Yo! ‘Idol’ raps: Jurnee makes history on top 14 show

Lyndsey Parker

I always knew Jurnee, a top 14 powerhouse on American Idol, was talented. However, I didn’t know she could channel Jessie J, Ariana Grande, and — most impressively, Nicki Minaj — during a single performance. But Jurnee did just that on the first live, public-voted episode of this season … and in the process, she made Idol history.

While we’ve seen elements of hip-hop on Idol before — like beatboxer Blake Lewis, who dueted with Doug E. Fresh on the Season 6 finale, or scatty Season 15 hopeful Avalon Young — we’ve never really seen a contestant rap on the live competitive shows. Back in Season 12, in fact, then-judge Nick actually advised aspiring rappers to stay away from the show! But this year, according to an inside source, Nicki gave Jurnee express permission to change the “Bang Bang” line “It’s Nicki full throttle” to “It’s Jurnee full throttle” — and Jurnee fulfilled that line’s promise.

Jurnee gave me The Writing’s on the Wall-era Destiny’s Child realness with her high-ponytailed box braids, pink Pretty Woman boots, and graffiti-stenciled cutoffs. She looked like a pop star — and she sounded and acted like one, dropping it low as she hit every high note. And she killed that Nicki verse! I assumed Jurnee was just a pretty ballad-belter, but I was wrong. Apparently so was judge Katy Perry. “I think you’re an artist now,” Katy said, “not some wedding singer.”

Not all of the top 14 made as banging an impact as Jurnee, but overall, this was a strong night. Check out the rest of the performances below. 

Caleb Lee Hutchinson, “Midnight Train to Memphis”
Caleb earned some country by playing the banjo, and his voice was as booming and resonant as ever. But the judges thought his position — opening the first live show, in the “death spot” — “overwhelmed” him. I actually thought this was another confident, workmanlike performance, but I’m still worried for Caleb.

Michelle Sussett, “Friends”
The Latina diva did a current hit by Marshmello & Anne-Marie, but her performance felt more ’90s TRL than 2018, with lots of by-the-book pointy poses. Luke Bryan thought she “became a star” and Lionel Richie told her she “owned it,” but Katy shrewdly observed that Michelle seemed more like “Shakira in her beginning stages.”

Marcio Donaldson, “It’s a Miracle”
What was Marcio thinking doing a bouncy Barry Manilow song from 1974 while wearing a dinner jacket? Even Clay Aiken wouldn’t have done that in Season 2. This was so Branson, so Laughlin, so Reno. Lionel of course loved it (“That was old-school!” he shouted, intending this as a compliment), but Luke understandably “wasn’t all the way sold” on the song choice, preferring Luke in tender balladeer mode.

Mara Justine, “This Is Me”
The season’s youngest singer continued to push herself with this unsubtle Greatest Showman crowd-pleaser, and while she hit some not-the-greatest sharp notes, I’ll attribute that to nerves. She nearly broke down in tears, but that was actually my favorite part, because I think Mara’s biggest strength is her vulnerability. The judges had mixed feelings. Katy said Mara “owned the stage” but “didn’t arrive vocally.” Luke “wasn’t completely emotionally invested.”

Garrett Jacobs, “Raging Fire”
If this WGWG was trying to establish himself as Phillip Phillips 2.0, he failed. His P-Squared cover was not raging or fiery enough. His vocals were garbled and goaty, and I question if his guitar was even plugged in. The judges thought Garrett seemed comfortable on the big stage — more so than other rattled contestants — but Luke noted some “pitchy things.”

Ada Vox, “The Show Must Go On”
The show did not just “go on.” As Katy noted, this was when the episode really got going! Looking regal in a Jobriath-esque fun-fur cocoon coat, Suzie Bubble topknot, and Dr. & The Medics spangled choir robe, Ada belted this heartbreaking power ballad magnificently. If Adam Lambert ever has to take a night off from the Queen tour, Brian May and Roger Taylor should ring up the artist formerly known as Adam Sanders. Luke said this was “the biggest voice I’ve ever heard.”

Catie Turner, “Take Me to Church”
The quirky-girl toned down her spazzy shtick, and while I missed the wackiness, it was probably wise of her not to alienate voters (some of whom have trolled her online). For the first time, the fearless Catie seemed nervous, but this was still a spectacular vocal, particularly during the near-a cappella first verse. “Whatever happens, I’d like to personally sing with you,” offered Katy. Luke assured Catie, “You can win this thing.”

Cade Foehner, “Black Magic Woman”
This was a guy whose guitar was definitely plugged in! This wasn’t as go-for-broke as some of his earlier performances, but he continued to establish himself as the show’s sole rocker. (Side note: He reminded me of Jesse Kinch from an earlier ABC singing show, Rising Star, and that’s not a bad thing.) Also, Cade’s hairography was on point — so much so that in an odd stalker moment, his not-so-secret admirer Katy asked him for a piece of his famous locks. “No one ever did that to Clay Aiken,” Ryan Seacrest quipped.

Dennis Lorenzo, “In My Blood”
Dennis stunningly transformed Shawn Mendes’s pop hit into a rock ’n’ soul tour de force. He built the drama masterfully, giving me sexy Miguel vibes and commanding the stage. I didn’t know the sweet singer-songwriter with the busted six-string had it in him. Lionel called this Dennis’s “breakthrough.” Katy compared Dennis to Chris Cornell and loved his new “alt/R&B vibe.” I’d totally buy an album of alternative-R&B from Dennis.

Maddie Poppe, “Homeward Bound”
Other contestants made a mark with dramatic numbers, but this class act stole the show with her less-is-so-much-more approach. A magical, reverent hush fell over the studio the instant she strummed her guitar, and her keening, bell-clear voice drew everyone in. The judges were so moved, they shared a group hug, and Katy gushed, “I closed my eyes and I thought I was listening to Joni Mitchell.” Luke said, “I pray the people at home just felt what I felt.”

Jonny Brenns, “This Is Gospel”
I admire anyone who covers Panic! at the Disco on Idol, but Jonny is no Brendon Urie. He was trying — lots of Bono/Scott Stapp poses and enthusiasm — but I missed the kid who once crooned the 1975 at a piano. Jonny has lost his special-ness for me. Katy shruggingly said this performance was “fun,” but advised Jonny to “work on the notes,” which was troubling.

Michael J. Woodward, “Titanium”
This David Guetta/Sia anthem has been done to death on many singing shows, but Michael, one of the season’s most thrilling performers, breathed new life into it. Backed by a string quartet, he delivered a majestic interpretation that was both dark and light, joyous and melancholy, reined-in and unhinged. There are so many layers to this guy. “You, my friend, are a Martian. … Another level,” marveled Lionel.

Gabby Barrett, “The Climb”
Once again Gabby got the pimp spot, which indicates that Idol’s powers-that-be really want her to be the next Carrie Underwood. That could happen — Gabby is probably the most commercial contestant of the top 14. But after seeing other contestants take liberties and chances, I felt unmoved by Gabby’s safe Miley cover. I didn’t see the artistry. The judges saw a star, however, and Luke even declared this his “favorite vocal of the night.”

So, on Monday, six singers will be voted through by America — and if the votes were left entirely up to me, those singers would be Jurnee, Ada, Maddie, Dennis, Cade, and Michael. Then, the eight remaining contestants will sing for the judges to secure four remaining wild-card spots in the top 10 — and for those four, I’d go with Catie, Caleb, Gabby, and Marcio.

Will I get my way? Probably not! Tune in Monday and find out.

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