American Idol 5th Judge: Covid Strikes, Shaking Up Competition Before Two Contestants Get Cut

Well, that was one for the books as COVID-19 reared its ugly head and shook up a wild, crazy and extremely competitive night on “American Idol” as the Top 7 vied for their spots in the Top 5.

Two contestants tested positive for Covid this week, with one testing early enough in the week to be able to set up and perform from his hotel room. That was how Noah Thompson fought for his chance to stay.

The other one, Fritz Hager, tested positive just today, so there was no time — apparently — to afford him the same hotel room set-up. Instead, he chatted from his hotel room, but footage from his rehearsals was used for his performances across two rounds.

Both had advantages and disadvantages. Noah got to perform live and give it his all, but had to do so isolated and in his room. Fritz was performing on a stage, but sometimes you don’t quite give your everything to a rehearsal, saving that last bit of magic for the final performance.

Would it hurt either of their chances to advance? Did they both go home? We will say that this was the tightest night yet in the competition as far as performances. While we’re still ranking them, the margin between them is razor thin in so many cases — and pretty much across the board in one round.

Tonight, contestants first took to the stage with their favorite songs from TikTok — either viral hits, or songs they’ve uploaded themselves. The second round was all about the mother figures in their lives for Mother’s Day, and boy did that bring the waterworks.

Ryan Seacrest also announced that the entire Top 7 had recorded winner’s singles that will be released to streaming services on Friday, so we’ll probably get some sense of how the public is responding to those in next week’s shows.

But first, we’ve got to get through fourteen performances and two heartbreaking eliminations — and we’re still not sure how we feel about who went home. Obviously, they’re among the best of this competition, because that applies to everyone left. We don’t want to say America got it wrong, but they definitely surprised us a bit.

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. But I might be nicer, too. Maybe.

And just for fun, I’m going to rank the performances from worst to first to see who my favorites are each week. That way I can see who’s the best and then see if you get it right with your votes — i.e., agree with me.

(“Electric Love,” Børns – 20, Normal, IL) At this point, we find ourselves wondering if Leah is disconnecting from her own infectious personality? There were some nice moments on this one, but once again, we weren’t feeling that strength of connection and meaning that we used to get from her. She’s such a pure spirit as an individual and a personality that she’s the kind of person you want to root for but as the weeks go by — honestly, we’re not sure. We applaud her journey into self-confidence, but vocally this wasn’t as strong or impactful as she’s been in the past.

(“All My Friends,” Fritz Hager – 22, Tyler, TX) Fritz went with a track of his own he’d posted on social media and lyrically it’s a perfect song for where he is at in his life. It’s so relatable to that young adult experience. We only got dress rehearsal footage due to his recent Covid diagnosis, but he still managed to perform it extremely well. It’s good he wasn’t phoning it in for staging purposes. Instead, he was filled with passion and conviction. There were times when it felt like the song was trying to be bigger than his voice would go in the chorus, which left us feeling a little underwhelmed. But in the verses themselves, it was that magical connection we look for.

(“Alone,” Heart – 18, Toronto, ON) The choice to go into her soft head voice on “‘Til now” was a brilliant one as we were expecting the big note at that moment, so she had us all breathless. That’s brilliant audience control and command. Honestly, we could have done without the growls as she didn’t need them, but everything else was everything. Her style was the best we’ve seen all season, her movement as she got into the track, and that big voice we knew was coming didn’t fail to impress. It wasn’t her best performance, but it was a powerhouse showcase.

(“you broke me first,” Tate McRae – 23, Winchester, TN) The glam squad got their hands on HunterGirl for this performance, and she brought a fresh vibe to her journey on “American Idol” with her signature country twang on a solidly pop track. advised her to be less perfect with her recording-ready voice and to inject her emotion into these performances, and we could hear her taking that note. There were moments of imperfection but they still managed to draw us in. She was stronger on the verses, but the whole package created such a unique sound, with the rapid syncopation of modern pop and her throwback country twang — we kind of dig it!

(“Lonely,” Justin Bieber f. benny blanco – 21, Patchogue, NY) Christian posted his take on this to TikTok, but took it down as he didn’t think it was quite good enough. Tonight, though, it was an incredible performance. We could feel all of the pain and insecurity of Christian in this performance in the most profoundly vulnerable way. It was simple, heartfelt and had the perfect built to a pure and resonant chorus. This is the promise of Christian when he first joined the competition, finally fulfilled in our eyes. He showed up. At the close, he got a sweet message from Michael Bublé, as well as an offer to perform together in the finale — so we’ve that to look forward to, as well.

(“Painted Blue,” Sundy Best – 20, Louisa, KY) Noah gave us a perfect emotional rise throughout the song, so that by the time he hit the crescendo toward the end about not having to miss us anymore, we could feel the pain in his voice. We already know he can deliver with that natural cry and gravel in his voice, but pairing that with the ability to project pain and heartache — that’s where the magic is in country music. Noah needs to find his inner Chris Stapleton and lean into it, because that’s where he’s going to grab all the heartstrings — and votes.

