American Idol recap: The Top 7 serenade the important ladies in their lives

Maggie Fremont
·9 min read

American Idol is back for another remote performance round and this time we’ll be taking our Top 11 down to a Top 7. Each artist who makes it through gets two performances to prove why they deserve a spot in [checks notes] next week’s finale. That’s right, it feels like we’ve only just begun but we’re already wrapping this up. Hey, speaking of weird time stuff, Laine Hardy is performing tonight. Doesn’t it feel like he won Idol 3,000 years ago? Time makes no sense anymore.

Regardless, we’ve got two rounds of performances: First up is “Disney Songs” because, well, synergy. Katy Perry is dressed as Dumbo's mother for this one, in case you were wondering. The second is for all the mamas out there, but especially the mothers and mother figures in the lives of the artists, because it’s “Mother’s Day Dedications.” You know that’ll be an emotional one. Accordingly, Katy removes the elephant costume.

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DISNEY SONGS

Arthur Gunn // “Kiss the Girl” from The Little Mermaid

Arthur Gunn singing The Little Mermaid is not the pairing I expected, but we can roll with it. Disney Night on Idol always makes for a lot of strange song choices. He sounds good on it — he always sounds good — but the song doesn’t do much for him artistry-wise. Katy loves that he looks so relaxed and engaged this week. Luke Bryan can’t wait to hear Arthur’s record. Lionel Richie once again applauds Arthur for having such a distinct identity as an artist. He always knows what Arthur Gunn is going to give him — even on “Kiss the Girl.”

Just Sam // “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” from Cinderella

Sam is all glammed up tonight for her big Disney moment. How lovely! I’m not totally feeling these Disney special effects, but Disney is gonna Disney, you know? This performance is a little lackluster. The song doesn’t really have anywhere for Sam to go. She sounds more confident in her vocals than we’ve ever seen, but there’s no special moment here. The judges mostly commend her for how much she’s overcome and Katy notes that she wanted “a little more” from Sam vocally. Luckily, she’ll have another shot in the next round.

Jonny West // “Almost There” from The Princess and the Frog

Whoa. When predicting who would be the best fit for a Disney theme night among the remaining contestants, I did not pick Jonny West, so that one is on me, guys. This is a cool song that fits his folksy-piano man vibe really well. Katy tells him that he’s “a concoction of Billy Joel, Randy Newman, and Paul Simon” which is, um, a huge compliment. Lionel tells him he made it all seem so “effortless” and Luke was blown away by how professional Jonny is when he performs. He knows what he’s doing — and he’s peaking at the right time.

Louis Knight // “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from The Lion King

Listen, Louis knows that what works best for him are achingly romantic songs and that’s what we get here. It’s not his best vocal. The song gets repetitive after a while, and like Sam’s performance, it never really goes anywhere. Katy tells him to “lean in vocally” on his next performance, which I guess means “try harder.” Luke also comments on how “linear” the performance became, although he loves the “tenderness” in Louis’s voice. Even Papa Lionel can tell that Louis is off his game here: He tells him he needs to “focus” on the performance a little more.

Julia Gargano // “Beauty and the Beast” from Beauty and the Beast

Julia’s dressed in a yellow dress, so you just knew she’d be doing something from Beauty and the Beast. How could she not? Unfortunately, this is not a great showcase of what Julia can do. As Luke notes, the song is way too low for her and she’s overpowered by the accompaniment throughout most of it. Lionel tells her that she needs to work on her lower register — it “did not compliment” her as well as her mid and high ranges normally do. Katy liked the more soulful arrangement but agrees with the guys about the problems with her lower register. This one got away from Julia.

Francisco Martin // “You’ll Be in My Heart” from Tarzan

It doesn’t seem like this combination should work — and the time we’re spending in Tarzan’s "jungle" is not what I ordered — but somehow Francisco really sells it. Lionel loves how much we’ve seen Francisco transform over the course of the season. He looks like he’s actually enjoying himself (Francisco confirms that yes, he’s having a good time). Katy drops the hammer and tells Francisco that he delivered exactly what had been missing from Louis Knight’s performance. Luke is just a proud papa over in little judging square. This is a win for Francisco.

