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Meet 'American Idol' genius Alejandro Aranda: 'In the history of the show, there has never been somebody like you'

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It was another music-packed night Monday on American Idol, as the top 20 performed in front of a live audience at Los Angeles’s Wiltern Theater. Next week, six of these contestants will go home, and the judges will have a tough decision with so much talent. But one contestant definitely stood out: 24-year-old dishwasher Alejandro Aranda, whom Luke Bryan told, “I don’t know, in the history of the whole show, has there ever been somebody like you.”

Avid Idol-watchers who’ve been following this season already know that the show’s producers hyped Alejandro’s audition of original song “Out Loud” as the best in the series’ history, and the judges freely called the humble singer-songwriter an “absolute genius” as they basked in the “presence of greatness.” The virtuoso multi-instrumentalist, who incredibly has only been playing music for four years and cites Trent Reznor, Chopin, and Bach as influences, later dazzled in Hollywood Week with another original, “10 Years,” and a creative jazz-folk cover of Justin Bieber’s “Sorry.” With this Monday’s performance of Post Malone’s “I Fall Apart”(see in full above), which paired his gossamer-light, Elliott Smith-like vocals with his nimble and intricate guitar-fingering, he impressed the judges so much that Luke told him, “I am not worthy to critique you.” Katy Perry gushed, “You’re so much cooler than us. That arrangement was so next-level.”

Katy, Luke, and Lionel Richie aren’t Alejandro’s only superstar fans. New Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Stevie Nicks recently raved about his audition on her Instagram, saying, “When he started to play the first chords, I started to cry. I cried all through his guitar song and all through his piano song. My prophecy: He will play and sing across the great stages of the world. He will play with 60-piece orchestras and he will play alone. I felt, as did the judges, that I was suspended in some sort of magical grace that was just simply overwhelming. My tears did not stop until he stopped. So, Alejandro, let me welcome you to the grand stage that will be your home for the rest of your extraordinary life.”

But before Alejandro can graduate to the grand stages, he has to make it through American Idol. And he has 19 other contestants to beat. Some of them will be stiffer competition than others. These were the rest of Monday’s make-or-break performances:

Madison Vandenberg, 17: “Domino”

I’m not sure an uptempo Jessie J banger — while a fun start to the show — was the best choice for this Clarksonesque balladeer. She proved that she can be vivacious performer, but I definitely heard her getting winded towards the end of the song. But more Kelly Clarkson comparisons ensued nonetheless.

Shawn Robinson, 22: “Jealous”

Not sure if I was buying Shawn in sexy grown-up-Jonas mode. His performance was awkward and boyish. And though he had no trouble hitting that falsetto, he relied on that trick too much. “Don’t forget your beautiful low stuff. … It’s low and thick and gorgeous and smooth, and I miss it,” said Katy.

Laine Hardy, 18: “Bring It on Home to Me”

This was some total Elvis ’68 Comeback fare, right down to Laine’s slicked hair, leg twitches, and the rollicking acoustic jamming at the end of this rough-hewn Sam Cooke cover. He looked and sounded like a ‘50s pop/matinee idol. “We are in trouble, ladies and gentleman. Laine has discovered a new thing,” Lionel declared, imitating Laine’s Elvis-style pelvis swivels. Katy was crushing hard, howling, “Jesus, take the wheel. … I’m scared of you!” And Luke told Laine, “Everything you’re doing currently looks like you’re trying to win this whole competition.” And Laine just might do that.

Uché, 24: “Figures”

Following his star turn doing “Play That Funky Music” on Sunday, this season’s most flamboyant showman (“the kind of performer that’ll make you put your phone down”) continued to slay all Monday with this Jessie Reyez cover. Hitting the stage in an open-chested military onesie and a chestful of gold chains, he wielded that mic stand like a weapon, dropped to his knees, and showcased a falsetto that was fantastic. I just hope, if Uché makes it to the voting rounds, that America doesn’t mistake his confidence and swagger for arrogance. Katy warned him that he’s “a lot” and “there’s no subtlety to Uché,” but she reasoned, “That is fine. People go to see rock stars because they want big. They want a lot.” I certainly want a lot more of this guy on my TV screen.

Eddie Island, 25: “Ho Hey”

The class clown of Season 17 finally showed his serious side, and it was the performance he needed to give right now. His vibrato sounded really heavy, which I’d never noticed before, but somehow on this Lumineers song it worked. The judges loved it, with Luke saying, “I’m about to cry” and “You perfectly nailed what we wanted.” Monday may have been April Fool’s Day, but I guess this guy is no joke.

Evelyn Cormier, 19: “Leaving on a Jet Plane”

Evelyn made this nostalgic John Denver-penned folk song so very dark and sad, and I loved it. She was like a Gothic Lauren Canyon goddess, and I appreciated that she kept things soft and hushed when the usual strategy on a night like this would be to oversing and show off. Luke admitted he didn’t quite get Evelyn at first, but she’d now converted him into a new fan. I hope the rest of America falls in love with the quirky chanteuse too.

