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American Idol recap: Katharine McPhee, Brian McKnight, and more celebs show out for duets night

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It took a lot of work to get down to our Top 24, but as the old saying goes, there is no rest for the people who would like to be crowned the winner of American Idol. For our next stage in this game, the Top 24 will be turned into a Top 16 by way of two performances: Each contestant will sing a solo and then a duet with a celebrity all-star. This round will take place over two nights, with the Top 24 artists splitting into two groups of 12. Only eight singers from each group of 12 will move on to the next round, and those singers' fates are in the hands of America. That's right, we've moved into the audience voting portion of the proceedings. Exciting, no? Tonight's group of 12 will be joined by pros Jimmie Allen, Ryan Tedder, Joss Stone, Brian McKnight, Ben Rector, and Katharine McPhee. Who will sink, who will swim, and who will reduce us all to tears? Let's find out.

Alanis Sophia

Solo: "Alive" by Sia
Duet: "Shallow" by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper with Jimmie Allen

The big stage, bright lights, and live audience can shake even the most confident singers, and that seems to be in play here with Alanis's two performances. Her solo starts off a bit timid before she launches into the big power notes to remind us why she's in the Top 24. She's paired with country star Jimmie Allen for the duets — Jimmie was on Idol in season 10 but was cut ahead of the Top 24 that season, so this must be a mind melter for him (also a good lesson for the contestants that getting cut from Idol doesn't mean the end of your career). "Shallow" allows Alanis to show off a little more of her vulnerable side. The judges still think she felt a bit swallowed up by the whole thing. Katy Perry says that she could see Alanis "overwhelmed" by Jimmie's presence when what she wanted was to see two stars on stage. If she makes it through, the judges want to see Alanis relax and enjoy herself on stage more.

Cassandra Coleman

Solo: "Find Me" by Sigma featuring Birdy
Duet: "Apologize" by OneRepublic with Ryan Tedder

Cassandra knows who she is as an artist and continues to pick songs that really highlight her voice. In her solo, she seems much more comfortable on stage than she has in the past. Lucky for her, she'll be singing "Apologize" for her duet with Ryan Tedder, the same song she sang during the auditions — which means she has a pretty good track record with that song. Their voices sound nice together. The judges are impressed — Katy calls Cassandra's voice a "spiritual experience" and tells her she had "full-body chills" — and they love how she stands apart from everyone else on the show. Still, both Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan remind her to claim her moment and not let nerves get in the way of her owning the stage.

Alyssa Wray

Solo: "Something in the Water" by Carrie Underwood
Duet: "I'm Your Baby Tonight" by Whitney Houston with Katharine McPhee

Well, if this isn't just a nice little moment of American Idol synergy. For her solo, she's singing season 4 champ and, oh yeah, international superstar Carrie Underwood's song. Alyssa can obviously carry the power notes in this song (that big note in the middle is something), but the beginning sounded a bit like Alyssa Wray imitating Carrie Underwood rather than making it her own. For her duet, she's singing with season 5's runner-up Katharine McPhee. It's a true powerhouse pairing, and Alyssa is able to hold her own with Kat McPhee. She has so much confidence and stage presence. The judges all praise her for her performances — Lionel compares them to "trying to keep a cap on a volcano" and thought her and Katharine's voices complemented one another well — but Katy reminds Alyssa that she doesn't have to always be so polished and perfect, she should also work on really feeling the emotion of the song.

Wyatt Pike

Solo: "Rubberband" by Tate McRae
Duet: "Brand New" by Ben Rector with Ben Rector

The judges heart Park City, Utah's Wyatt Pike so dang much. I mean, not without reason, he clearly knows who he is as an artist, and the guy owns the stage whenever he performs, but still, I fear Katy, Luke, and Lionel would evaporate into tears if Wyatt doesn't make the Top 10 this season. Speaking of superfans, Wyatt's pretty pumped to be paired with Ben Rector, and he should be. Not only do they feel vocally aligned, not only is Ben Rector giving Wyatt some nice musician-to-musician advice, but it means Wyatt gets to perform "Brand New," a song very much in his wheelhouse. He gets the judges up on their feet, dancing along. It's a feel-good moment. Luke tells Wyatt that he gets "emotional" watching him perform because he's watching an artist "so right in [his] moment." He has no advice except to keep doing what he's doing. Like I said, they will evaporate if this kid gets voted off.

Alana

Solo: "Blow Your Mind (Mwah)" by Dua Lipa
Duet: "Back at One" by Brian McKnight with Brian McKnight

Alana's solo is great. She oozes stage presence, and as Katy tells her, she "embodie[s] entertainment." She always brings good, palpable energy to the stage in these fun, poppy songs. Her duet, however, is a bit of a misstep. First, during rehearsals, she fudges the lyrics to a Brian McKnight song while singing with Brian McKnight (also not just "a" Brian McKnight song, but the Brian McKnight song), so that's got to mess with your head a bit. She doesn't have quite the presence here she did before and gets overshadowed. Lionel tells her that she has what it takes to "be a star," but she needs to bring more "attitude." Katy loves that Alana can put on a show, but she wants to see her take more risks vocally. "Don't be afraid to fly," she tells the singer.

Anilee List

Solo: "my future" by Billie Eilish
Duet: "Tell Me Something Good" by Chaka Khan and Rufus with Joss Stone

A lot of these contestant/all-star pairings have been pretty good, but matching Anilee List with Joss Stone is actually perfect. There's a whole lot of soul influences in those big voices. Her solo performance is fine and really opens up at the end, but it's the duet where Anilee really shines. When a contestant is having fun on stage you can feel the difference in their vocal performance, and Anilee seems to be having a blast with Joss Stone. Both ladies are barefoot, dancing, and singing the hell out of this song. Lionel wants Anilee to continue to use Joss Stone as an example of how to perform and be comfortable on stage because he doesn't think she's fully there yet. Luke calls Anilee "so close to next-level greatness," but needs to push it a little more. Katy thinks Anilee is a powerhouse but still wants to hear her pushing her voice more.

