American Idol Season 15, Episode 19 Recap: Sad World

How could they have saved the top five’s (mostly) riveting sob stories until tonight? They are my lifeblood! My reason for tuning into “reality”! Normally, Idol would have trotted out rare heart conditions and dead BFFs ages ago. It’s almost like they don’t even care anymore. WHOA. (Obviously.)

The contestants’ backstories weren’t the only things to shine in the spotlight Thursday. Resplendent in white leather, season 8 runner-up Adam Lambert hit the stage to belt out “Mad World” as only he can, plus his new single “Welcome to the Show” — spoiler alert: the show is his life — in collaboration with Swedish singer Laleh. Then there was J.Lo, who luminously redefined the term “stretch material” via an absurd, skintight, rainbow-sequined bodysuit. No belt. Just her. When she stood up, throttling with tears for La Porsha, it was like a beautiful bottle of sand art had just been flung into the sparkling sea. So much drama! But no more, no more. Just three weeks left.

Here’s how I ranked the top five:

5. Sonika Vaid
She landed at the bottom of the viewer vote for the second week in a row, and her sob story was by far the weakest of the night: a lifetime of shyness. Psssssh. Please. I barely frowned. Her biggest and, at this point, only asset is a crystal-clear voice best suited for big, sweeping ballads. So her recent effort to flip the switch and showcase a darker side of her personality that doesn’t exist is misguided at best, and fraudulent at worst. I did enjoy the tinfoil-esque evening gown on one side, miniskirt on the other situation she had going on during her cover of Demi Lovato’s “Let It Go.” What is that called? High-low? I should know. Anyway, it was a lot like the song. Sonika’s second-round effort, “Clarity” by Zedd featuring Foxes, was a complete mess. Her hair looked incredible, though.
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4. Dalton Rapattoni
Much like that last paragraph, Dalton is bipolar! It’s no surprise; it’s just so unlike Idol not to have milked it. The judges’ insistence that this blue-eyed hair-monster “Daltonize” every song is patently absurd, as if billions of other contestants haven’t been way better at rearranging tunes to their own liking. His voice is just not that great, and that’s hard to escape in what is technically still a singing competition. I played right into the producers’ games and developed a soft spot for Mr. Guyliner after the round two package about his bipolar diagnosis at the tender age of 9, specifically the part about getting a guitar for Christmas and finally having something to love instead of living exclusively in a world of pain. Suddenly, for at least a solid minute, Dalton was a poetic genius, as if he’d composed Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” himself. He was a neon god we’d created in our minds, a vision softly creeping through our restless dream that American Idol was still on television. But then he plopped down cross-legged on stage at the end and totally killed the vibe. Just like Idol. For a few seconds, at least, I liked him. Also, I’m pretty sure his grandma almost declared Dalton “America’s Next…Top Model” before she caught herself and said “Idol” in his hometown package, and that sits very well with me.

3. MacKenzie Bourg
In round one (songs picked by fans, a.k.a. dummy Twitter accounts so production could reuse previously licensed tracks), MacKenzie bopped convincingly through the crowd on Cat Stevens’ “Wild World,” and it was pleasant but kind of ugh, high school. But THEN we learned that he ALMOST DIED junior year from a rare heart virus that required a transplant. Music inspired the former basketball star to dig out of a funk and fully heal. “Being so close to dying was the best thing that could have happened to me.” It looks so wrong on the screen, but it felt so right out loud! As the string bean guitar hero launched into a stripped-down acoustic version of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” I recoiled a bit. Would he measure up to David Cook? And more importantly: Would I really still be loving the hell out of this if I hadn’t just been made aware of his congestive heart failure?! Agh! But I can’t question it. It’s okay. I like this nerd a lot more now, and that’s not the end of the wild world, not even close.

2. Trent Harmon
This might be, though: Trent’s best friend Daniel DID DIE, the day after Trent received a guitar they’d built together. It just sat in the corner of his bedroom haunting him for a couple years before he decided to live, damnit, and audition for The Great American Idol Burnoff. “Every time I step on the stage, even just for a second, I think about him,” Trent said. Then interestingly, he didn’t play guitar on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man.” I was put off at first — how would I ride out my ideal post-sob story experience without the key artifact from the narrative? I had a lot more crying to do! But ultimately, the lyrics did more than enough to encourage continued waterworks. “Don’t forget that there’s someone up above…” etc. According to J.Lo’s wishes, Trent’s latest style reflected his down-home roots: printed shirt, cowboy hat, sparkly bolo tie-shaped necklace. You know, normal farm wear. Jenny got emotional — “Damn, I’ve been so lucky, the five years I’ve got to be on this show” — and for a few glorious seconds, she and Trent were co-crying. It was the best. “Thank you, thank you for giving me one of those moments.” Same, girl. Same.
1. La Porsha Renae
Her power cannot be denied! In a loud, patterned caftan, the “Earth mother” poured her whole soul (or maybe it was the pink and purple smoke machine working overtime) into India.Arie’s “Ready for Love,” captivating Keith Urban so hard that he felt less like a lofty judge-god and more like a human being. So that’s huge. Later, the use of Sia’s “Breathe Me” during her intro package drove me to tears before La Porsha even explained how she escaped an abusive relationship to go live in a shelter with her baby daughter. Her admission of feeling “lower than dirt” was very Six Feet Under finale-esque. La Porsha rose from the ashes and into the light just like Claire Fisher driving away from the funeral home! The best part of this montage was when Sia sang “wrap me up” and La Porsha was just chilling on the steps of a trailer draped in a fur blanket. Her cover of Mary J. Blige’s “No More Drama” was jumpy and frenetic, but the message was so on point (“No one’s gonna make me hurt”) that it didn’t matter. She’s on an entirely different level than anyone there, and the fact that she didn’t even recognize or believe in herself a year ago is like an extra layer of fur on the princess cake.
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The top five will all get new life breathed into them by next week’s guest mentor, Sia herself! Wear a chandelier wig or GTFO.
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