'American Idol' recap: Judges say 'aloha' to some, 'aloha' to others as finalists are chosen

Matthew Wilson, Special to USA TODAY

On Sunday’s “American Idol,” the top 40 contestants enjoyed the sun and beaches of the Aulani Disney resort in Hawaii. But for some it was the end of the dream as they sang onstage in front of an audience for a spot in the coveted top 20.

For two singers, the concert was a chance for a transformation that showed how far they’ve come and had the judges gasping and cheering along. 

Francisco Martin, 19, walked onto the open-air stage a new man. No longer shy or losing track of lyrics, Martin gave a powerhouse performance that showcased his guitar skills in a cover of “Falling” by Harry Styles. Not only was the audience clapping, but so were the judges, who pushed him forward into the next stage of the competition. 

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Meanwhile, 21-year-old Just Sam’s performance was nothing short of metamorphic. The singer has come a long way from bursting into tears during her audition, too overwhelmed to sing. Even though she doesn’t speak Spanish, you'd never know it with her rendition of “Como La Flor” by Selena. The performance earned her a spot in the top 20. 

“Last night you walked on that stage and you were the definition of eloquence,” judge Katy Perry said during Sam's feedback, filmed the next day. “You were beautiful and feminine. I was using the word metamorphosis.”

Joining Sam and Martin in the top 20 is DeWayne Crocker Jr., who came onstage looking like a cowboy for his cover of “Old Town Road (Remix)” by Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus. Crocker infused the song with reggae, keeping it playful and finishing with a tip of his hat to the crowd. It was a far cry from the shy young man who met the judges the next day for their verdict. 

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“That was one of our favorite performances,” Perry told him. “Not only were we thoroughly entertained, but you sounded great. You played all of us and you played it well.”

Crocker celebrated the good news by dancing with his mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and the rest of the family. 

Also going to the top 20 were Jovin Webb, 29, who sang “You Are the Best Thing” by Ray LaMontagne, and 20-year-old Faith Becnel, who covered “Ain’t Nobody” by Rufus and Chaka Khan. Both brought voices infused with soul and grit as they took ownership of the stage. 

Louis Knight, 19, and Jonny West, 23, also found their way into the top 20, but not without strong words from the judges. West, who sang “You Found Me” by The Fray, had to contend with girlfriend Margie Mays being kicked from the competition. Instead, she watched from the sidelines. 

The judges urged him not to let his thoughts affect his performance, advice they also gave to Knight, who didn’t give his best performance with “Castle on the Hill” by Ed Sheeran.

“I think you’re getting in your head. You need to be in your heart, that’s where you’re best,” Perry said. She revealed that the judges had an inside bet on how far he would go in the competition. “When you came in and sang that song for your friend, you were in your heart. You were doing it for your friend. You weren’t doing it for you. You need to get back to that place.”

The concert offered a chance for 24-year-old Nick Merico and judge Lionel Richie to make amends. Coming into his audition, Merico rubbed Richie the wrong way with his arrogance, but through the weeks of competition, Merico has tried to show a new humility, saving his cockiness for when he was onstage singing “When I Was Your Man” by Bruno Mars

“I didn’t think you were going to make it this far. But something has really changed in me. I went from not liking you to appreciating you,” Richie said before telling Merico he had made it to the next round.

But not all contestants would be following. It was the end of the road for 23-year-old Devon Alexander, who sang “Tell Me You Love Me” by Demi Lovato, Jordan Jones, 26, who sang “Redbone” by Childish Gambino, and 27-year-old Geena who sang Mars' “Finesse.”   

Worship leader Camryn Leigh Smith, 16, wouldn’t be moving forward in the competition either. Though she has a powerful voice and range, she played things too safe for the judges by selecting gospel song “Break Every Chain” by Tasha Cobbs Leonard. Maybe it was a sign, or maybe it was just the tropics, but it started to rain after Smith received the news. 

Also going home was Makayla Brownlee, 17, who endeared herself to the judges in Hollywood Week when she performed despite collapsing and having a seizure hours earlier. Brownlee has a condition called Vasovagal syncope that can cause sudden drops in blood pressure and heart rate.

Brownlee sang “More Hearts Than Mine” by Ingrid Andress, and even got words of wisdom from Andress herself via Skype, with a little help from coach Bobby Bones. But the judges were not fans of the changes Brownlee made to the song, and it was the end of the road for her. 

“It’s been amazing to watch you fight,” judge Luke Bryan said. “You have so many unique qualities to your voice, the way you back-phrase some stuff. It’s timeless, old-school tricks, and we’ve enjoyed hearing that.”

Dillon James, 26, closed out the night with a powerful performance of Bob Dylan's “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” But James and the rest of the contestants won't learn their fates until April 5, when the rest of the top 20 will be announced. 

The announcement of the finalists is the last taped episode of "American Idol." Because of the coronavirus pandemic, live shows are delayed indefinitely while producers explore "multiple options within statewide guidelines," including an audience-free version. Clip shows are planned to fill the gap April 12 and 19. 

Contributing: Erin Jensen

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'American Idol': Judges say 'aloha' to some on the way to the top 20