Deshawn Goncalves

Solo: "Forever Young" by Bob Dylan
Duet: "I Lived" by OneRepublic with Ryan Tedder

Deshawn is continually handing out vocal masterclasses when he performs, this time, however, there's much less emotional connection in both of his songs. After his two performances, Katy tells him that he has one of the most "unique, top three voices in this competition," and that as soon as he starts singing, people know exactly who it is. However, she wants him to "loosen up." Luke and Lionel both agree that Deshawn seems stiff up on stage. Luke tells Deshawn that he has "such great tone" and great vocal "maneuvers" but he needs to "shake this thing out." He wants Deshawn to walk out and be the star Luke knows he is. It's not just about the notes, it's "about the whole package," Katy reminds Deshawn as he walks off stage.

Graham DeFranco

Solo: "Raye" by John Splithoff
Duet: "Love Like This" by Ben Rector with Ben Rector

Oh, okay, Graham. This is a new, sultry and softer side to Graham DeFranco and it really works on him. In rehearsals, he's a little nervous about his duet song because it really stretches his range to its limits. But Ben Rector helps him sort the whole thing out. It's a real full-circle moment because Graham brings a photo that he has from high school when Ben came and played a concert at his school. Now look at them. It turns out pushing his range was a risk that pays off. Luke says that he was "surprised" in a good way when he heard Graham's range go to "another level." Lionel tells him that he has a great "storytelling voice" and it was the "whisper" part of it that moved them all. You don't need to be a big powerhouse singer to be effective. Katy, too, loves the subtleties in Graham's voice.

Andrea Valles

Solo: "Lo Vas a Olvidar" by Billie Eilish and ROSALÍA
Duet: "Careless Whisper" by George Michael with Brian McKnight

Andrea Valles really impresses here. First of all, due to recent eye surgery, she's wearing a sparkly eye patch and it doesn't seem to affect her at all. She seems even more sure of herself as a performer than we've ever seen her. She sounds strong on her solo song and appears really emotionally connected. She hits it off with Brian McKnight and those good vibes translate into a great performance. Luke tells her that after an inconsistent Hollywood Week, this puts her back in the game. Katy loved Andrea's solo song choice and that she has "so many tricks up [her] sleeve." Lionel praises her duet: He thought that their voices not only complemented one another, but that Andrea stood on her own up there.

Cecil Ray

Solo: "Paint Me a Birmingham" by Tracy Lawrence
Duet: "Freedom Was A Highway" by Jimmie Allen and Brad Paisley with Jimmie Allen

Oh, Cecil. The Country Justin Bieber has a rough time in this round. He seems to be paralyzed with nerves. His time in Hollywood Week was shaky and his solo doesn't do him any favors to win back the judges' confidence. Both his vocals and performance are off. He's paired with all-star Jimmie Allen and the two really hit it off. Jimmie sees a lot of himself in Cecil and wants to help him out any way he can, even beyond this performance (he puts his number in Cecil's phone!). It's all so nice! Unfortunately, Cecil just can't hold his own in the duet. Jimmie sounds great here (also, his outfit yes please and thank you) and Cecil continues to have pitch problems. The judges all talk to him about stage presence and confidence. Lionel wants him to take his hands out of his pockets and bring some attitude next time. Luke reminds him that it only gets harder from this round on, so he needs "to be on point" every single time he sings. "You need to root for yourself," Katy tells him. It's a tough night!

Willie Spence

Solo: "Wind Beneath My Wings" by Bette Midler
Duet: "The Prayer" by Céline Dion and Andrea Bocelli with Katharine McPhee

To be honest, Willie's solo doesn't do much for me. It's good — he's always good — but he's been more connected in other performances we've seen. But his duet with Katharine McPhee? Wow, wow, wow, friends. Anyone else moved to tears immediately? Willie dedicates it to his late grandfather, who died of COVID, and Katharine dedicates it to her father, who passed away three years ago, and the whole thing is just gorgeous. Their voices sound so good together, and both are so emotionally dialed into the song. Luke — who has been smiling since Willie walked out on stage — tells him he "can do no wrong in [his] eyes." Lionel tells Willie that he's more than a singer; he's a "stylist," and he's "mesmerizing" and "a true superstar" (Lionel liked it, obviously). Katy thought the duet especially "showcased [his] voice and the different levels [he has] within [him]." She also gives him some advice moving forward: For Willie, song choice is of the utmost importance.

Grace Kinstler

Solo: "Queen" by Jessie J
Duet: "Midnight Train to Georgia" by Gladys Knight and the Pips with Joss Stone

This is a smart pairing of songs for Grace Kinstler. In her solo, she gets to show off that attitude that Lionel's been talking about all night: She commands the stage and sounds great doing it. Then her duet shows off something a little more classic, or "timeless" as Katy Perry describes it. Joss Stone is a great mentor for Grace and she advises the artist to edit her musical choices — she wants Grace to back off the runs a little in this song to build to a big, special ending. It's good, effective advice. Lionel tells Grace that her "voice quality" paired with her "confidence" and the way she carries herself on stage are unmatched.

Unfortunately, friends, four of these twelve singers will be leaving after America's vote. Who do you hope sticks around for the Top 16 out of this crew?

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