'American Idol' singer's frightening face-plant leaves judges, contestants, crew in shock

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American Idol Season 19’s Hollywood Week continued apace Monday with the Duets Challenge, and with another “game-changing” twist: With just 24 hours’ notice, the contestants learned that they would not be able to choose their partners, and would instead be paired up by the judges/producers. And while the contestants were all assured that they’d be assessed individually, each duet would also be judged as a unit. So, there was a great deal at stake, and teamwork would be crucial.

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Two contestants who formed a strong unit early on were Ronda Felton and Funke Lagoke — but ultimately, the pressure of the Duets Challenge seemed to take a toll on Funke nonetheless. The divas bonded over their shared trauma and self-esteem struggles, and at first Ronda, who confessed that she’d been told all her life that she wasn’t good enough and her dreams were “too big,” seemed to be the more vulnerable of the two. It was positively heart-warming to see how supportive and nurturing Funke was, and Ronda described their new friendship as “heaven-sent.” But Funke admitted that the “rollercoaster ride” of the past 24 hours had left her shaken… and when Funke and Ronda’s shaky duet of “Tell Him” not only failed to do Barbra and Celine justice, but was declared a “trainwreck” by judge Lionel Richie, another, more literal disaster struck.

Lionel had barely started his stern critique when Funke fainted, and she hit the stage floor, face-first, with such blunt force that the thwack echoed throughout the Dolby Theater. This wasn’t the first time that Idol viewers had witnessed a stressed contestant suffer a health scare, freak accident, or fainting spell during the grueling Hollywood Week process, but Funke’s face-plant might have been the scariest and most dramatic Hollywood moment yet.

A helpless Ronda was screaming, and Katy Perry was horrified, covering her face with her hands, as Katy, Lionel, and fellow judge Luke Bryan scurried to the stage and medics arrived on the scene.

Katy Perry is shocked when 'American Idol' contestant Funke Lagoke falls onstage. (Photo: ABC)
Katy Perry is shocked when 'American Idol' contestant Funke Lagoke falls onstage. (Photo: ABC)

Funke was then whisked away by ambulance to the hospital for dehydration treatment and possible stitches in her chin; the situation could have been much, much worse, and the contestants were reassured that Funke would be OK and able to return to the competition.

As it turned out, Lionel and the judges had been planning all along to put Ronda and Funke through to the next round — despite that misleading “trainwreck” comment. Sheesh. Perhaps the judges should quit doing these dumb fakeout results-reveals. If they’d just been straight up about their intentions from the beginning, instead of creating suspense and needlessly stressing out Funke, this crisis might have been averted.

Concerned judges Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan check on contestant Funke Lagoke after she faints onstage during Hollywood Week. (Photo: ABC)
Concerned judges Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan check on contestant Funke Lagoke after she faints onstage during Hollywood Week. (Photo: ABC)

While Funke’s tumble was certainly Monday’s most shocking development, the Duets Challenge episode had its share of drama. These were the other notable performances of the night, trainwreck or otherwise:

Laila Mach & Liahona Olayan, “Stay”

Laila and Liahona are two of the youngest singers in the competition, but Liahona was the one who really showed her age. While it was understandable that she was crestfallen after the day one Hollywood Week elimination of her older brother, Ammon, it wasn’t very professional of her to completely give up. The spark we saw during Liahona’s lively other Season 19 performances had been completely snuffed out, the light extinguished from her eyes, as she sat listlessly behind her keyboard, going through the motions and sometimes even forgetting to sing. The result was a dreary number that seemed to drag on for 10 minutes, despite Laila’s attempts to do most of the heavy lifting. Katy was rightfully irritated that Liahona had sabotaged her own chances and potentially Laila’s as well, barking, “You’re putting her dreams on the line, and that’s really selfish. You took this whole ship down.” (Side note: I really like Katy in “tough mom” mode.) Somehow both girls made it through, but I think the judges should have sent Liahona home, since that’s clearly where she’d rather be.

Cameron Allen & Graham DeFranco, “Watermelon Sugar”

Somehow these guys managed to suck all of sex out of one of the sexiest pop singles of the last year. Not everyone can be Harry Styles, I suppose. It was a weird song choice, given its lack of dynamics and actual lyrics, and I am not even sure why it was on this season’s (apparently very limited) list of cleared songs. Cameron was cut, but I don’t think Graham performed much better than him, so I suspect Graham was saved mainly because of his promising first audition and sympathetic everyman backstory.

