American Idol 5th Judge: Duets Put Real-Life Couples to the Test — Plus, Idol's First Gay Love Song

For the first time in “Idol” history, two gay singers perform a love song together — but is breaking history enough to get them through to the next round?

It’s a whole new Hollywood Week on "American Idol" and we are absolutely loving this new Duets Round, replacing the Group Round of years past.

The spotlight shined far brighter on both sides of each partnership, but it also exposed weaknesses even more. And it cost us more of our early favorites from the audition round. Some people just can’t hack working with another person.

Sure, it might seem unfair, but we think this is a great way to put them through their paces, learn something about their personality and integrity and ability to share a spotlight. That tells so much about who someone is without having to ask them (because people like — sometimes to themselves).

There were a few standout moments, but with so many contestants to get through, we didn’t get full performances from the vast majority of them. We really wish "Idol" would embrace the web and put a ton of exclusive content up there to really bring the experience home for anyone willing to do a deep dive into these rounds.

Fair warning, since I’m safe at home, I’m probably going to be a little harsher than my colleagues Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan.

And just for giggles, I’m going to rank the auditions each night from worst to first to see who my favorites are. Will they move on? Will they win the whole thing? Will the judges recognize talent when they see it? Let’s find out!


"You wanna pick somebody you sound good with, but it’s hard," said one contestant. "You don’t want somebody who’s going to overpower you in any way."

That’s the challenge of the new duets round, but it’s such an improvement over the "dreaded group rounds" of previous seasons. That round never really made much sense in a solo competition as it flexed odd muscles that were then never used again.

It’s also a more logical option for solo singers, as it’s far more common for them to pair up on a duet in their career then to suddenly join a barbershop quartet.

"You gotta pull your own weight," Katy said of the work that goes into partnering with just one person as opposed to a group with three others. There was still teamwork, but a much better chance to shine and show who you are.

Louis Knight & Francisco Martin

("Breakeven," The Script) Francisco was even more nervous in this round, to the point he blew the lyrics and his body language was all defeated before he sang a single note. And yet, when he did bother to sing, he has such a beautiful quality and tone. We’d hate to lose him, but if he can’t get the nerves under control, what else can you do?

Louis, meanwhile, was just ethereal and beautiful and totally carried this. These boys were front-runners coming into this week, with only Francisco’s nerves to worry about. Right now, the nerves are winning. The judges are clearly hoping that by building him up he can shake off those confidence issues. (Results: Both In)

Franklin Boone & Jordan Moyes

("Use Somebody," Kings of Leon) They didn’t really give us any solo work from Jordan in this short clip, but music teacher Franklin Boone was just made for this kind of song and this kind of vocal. He just sounds so hip and cool and warm at the same time. (Results: Franklin In, Jordan Out)

Natalie Jane & Marcus Tinsley

("It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World," James Brown) Marcus got the solo breakout in this snippet and put a lot of passion in it, but Natalie was solid in those harmonies. (Results: Not Revealed)

Mollie Isaacs & Lauren Jean

("The Chain," Fleetwood Mac) Mollie and Lauren had equal showcases and while both were solid in their harmonies and in the parts we saw, neither was particularly mind-blowing or groundbreaking in approach or vocal. (Results: Not Revealed)

Lauren Mascitti & Leon Majcen

("Jackson," Johnny Cash & June Carter) Lauren sounded solid when accompanying Leon, but she didn’t hold up as well as he did when they went solo. He had the same cool vibe as Johnny on the original track, while she just sounded a little amateurish in comparison. The judges, though, must have seen something very different than the clip we got. (Results: Lauren In, Leon Out)

Cameron Havens & Ren Patrick

("Shallow," Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper) Cameron sounded really genuine on the early part of the song, with a gentler role. We thought Ren really hit it out of the park with those big old notes, while Cameron faltered after she went out. But again, the judges clearly saw things differently live. The explanation we got was emotional connection, which they felt she was lacking. (Results: Cameron Out, Ren In)

