In an “American Idol” first, contestants belonging to the top 24 performed onstage at Disney’s Aulani Resort in Kapolei, Hawaii, in front of a live audience, along with judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan.
Country music star and Season 10 contestant Jimmie Allen served as a mentor to and helped contestants prepare for their live debut. “It’s all about finding out what you do special and what you can learn to apply to your own songwriting skills and vocal ability,” Allen said. “Let’s have fun, let’s try some new stuff and let’s make some music.”
Jay, the medical receptionist from Maryland who earned a platinum ticket during his audition, started things with a playful and expressive performance of The Jackson 5 classic “I Want You Back.”
He impressed Allen with his soulful vocals during rehearsal. “You’re doing things with your voice that I only wish I could do,” Allen said.
Elli Rowe brought an aura of tropical calm with her warm, intimate performance of the Fleetwood Mac tune “Everywhere.”
Rowe said that the song offered her a moment of sweet self-reflection. “I’ve been having this dream for a really long time, and my younger self would be absolutely ecstatic to see me up on that stage singing a Fleetwood Mac song,” she told Allen during rehearsal.
Tristen Gressett brought the house down with a terrific performance of The Beatles anthem “With a Little Help from My Friends.”
Bryan encouraged him to continue following his instincts as a performer.
“Tristan, you do what your heart desires,” Bryan told Gressett after his performance. “Don’t let anyone ever steer you any other way. You go out and you leave it on the stage every time.”
Scarlet set the stage on fire with an electrifying performance of Dua Lipa’s “Levitating,” with the Connecticut native’s soaring vocals elevating the groovy club banger.
“When you are singing just in front of us, it’s one mode, but when you bring a crowd in, you felt confident on that stage. You felt in control on the stage,” Richie said. “It’s your entertainment quality that I applaud you on this time around.”
Sage gave an excellent performance of the Dolly Parton classic “Jolene.”
The 21-year-old nanny’s haunting, earthy vocals impressed the judges, including Bryan, who gushed over the professional-level vocal arrangement.
“You’ve got so many flavors in your voice,” Bryan said. “You have a special artistic talent just in your vocal ability.”
“The most important part here is when you pick such an iconic song like that, it is absolutely imperative that you make it yours,” Richie said. “As long as you don’t lose you, you’ve got a ways to go in this career.”
Danielle Finn’s heartfelt performance of the Elton John hit “Your Song” earned a standing ovation from Perry, who gave him a rough critique after her showstopper performance.
“It was really your own voice, like your own unique way of doing it,” Perry told him. “It wasn’t 100%, I still think you’re nervous. You’re 17 years old, and it’s just gonna take doing it over and over and over and over again.”
Mike Parker had a complete-circle heart-to-heart with Allen, whose musical journey as a Black country artist inspired the 27-year-old singer.
“The beginning of his journey is much similar to my journey right now, and he made me feel like there is a spot for me in country music,” Parker said in a prerecorded interview. “I’m going to remember this day until I leave this earth.”
Seeing his impact on Parker moved Allen to tears during rehearsal. “My mom used to always tell me, ‘You’re not just doing this for you,’ ” Allen recalled. “Hearing you tell me that I’m an inspiration reminds me of my purpose.”
Emyrson Flora hit the stage with the Miley Cyrus power ballad “Angels Like You,” which earned her a standing ovation from all three judges.
Bryan said he was floored by the maturity of Flora’s voice and called her rendition “one of my favorite performances I’ve seen.”
“You are tremendous,” Bryan told Flora. “Your voice is so great, it pulls everybody in. Just walk out here and be confident because you’re truly amazing.”
Dan Marshall sang a tender country spin on Bryan Adams’ “Heaven,” which he dedicated to his girlfriend Allyson, who was in the audience at his performance.
Richie said while he could tell Marshall was tense at first, he also saw him find his groove and “slowly relax.” He encouraged the Virginia singer to ditch his signature guitar and explore performing on his own.
“I know when you don’t have your crutch sometimes, you go for something else, but it’s okay to take that mic out of the mic stand and walk up to Allyson,” Richie told Marshall after his performance. “That’s even better.”
Jacob Moran’s beautiful performance of Shawn Mendes’ “In My Blood” brought all three judges to their feet by the song’s end, including Perry, who said that his rendition transformed the song for her.
“You sang the verse in such a wonderful, reserved way that it was like I had never heard these lyrics before: It’s like I finally heard the song,” Perry told Moran. “I just want you to even be more free the next time ‘cause I can see you using your head to make all the choices. I just want you to sing more with your heart. ”
HunterGirl, the Tennessee singer-songwriter who had a platinum ticket in her audition, brought her country charm with a lively performance of the Rascal Flatts tune “Banjo.”
Perry said while she struggled with her pitch, she enjoyed her energetic stage presence.
“You know how to work a crowd,” Perry said of HunterGirl’s performance. “People wanna party with you; you know how to party. ”
Nicolina gave a showstopping performance of Sia’s “Elastic Heart.” During rehearsal, Allen appreciated the 18-year-old’s emotionally charged delivery, which she said was inspired by the heartbreak of her parents’ spilt.
“When I see you, I just don’t see a singer, I see an artist,” Allen told Nicolina. “I don’t know if it’s because of what you’ve been through in life. Where you pulled that from was real.”
Richie appreciated Nicolina’s natural charisma onstage, calling her “one of my favorites (in) this whole competition.”
“You can handle the stage like you were born here. Your voice is angelic and mesmerizing,” Richie told Nicolina. “You are a star; enjoy this ride.”