American Idol recap: 10 former contestants attempt a comeback in this Idol twist

Maggie Fremont
·8 min read

Somebody's getting a comeback story, people. That's right, the big twist of American Idol season 19 has arrived: 10 contestants from season 18's Top 20 are getting one shot to win votes and make it into this season's Top 10. Because of the pandemic, these singers never got their chance to show us what they can do on the big stage with the full band, and now, for one night, they get that chance. We also get performances from one-time Idol judge Harry Connick, Jr., who sings a medley from his new album, and Idol alum Lauren Daigle, who performs "Look Up Child."

But mostly we're here to see what the season 18 contestants will do with the few minutes they're given to earn that second chance. Let's talk performances.

Cyniah Elise, "Edge of Midnight (Midnight Sky Remix)" — Miley Cyrus ft. Stevie Nicks

Cyniah Elise is back! You might recall from season 18 that there was a whole gaggle of teen female vocalists and several big belters, so a lot of them ended up canceling each other out. Cyniah Elise was in that group. Tonight, she wants to show a different side to her vocals and is going with an uptempo rock song. It's a strange choice for this moment when you only have one shot to both remind people of who you are and give them a reason to vote for you to stay. The judges kind of hint at this when both Katy and Luke tell Cyniah that the beginning of the song was pretty shaky but she brought it back in the end. Katy "loved those last couple of runs" but wanted more earlier. Luke thought Cyniah was "searching a little bit in the front" but eventually found her footing. It's tough to go first any week, but with so much riding on this one performance, it seems the pressure is turned up even higher.

Nick Merico, "City Lights" — Nick Merico

Will the third time be the charm for Nick Merico? After he was cut from Idol for the second time, Nick says he went back home and dove back into songwriting. Tonight, he's singing an original. This is another risky move for this particular challenge but I guess all of these contestants are thinking, "go big or go home," so go on, friend! This is a much more serious, rock/pop type of vibe than I remember from Nick and he doesn't exactly win over all the judges. Katy loves that he has shown up with an instant artistic identity this time around, and as Lionel notes, his confidence and stage presence can't be beat. But Luke brings up the high level of vocal talent we already have with the nine artists who have moved forward and he's not sure Nick's vocals are up to snuff.

Aliana Jester, "I'll Never Love Again" — Lady Gaga

Okay, now this is a comeback. Last season, Aliana was full of insecurities and struggled to make a connection. She says she didn't even know that she wanted to pursue this music until she got cut. That girl is gone and in her place is someone brimming with confidence, stage presence, and real maturity. Also: Aliana sounds freaking good on this Lady Gaga belter. She has power and control and a crazy big range. Who is this person? Lionel calls it a "world-class performance" and Luke tells her it was "elegant and beautiful." Katy tosses around the names "Mariah" and "Celine" and applauds Aliana's "incredible growth." This is probably the type of performance Idol was hoping for when they came up with this little twist, right?

Franklin Boone, "Meant to Live" — Switchfoot

Last season, Franklin Boone was our School of Rock teacher with that singer-songwriter vibe (plus, with his rasp it was all very Ray LaMontagne). For his comeback song, he says he wants to show that he "could bring the energy this stage requires" so he's going more rock. There seems to be a lack of emotional connection here which is what this moment really calls for above all else. As Lionel points out, that big, extended note at the end sounded great, but mostly the judges seem not to know what to do with this unexpected song choice. They applaud him for showing a different side to his vocals and for taking a chance. "A curveball," Katy calls it.

Faith Becnel, "Cry Baby" — Janis Joplin

This is more than a comeback performance; it's redemption for Faith Becnel. She and Bobby Bones watch footage from last season's Hollywood Week in which she told Bobby she was going to sing a last-minute choice of "Cry Baby" after just learning it that morning. Then she proceeds to mess up all the lyrics. Katy mentions that a major note they had for her last season was that her, as Luke describes it, "back phrase vibrato thing" was a little too much, and it needed some balancing out. This performance shows that Faith took that note and really did some editing and control work. She seems much more polished than last season. Oh, and she doesn't mess up the lyrics at all.

Arthur Gunn, "Iris" — Goo Goo Dolls

In his meeting with Bobby Bones, last season's runner-up Arthur Gunn tells him that he hasn't yet made his song choice and still has a few options he's considering. You think it might be because of the pressure he feels to make the right choice, especially after coming so close to winning last season. But later, Ryan Seacrest asks Arthur if he felt any pressure leading up to his performance, and he replies simply, "Not really." The judges really sum up Arthur's whole deal well: He's so "understated" and so authentically himself that he doesn't need to do anything big or flashy to draw people in and connect emotionally. He knows who he is and makes even the most familiar songs feel like his own.

DeWayne Crocker, Jr., "Voice of God" — Dante Bowe, ft. Steffany Gretzinger & Chandler Moore

DeWayne tells Bobby Bones that he wasn't happy with how he portrayed himself last season. He was so worried about making the right choice for the competition; he wasn't making the right choice for himself as an artist. He's a gospel singer, and he wants to show that now. It's a smart move: In their critiques, all the judges comment on how much of an artist DeWayne has become. "You stepped into your light," says a proud Lionel. Although he showed off what he could do on the piano at the beginning of the song, both Katy and Luke are glad that DeWayne got up and engaged the crowd. Once he stood up, Luke says it was "another level," and Katy says the performance immediately became more "powerful," more "soulful," and more "connected."

Makayla Phillips, "Anyone" — Demi Lovato

Makayla was the lone Judges' Save last season, but it seems she had some trouble connecting with the audience, so she's picking a super emotional song that she feels connected to this time around. She's dedicating it to her sister, who lost her father recently, so emotions are high. She delivers some great vocals and, at the end, almost breaks into tears. Luke tells her she had his "favorite voice" from last season, and she came back and "delivered" once again. Lionel tells her that they "felt every bit of [the song.]" And Katy not only compliments some of Makayla's musical choices but tells her that the bit at the end was a story-telling moment, and according to Katy, "the best storyteller wins."

Olivia Ximines, "Say Yes" — Michelle Williams, ft. Beyoncé and Kelly Rowland

Well, if anyone needed to do her thing up on a big stage, it's our yellow-fringed pop star Olivia Ximines. You just knew for her comeback performance, she'd not only be singing but dancing as well. She's a performer, baby. There's a whole dance break built into this thing. It's not the best vocal of the night, but it's certainly entertaining, and Olivia looks like she's having a blast. Katy says that she "gave us moments" and that the performance was "real show business." For Katy, Olivia is the "whole, complete package." And Lionel just loves that Olivia "has the ability to smile at an audience and have the audience smile back at [her.]" That's very sweet, Lionel.

Louis Knight, "Maybe That" — Louis Knight

Louis Knight wowed the judges with his heartfelt original song in his season 18 audition and never fully got back up to that high point, so it's a smart choice for Louis to perform another original song tonight. Man, this song is sad! And you can see Louis welling up toward the end. It all feels very authentic and connected. Luke can see the "tremendous growth" that Louis has gone through in both his artistry and his vocals (there are some good runs in this performance). Katy felt super connected to the song and to Louis throughout. Mostly though, she just wants to know if the person he wrote this song for ever calls him back. Lionel tells Louis that he "turned into a great songwriter," and Louis seems genuinely moved not just by the judges but by the fact that he got to sing one of his songs on that stage with the band. It's a nice ending to the evening.

So now that it's all said and done, how are we feeling about this twist and who, if anyone, do you think earned that final spot in this season's Top 10?

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