Dillon James // “Our Town” from Cars

Okay, at first I wanted to comment on how much of a miracle it is that Dillon made the Top 7 after his “Yesterday” performance, but then he hops into the Disney round with the actual perfect song choice for his voice and I have nothing but wonderful things left to say. The judges, too, seem stunned by his comeback. Katy is more than pleased to see that Dillon took her notes about being engaged and staying true to himself and used them so admirably here. Luke really felt the “dynamics” and “emotion” in the performance. Lionel sums it up nicely: He calls Dillon a “storyteller” and applauds him for doing “the work” that needed to be done. The spiritual cowboy is back, guys.

MOTHER’S DAY DEDICATIONS

Arthur Gunn // “Hey, Ma” by Bon Iver

Now, this feels much more like the Arthur Gunn we know and love. Again, not that he didn’t sound good on “Kiss the Girl,” but this is an all-around more believable performance. The judges seem much more into this one, too. Luke tells Arthur that the high part of his voice not only sounds natural but is clearly his “signature” sound and he owns that. “You never have a bad performance,” Luke adds. Katy’s also on board with this high praise, telling Arthur that with performances like this, she fully believes him as an artist.

Just Sam // “I Turn to You” by Christina Aguilera

Sam dedicates her song to her grandmother, who adopted her and her sister when Sam was six. I never get tired of seeing Sam with her grandmother, she lights up around her. Sam really needed a big performance coming off of the Disney round, but unfortunately, this one isn’t as good as the performances we’ve seen from her previously. Her vocals are strong and confident, but she never does anything exciting with the song — it could’ve used a signature Christina run or two. Still, as Luke points out, Sam’s mid-range has “always been smooth as butter,” and it is here again.

Jonny West // “Amazing Grace,” Traditional

Jonny takes the traditional “Amazing Grace” and actually writes in some additional, emotional lyrics that tell his mother’s story. Jonny is just getting better and better with every performance. It is a thing to see! Even Katy has no qualms telling him flat out, “I think you should win this competition.” Get yours, Jonny! Both Luke and Lionel have nothing but compliments to send Jonny’s way, not just for his artistry and vocals, but for his songwriting. This is a good night for Jonny West.

Louis Knight // “You’ve Got a Friend” by James Taylor and Carole King

This is Louis’s mom’s favorite song and you know what? She deserves to be serenaded — all the moms do! This feels like more of the same from Louis to me, and it could’ve used him on a guitar or the piano. The judges, however, see a marked improvement over his Disney performance. They thought he pushed himself a little bit more vocally this time around. Lionel loves that it was “simple” and “heartfelt.” Luke thinks he provided the “dynamics” they wanted and that he made good choices when it came to the emotional storytelling. Katy calls it one of Louis’s best. That’s a good boost in round two.

Julia Gargano // “Sweetest Devotion” by Adele

Speaking of upping their game, Julia is back to her old self in round two, by which I mean, she’s excellent. She shows off that great texture in her voice and dances around in that mid-to-high range sweet spot. Luke is a huge fan: He says it was a “badass” performance thanks to her confident delivery. Lionel tells Julia that it's “the first time [he's] heard [her] ride the pocket” and he loves the attitude she had throughout. In other words, Julia was feeling that performance and it showed.

Francisco Martin // “River” by Leon Bridges

WHO IS THIS FRANCISCO?? He is so confident and his vocals are so clear and strong, he almost sounds like a completely different singer from when we first met him. When talking with Lionel, they even bring up how far he’s come since his audition, which, if you recall, was when they had to check Francisco’s pulse because he was so nervous. That kid is gone and this true star (I know, barf) has arrived. Katy thinks this round has really separated the contenders for next week’s (!!) finale, and she counts Francisco among them.

Dillon James // “Hang On, Hang On” by Amos Lee

Oh boy, you had to have known this would be a tearful one. But, tearful in a joyous way. Dillon and his mother have come so far. He seems so happy to be able to dedicate this to her. An even better gift, however, is that he nails this song, too. “Yesterday” seems like it was just a blip on an otherwise excellent record of song choice. Most of the judges’ critiques are about how inspirational Dillon’s story is, but the vocal performance here shouldn’t go unnoticed either.

There’s your Season 18 Top 7, Idol friends! As these seven artists move on, it means we’re saying goodbye to Grace Leer, Makayla Phillips, Sophia James, and Jovin Webb. How are we feeling about this Top 7? And does it even matter since by next week we’ll not only have a Top 5 but ... a winner? What a weird season. Katy Perry may have a pick for her top spot, but it still feels like anyone’s game.

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