“American Idol” returned with a poignant episode on Sunday that likely left fans with tears in their eyes and called their mothers.
Each participant performed twice for the Mother’s Day show. First they sang pieces from the band Coldplay, with input from the front man and guest mentor Chris Martin. They later gave touching performances dedicated to their mothers.
As usual, the singers received feedback from the judges Luke Bryan, Lionel Richie and Katy Perrywho opened on a virtual Q&A post show about celebrating her first mother’s day as a mom. The pop star and her partner Orlando Bloom greeted their first child together, daughter daisy, last August.
“I have to take a nap with her this morning,” said Perry, who revealed that she also celebrated the holiday with her family on Saturday. “And strangely enough, she usually napped for an hour, but she napped me for two and a half hours and I was holding her hand and it was perfect.”
She added that Mother’s Day performances, especially the participants’ original songs, are even closer to home now that she’s a mother.
“My baby is my baby,” she said. “To see this secret, strong men are sensitive and vulnerable and need their mother. It’s so cute. It’s so beautiful. A lot of their songs really moved me.”
Here’s what happened during the coast-to-coast live episode that cut the last seven down to five.
First up was high school student Casey Bishop, with the rocker teen recording the band’s song “Paradise”.
Martin gave the 16-year-old some advice on stage presence and confidence, telling her to “exist within the song” to calm her nerves.
And the teenager did it, according to the judges.
“It was so great to see you let go towards the middle of the song,” Perry said, adding that Bishop could get even wilder. “I want more tornado, but that was perfect.”
Bryan, who predicted that Bishop would win the show after its first audition, told her that he “had never heard you get a bad mark on this whole competition”.
“That was another look into your future and what you can be,” he added.
Bishop returned with her rock edge for her second song “Ironic” by Alanis Morissette.
Perry said Bishop provided the “whirlwind” she was looking for.
“Way to be obsessed with personality,” she added. “Always bring that kind of stage presence and energy with you.”
24-year-old heavy machine operator Chayce Beckham next took the stage and gave a performance of “Magic” that got all three judges on their feet.
“Half the game is that you have the confidence. The other half of the game is that you have fun,” advised Richie. “Enjoy the ride, my husband.”
Perry praised Beckham’s singing but added that she wished he would take Martin’s advice to let a strand of his combed back hair fall in front of his face.
“You have that Chris Martin magic on you,” she said. “The only thing I missed was this strand. I stand for this strand.”
For his second song, Beckham played an original called “Mama” that he wrote for his mother during Hollywood Week.
“If it weren’t for her, I’d be dead or in jail,” Beckham said after the show, adding that he hopes to release an album soon after “Idol” graduates. “Hopefully I have to touch the hearts of some people all over America because that’s all I want to do.”
Beckham certainly touched the hearts of the judges.
“As a songwriter I will say that you will bring the song out now,” Richie told the candidate as he tore up on the stage. “That’s a record.”
Perry called Beckham a “sensitive, vulnerable machine operator”.
“A-plus A-plus, A-plus!” she exclaimed.
21-year-old caretaker Willie Spence gave a soaring performance of “Yellow” which Richie called “a religious experience.”
Perry agreed and said Spence was singing “between heaven and earth”.
“You let go and you let go of God,” she added.
Spence gave another electrifying performance with Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful”. After the show, he announced that he had chosen the song because “to me my mother is the most beautiful person in the world”.
“I think only a mother’s unconditional love will make this type of song so open to Heaven,” Perry said.
Caleb Kennedy, 16, gave a gritty rendition of “Violet Hill,” which Perry said was the first time she was ever scared of a Coldplay song.
“That scared me, and it scared me in a good way, because it was so good, Caleb,” Perry told the student.
Richie noticed that the teen’s confidence was going down in the middle of the song.
“Remember, the crowd didn’t come to the rehearsal,” he said. “Bring yourself every time you come to this table because that’s what we’re looking for.”
Like Beckham, Kennedy played an original emotional song for his mother called “Mama Said”.
“You, my friend, are a real anomaly,” said Bryan. “To be able to write songs like this, to really connect like a 50 year old sage wrote. It’s amazing.”
Richie agreed that the teenager has talent that extends well beyond his or her years.
“That’s a 90-year-old man who writes this song,” he said. “That’s a huge record right there.”
Last year’s runner-up Arthur Gunn played a popular rendition of “In My Places”. The 23-year-old musician changed the musical arrangement with Martin’s blessing.
Gunn earned praise for his singing but received mixed reactions from the judges for rewriting the song.
“Anyone who can stand in front of the writer and say, ‘I’m going to change the tune and I’ll change a few words too’ … is called an artist, my friend,” said Richie.
Perry disagreed. Although she praised Gunn’s artistry, she wasn’t as enthusiastic about the changes.
“I wanted to sing along with you, Arthur, and I didn’t know that tune,” she said.
Gunn then dedicated a performance of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man” to “all the mothers out there”.
Richie praised Gunn’s “Signature Voice” while Perry complimented his song selection. Bryan urged him to “go deeper”.
20-year-old college student Grace Kinstler wasn’t sure which song to play when she entered her session with Martin. After the back and forth, the singer, known for her powerful belts and stealthy riffs, opted for a simple, stripped-down version of “Fix You”.
“Let’s just get super vulnerable,” recommended Martin.
And according to the judges, the advice paid off.
“It broke the facade of show business,” said Perry. “It was really connected. I think you finally came up with this song.”
Bryan said Kinstler was so good he almost said a bad word on live national television.
“It actually got me out of what I do,” he said. “It was wonderful.”
After the show, Kinstler said she was singing about her family’s recent losses and remembering how her father and grandmother died less than a month apart.
“I was just thinking about my family, everything I had seen and how I was feeling,” she said. “It’s a really important part of me that I have to share because it made me who I am today and changed the way I see my life.”
For her second song, Kinstler sang one of her mother’s favorites: “When We Were Young” by Adele.
“It was like being in a movie,” said Bryan. “It was really a magical achievement.”
Hunter Metts, 22, used his soft voice for a dreamy performance of “Everglow”.
The judges joked about how many fans have come to love the software developer.
“I get so many texts about you,” said Perry. “Just know that you are loved. You are loved by the world and it is nice to see you sing and float.”
Richie predicted great things for Metts.
“You are a storyteller and you have a unique voice. So the problem you are going to have is nothing,” he said. “The sky is the limit for your career.”
Metts later ended the show with an original called “The River”, which Bryan rated “10 out of 10”.
“It’s one thing to sing but to be a songwriter, to be in the driver’s seat of your life and your message is the whole,” added Perry.
Who went home
Not every participant could go to the next round. After a “really, really close match,” hosts Ryan Seacrest revealed that Gunn and Metts didn’t make the top five.
“I’ve learned so much,” Metts said after the show. “I’ve opened so many friends and doors and so much beautiful growth. I’m looking forward to what’s next and coming home and really working because at the end of the day this is the launch pad.”
Gunn added that he is happy to perform on the big “Idol” stage after singing in quarantine last season.
“I wasn’t expecting it, but it just happened,” he said. “It feels good to be on stage and play songs.”
“Idol” will resume next Sunday at 8 ET when the top 5 are tended by Billie Eilish’s brother and songwriting partner Finneas O’Connell.