'Notes that Freddie Mercury can't do': Judges stunned by 'American Idol' performance

Pastor’s son Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon — with his powerful pipes, pure and unguarded heart, and poignant coming-out story — has been one to watch this American Idol season. But this Sunday, during the first public-voted performance show of Season 17, he took the competition to an entirely new stratospheric leve — “past Pluto and Mars,” as judge Lionel Richie put it. The astounded Lionel went so far as to invoke the name of late, great Queen showman Freddie Mercury — praise that even Idol runner-up Adam Lambert, who actually fronts Queen now, never received in Season 8.After Jeremiah’s breathtakingly beautiful piano performance of Sir Elton John’s “We All Fall in Love Sometimes,” Lionel gasped, “You just took an Elton John song, and you went past Freddie Mercury and you Jeremiah’d the whole thing. I mean, there are notes that Elton can’t do. There are notes that — I can’t believe it — Freddie Mercury can’t do. You went to Z-flat somewhere up there.” Added fellow judge Luke Bryan, “I see ‘Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon’ on this big billboard.”

It was an emotional night for Jeremiah in other ways, as the openly gay singer-songwriter happily revealed that he is now in a “better place” with his once-estranged, super-religious family; he even shared some recent home footage of their reunion at his sister’s wedding. Judge Katy Perry — a pastor’s kid herself — was in tears. “I’m just so proud,” she gushed. “You’re such a gift. You’re a light to world. Your story is everything, and your talent supersedes all. … We’re so blessed to have this job, to be able to meet people like you.”

Obviously Jeremiah is a lock for the top 10, which will be announced Monday on the first live results show of the season. On that knuckle-biter of an episode, seven of the current top 14 contestants will advance via America’s vote, and the judges will save three additional singers. Let’s look at Sunday’s other performances and try to predict Monday’s outcome:

Laine Hardy, “That’s Alright Mama”

Laine has been channeling Elvis the Pelvis in recent “party with a Hardy” rock-star performances — a smart strategy that will likely win over this show’s older fanbase. (“You know your strengths, and you’re playing to them well,” Katy told him.) This was very ‘68 Comeback Special, right down to the red stage, and Laine had King-like confidence — even if Luke told him, “I wanted to see you let go more like Elvis does.” But I fear this bayou boy could plateau if he doesn’t switch it up more. I don’t want to see Laine turn into some Vegas impersonator.

Evelyn Cormier, “The Middle”

I assumed that this quirky, sultry chanteuse would transform Jimmy Eat World’s emo-pop anthem into some sort of ethereal ballad, but she played this surprisingly straight. Where was the torchy, tortured magic of “Wicked Game” and “Leaving on a Jet Plane”? Katy thought the risk paid off and loved Evelyn’s chameleonic tendencies, and Luke loved her show-womanship and “Van Halen leg-kick,” but I thought everything that had made Evelyn special was just gone.

Alyssa Raghu, “She Used to Be Mine”

This was one of Alyssa’s better performances; she’s a balladeer, and if she continues in this competition, she should never do an uptempo pop banger ever again. This wasn’t a perfect performance — it got a bit shouty at the end, it lacked Sara Bareilles’s raw emotion, and Katy said Alyssa’s dynamics needed work — but it was a solid effort.

Eddie Island, “Benny and the Jets”

While Jeremiah’s Elton cover was the real deal, this was a silly throwaway. The stadium song gave Eddie yet another opportunity to mug, vamp, and goof off — not something he needed at this point in the game. His pre-performance interview, in which he tearfully reflected on his bullied childhood, made me realize why he uses humor as a crutch. I just wish he’d stop trying to be such a people-pleaser and let more of that vulnerability come through. For instance, Katy likened his voice to that of Adam Duritz of Counting Crows. That being said, this vocal was screechy and sloppy, sounding like a murder of crows. Eddie may be safe this week due to his huge social media following, and he gets fashion points for that sparkly peacock jacket, of which I am sure Sir Elton would approve. But Elton would not have approved anything else about this mess.

Riley Thompson, “Suds in the Bucket”

This was very Branson, very Dollywood matinee, and a disappointing regression from Riley’s mature duet with Brett Young last week. But the sassy Sara Evans song played to the sweet 16-year-old Riley’s performance strengths (“How does it feel becoming a star?” said Luke), and I could see Riley being this show’s new America’s sweetheart — if there is room for both her and this season’s much more interesting blond country ingenue, Laci Kaye Booth.

