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American Idol recap: Paula Abdul returns, Wyatt Pike suddenly drops out ahead of Top 12

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It's the first live show of the season and things are a little wild. If you happened to miss the Idol news earlier and just tuned in to watch the newly minted Top 16 become the Top 12, you may have been in for a surprise when you saw the judges panel. It's true: Luke Bryan tested positive for COVID-19 and is sitting out of tonight's proceedings. In his place, we've got original Idol judge Paula Abdul. That's fun, right? It also might be nice to have someone with fresh eyes and ears taking a look at our remaining singers. At one point, Randy Jackson randomly calls in for a video chat. No one knows what's going on.

But wait, there's more! Wyatt Pike has dropped out of the competition. Ryan Seacrest doesn't elaborate, but Wyatt seemed like a lock for a spot so this will make things interesting.

BUT WAIT, there's even more! There was another Idol announcement today. Next Sunday, the Top 12 will be competing to make it into the Top 9. Then, on Monday, 10 contestants from last season will be back for a second chance — since they never got to perform on the big Idol stage, the show wanted to bring them back — and one of the 10 will be voted through and turn the Top 9 into a Top 10. Did you get all that? Good, because now we have to get to how tonight's going to work.

Seacrest will call up a contestant and if they've made the Top 10 based on America's vote, they'll sing their song and then head over into the "Victory Zone." If they haven't made the Top 10, they'll sing their song hoping to impress the judges enough to win one of the two Judges' Saves available tonight before taking a seat in the Danger Zone. The judges will make their picks at the end of the show and give us our Top 12. Had enough of the rules? Let's get to the singing.

Casey Bishop, "House of the Rising Sun" — The Animals

Casey is the first contestant escorted directly into the Top 10! And she celebrates with gusto, by which I mean a performance that tops anything she's done before. She's certainly taken in the note to embody more of the rocker character in her performance — there's much more drama here. Plus, her vocals are great tonight. Lots of power and some cool choices of runs and riffs.

Colin Jamieson, "Waves" — Dean Lewis

And Colin is our first contestant to be sent to the Danger Zone, which honestly sounds more fun than it is. He'll be singing to impress the judges and hopefully earn one of the two Judges' Saves slots in the Top 12. This song actually feels much more comfortable on Colin than his Tears for Fears cover, and I could see him in this lane post-Idol. The judges are all fans of Colin and especially love that every time he performs, it's a "celebration." Paula calls his charisma "infectious." He's having a great time!

Deshawn Goncalves, "Higher Ground" — Stevie Wonder

Well, it feels appropriate that Deshawn is rocking a fabulous gold jacket: He's in the Top 10 and he's singing a jam of a Stevie Wonder song. The judges have wanted him to loosen up a bit and this is the way. He's working the stage, he's putting in some growls, and Paula is immediately up on her feet (the other judges follow soon after). After his performance, Seacrest asks why he chose that song and Deshawn says he picked it for both the vocal challenge and to switch things up and do an uptempo song. "It looks good on you," Katy yells from her seat.

Cassandra Coleman, "Light On" — Maggie Rogers

Cassandra takes the next spot in the Top 10. Maggie Rogers seems like a good fit vocally for Cassandra, but this performance feels a little out of control at times. Katy loves to see Cassandra moving around and working the crowd ("Who is that?" Katy asks at the end of the performance), but it means her vocals suffer a bit.

Caleb Kennedy, "Nowhere" — Caleb Kennedy

Caleb's rocking no hat tonight and looks like he might vomit ahead of his results. No reason to puke dude; Caleb's in the Top 10. He's singing the original he did in the auditions, a half-written song that Katy told him to finish. He did! It's not his best vocal performance — perhaps it was those nerves — but Lionel praises his songwriting skills and can see the "artist coming out."

Madison Watkins, "Hotline Bling" — Drake

A true bummer, Madison Watkins lands in the Danger Zone and has to sing for a Judges' Save. You guys, she sings. Showing us yet another side to what she can do, this song is both soulful and flirty and she really knows how to create dynamics in the song. Paula calls her "extraordinary" and says Madison's voice is "comforting and elegant." Katy calls her a "bright light" and loves that she's bringing that light to her performance regardless of the verdict. Madison tells them all that her mom taught her that it's not over till it's over and that's the spirit she's bringing with her tonight.

Ava August, "Love of my Life" — Queen

Ava's in the Top 10 and it's clear she's taken her notes from last night to heart. The judges wanted her to go back to her elegant and graceful singer-songwriter vibes and here she is tonight in a full-length gown singing a ballad. I still miss Ava on her guitar, but this is a much more mature, emotional performance than what she did last night. Hey, Katy misses the guitar too! She calls the performance "world-class" and full of "elevated beauty and grace" but notes that she likes Ava with her instrument. Lionel tells her she's singing "like an absolute pro." This feels more on track for Ava.

