American Idol Season 15, Episode 17 Recap: Demi Lovato & The Top 8!

Photo: Ray Mickshaw/FOX.
Surprise! The judges get to decide who goes home, not you. That’s so cute that you thought it’d be you, though. Truly. Adorable. Now, lean into your TV and let J.Lo squeeze the life out of your face. Only if you’re 15, though, because otherwise? Woof.

We’re back to the cruel and unusual episode style in which the bottom three aren’t announced until the end of the show, and everyone else has to hike breathlessly up an extra pile of nerves to perform mere moments after being announced as safe. This is downright unhealthy for everyone involved: my ears, their vocal chords, their parents’ hearts, etc. You’d think the show would want its final stable of show ponies to neigh as well as possible, but at this point, Idol seems to be doing everything in its power to turn viewers away. I guess they figure if no one is watching by the beginning of April, they can save a bunch of cash and just screw the finale?

After a last-minute triple sing-off among Avalon Young, Olivia Rox, and Gianna Isabella, it’s an early goodbye Olivia and Gianna. The former showed more vocal maturity, plus I could have sworn she was a shoo-in and would win it all; the latter was inconsistent, wore too many jumpsuits, and deserved to go.

Here’s how I ranked the top eight, from annoying to angelic:
Photo: Ray Mickshaw/FOX.
Dalton Rapattoni, Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” Singing first is always a blow to the ego, so imagine how much it must have hurt Dalton, who is “always very self-deprecating.” Dude, you can’t just announce that you’re self-deprecating. It’s an unspoken way of life. I almost cut this yappy trend monster some slack because he’s only 20, but that’s like 72 in Idol years so nah, he should know better. Nothing about his turquoise-smoke-filled stage bouncing grabbed me, and the song seemed way too low for him. Harry Connick Jr. felt Dalton wasn’t as present as usual, citing “a certain electricity I didn’t feel tonight. Interesting, right?” Not really.
Lee Jean, Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody” There’s a fire burning in Lee’s heart now that he’s been compared to the other twerpy singer-songwriter in the competition, MacKenzie Bourg. Blasphemy! “I’m not a carbon copy of anyone,” Lee insisted. To prove it, he sang a little louder than usual (still not that well) and yanked the mic off the stand to run around a bit, which is very un-MacKenzie, to be honest. All the neon sparks in the background made it seem like Lee was starring in a mid-2000s iPod commercial, which was fun for a few seconds. Other than that, I’m not sure why he’s there.

Sonika Vaid, Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” Now I’m just mad at the producers who prompt these kids to keep oversharing dumb shit: After last week’s knockout Evanescence cover, Sonika’s now decided she’s all in on the “angsty badass alter ego” that worked well for her one time. This is her new personality. Everyone needs at least two. Sadly, she lost that elusive edge and spent this week’s performance grasping for it and awkwardly tossing her hair. Keith Urban wanted “more angry girlfriend.”

MacKenzie Bourg, Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” I would never knock this song choice because HELLO (although he certainly could’ve held out for next week’s overplayed-on-Idol theme night), but I had hoped along with the judges that MacKenzie would switch up the arrangement a bit more and take the uptempo pop hit fully acoustic. I could not stand the gasping O-faces he made after every line of the first verse. “Were you dedicating that song to someone female?” Ryan Seacrest inquired. Yep, it’s his grandma, who’s in the hospital and getting all the nurses to vote for him. “Nonna, I love you!” he squeaked. Well, that’s it. He just won.

Tristan McIntosh, Vince Gill’s “Go Rest High on That Mountain” At first I was appalled that she was safe considering her spotty past performances, but this week’s piano-driven ‘90s hit was just the ticket for the gawky but gorgeous 15-year-old. Sitting in one place helped her concentrate exclusively on vocals, and whew! There’s a reason she’s still around. Girl can sing. I do find it a bit odd that she keeps dedicating songs about death to family members who are still alive (her mom, now her grandpa), but I should probably just focus on her pretty, pretty hair.

Avalon Young, The Weeknd’s “Earned It” She couldn’t have picked a better song to save herself and convince the judges she’s the one who deserves it, earned it, is worth it, etc. Not too many contestants can make up-close-and-personal “stool time” work for them, but there’s a fluidity about Avalon’s delivery in this comfort zone that keeps me interested (even if I’m supposed to be focusing on her totes unlikely makeup).

Trent Harmon, Michael Bolton’s “When a Man Loves a Woman” Slick suit, Trent! And no cowboy hat? He’s like a cuter, younger Michael Bublé you don’t secretly want to smother. I’ve watched this a few times now, and aside from the amazing build he created to hit that high note at the end, I think I’m most blown away by how likable this country boy is. And his apparently obnoxious face-pulling habit did not bother me before; I found it endearing. If anyone, MacKenzie’s the one who needs to sing in the mirror and study his own tics (which seems horrifying, but maybe isn’t if you’re talented?).

La Porsha Renae, Beyoncé’s “Halo” She changed the words to “Idol I can feel your halo…” and it was just the ticket to tear-land I needed, because coming from a voice as big as hers, American Idol still does loom as a triumphant/nostalgic behemoth that should never fade away. (Then the song ended; back to reality. Bummer.) As great as Trent was tonight, La Porsha’s still in a league of her own, a fact most clearly evidenced by the thousands of fairy godmother sparkles that whooshed up around her during another showstopper by another diva you do not want to cover unless you know you have the chops. Having been blessed by her highness Kelly Clarkson last week, La Porsha could be invincible. Her afro’s got a name, by the way. It’s Kokomo.
Next week’s theme is “The Most Performed Songs in Idol History.” So it’s true — they want zero people to watch. I knew it!

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