Alyssa Raghu, 16: “Ain’t It Fun”

I appreciate that this once-shy Season 16 reject returned this year newly confident, after taking a bunch of dance lessons, but I feel like she was trying too hard to prove that she could be a “performer.” Everything felt calculated; Lionel said he could see her “thinking beyond thinking” during much of Paramore song, and he told her, “If you have to think about it, it’s wrong.” Luke and Katy were disappointed that the song choice hadn’t showcased Alyssa’s big pipes. Alyssa went home this time last year, and I’m afraid Idol history is about to repeat itself.

Ryan Hammond, 25: “You Say”

Ryan, who recently lost 170 pounds and started a new relationship, clearly connected to this Lauren Daigle after conquering his confidence issues of the past. This was a solid, if old-fashioned, performance. But it was still forgettable. Lionel wanted him to own the stage more, but I am not sure if Ryan is capable of that.

Raquel Trinidad, 21: “Lovefool”

This hippie girl’s life plan is to win American Idol, and then win a Nobel Peace Prize. Well, it’s time for her to move on to her Plan B, because she ain’t winning Idol. This was terrible — total open mic coffeehouse stuff. She sucked all of the life out of the Cardigans’ hit, and her weird smiley expression demonstrated a total disconnect to the song’s actually dark, lovelorn lyrics. Was Raquel stoned? But the judges loved it, so go figure. Maybe they were stoned too.

Logan Johnson, 20: “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore”

We’ve seen Logan be passionate and connected before, so I expected a lot more from this. The performance never built in intensity, and was almost completely anguish-free. Luke called it “sleepy,” and Katy said it seemed more like a rehearsal. Not good.

Dimitrius Graham, 27: “Hello”

I’m still not sure what I thought of this performance — and I’ve watched it three times. It started off with an opera intro that I honestly didn’t even realize was Dimitrius at first, then took on a menacing quality (which was fine; I always thought this seemed like a stalker song), then turned into a more traditional go-for-broke Idol Adele ballad at the end. It was very odd … and kind of fascinating. There are layers to this guy. “I had no idea where we were going. Every time you open your mouth, we find somebody else inside,” marveled Lionel.

Riley Thompson, 16: “Jolene”

The prospect of this “country Lana Del Rey” doing old-school Dolly sounded awesome … but this was dreary. Even her family in the audience looked bored. Where was the angst? Did Riley even know what this song was about? Katy, who said the performance needed more “grit,” tried to explain the lyrics to Riley, but obviously by that point it was too late. This was a case where Riley’s youth and sweetness worked against her.

Walker Burroughs, 20: “How Deep Is Your Love”

This seemed to me like it came straight out of a high school musical production of Saturday Night Fever; it probably would have been better if Walker had stuck to his piano. I thought this Bee Gees cover was going to be special, but it was a snooze. However, the judges loved it, so apparently their love ran deeper than mine.

Bumbly, 27: “Vision of Love”

There’s no doubt that Bumbly can sing her face off. She wouldn’t have even dared to take on a Mariah Carey song otherwise. Maybe she was trying to go for a throwback diva vibe here, but it was more like a throwback to American Idol Season 2. The performance was old-fashioned and almost totally charisma-free until the sexy and charismatic scatting and vamping at the end. Lionel noted the nerves and overthinking, and Katy said the misguided song choice didn’t show off Bumbly’s bubbly personality.

Ashley Hess, 27: “Dreaming With a Broken Heart”

After a shaky performance Sunday, Ashley went back to what she does best, playing piano, and once again she seemed like a winner. Katy thought she worked the camera more than the live audience, but I thought that was a smart strategy:This performance felt so intense and intimate as Ashley stared down the lens. “I was lost in that performance,” admitted Katy. Luke called Ashley “world-class” and “iconic.”

Kate Barnette, 23: “Sunday Morning”

I glad this bar singer with the cool Debbie Gibson style, quiet confidence, and groovy vibe is finally getting her screentime. She could be this season’s dark horse. She comes to the show so fully formed. Katy described as “dope!” Lionel told her, “Your style is on point. You’re giving it to the rest of the contestants.”

Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon, 26: “To Make You Feel My Love”

Every JLH performance is magical and master-class, and this one was no exception. I felt like I was watching the Grammys here. It was obvious that he ached with every word. He earned a standing ovation, and Katy told him, “I think you are a really important contribution from the universe to music.” Thanks, universe!

Laci Kaye Booth, 23: “I Want You to Want Me”

Laci conjured such a perfect mixture of sadness and sweetness, flintiness and bitterness, softness and toughness, that Luke shouted, “Badass!” midway through this haunting performance of a Cheap Trick stadium rocker. Now this was grit! Another standing ovation ensued. “You just showed us a whole other level,” said Katy.

Wade Cota, 27: “All I Want”

Wade started off so low it seemed like his voice was about to turn to dust, but it was all done for dramatic effect. And then when his Kodaline cover revved up, it was powerful. And so, there was yet another standing ovation. “The music business needs to be inspired, and somebody has to come and shake the world up. … That’s you, my friend,” said Lionel. “We may have found you, but tonight, you found you,” said Katy.

As for the six contestants who’ll get cut next week, it was pretty easy to separate the amateurs from the pros here. If it were up to me, I’d eliminate Shawn, Alyssa, Raquel, Logan, Riley, and either Ryan or Bumbly. We’ll find out what the judges decide next Sunday.

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