Beane, "Grow As We Go" — Ben Platt

Beane joins Colin and Madison over in the Danger Zone. Before he gets there, though, he sings this lovely Ben Platt song. Katy Perry has the biggest smile on her face throughout the whole thing. After his performance, Katy tells him that "there is only one Beane" and that "the control on that song was so beautiful." Lionel can see that each week Beane is more relaxed and growing "into his artistry." Paula calls him "a storyteller from beginning to end." Those are some good reviews!

Chayce Beckham, "What Brings Life Also Kills" — Kolton Moore and the Clever Few

Well, this isn't a surprise: Chayce is in the Top 10! He takes on the song he performed in the auditions, this time backed by the full band. It loses some of the intimacy, but his vocals are great. Luke Bryan texts Katy to say "dang, I'm still not that cool," but everyone agrees that's an upgrade for Luke since he texted instead of sending an email. Baby steps! Katy thinks Chayce has "been through the 'star wash'" and it's true — Chayce is looking more and more the part of American Idol.

Alyssa Wray, "Greatest Love of All" — Whitney Houston

Alyssa's in the Top 10, but it seems like she already won the prize because Jennifer Hudson DMed her to tell her that she has a huge instrument and she needs to "make them wait for it." She's getting advice from JHud! And it's good advice when tackling a huge Whitney song. Alyssa sings this one with ease, but Paula points out that when picking songs, Alyssa should pick ones that she can make her own, that "let [her] shine," and it's hard to do that with a Whitney classic.

Alanis Sophia, "Heart Attack" — Demi Lovato

Are kids wearing rhinestone tie necklaces? Is this what's happening? Anyway, Alanis joins the group in the Danger Zone. She takes on this Demi Lovato song and it isn't as successful as her Demi song in the auditions. All the judges seem to point out that Alanis was too in her head and not present. Lionel saw her "thinking about [her] notes instead of enjoying the performance." That could be a bad sign going into the Judges' Save.

Willie Spence, "Diamonds" — Rihanna

Why is Willie so nervous? Of course, he's in the Top 10! He breathes a sigh of relief before launching into a performance of "Diamonds." Yes, we've seen him do this song before, but this is with the full band and the guy sings the hell out of it. He has complete control through all the runs and riffs; it's the best he's done this song. By the end of the performance, Willie is noticeably more relaxed and actually having the good time he claimed to be having before he learned he was safe this week. Katy loved this performance because it allowed Willie to be "young and fresh" while also keeping his patented "old soul vibe." He's "evolving," Katy says.

Grace Kinstler, "Dangerous Woman" — Ariana Grande

Grace follows Willie right into the Top 10. For her victory song, she takes on Ariana Grande, and honestly, it's about time. It allows her to show off a little attitude, lots of confidence, and those big ol' Ariana Grande notes. The judges are up on their feet by the end.

Hunter Metts, "I Can't Make You Love Me" — Bonnie Raitt

The final Top 10 spot comes down to Hunter and Graham DeFranco and the two guys are best buds! Hunter is so torn up there and when Ryan announces that Hunter has nabbed that final Top 10 spot, he seems almost sad? This bromance is so sweet, I cannot stand it. Anyway, this song is great on Hunter's voice and it continues to let him get vulnerable and make people swoon. Paula echoes what the judges have been saying all season: Hunter's vocals "are so distinct" and his tone is so identifiable. Plus, she loves how "present" he is when he performs.

Graham DeFranco, "Cover Me Up" by Jason Isbell

And then there was Graham. He's the fifth and final person in the Danger Zone (remember Wyatt Pike leaving freed up a spot), ready to sing for that save. Graham was ready, you guys. This is a perfect song choice for this moment: It shows Graham's emotional side, lets him tell a story, but also has some big power moments. When the song picks up at the end, the judges get on their feet. Even Seacrest walks on stage and says Graham "really went for it." Katy applauds the obvious growth in stage presence and artistry, and Paula says Graham's voice is "so smooth" it's like "butter."

Now we're down to it: Graham DeFranco, Beane, Madison Watkins, Colin Jamieson, and Alanis Sophia have done what they can to leave an impression on the judges and claim those two available Judges' Saves.

After some deliberation, Katy, Lionel, and Paula, in what Katy says was a unanimous decision, have decided to save... Madison Watkins and Beane! And that's a wrap on the Top 12, friends. How's everyone doing?

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