Wade Cota, “Trouble”

Husky-voiced Wade’s husky song choices this season have been a bit too on-the-nose, and that was the case with Ray LaMontagne classic. I wish he’d rework an unexpected song in his own style — or do something from his just-disclosed recent heavy metal past, the reason his voice is so raspy now — rather than playing it safe with a staple from his Arizona bar-band setlist. But Wade’s song choice wasn’t the only thing that was tired here — his voice sounded fatigued, literally. If he continues, hopefully his voice won’t give out midway through Season 17.

Dimitrius Graham, “Perfect”

I am worried that this kid from the mean streets of Baltimore with the scary face tattoos won’t connect with this show’s conservative viewership — and that would be such a shame. Dimitrius is a true artist. He an opera singer! He’s the “male Beyoncé”! His dramatic, reworked arrangement of Ed Sheeran’s popular ballad was, well, just about perfect. I was getting Frank Ocean vibes from this. It felt modern and cool. Katy called it “miraculous,” Lionel called it “explosive,” and the studio audience was screaming. I hope all that will be reflected in the public vote this week.

Madison Vandenburg, “Fallin’”

Madison was declared “the next Kelly Clarkson” after her Idol audition, and she even covered Kelly during Hollywood Week. But she admitted that she feared she wouldn’t be able to ultimately shake off the Kelly comparisons. Well, she needn’t worry anymore! After slaying this Alicia Keys torch song, Madison is “the next Madison Vandenburg.” Said Katy, “You just carved out your own notch. You are your own person.” This was a soulful tour de force, and it felt like a classic American Idol moment. “That is how you put yourself in contention. … You just really made a statement. Become a diva now!” said Luke.

Uché, “Finesse”

I know I’m not the best singer of the competition, but I will always leave everything I possibly can,” Uché, a.k.a. “Mr. Entertainment,” declared before his performance, which he prepared for by watch Janet Jackson videos backstage. And he definitely delivered. He was dripping in finesse during this dynamite Bruno Mars cover, coming out New Jack Swinging. He was giving me bodyrolls, ‘90s MTV choreo, and some Larry Blackmon realness. (All that was missing was the Cameo codpiece, although Uché’s scarlet trousers and piled-on gold chains also made quite the fashion statement.) “That was like the opening of the best awards show I’ve ever been to,” raved Luke. All three judges loved Uché moves and got up out of their seats to dance along, but I think Uché underestimated his vocal ability; I was actually impressed by his stamina and breath control from start to finish.

Alejandro Aranda, “One Dance”

Just when we thought we’d seen all the tricks up this struggling musician’s flannel sleeve, Alejandro the acoustic guitar-picker threw us a major curveball with this electronic Drake cover — performed with a keyboard and drum machine, inspired by his work with his band Scarypoolparty. Now this was creative, and this was a risk! I just hope the risk pays off, since it’s a little early — the first voted show of the season?!? — to be pulling this switcharoo. But kudos to Alejandro, whom Katy called a “shapeshifter,” for maintaining his artistic integrity, no matter what. “You can do no wrong,” assured Luke. I can’t wait to see what this guy does next … assuming he didn’t alienate his fanbase.

Ashley Hess, “Fix You”

Ashley was channeling Season 7’s Brooke White with this tasteful, elegant Coldplay cover. Katy compared her to Diana Krall and Carole King. I’m glad Ashley stayed at her piano this time, because that’s where she shines, but Madison’s piano performance was so extraordinary that I am afraid Ashley will get lost in the shuffle here. This wasn’t as amazing as I’d hoped. But as Lionel put it, it was “very, very strong.”

Laci Kaye Booth, “I Miss You”

Laci was a revelation reinterpreting Cheap Trick a couple weeks ago, and she wove a similarly magical alt-country spell with this unexpected Blink-182 cover backed by a string quartet. “This is a big, special moment for you,” said Lionel. This girl has it all: a gorgeously golden voice, a unique point of view, creativity, confidence, and a marketable Underwood-esque look. As Katy put it, she’s “the definition of Idol.”

Walker Burroughs, “Climb Every Mountain”

This wasn’t exactly the hippest song performance, especially on a night when risk-takers like Dimitrius, Uché, Alejandro, and Laci actually seemed like artists that might be on the radio or MTV. It felt like a school recital. But I guess it was a good recital — like a school recital by Clay Aiken, really. And Idol ’s aging base will love Walker’s Season 2 throwback vibes. This kid’s not going anywhere any time soon. “You brought the whole house down,” said Luke.

So now, it is prediction time. Which four contestants are going home? My picks, based solely on Monday’s performances, would be Alyssa, Evelyn, Eddie, and Walker. But those last two will sail through. Instead, I think it’ll be Wade, Evelyn, Alyssa, Riley — and that the judges will have to save Ashley, Dimitrius, and Uché.

With talent like this, we’re in for at least a couple shockers Monday. Kieran, dim the lights, indeed.

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