Beane & Kari Erickson, “Watermelon Sugar”

Katy was already calling for a “Watermelon Sugar” ban after these two gave the song a go without much more success. I will say that the sassy Beane tapped into the laid-back song’s groove and sense of joy more than Cameron and Graham did. But Kari was forgettable, so she was eliminated. She just didn’t have the juice.

Anthony Guzman & Adriel Carrion, “Watermelon Sugar”

These guys had planned to do Tears for Fears’ low-key “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” but after unimpressed mentor Bobby Bones complained about their lack of chemistry during rehearsal, they switched their song at the last minute to… yep, you guessed it, “Watermelon Sugar.” Surprisingly, though, the normally shy and retiring Ariel sank his teeth into the Styles song and was able to match Anthony-the-singing-Viking’s energy level. It was a bit loungey and corny, but at least this duet had some sparkle to it. “You have brought new faith to Watermelon High,” sighed a relieved Lionel, as both contestants made it through.

Madison Watkins & Deshawn Goncalves, “Stay”

Wow, ABC really reduced the song-licensing budget this season, huh? Apparently the only cleared songs for Hollywood Week were “Watermelon Sugar” and “Stay.” Thankfully, these two instant BFFs did a lot more with the Rihanna/Mikky Ekko duet that Liahona and Leila had, because they were clearly thrilled to work together and — unlike Liahona — really seemed to want to be there. Madison was a bit try-hard (the marvelous Deshawn was more of a natural), but at least she was wholly committed and invested, and the pair’s connection was evident, right down to that dramatic final knee-drop. “That was an experience… your chemistry together was slam dunk,” raved Lionel, as both singers moved forward.

Claudia Conway & Hannah Everhart, “Sign of the Times”

This was definitely an odd couple manufactured for good television — Claudia, the New Jersey-born TikTok sensation and daughter of controversial “high-profile political figures” Kellyanne and George Conway, and Hannah, the Mississippi farm girl who’s so country, she refuses to even eat Hollywood salads. Hannah was not happy with this duet assignment, and even temporarily ghosted Claudia when it was time to rehearse, later claiming she’d simply taken off to get something to eat (presumably not a salad). This was very unprofessional of Hannah, but after a pep talk from Katy, the two agreed to collaborate and cooperate — and they formed an unlikely bond. Their duet ended up working better than I’d expected. But the young and inexperienced singers’ decision to do most of the song in harmony or unison unfortunately ensured that Hannah’s bigger voice overpowered Claudia’s throughout. (Katy later griped that they “didn’t give carve out enough space” for each of them to shine solo.) Claudia ended up getting cut, but it was heartening to witness not only how maturely and graciously she accepted her bad news, but how supportive Hannah was. “You’re a really wonderful person, and I wish you the best of luck,” Hannah gushed to Claudia through tears.

Alex Miller & EmiSunshine, “I Walk the Line”

Luke advised these two not to do the jaunty Johnny Cash classic, which was obviously much more in Alex’s wheelhouse, but they went with it anyway — and it ending up working so well that even Luke had to give them “kudos.” (“What just happened?” gasped a delighted Lionel.) Emi was actually the unexpected star of this show, with her cutesy yodeling and Dolly Parton-reminiscent vibrato; Luke told her she “really carried a lot of that performance” and her “high end made it exciting.” Both singers advanced, but Luke warned Alex not to make such predictable and unchallenging song choices in the future. “Throw us a curveball — pick a pop song!” Luke advised, although I couldn’t fully get behind Luke’s “Operation Shawn Mendes” suggestion. I can’t imagine that Alex countrifying “Mercy” or “Stitches” would be very exciting either.

Murphy & Lizzy O’Very, “Dreams”

This oddball duet was going to either be a disaster or a delight, with no in-between. Thankfully, it was the latter. Murphy the wandering street performer and Lizzy the witchy accordion woman were clearly kindred souls, walking onstage barefooted and broad-smiled. There were moments when Lizzy’s acquired-taste vocals were shrill to the point of being unpleasant, but for the most part she successfully reined it in, and her manic-pixie-dreamgirl free-spiritedness did bring out a playfulness previously never seen from the somber and stoic Murphy. Their voices blended prettily at the end, and Katy described this duet as “so weird, it’s wonderful.” Said Lionel as both contestants advanced, “We’re discovering the next level for both you.”

