With an “American Idol” top five as talented as this, it was anybody’s guess going into Sunday’s episode who would go home and who would make next week’s season finale.
The final five sang once again for judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie, first performing songs from guest mentor and Season 4 winner Carrie Underwood and then performing any song of their choosing. As usual, the episode aired live coast-to-coast, and fans voted for their favorites during the show.
The singers seemed to pull out all the stops, including energetic choreography, power ballads and plenty of stage effects — but only three could make it to the finale. Here’s what went down.
As the last female country artist left in the competition, Huntergirl headed into her session with Underwood looking for advice and a confidence boost.
Underwood gave Huntergirl some tips on working the stage while maintaining vocal technique and encouraged the contestant to give herself a pep talk before performing.
For her first song, Huntergirl rocked out to Underwood’s “Undo It,” even taking her performance directly down to the judge’s table.
“That was exactly what (Underwood) told you to do. There is nothing better than owning the stage,” Richie said. “It was spectacular.”
Perry added that Huntergirl invited the audience to the party and she gave her “hands-down best performance.”
“Way to get inspired by Carrie Underwood,” said Bryan. “It was amazing.”
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Huntergirl later took the stage again with Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush.”
The judges all agreed Huntergirl is singing like a star.
“I’ve got a girl crush,” Perry said. “Secondly, my children are at the show, and they came up to me, and they said they are voting for you.”
Afterward, Huntergirl began to tear up while reflecting on her journey with music. “I’ve just worked really hard, and I’m just happy to be here right now,” she said.
Leah Marlene started off singing “I’ll Stand By You” by The Pretenders, which Underwood has covered.
The soulful singer, known for her soft, intricate vocals, showed off a more powerful side of her voice, belting by the end of her performance.
“Did you just reinvent that song?” Perry asked, impressed. “It was like I was hearing it for the very first time.”
Bryan added the song was “beautiful on all levels” and that Marlene always looks like she’s in control when on stage.
“You took that song and turned it into your song,” said Richie. “Your voice was right on point.”
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Later in the show, Marlene rocked out to “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” by Journey.
“Y’all are going after each other now,” Bryan said, noting the contestants are all bringing their best to the competition.
Perry was fired up by the electrifying performance. “I was like, I need to run on the treadmill to this!” she said. “I wanna see you and Steve Perry just going back and forth.”
After spending several days in COVID-19 quarantine, where he said he spent the time watching a stream of a Dungeons & Dragons game, Fritz Hager was back in the “Idol” studio and ready to take the stage.
He sang NEEDTOBREATHE’s “I Wanna Remember,” which featured Underwood.
Bryan said it was a “great interpretation” and commended Hager for staying “real organic, real natural” on stage.
“You either have stage presence or you don’t,” Richie said, adding that Hager has it in spades.
Perry called the performance “effortlessly cool” and “captivating.”
“You’re consistently amazing for me,” added the judge, who has expressed her soft side for Hager in past episodes.
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Hager returned to sing “Young Blood” by 5 Seconds of Summer.
And the folksy artist brought the edge and the energy, performing without a guitar so he could work the stage while rocking a leather jacket.
“Fritz, you had that up your sleeve this whole time?” Perry exclaimed in shock.
Bryan expressed regret for being the only judge who rejected Hager during his first audition.
“I’m gonna need the show to forever remove the clip of me telling you ‘no’ at your audition,” he said. “Obviously my coffee was off that morning, wrong side of the bed.”
Noah Thompson, who like Hager also recently had COVID, was still in quarantine for his session with Underwood, which was conducted via video chat.
Underwood became emotional after their meeting, holding back tears while saying that the show was made for people like her and Thompson, a construction worker from Kentucky. She said they’re both “people who didn’t dream that big but knew that they wanted to do something.”
Thompson sang Underwood’s “So Small” to rave reviews from the judges.
Richie complimented Thompson on his authenticity and having “the ability to tell stories.”
Bryan jumped up on the stage to give Thompson a lesson in working the crowd, encouraging him to reach out his hand to his screaming fans in the audience.
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For his second song, Thompson sang “Working Man” by Larry Fleet, sitting on a stool and accompanying himself on the acoustic guitar.
“Noah, you just accepted that test,” Perry told the singer.
Nicolina picked the Underwood power anthem “Blown Away,” unleashing all her feelings on the stage.
“That last scream cry, I felt that one,” Perry said, also praising the contestant for getting a cape and wind machine to top off her performance.
Bryan said Nicolina delivered even as occasional strands of her hair blew in her face, and Richie added that you know you’ve made it when they bring out the fan machine.
“Whatever it is that you are doing… this is your lane,” Richie continued. “Vote for this lady.”
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Nicolina then sang “All I Ask” by Adele — and she was practically a puddle of tears by the time she finished the emotional ballad.
Richie summed up the judges’ stunned reactions best, saying “That was an ‘American Idol’ treasured moment.”
Nicolina explained her tears to host Ryan Seacrest after the judges’ feedback, saying she’s always looked up to Adele.
“Getting to sing a song by one of my heroes is crazy to me,” she said. “It’s a really emotional moment.”
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Who went home?
At the end of the broadcast, Seacrest announced that Huntergirl and Thompson were safe — leaving Marlene, Hager and Nicolina in jeopardy. Marlene began to cry as the tension mounted. When Seacrest finally announced Marlene was the last singer saved, she fell to the floor in shock.
After the results, Hager turned to Marlene, his friend and partner during the Hollywood Week duet round, to tell her “I’m so proud of you.”
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