8 divas land in ‘American Idol’ bottom 10

Kaeyra, Olivia Solí, Lucy Love, Paige Anne, Hannah Nicolaisen, Mariah Faith, Nailyah Serenity, and Nutsa all land in the

Kaeyra, Olivia Solí, Lucy Love, Paige Anne, Hannah Nicolaisen, Mariah Faith, Nailyah Serenity, and Nutsa all land in the “danger zone” on a controversial top 20 episode of ‘American Idol’ Season 21. (Photo: ABC)

Monday on American Idolsthe top 20 were whittled down to the top 12 — yes, already! — in yet another brutal Season 21 elimination episode. The 10 singers who automatically advanced, via Sunday’s overnight public vote, were Wé Ani, Warren Peay, Haven Madison, Tyson Venegas, Colin Stough, Marybeth Byrd, Oliver Steele, Iam Tongi, Zachariah Smith, and Megan Danielle. This meant that the 10 other semifinalists had to perform for just two remaining spots in the competition… and it was impossible not to notice that almost all of those at-risk contestants were power-singing women.

Surprisingly — or maybe it wasn’t all that surprising, considering how male folk/rock/country contestants almost always fare best on American Idols — no fewer than eight female pop powerhouses landed in what host Ryan Seacrest called Monday’s “danger zone.” It appeared that all of this season’s divas, with the exception of Wé, had split the vote, as one dynamite lady after another was summoned to sing for the save, starting with former frontrunner Hannah Nicolaisen. Judge Lionel Richie claimed that Hannah’s redemption song, Lorde’s “Royals,” was “the right song, right energy” and her “personality was shining through,” but this was such a relaxed and breezy choice, I have a feeling that Hannah had’ t expected to be in this situation so soon.

And this would hardly be the first unexpected or controversial result of the evening.

Mariah Faith, a country singer, was also up for elimination, probably because she hadn’t gone with the right song or right energy on Sunday, doing an uptempo, honky-tonk party number. This time she went with what Luke Bryan called the “perfect song choice,” the SteelDrivers’ “If It Hadn’t Been for Love,” and she seemed to get back in the zone and back in her lane. “Way to show up after receiving heartbreaking news. … That’s the Mariah we’ve been used to,” Luke assured her.

I was furious that Nailyah Serenity, one of Sunday’s best, had also failed to secure the fan vote; even Ryan noted, “She did all she could last night.” But she made a real statement Monday by putting her own sophisticated spin on Sia’s fight song “Alive,” pleading, “I’m still breathing, I’m still breathing.” It was clear that she really wanted — and deserved — to stay. Katy Perry told Nailyah, “You bring the soul to this show,” but at the same time Katy kept telling Nailyah how grateful she should be for already making it this far, so it felt like a bittersweet, fond farewell.

Paige Anne was also in danger, but as Ryan pointed out, she’d “faced elimination before,” because she’d only made it to the top 26 as an alternate contestant after another singer dropped out. Paige also made a big statement, practically through tears, with Pink’s insistent “I’m Here.” Said Lionel, “That’s how you fight back.”

Then Kaeyra landed in the bottom 10, a result that elicited not only audible gasps from the studio audience but a noticeable expression of disappointment across Kaeyra’s face. But she pulled it together and also fought back on “If I Was Your Woman,” maintaining her steely focus even when a distracting fly fluttered onto the stage. It was at this point that Ryan told the judges, “I do not envy the decision you have to make later on this show…”

Yet another diva, Olivia Solí, didn’t make the cut, although Ryan delivered that news in a shady, sneaky, genuinely rude way that at first made it seem like she’d advanced. (“Those audience claps after Ryan Seacrest telling Olivia Solí she wasn’t in the top 12 were embarrassing,” tweeted one viewer, while another angrily posted, “Olivia’s segueway wasn’t it…faked her out big-time.”) This cruel curveball sadly seemed to throw Olivia off her game, and there was a dead-eyed, defeated demeanor to her subsequent “God Is a Woman performance. But she powered through it as much as she could.

And finally, also at risk were perhaps this season’s feistiest fighters, Lucy Love and Nutsa. On Sunday, Lucy had showcased her songwriting abilities on her original anthem, “Boulders,” and Nutsa’s show-closing Toni Braxton cover had Lionel declare her the hardest-working contestant in Idols history. But both ladies had to work even harder Monday, so they put on their game-faces and brought their A-games, respectively, on Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” and the fittingly titled Dreamgirls classic “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.” Lionel said if “he had to bet on anyone,” it’d be Lucy, and Luke told Nutsa she’d “knocked it out of the park.”

There were two male contestants up for elimination Monday, although one was much more surprising than the other. As I’d predicted, heartthrob Michael Williams had suffered a Samson-like setback from his drastic haircut that had so dismayed Katy this week. His last-ditch performance, of JVKE’s “Golden Hour,” was a rebound of sorts, featuring some impressive high notes as the end, but it all seemed too little, too late. He still struggled with his breath control during the rapid, wordy verses, and his flirty kiss to the camera felt like a kiss goodbye. Seriously, the dude just should not have chopped his fluffy boy-band locks — possibly the most disastrous TV hair make under since Felicity Season 2.

The much bigger shocker was when Ryan announced that pop/R&B crooner Matt Wilson was also in danger. Katy, who was not on camera when this result was revealed, could actually be heard crying out loud, “Danger zone? Danger zone?” The judges actually seemed downright a by this result, with a chagrined Luke telling Matt, “I’m sorry you were in that spot,” after Matt reprized his elegant audition song, Giveon’s “For Tonight.” But at least Matt could relax a bit, knowing he had a decent chance of being one of the judges’ two picks.

Or… maybe not. After what Luke dreaded would be an “interesting commercial break” as he, Katy, and Lionel deliberated over what Lionel called “the most talented class we have ever had,” the panel decided to save Lucy and Nutsa. (I was pleased with the Lucy verdict, but I personally would have chosen Mariah, Nailyah, or Kaeyra over Nutsa.) That meant the show said goodbye to Hannah, Mariah, Nailyah, Paige Anne, Kaeyra, Olivia, Michael, and Matt — all at once. “We love you guys so much, and we are so proud of the growth and the confidence and the belief you now have in yourselves,” Katy assured them. “Take all of this with you on your journey upwards. you belong. You are enough.”

As for the above-mentioned fan-voted top 10, they all performed ceremonial victory songs Monday, but for the sake of time, none of them received criticism from the judges — except for country singer Colin Stough. I suspect that Colin, one of Season 21’s least experienced and least polished singers, had assumed he’d be on the chopping block, and based on his track record up until this point, he frankly did not deserve a top 12 spot over most of this week’s eliminated contestants. And so, he has a genius fight song ready to go: a stunning acoustic version of Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own” that evoked Guns N’ Roses’ GNR Lies era. It also reminded me of last season’s breakout moment by eventual winner Noah Thompson, when Noah changed the game with a folk version of Rihanna’s “Stay.” This was the first time I saw Colin as true artist, and maybe as a potential winner himself. And the judges seemed to agree, with Katy going off-script to enthusiastically holler at him, “One moment can change your life — and that was the moment!”

It’s too bad that Colin didn’t save “Dancing on My Own” for when he really needed the votes, but I have a feeling he’ll be able to coast on this momentum for a few weeks. As for the surviving pop divas in the top 12, however, they likely won’t be so lucky, based on Monday’s controversial results. So, if you’re a fan of Lucy, Nutsa, or probably even Wé, get ready to rock the vote this coing Sunday, on Idols‘s Rock & Rock Hall of Fame-themed episode, because none of these ladies are safe. See you then.

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