Cassandra Coleman & Wyatt Pike, “Too Close”

This was another fine example of teamwork. Cassandra, who came to Idol with almost no experience performing in public, was a bundle of frayed nerves in Hollywood, but unflappable busker Wyatt proved to be a calming presence. (Cassandra even said this was the best live performance she’d ever done, and joked that she wished she could perform with Wyatt all season.) These two exhibited intense chemistry, tapping into the dark song’s breakup narrative and almost seeming like actors in an Alex Clare-penned rock opera. Cassandra even seemed to make the anxiety work to her advantage, using it to bring out the angst of the song. “You looked fear in the face and you said, ‘Not today, Satan!’ … Wyatt, you made Cassandra feel really safe,” said a pleased Katy, putting both singers through.

Willie Spence & Kya Moneé, “Stay”

I would have been annoyed by yet another “Stay” duet and calling for an Idol ban of this song too… if Willie and Kya hadn’t done such a stupendous job with it. Why hasn’t Kya gotten more (or any) screentime this season? We all knew Willie, possibly the greatest vocalist of Season 19, was going to slay this, but Kya was at his level, note for incredible note. All three judges rose to their feet, while Katy was actually crying. “That was divine, what an experience. … You fractured us,” raved Lionel, as Willie and Kya both sailed through with “flying colors.”

Zach D’Onofrio & Sloane Simon, “You Make My Dreams Come True”

This opposites-attract situation, between perky cheerleader Sloane and nerdy, Huxtable-sweatered introvert Zach, could have been fun, with Sloane potentially coaxing Zach out of his turtle-shell. But instead, they sapped all of the fun out of Hall & Oates’s exuberant classic and delivered an airless performance. Both contestants were cut, and Zach, who made it to Hollywood in Season 18 and successfully tried out against this year with his bubbly girlfriend, Season 18 finalist Catie Turner, seemed heartbroken by this second rejection. The judges advised Zach to come back, but I’m thinking he’d be better off just starting a band with Catie.

Chayce Beckham & Christina Daughtery, “July”

I felt another showmance blossoming here, because Chayce and Christina clearly adored each other. They were giving me Carter/Cash vibes, and I think their natural chemistry, combined with the intriguing contrast of Chayce’s resonant baritone and Christina’s feather-light coffeehouse rasp, would get them both through. This was actually one of my favorite duets of the night. But despite delivering what Luke called a “very believable” performance, the judges only seemed to believe in Chayce. “That hurts my heart,” a guilty Chayce murmured through tears, as Christina was unjustly eliminated.

Althea Grace & Camille Lamb, “You Don’t Own Me”

These two awkwardly clashed during rehearsal, but like Hannah and Claudia, they eventually came to a place of mutual respect, especially when Camille was supportive after Althea received a distressing phone call about her toddler daughter’s health scare back home. Once Althea found out that her daughter, who has tubular sclerosis, was thankfully going to be OK, she recommitted to the Idol process and poured all of her pain into this angry Lesley Gore anthem. And Camille was the perfect foil for Althea, with her Miley-esque rocker vibrato. Katy praised their teamwork before putting them both through, saying, “The sum of you together is better than the sum of you apart… and ladies, that’s what queens do.” Katy then totally baited Twitter's KatyCats and Swifies by slyly adding, “Can you imagine if Taylor and I worked together, what we could do?” I’m going to assume Katy meant Swift, not Hicks. Watch this space.

Hunter Metts & Ava August, “Dancing on My Own”

Luke advised these sweet kids to “showbiz it up.” Ava did a better job of that, but Katy still thought they played it too safe. However, even if they didn’t have a big wow moment, their voices melded nicely enough to get them to the next round. “This probably is the last round when you can attempt any safe play,” Luke warned them.

Alyssa Ray & Grace Kintsler, “Grenade”

With mighty voices that Lionel said could “take down the building,” the two divas of Season 19 that actually seem like “top 10 material” — a phrase the judges have been using way too liberally lately — “stopped the show.” Obviously, the episode had to end on that literally high note. Katy even snatched her literal wig (she was wearing a black Bettie Page wig reminiscent of her Teenage Dream era) as she hollered, “Our job is done here!”

Of course, the judges’ job is far from done. Next week, the show will be stopped again — by Alyssa, Grace, hopefully a fully recovered Funke, and many others — in something called the all-new Showstoppers round, performing with a live band as they compete for spots in the Top 24. See you then.

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