American Idol: Season 15 - February 11, 2016

Top 12 (Group 1): Duet Night

Past Idol contestants Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina (winner and runner-up, Season 10), Fantasia (winner, Season 3), Ruben Studdard (winner, Season 2), Nick Fradiani (winner, Season 15) and Caleb Johnson (winner, Season 14) return to duet with the first half of the Idol Season 15 Top 24 contestants. 

Emily Brooke with Lauren Alania – “Flat On The Floor” (Carrie Underwood)
Although Emily completely bombed her performance last night, she clearly improved with this performance. This duet was full of fun energy and a surprising musical chemistry between the two singers. I was impressed with Lauren’s mentoring of Emily. Advice from someone who has already been through the Idol Machine is invaluable. I’m not sure Emily’s found her lane on the show yet and hopefully Lauren’s advice will push her towards greater success.

Thomas Stringfellow with Nick Fradiani – “Man In The Mirror” (Michael Jackson)
 J. Lo summarized this duet by saying “it felt more Nick than Thomas”. And although this duet wasn’t as great as I’d hoped, I fully agree with her comment. Thomas’s already irritating “indie affect” – his choice to pronounce words with a form of phonics I can’t describe – came into play during this song. “Man In The Mirror” could not be less indie. It’s about a world unifying through individual achievement. It’s “We Are The World” for a solo act. It’s probably a safe assessment to say this was the wrong song for Thomas. Instead of bringing something additional to the song, Thomas made me wish Nick had sang this song solo like he did last season. I’m not biased. I promise.

Stephany Negrete with Ruben Studdard – “Superstar” (The Carpenters)
The best duet so far – it was staged in a dramatic way with Stephany entering after Ruben’s first verse. Their voices blended beautifully together. It was a smart choice strategically to pick a song that Ruben popularized during his season; people already love his rendition of the song so why not? Stephany brought a maturity to the song that I didn’t expect. It was truly beautiful.

Sonika Vaid with Caleb Johnson – “Skyfall” (Adele)
Sonika and Caleb seem like a disaster pairing at first, one that has no chance in hell of getting up off the ground. However, their duet was intriguing and captivating. Sonika reminds me of Vanessa Hudgens (as of late), both in looks and vocal intonation.

Jenna Renae with Scotty McCreery – “See You Tonight” (Scotty McCreery)
Jenna is still blending into the background in this competition for me, for you, and I’ll be surprised if she advances through to the next round. Her duet with Scotty was fun, serviceable, and utterly forgettable.

La’Porscha Renae with Fantasia – “Summertime” (Ella Fitzgerald)
I only wish this duet had been longer in order to really build the dynamics of the song and the two women’s powerful voices. La’Porscha got criticism on social media last night for painting-by-the-numbers in her Tina Turner cover, but I loved it. La’Porscha is a true lock for the Top 10 and I am intrigued to see what she’ll do yet.

Mackenzie Bourg with Lauren Alaina – “I Hope You Dance” (LeAnn Womack)
This reminded me of going to the spring musical back in high school. The quiet, somewhat bland, sensitive artist that it’s oh-so-easy to project whatever you want onto. And the powerhouse, popular girl who comes on strong enough to tempt him out of obscurity. The song was definitely out of Mackenzie’s element but he still somehow made it work. Sweet and sensitive but utterly mismatched. Lauren’s belting coupled with Mackenzie’s softness made it seem like the duet partners were singing two different songs.

Gianna Isabella with Nick Fradiani – “Beautiful Life” (Nick Fradiani)
Gianna isn’t ready for primetime, in my opinion, and something about her just grates on me. “Beautiful Life” was a good choice for a duet between these two, as the listener can see how the song can resonate with both an Idol winner and an Idol hopeful. That said, Gianna reminds me of a 13 year old at a high school slumber party. She’s never made me believe the lyrics she’s singing and I can’t get over the nepotism that tinges everything she does.

Avalon Young with Ruben Studdard – “Flying Without Wings” (Westlife)
Avalon manages to be inexplicably compelling. Maybe it’s the fact she seems utterly natural, or that she doesn’t look like she’s trying too hard, or maybe she seems like the kind of person you’d like to have a beer with. Her duet with Ruben Studdard was one of the best of the night.

James VIII with Caleb Johnson – “Gimmie Shelter” (Rolling Stones)
Where has James VIII been hiding that hair this whole time? Come on now! James and Caleb looked like they could be brothers during their rehearsal footage. While they were matched very well together, I wished for a different song choice. “Gimmie Shelter” builds to a wild finish and the lyrics go the way of passion. The passion wasn’t really there to carry it through to its grand finale.

Jeneve Rose Mitchells with Scotty McCreery – “Gone” (Montgomery Gentry)
It’s truly hard to judge this duet because it was so unlike anything else I’ve seen on Idol. While Scotty had an Idol Moment ™ with this song back in 2010, it was a little strange to watch Jeneve, who specializes in softer emotion, tackle this one. The quick pacing of the lyrics doesn’t work for a duet at all, and I am surprised the Idol producers gave them this one. I hope that Jeneve goes through to the next round based on her unique style and talent. She would truly bring something to the Idol Top 12 that we’ve never seen before. No hyperbole there.

Jordan Sasser with Fantasia – “I Believe” (Fantasia)
Jordan will never be my favorite, it’s true, and I would have loved to see Fantasia sing this one all on her own. Jordan comes off over-wrought on even the tamest of songs, so I knew this would be over-the-top. It fell flat in a way I can’t describe. Jordan sounded light-years better than his Celine Dion cover last night, but it won’t be enough to put him through to the next round in my opinion.

Best of the night: Avalon/Ruben, Stephany/Ruben
Worst of the night: Thomas/Nick, Gianna/Nick

Through to the next round: LaPorscha, Sonika, Avalon, Gianna, Thomas, Mackenzie, Jeneve
Eliminated: Emily, Stephany, Jenna, James, Jordan