13 winner Caleb Johnson for not guffawing when Sonika named “relatives’ weddings and school” as her biggest live venues so far. The Adele tune could have worked for either them individually, but the chorus was way too low for Sonika, and they just made zero sense as a couple. On the plus side, watching Sonika’s stage fright transmute into tentative power alongside the Jack Black-iest Idol contestant ever was enough of a thrill to make it bearable.

Avalon Young and Ruben Studdard, “Flying Without Wings” The wise teddy bear’s advice to the 21-year-old? Just have fun. “I’m my own Paula Abdul,” Ruben giggled. Bonus throwback! The Luther Vandross sound-alike is a goddamn national treasure. His favorite spiritual anthem did not suit a contestant as grounded as Avalon, but at least she was an active participant instead of a freaked-out fan during their duet. Harry remarked that Avalon’s voice is sort of a nice surprise tacked onto her likability. That kind of sounds like a “Goodbye… soon” to me on a singing show, but what do I know? The timeline still makes no sense to me. And I can’t even vote!

MacKenzie Bourg and Lauren Alaina, “I Hope You Dance” The season 10 runner-up has that “I’M GONNA GET WHAT I WANT!” type of bossiness that looks terrible on a 16-year-old but totally works on a legitimate adult firecracker. I’m beyond impressed with her stage presence, even if her behind-the-scenes flirting made me as squeamish as shy guy MacKenzie. This song did absolutely nothing for him. Are we sensing a theme yet? “Sweet duet, but I’m thankful for last night,” said Harry on autopilot.

La Porsha Renae and Fantasia Barrino, “Summertime” Hearing Fantasia’s drooly drawl was a blessing in itself, and so was this over-the-top battle of runs, but the ladies’ “We’re the same!” bonding session about going through a divorce from an abusive relationship was what really drew me in. It takes a special kind of person to make me well up with tears as she strokes her own ego. “I get a rush off of others’ gifts!” Fantasia boiled over, while La Porsha held her own as the drama student: “I used to sing like I knew what I was doing, and now I sing like I know why.”

See you next week, when the other top 12 finally show up at the shotgun wedding of the century!

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