'American Idol': The Final Judgment Yields Top 24

The judges and contestants all feel the weight of Showcase Week's final cuts.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez, and Harry Connick Jr.

Tonight, Jennifer Lopez, Harry Connick Jr., and Keith Urban dole out their final judgment before handing over the power to voters during next week’s live shows. Right off the bat, there’s a much different tone to tonight’s episode than the first part of Showcase Week. Only 11 spots remain in the top 24, and 23 singers awaiting their fate.

“Phenomenal singers are going home today,” Lopez says, stressing just how difficult a job the judges have at this stage in the competition. When Connick informs Josh Sanders he didn’t make the cut, Lopez interjects to say it would have been a yes from her. After, Connick playfully thanks her for throwing him and Urban under the bus, and it’s a cute moment, but it also reveals some obvious tension and frustration for the judges, who have to say goodbye to singers that they really like, simply because there aren't enough spots. The contestants don’t seem to be the only ones feeling the pressure of the final judgment.

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“Things have taken an emotional turn,” Ryan Seacrest says of tonight’s cuts, which truly sting. The judges send home Hollywood Anderson, who never quite recaptured the brilliance of his first audition when he sang an original song that Lopez loved instantly. Maddy Hudson, who Lopez also pegged as an early frontrunner, fails to deliver with her performance of “Diamonds” by Rihanna. Jaq Mackenzie and Hunter Larsen also don’t get a chance to sing for America’s votes.

But it isn’t the end for everyone. Joey Cook is emotional about the day’s uncertainty before she even heads down the walkway for her judgment. “Everyone is so good,” she tells the judges through tears. “It’s crazy.” But she doesn’t need to stress, because she’s through to the top 24. Katherine Winston, Savion Wright, and Mark Andrew also advance to the live shows.

Tonight’s episode focuses much more on the feedback than the performances, only showing short clips of the contestants on the House Of Blues stage. But there are a few glimpses of what’s possibly to come once the live shows begin. Trevor Douglas, whose vocals during Showcase Week underwhelm the judges, puts on a fun show, and it’s enough to get him a chance to compete in the top 24. Alexis Gomez incorporates Lopez’s Hollywood Week feedback, tapping into her Mexican roots for an innovative rendition of The Band Perry’s song. Quentin Alexander opts for a song outside of the mainstream, performing “Youth” by Foxes. The risks work out well for them, earning them top 24 spots. But 15-year-old Emily Brooke’s bold decision to sing Urban’s own “Stupid Boy” doesn’t do her any favors, but she heads home with encouragement from the judges to keep working and come back. 

See more 'American Idol' Judges Past and Present: The Good, the Bad and the Boring

At 29-years-old, Nick Fradiani, however, has only this one last shot at becoming the next American Idol. Fortunately, his Idol dreams live on, along with those of Sarina-Joi Crowe, who has competed on the show three times before but never made it past this stage...until now.

Another contestant sure to impress during the live shows is Qaasim Middleton, who brings an infectious energy to his Showcase Week performance. It’s enough to get Urban and Lopez on their feet, and he might not be able to reverse Connick’s strict no-standing policy, but it’s clear that he’s a judges’ favorite.

Country boys Riley Bria and Ricky Dale Hendricks vie for the boys’ last spot in the top 24, with Bria edging him out by what the judges imply was a very narrow margin. Fighting for the last spot for the girls are Jelly Joseph and Shi Scott. Scott gives one of the best performances of the night with “Higher Ground” by Stevie Wonder, showcasing a level of confidence that we haven’t seen from her yet. This girl can rock. And she gets a chance to rock for America’s vote, as she’s through to the top 24. Joseph maintains a positive outlook on her elimination, a decision that was tough enough to make the judges emotional after handing out the news. After all, trying out for American Idol this year was the first time she had ever auditioned for anything, and to come as far as Showcase Week is no easy feat.

But next week, the burden of choosing people’s fate no longer rests with the judges, as Idol kicks off the live shows and audience voting. It’s in your hands now, America.