Hannah Prestridge & Grace Leer

("Mama’s Broken Heart," Miranda Lambert) Honestly, we thought both women were absolutely wonderful on this. Hannah brings a gentle vulnerabilty and rawness, which is one way to approach a song like this one, while Grace was all sass and attitude, more akin to the original track. Neither was better in our eyes, but the judges liked the more animated performance. (Results: Hannah Out, Grace In)

Jimmy Levy & Nick Merico

("Someone You Loved," Lewis Capaldi) Jimmy has such a wonderful grit and grown in his voice, adding so much unique texture he’s like no one else. Nick has a much gentler, smoother voice, and yet the boys worked it out when it came to harmonizing and really finding a way they could both shine on this one. It was beautifully arranged and performed top to bottom. (Result: Both In)

Isa Pena & Olivia Ximines

("Try," P!nk) Another stunning arrangement that allowed for two huge voices to sing together and shine separately. This was a masterclass in how two diva-esque voices can share a stage without trying to upstage one another. You can both be huge, dominant voices, and you can both soar just as high. The judges and audience gave that one a standing ovation (Result: Both In)

Michael Wingate & Demi Rae

("LIke I"m Gonna Lose You," Meghan Trainor) Michael went straight to the stratosphere with that falsetto, but he didn’t forget to come back down to bring some beautiful harmonies with Demi. In a way, he almost sounded like he was oversinging it, but it did show he has a great voice, while hers was constistent and strong. (Results: Unknown)

Peyton Aldridge & Madison Paige

("Don’t You Wanna Stay," Jason Aldean & Kelly Clarkson) After a hilarious chicken-wing inspired delay, Peyton struggled with his vocals throughout rehearsal before finally switching to guitar for accompaniment. Would he perform better with it? Whew, this was a rough one to watch.

Peyton forgot the lyrics and was yee-hawing like a good ol’ boy at a honky tonk (though his voice was mosty on point), while Madison was trying to get into the emotional grit of the song. She sounded great, with a strong voice, but went a little off the rails at times trying to go too broad.

In the moment of truth, Peyton stepped up like a gentleman and apologized to Madison for changing from piano to guitar at the last minute and messing her up, he apologized to his parents and asked for the judges to give her another chance. It was humble and honest and commendable. (Results: Both In)

Jordan Jones & DeWayne Crocker Jr.

This was just all vocal runs and incredible harmonizing while running up and down the scales like two madmen. It certainly got their families on their feet, including DeWayne’s fan-favorite, Lionel-llving grandma. (Results:Both In)

Zack Dobbins & Courtney Timmons

("Dangerous Woman," Ariana Grande) Zack pretty much checked out on this performance as soon as he forgot the lyrics early on and just played guitar for Courtney, who sounded very tired. She was, too, as this was their third song choice in the longest night of their lives. The indecision and lack of preparation doomed them both. We hate this because both were really memorable in their initial auditions. (Results: Both Out)

YZthaSinger & Aliana Jester

("Like I’m Gonna Lose You," Meghan Trainor) YZ was into Aliana like into her, and she was definitely giving it as a vocal partner (she’s got a boyfriend so it stops there). But that chemistry felt real, and it carried through into a very genuine and beautiful duet. It was simply and just lovely. (Results: Both In)

Faith Becnel & Jovin Webb

("It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World," James Brown) There was so much soul and passion and grit coming from both of them, their shared Southern connection helped them connect in every way necessary to really put on a great show … the kind you’d pay money to see. (Results: Both In)

Landen Starkman & Perrin York

("Breakeven," The Script) Landen and Perrin struck up a genuine friendship throughout, and while there wasn’t a sexual tension between them, there was still a genuine connection and emotional bond that helped cement them together for a cohesive performance. Their harmonies were just achingly beautiful. (Results: Both In)

