'American Idol': Luke Bryan booed for harsh feedback as past contestants vie to join top 10
"American Idol" unleashed the biggest twist of the season Monday night.
For the first time ever, 10 contestants from last season sang for the chance to join this season's competition and vie for the title of "Idol" champion once again.
Unlike the current competitors, these former contestants never got the chance to sing on the "Idol" stage, since the studio went dark due to the coronavirus pandemic and the competition continued with singers performing remotely.
As usual, judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan gave each singer feedback — but it's up to America's vote to determine which one of them will round out this year's top 10. Fans can vote at americanidol.com/vote, the "American Idol" app or via text message.
Here's what that went down:
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Cyniah Elise, whom Richie compared to Whitney Houston last season, said she wanted to “let loose” and “level up” by performing a rock song. The 19-year-old singer and actress rocked out to Miley Cyrus' "Edge of Midnight (Midnight Sky Remix)."
According to Richie, seeing Elise on the "Idol" stage was "the best treat ever."
Bryan said the singer "caught your stride and gave us those signature big notes that we expect of you," while Perry complimented her vocal runs at the end of the song.
To see Elise deliver more big notes on "Idol," text C1 to 21523.
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Nick Merico, 25, took the stage next with a high-energy performance of an original song called "City Lights," which he said he wrote for a "special someone."
Though Bryan applauded the musician for giving "a very good representation of what you want to be as an artist," he followed up with a critique that earned him the first "boo" of the season.
"Vocally, I'm not sure it was knocked out of the park for me," Bryan said.
The other judges disagreed, with Richie saying he "loved" Merico's performance and Perry saying the contestant has formed his own identity as an artist.
If you also disagree with Bryan, text C2 to 21523.
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Aliana Jester, 20, gave a radiant performance of the Lady Gaga ballad "I’ll Never Love Again."
Richie said the server handled the song "with grace and poise."
"All I can say to you is welcome back," he continued. "That was a world-class, wonderful performance."
Perry said Jester returned as a new person.
"I did not even recognize you," she said. "It was like I was watching 'VH1 Divas,' back in the early 2000s."
To let Jester join the other divas in the top 10, text C3 to 21523.
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Music teacher Franklin Boone, who revealed on the episode that his wife is eight months pregnant, put his raspy voice to use on "Meant to Live" by Switchfoot.
Perry said the 29-year-old's song choice was a "curveball," adding that "it’s so nice to see all of these colors and shapes."
"Way to come out here and show us another deal," said Bryan, who also complimented the singer's big note at the end of the song.
Richie praised Boone for showing "another dimension" of his voice.
To see more dimensions from Boone on "Idol," text C4 to 21523.
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During last season's Hollywood Week, Faith Becnel, 21, forgot the lyrics to Janis Joplin's "Cry Baby" mid-performance after learning the song that morning.
On Monday, the restaurant manager sought to make up for the past slip up, singing the song once again for the judges.
Bryan said he "loved" the performance, while Perry praised Becnel for finding a balance in her voice she didn't have last season.
Richie reminded her that "to make it to this point, you’ve already won."
If you found Becnel unforgettable, text C5 to 21523.
Last season's runner-up, Arthur Gunn, 23, also returned, with a gritty performance of "Iris" by the Goo Goo Dolls that brought all three judges to their feet.
"I always say to people, you can sing a song but can you be a stylist?" Richie told the soft-spoken musician. "You are definitely a stylist."
Perry added that Gunn is "really authentic" and encouraged the fanbase he's built to vote for him.
"I lock in so much with you," she added. "You’re the real deal."
To lock Gunn into the top 10, text C6 to 21523.
DeWayne Crocker Jr.
College student DeWayne Crocker Jr., who said he wants to distinguish himself as a Gospel artist, sang Dante Bowe's "Voice of God."
"You look like an artist," Perry told the 24-year-old. "It got more powerful and more soulful and definitely connected. It was really dope. I felt those church chills."
Bryan added that Crocker gave a "very solid vocal," while Richie told the singer "you clearly stepped into your light."
"You had our attention from beginning to end," Richie continued.
If Crocker also had your attention, text C7 to 21523.
Vocal coach Makayla Phillips, who earned a save from the judges last season, returned with a powerful performance of Demi Lovato's "Anyone," which she dedicated to her sister. By the end of the song, Phillips became visibly emotional, holding back tears as she delivered the final lyric.
Bryan, who once predicted Phillips would become the next Ariana Grande, told the 18-year-old she was one of his favorite voices last season.
"Way to come back and really show up," he added.
Richie praised Phillips for making the audience feel what she was singing.
"A lot of time singers, they can’t translate the story and the feeling over to the audience," he said. "We felt every bit of that performance. Congratulations."
Perry agreed, adding that Phillips' emotion brought the song to another level.
"At the end, when your voice was cracking and you were about to cry and you were a little bit off key, it was everything," she said. "Best storyteller wins."
To have this storyteller join the top 10, text C8 to 21523.
High school student Olivia Ximines, 17, returned with a performance that seemed to get the whole "Idol" studio moving and grooving.
"I felt out of place singing at home," Ximines said of last season. "I’m more of a stage person."
And the high school student proved that with a high-energy performance of Michelle Williams' "Say Yes," complete with a dance break.
Richie told Ximines she has "the ability to smile at an audience and make the audience smile back."
"You weren’t meant to stay at the living room," said Perry. "You are just meant for the stage, and I hope that’s what America thinks as well."
"You really make us feel comfortable in your world," he said. "You’ve got show biz and entertainment dialed in, and that’s a big thing."
To dial Ximines into the top 10, text C9 to 21523.
The last performance came from singer-songwriter Louis Knight, who sang an original song about heartbreak called "Maybe That," which he wrote around the time of his "Idol" audition.
Perry told the 20-year-old his performance may earn him more than just a spot in the top 10.
"You really came out here and bared your soul," she said. " I think mostly what matters is that whoever you wrote this song for, they hear this, and they call you back."
Bryan said Knight "felt like a legitimate artist."
"I felt your pain," he continued. "This may be my favorite 'American Idol' moment I’ve had with you, and I’m so glad it happened tonight."
To give Knight more moments on "Idol," text C10 to 21523.
"Idol" returns May 2 with a Disney-themed episode, after going on break for the Oscars.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'American Idol': Luke Bryan gets season's first boo for harsh critique