After a mostly COVID-free season of “American Idol,” the virus has struck the singing competition just two weeks away from the Season 20 finale.
At the top of Sunday’s episode, host Ryan Seacrest revealed two of the top seven contestants have come down with COVID-19: Noah Thompson and Fritz Hager. As a result, Hager’s rehearsal footage served in place of his live performances, while Thompson sang remotely from his hotel room.
The two-hour show aired live coast-to-coast and saw the top seven singers each perform twice, receiving feedback from judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan while viewers voted at home for who they wanted to see in the top five.
For their first performance, contestants sang songs that have either gone viral on TikTok or that they themselves have sung on the video-sharing app. Then each contestant performed songs in honor of Mothers’ Day.
Here’s what went down, including which two powerhouse vocalists went home at the end of the night.
Leah Marlene has already proven herself a dynamic performer. But she said her goal going into her first song on Sunday was to move and groove instead of standing still.
And Marlene tore up the stage, singing “Electric Love” by Børns.
“Who are you?” Richie marveled. “You did a wonderful job.”
For her Mother’s Day song, Marlene sang “Sanctuary” by Nashville Cast.
“You’re just mature and graceful, and you look like an angel, and you sound like an angel,” said Perry, also complimenting Marlene on her growth throughout the competition.
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For his first song, Jay Copeland opted for the Whitney Houston classic “I Have Nothing,” which accompanies many of his favorite animal videos on TikTok.
“The runs were so unique and so artistic,” Perry told him. “You did justice to a Whitney Houston song.”
Copeland also sang one of his mother’s favorite songs: “A Song for Mama” by Boyz II Men.
“I feel like you have found exactly who you are, and you’re never going to go back,” Perry said, after his second performance, adding that Copeland has “instant identity” as an artist.
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Instead of choosing any ordinary song from TikTok, Hager opted to sing his original song “All My Friends,” which he has featured on the video sharing app.
It’s always a risk to sing an original song on “American Idol” – but for a songwriter as talented as Hager, it paid off.
“Man, you’ve just got all the tools,” Bryan told Hager after his rehearsal footage played. “You’ve got all the creativeness to go a long way.”
Hager, who appeared via video from quarantine, also gave an update on his COVID symptoms.
“I’m feeling good. I’m just kind of in a prison here. But it’s nice, “he said.” I’m just ready to get back on that stage hopefully. “
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For his second song, Hanger sang another original, called “The Ocean,” in dedication to his mother and grandmother, who passed away five years ago.
And even in his rehearsal footage, Hager channeled a flood of feeling with his song.
“You look like a pro. You sound like a pro. You play the guitar with a ton of emotion,” said Bryan. “God, it was just another amazing performance. Please vote, everybody.”
Christian Guardino, who has been open on the show about his retinal condition that affects his eyesight, sang the Justin Bieber song “Lonely,” which he said he relates to.
Richie assured Guardino that he is not “broken.” Instead, he’s one-of-a-kind.
“The reason you’re on this stage is because you are unique to this planet, and your talent is shining through like a diamond,” he continued.
Guardino returned to sing one of his mother’s favorite songs: “Dear God” by Smokie Norful.
Perry said it was one of Guardino’s best, most authentic performances, and Bryan marveled that the song “was just pouring out” of the singer’s soul.
“That was the most incredibly felt performance ever coming out of your mouth,” Richie said.
Huntergirl showed off an edgier side of herself, rocking out to the heartbreak TikTok anthem “you broke me first” by Tate McRae.
“I am so grateful that all of you are using up the stage tonight,” Perry exclaimed. “You are becoming the artist that you dream of.”
And later in the show, Huntergirl showed her vulnerable side, singing “Like My Mother Does” by Lauren Alaina, the runner-up on Season 10 of “American Idol.”
By the end of the song, there didn’t seem to be a dry eye in the studio. Tears also streamed down Huntergirl’s face as the judges commended her stellar performance.
“You got the platinum ticket,” Perry said. “You still deserve the platinum ticket today. And you’ve got a platinum heart as well, my dear.”
Performing remotely from his hotel room, Thompson crooned out “Painted Blue” from Sundy Best, which Thompson’s sung on TikTok.
Bryan said Thompson is such a star that he shines both on the “American Idol” stage and in COVID quarantine.
The contestant also updated viewers on his COVID case.
“I’m getting by, man. It sucks, “he said.” This is my first time having COVID. I’m getting through it though. “
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For his second song, Thompson sang Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” which he dedicated to his grandmother, who raised him after his parents’ divorce.
Richie said COVID may be working in Thompson’s favor.
“You know, when you’re sick, you’re sounding a lot better. When I say that, the believability, the growl in your voice, that texture – that’s called selling, man,” he said. “You nailed it.”
Perry seemed to agree.
“I think adrenaline took over, Noah, and I think you had to surrender,” she said. “You did the best that you have ever done tonight.”
The pressure was on during the TikTok round for Nicolina, whose videos have garnered about 4 million likes on the app.
She sang “Alone” by Heart – and practically blew the roof off the studio with her powerful, emotional voice.
“Star in control,” said a floored Richie. “You got it.”
Nicolina then sang “Light in the Hallway” by Pentatonix in tribute to her Nona. By the time she finished the stunning performance, the singer was a puddle of tears.
Richie said Nicolina was “absolutely flawless,” while Perry said she gave an “A plus plus” performance.
Bryan said Richie took the word right out of his mouth.
“I was literally going to use the word ‘flawless,’ and Lionel took it,” he said.
Who went home?
But not everybody could make the top five.
After a nail-biter vote reveal, Copeland and Guardino were eliminated.