Genavieve Linkowski & Travis Finlay

("The Prayer," Celine Dion & Josh Groban) We’re not gonna lie, Travis shined a little brighter here, but that’s only because he was out of the stratosphere. Genavieve was fantastic, very strong throughout, but Travis was taking it to another level. Still, both were deserving of advancing.. (Results: Both In)

Jeb Vonderbrugge & Alyssa Fair

("Stay," Rihanna) We only got a sippet of this and not enough to really judge them, but what we heard from Jeb had a genuine sweetness to it. Alyssa also had that innocence, but the judges didn’t think it was strong enough. (Results: Jeb, In, Alyssa Out)

Kat Lopez & Alex Garrido

("You Say," Lauren Daigle) This real-life coupe stole our hearts in their "Shallow" audition, but Alex wasn’t quite as strong in the bit we did get to see here. Kat has such a cool and distinct voice, and he just sounded like a rather bored country singer. This was a heartbreaker for the couple as it broke them up (in the competition, at least). (Results: Kat In, Alex Out)

Jonny West & Margie Mays

("Like I’m Gonna Lose You," Meghan Trainor) Another real couple, Jonny has been the stronger contestant to this point. The pressures of Hollywood Week were getting to him, though, as he stressed about letting her down and blowing it, while she freaked about them possibly getting split here (like what just happened to Kat & Alex.

You could see Jonny’s nerves as they got into the song — he focused exclusively on Margie — but it did not betray his vocal. In fact, we’d argue that the natural quality and tone of his voice actually pushed Margie to strengthen her own work, giving her one of her best performances yet. And yet, Katy thought they both suffered by working together. (Results: Both In (barely))

Cyniah Elise & Makayla Phillips

("The Prayer," Celine Dion & Josh Groban) Cyniah tried to ditch Makayla after learning she struggled to learn lyrics, but when she realized she was stuck with her, she focused on teaching her "The Prayer." They both stressed about being a double-diva duet, but we’ve already seen that can work.

All that hard work paid off, as this came together beautifully. The harmonies were so respectful and underplayed, allowing each to really stand out on solo portions both with emotional gentleness and huge soaring notes. Just a stellar job by both partners. (Results: Both In)

Elyjuh Rene & Kimmy Gabriella

("Stay," Rihanna) We knew Kimmy had a big old voice, but were less familiar with Elyjuh. What we saw here, though, it looked like he was outmatched. (Results: Both In)

Evan Kuriga & Dillon James

("Use Somebody," Kings of Leon) In the bit we saw, it just sounded like to solid vocalists complementing each other well enough. No wow factor, but good enough. (Results: Both In)

Lauren Spencer-Smith & Makayla Brownlee

("Set Fire to the Rain," Adele) Another short snippet, but both Lauren and Makayla proved fearless in taking on Adele, putting their own unique stamps on it and complementing one another well.. (Results: Both In)

Robert Taylor & Tito Rey

("Say So," PJ Morton & JoJo) Breaking ground on "Idol," these gay duet partners sang a love song two one another. They even intended to write their own melody and harmonies on it,which was pretty ambitious, and even went against their vocal coaches’ advice to rein it in. Was it all too much muchness?

It was ridiculous and so over-the-top they even got a snap-along going with the audience. But was it recognizable as the song they were supposed to be performing? Not really at all. We’d have liked to have seen a little more control, but it was certainly memorable and their voices are just crazy! (Results: Robert In, Tito Out)

Sheniel Masonet & Just Sam

("Mercy," Shawn Mendes) Sam hit her breaking point early, but Sheniel was able to help pull her back, and she continued to struggle with confidence and anxiety leading up to the actual performance. Once she hit the stage, though, it was pure magic and the most emotionally raw performance of the night. Sam even managed to outshine Sheniel just a little bit, just with the power of her voice on this particular song. (Results: Both In)

"American Idol" airs Sunday and Monday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

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