April Fools' Day! Chris Harrison is the ‘new host’ of ‘American Idol’

Lyndsey Parker

It was a shocker during Sunday’s cold open of American Idol when viewers heard the familiar voice of Chris Harrison — host of another popular ABC reality show, The Bachelor — instead of Ryan Seacrest’s. Was “Seacrest out” for real? Had he been fired because of the sexual misconduct allegations that have dogged him for months? Was it time for him to take a moment and say his goodbyes?

April fool! Nope, for better or worse, Ryan is still on Idol. (And let’s face it: If he were to leave, his job ought to go to Brian Dunkleman.) I have to admit, this was a pretty effective prank, as well as a genius bit of cross-show promotion.

Unfortunately, as Hollywood Week came to a close Sunday with a lightning round of solo performances, quite a few promising contestants had to depart for real. And there was no Arie Luyendyk Jr.-inspired, Becca/Lauren-style bonus episode to undo the judges’ decisions. Among Sunday’s cuts were Crystal Alicea (ironically, the girl who’d nicely volunteered to quit last week), firecracker Gabbii Jones, and WGWG Brandon Elder.

With 76 contestants slashed to 50, Sunday was tough — but Monday’s eliminations (when the top 50 become the top 24) will be no joke. I’m definitely worried for some contestants dealing with nerves (Dennis Lorenzo, Noah Davis, Shannon O’Hara, Maddie Zahm, Ron Bultongez), or whose voices were already showing signs of wear and tear (Laine Hardy, Jonny Brenns, Garrett Jacobs, Michelle Sussett — although Michelle compensated for her vocal issues with some awesome moonwalking).

But many Sunday performances very deserving of a final rose, so to speak. Below were my favorites, starting with a batch of surprisingly strong originals.

Harper Grace, “Rest in Peace”
After auditioning with her own song “Yard Sale,” this spunky 16-year-old returned with a self-penned ode to her two-timing ex. (Move over, Taylor Swift!) This was quite deep, and quite harsh, for someone so young. Doing an unknown, untested tune can be a risk, but as judge Luke Bryan put it, “She did an original that did not harm her.”

Catie Turner, “Pity”
The quirky contestant whom Luke called “the unique of the unique” followed up her sassy audition original, “21st Century Machine,” with another feminist anthem about “fragile masculinity,” dedicated to a boy who told her women belong in the kitchen. Clearly, this not-at-all-fragile woman belongs on the stage. Her song had a playful Cali-girl vibe (think Carly Simon, Linda Ronstadt, Hotel Café-era Katy Perry), and while it may not be the sort of fare that would earn viewers’ votes, I admire Catie for saying, “If I’m going out, I’m going out with no regrets.”

Maddie Poppe, “Don’t Ever Let Your Children Grow Up”
Maddie is my favorite female contestant this season, with her sweet-but-smoky, husky-but-honeyed voice. And her folksy lament about the dangers lurking for the young generation (body shaming, online trolling, addiction) had me and judge Katy reaching for the tissues. This was magic.

Effie Passero, “Alone”
Effie oversang during her audition, but Sunday’s power ballad was the perfect fit for her massive, Wilson-sisterly voice. This is the Heart song that put Carrie Underwood on the Idol map, and it might do the same for Effie.

Amelia Hammer Harris, “Feel it Still”
The daughter of ‘50s songwriter Jack Hammer put a bluesy/burlesque spin on this hit from Portugal. The Man in one of the most creative, outside-the-box performances of the night. (Side note: We finally got to see a glimpse of her fellow contestant and rumored boyfriend, Taylor John Williams — a top five finalist from The Voice Season 7 who has received zero airtime this Idol season!)

Taylor John Williams chatting with Amelia Hammer Harris during “American Idol” rehearsals. (Photo: ABC)

Cade Foehner, “Feel It Still”
The likable longhair, who could be this season’s Casey James, also covered Portugal. The Man’s tune, but his growly version was more Black Crowes-meet-Black Keys. Luke actually compared him to Robert Plant. Cade rocked so hard, Katy threw up horns in salute. (Side note: A lot of contestants were singing the same song tonight. Did Idol trim its song-clearance budget?)

Ron Bultongez, “Home”
The Congo immigrant’s trembling, trebly take on Phillip Phillips’s coronation song “wasn’t perfect,” as Katy noted, but the tune had such personal meaning for him that it was impossible not to connect with his performance. He broke down in tears as he left the stage. If Ron can channel that emotion, he could go far.

Britney Holmes, “Dive”
Britney’s the girl who was initially rejected but then voted through by America via a promotional stunt during last year’s American Music Awards. I don’t understand how she never got a golden ticket in the first place. Her powerful, paint-peeling Ed Sheeran cover had the (surely regretful) judges hooting and hollering.

Thaddeus Johnson, “Rise”
This was one contestant who did not let nerves get the better of him, even though he was singing Katy’s Olympics theme right in front of her. This was a gold medal performance, for sure — epic and evangelical. “That’s how you do my song. … That was amazing,” raved Katy.

Caleb Lee Hutchinson, “Your Man”
The fresh-faced country kid sang the Josh Turner hit in almost a lower range that Scotty McCreery ever did! His “recordable voice” was on full, glorious display.

Michael J. Woodward, “Maybe This Time”
Katy declared “a star was born” after she heard this, and she wasn’t exaggerating. Michael’s Cabaret tour de the force was the work of a true Broadway baby. His voice was timeless and full of personality and charm, he masterfully built the song to its crescendo, and this was such a 180 from his “Make It Rain” audition, so he also showcased his versatility. Katy gave Michael an enthusiastic (and deserved) standing ovation, literally tossing her chair aside. He’s a shoo-in for the top 50, which will be announced Monday.

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