When Caleb Lee Hutchinson took the stage Sunday for week two of American Idol’s top 24 rounds, viewers probably noticed something different about the 19-year-old country singer. Caleb has lost a whopping 70 pounds since his audition, and while he always looked and sounded like a Nashville star, at any size, he exhibited a newfound swagger as he crooned Thomas Rhett’s sexy love ballad, “Die A Happy Man.” His confident performance felt as if it should have been airing on the ACM Awards over on CBS.
Host Ryan Seacrest asked about Caleb’s new look, to which Caleb laughingly responded, “I just thought, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if, like, I drank water and walked every night?’ The more the Instagram picture-likes went up, the more I wanted to hit the treadmill.’”
Caleb has hit the ground running this Idol season, figuratively speaking. From his first audition, his super-deep voice earned comparisons to Season 10 winner Scotty McCreery, and this week, mentor Bobby Bones invited Scotty to surprise Caleb. It felt like a torch-passing moment. However, when Caleb performed Sunday, he didn’t sound like a Scotty impersonator: “That voice, when you open your mouth, it’s crystal-clear identity the first time you hit the note,” Lionel Richie said.
Below are the other performances of the night.
Amelia Hammer Harris, “Believer”
I’m surprised that the judges, particularly Katy Perry, claim this rock ‘n’ soul diva lacks the substance to go with her stylish surface. Yes, Amelia has cool baby bangs and looks good in leather pants, but she’s also a fierce performer: the total package. There was no personality lacking during her fiery Imagine Dragons cover. Katy gave another oddly apathetic critique, and Luke Bryan thought Amelia struggled to find her footing. Only the “fascinated” Lionel overtly praised her. I’m Team Lionel on this one. I’m a believer in Amelia.
Garrett Jacobs, “Treat You Better”
Garrett actually does lack personality; I spent much of Hollywood Week confusing him with several other WGWGs, and his cringeworthy dancing didn’t help him differentiate himself. Neither did this tired Shawn Mendes song. Garrett’s performance felt very safe, and his one risk — a shrill high note — hardly paid off. “Garrett, you’re not the best singer, but man, you are such a doggone heartthrob,” said a backhanded-complimenting Luke. This time I understood the judges’ disdain.
Maddie Poppe, “Brand New Key”
Maddie revealed that she’s insecure about her abilities, but she’s such a natural. Her yodely Melanie cover was playful and charming, and her down-home demeanor reminded me of Crystal Bowersox. While Garrett was trying way too hard and even Amelia noticeably pushed herself, Maddie was effervescent and effortless. “You are here for that moment, right then,” Luke assured her.
Ada Vox, “Feeling Good”
This dramatic Nina Simone ballad has cursed several Idol contestants (it even landed Adam Lambert in the bottom two once!) but it was the perfect pick for this torch-singing drag queen. I’d happily pay good money to see Ada do a set like this in Vegas; it was pure theater. Brought to her knees — literally — Katy raved, “You are here to win!” I’m feeling good about Ada’s chances right now.
Effie Passero, “Barracuda”
The moment I heard the chugging chords of this Heart blitzkrieg, I just knew Effie, with her massive range, would do Ann Wilson justice. Katy may have underestimated Effie’s mighty lung power, however, judging by her startled, instantly GIF-able reaction. Effie slayed this. Her tendency to crank everything to 11 may sometimes be problematic, but not in this case. “You just sang Ann Wilson better than Ann Wilson,” Luke marveled.
Alyssa Raghu, “Stay”
This shy 16-year-old slightly emerged from her shell this week, thanks to Bobby making her do a catwalk exercise to RuPaul’s “Supermodel.” But she has a ways to go before she has a drag queen-sized persona like Ada. That being said, there was no finding fault with her pristine, prodigy-level vocals. The girl has potential. “You didn’t have me until tonight,” admitted Luke.
Marcio Donaldson, “Inseparable”
This was an old-fashioned performance, very Season 2, but Marcio’s interpretation of Natalie Cole’s adult-contemporary ballad was tasteful and polished. I’m just not convinced he’s a star. The judges, however, needed no convincing: They gave Marcio a standing ovation and even hopped onstage for a teary group hug. Lionel told him, “I knew Natalie, and Natalie was watching you on that song, my friend.”
Mara Justine, “Run to You”
Mara hasn’t gotten as much screentime as Catie Turner, but she’s nearly as kooky. Bobby even spent their entire mentor session just trying to get her wild “hairography” in check! So I was surprised that she took on Whitney Houston rather than something edgier. However, Mara sang her face off. I mean that almost literally — she kept her “hair-pops” to a minimum, but her exaggerated facial mugging was borderline-distracting. In the end, though this was a performance that left the judges “spellbound.”
Katy broke out her stunned GIF-face during the first few notes of Jessie J’s empowerment anthem — which Jurnee belted passionately and confidently, like she’d written the lyrics herself. This was a tour de force, even if Lionel craved more attitude. “That was so beautiful and so effortless — you can sing circles around everyone,” Katy gushed.
Shannon O’Hara, “All I Ask”
Shannon was 17-going-on-70 during Adele’s fusty 25 ballad. On the one hand, her maturity and poise was admirable. But I agreed with Bobby: This teen needs to have a little fun! I fear her somber personality will make it hard for her to connect with viewers, even though she possesses the pipes. She might be better off moving back to piano, but the judges praised her growth this season. “You don’t need to pick anything faster or slower, you just need to be you,” said Katy.
Ron Bultongez, “Dancing on My Own”
Bobby told Ron to lighten up, but Ron’s unsmiling attitude was perfect for the Kings of Leon version of Robyn’s five-hanky classic. There was pain and pathos in every fragile, heartbreaking note. “I’m feelin’ some hurt, and I can feel the pain. … Once fans latch onto you, they just want to feel that emotion that you’re able to put out there,” Luke said. If Ron keeps choosing songs like this, he will be fine.
Tomorrow these 12 contestants will take the stage for all-star duets (Caleb is teaming with Florida Georgia Line collaborator Bebe Rexha) — and five of them will be eliminated. Caleb, the only male country contestant among the top 24, isn’t likely to be among those five. See you then.
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