An Idol Alum Steals the Show

The Missing Mean Judge came ready for Idol Sunday night. On returning home from receiving my second COVID booster, I found the local public radio station playing some Barbra Streisand. Streisand – with her supremely exquisite tone. Streisand – with pitch so perfect, it’s as if she invented the musical scale. Streisand – delivering lyrics as if each word – even a, and, the, and of – was a delicious morsel to savor. With her as my most recent musical experience, the Idolists were going to have a challenging time trying to impress me.

Coming to their rescue was guest mentor Gabby Barrett from Season 16. She is the star of the season so far. Using her experience as an award-winning singer-songwriter and as a third-place finisher on Idol, Gabby provided the kind of direct, constructive feedback that seems foreign to the judges. She made all of them better and some of them significantly better.

The goal of the evening was to cut the field of fourteen down to eleven. Here are my rankings for the Top 16 in order of their performances using my usual scale:

  • A – Superior
  • B – Good, often meaning positive moments out-weighed negative ones
  • C – Meh, nothing memorable or distinctive
  • D – Ugh
  • F – A Gots-to-Go Situation

Jay (Just the Way You Are Bruno Mars) I can imagine Jay singing this song to a girl he loves[1]. And I can imagine the girl looking into his eyes and saying, “Were you singing that song about me or trying to show me that you think you’re a good singer? It felt like the latter.” In other words, zero connection to the song and too many notes without feeling. I’m still confused why the judges gave him that Platinum Ticket. D

Huntergirl (Baby Girl Sugarland) Except for her final chorus, the prior choruses didn’t deliver for me. Despite some occasional wonky notes, she was great on the verses. I agree with Lionel that you feel like you’re looking at a pro when she’s performing. And Katy’s proclamation of “being happy if you win” and Luke’s “Gabby’s looking at her competition” are quite the endorsements. B

Christian Guardino (Take Me to Church Hozier) Despite his taking Gabby’s great advice to turn down the vocal acrobatics, I didn’t feel anything from that performance. I’m not convinced it was a good song choice. Or maybe he’s just not that good a singer. C

Dam Marshall (Kenny Chesney She’s Got It All) And you got nothing. (And, yes, I know his name is Dan.) D

Leah Marlene (The Turtles Happy Together) I’m just going to make leahfied a word. She is such an artist, and she’s not here to do karaoke. I was mesmerized by her leahfying one of my favorite songs. While I do not doubt that she would have successfully leahfied her alternate choice Mad World[2], I’m happy Gabby convinced her to do Leah’s other option Happy Together. A

Fritz Hager (James Bay Let It Go) I love this guy. Like Leah, he’s another artist. He just sings with such conviction and connection that I can’t help but be drawn in by him. I’d enjoy seeing Fritz perform live. A

Tristen Garrett (Adam Lambert Whataya Want From Me) Yeah, I was very concerned like Gabby when he said he was gonna do a popular Adam Lambert song. His preview to Gabby didn’t alleviate our concerns. But Gabby gave him great advice, and I LOVED his performance. He arranged the song to be different than Adam’s, and it still evoked the emotion of the original. I liked his glammed-out fit in homage to Adam, too[3]. Still, I’m concerned about what type of artist he is. Adam Lambert sang many different kinds of songs on Idol because he’s, well, Adam Lambert sui generis. But for tonight, Tristen rates an A.

Lady K (Fantasia I Believe) She looked great and, as always, sang great, but I felt like this song was a bit too big for her. To me, Lady K is more the Gladys Knight lane than Fantasia. B+

Allegra Miles (Billie Eilish ocean eyes) Notes without feeling. Nothing Billie Eilish-like about it. C

Ava Maybee (Harry Styles Sign of the Times) The beginning was so sleepy, I had mentally tuned out before the big finish. And I still don’t know what kind of artist she is. C

Mike Parker (Luke Combs Hurricane) I will buy his hopefully future records. I was having full-body chills. He’s a fantastic singer. I love his soul (without gospel)-meets-country (without twang) vocal style. And Gabby was right. He connects so much more when he opens his eyes. A

Emryson Flora (Olivia Rodrigo drivers license) It seemed like she was having trouble hearing the band. She kept looking over at them. I liked the song choice – finally, a young girl singing a young girl song. But I thought it was also paced too fast, in addition to her band issues. And I didn’t like the big notes in her performance, either. It didn’t suit the song, and big isn’t what Emyrson does best. D

Noah Thompson (Ben E. King Stand By Me) Noah will continue to do well with the voters, but I felt like he was exposed. Gabby correctly challenged him on whether he had a connection to the Chris Stapleton song he initially chose to sing. She was calling out a couple of my biggest complaints: being good at “copying” something (glorified karaoke) rather than having artistry and singing notes without feeling. Gabby was so unimpressed that she asked him if he had another song! So, rather than continue his crowd-pleasing mini-Stapleton impression, Noah chose the pop classic Stand By Me, and it showed his limitations. D

Nicolina (Jeff Buckley Hallelujah) It was pretty enough but nothing special. B

Voted off: Allegra, Ava, and Dam (his reign of terror has finally ended). I am OK with the results (as rare as that is!).It is quite a different voting result than last week’s, where Mike Parker, Allegra, Tristen, and Jay were in the bottom 10. I was pleased to see Mike getting some respect put on his name. Tristen and Jay traded places with Dam and Ava.

See you again after tomorrow’s show.

P.S. I love watching the shots of Luke singing along to the country songs. And it was good to see My Girl Casey Bishop from last season promoting her new single Bad Dream. I’m not sure how I feel about it, though, and the streaming numbers are low. On the other hand, Huntergirl’s original song Heartbreak that she performed last Sunday spent time in the upper reaches of the iTunes charts. No doubt people in the music business – and by the business I mean the industry – were paying attention.


[1] It’s entirely possible I have been subjected to too many Hallmark movies lately.

[2] And risking comparison to Adam Lambert’s incomparable version.

[3] Props to Adam for calling into the show. He’s always supported the show and has never shied away from his Idol roots that were his break to stardom.

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