(“I Have Nothing,” Whitney Houston – 23, Salisbury, MD) had some great advice for Jay, having him practice in the higher key before bringing it down a notch to land more in the sweetness of his voice. With that one tip, Jay gave us his strongest performance in weeks because it didn’t sound like he was trying to show off. Instead, we got a powerful performance with tasteful runs sprinkled throughout. Jay’s redemption arc after nearly getting voted out continues to soar, with him getting stronger and stronger. A little rejection can be good for the soul.

After this first round, it feels to us like Leah is definitely in trouble. Not only did she come out first, but she didn’t have a big step up like almost everyone else did. For us, Fritz was a little underwhelming in the face of the powerful competition he was up against, but we know he’s beloved and bringing an original is a testament in itself. This is an incredibly close Top 7 with talent all across these contestants, so we can see a very close vote — and possibly a shock elimination or two. The second round is going to be crucial.

(“A Song for Mama,” Boyz II Men – 23, Salisbury, MD) This was such a sweet tribute to his mother, and you could hear the genuine connection he felt to these lyrics and love for his mother. Once again, Jay continues to move in the right direction at the right time, soaring higher and higher even than his voice with each performance. He has such a rich, velvety voice and it beautifully caressed these lyrics. Even the sweet little giggle at the end felt so genuine as he broke all of our hearts.

(“The Ocean,” Friz Hager – 22, Tyler, TX) They always say to write what you know. It’s going to ensure authenticity. Well, Fritz took that note writing a song about his family’s beach house and memories there. This was a perfect way to end his night, as it was a song that he definitely felt connected with. Even better, we felt connected to that house and those memories through his emotions. On top of that, to bring two original songs to a night on “Idol” is a bold move, but it also makes an artistic statement that’s difficult to ignore. Fritz is the real deal.

(“Sanctuary,” from “Nashville” f. Charles Esten, Lennon & Maisy – 20, Normal, IL) There she is. This round is definitely bringing out the best in these contestants as this is the strongest and most connected Leah has felt in weeks. We could hear how much this song meant to her, as well as the dedication to her mother. Her voice was strong, connected and in perfect pitch. This was by far her stronger performance on the night, and just what she needed to remind us all why she’s here, and might deserve to continue on.

(“Light in the Hallway,” Pentatonix – 18, Toronto, ON) Nicolina has always excelled at dramatic flair in her performances, so when she finds a song that speaks to that character in her performance, it elevates the whole experience. This was everything that’s perfect for her as an artist and performer. People talk all the time about the evolution of people like Leah on this show, but Nicolina is growing into her shine more and more each week, finding the woman she will become. And that woman is absolutely incredible. This was her best moment — we feel like we’ve been saying this a lot — in weeks!

(“Landslide,” Fleetwood Mac – 20, Louisa, KY) Raised by his grandmother, Noah dedicated one of her favorite songs to her. As a bonus, it’s a great song for his tone, as well as yet another chance to show some genre diversity without losing his signature country rasp. What we appreciated was that he didn’t try to do anything with it except express the genuine heart of it. Even from his hotel room, Noah gave an emotionally resonant performance, which can’t be easy. It’s a testament to the strength of his artistry and the size of his heart.

(“Like My Mother Does,” Lauren Alaina – 23, Winchester, TN) It’s just such an incredible voice. How has HunterGirl avoided being discovered even this long? She has such a rare and pure and singular and powerful tone that is unmistakable and so incredibly marketable. And tonight, she showed how passionate and connected it can be, too. Was this a perfect vocal? No. Was it perfectly emotional? Absolutely. Regardless of what happens on this show, HunterGIrl has the potential to have one of the biggest careers after because she is simply just that good.

(“Dear God,” Smokie Norful – 21, Patchogue, NY) Where did this sophisticated crooner come from? That vibrato is heaven. It was so evident how much the song meant to him as this is the most emotionally authentic Christian has yet been on this show. But we found ourselves even more impressed with the quality of his voice, the richness of his texture. It’s no surprise we’ve been hard on Christian in recent weeks, but he proved us wrong in doubting him — or he’s just finally stepping into his own. But what a huge step it was this week! This was easily his best performance of the entire show.

Averaging up our rankings across two rounds, we were absolutely shocked to find Christian Guardino sitting at the top of our rankings. At the same time, if this were our first week hearing him, well of course he belongs there. His night was that magical.

The second round, for us, was the great equalizer as everyone really stepped up. The fact that Jay was at the bottom of our Mother’s Day ranking — after being first in the TikTok round — is not to say he did a bad job. It’s just that everyone was great in that second round, and that’s how things shook out.

What that meant in our overall averages, though is that the contestants shook out as follows:

Christian GuardinoNoah ThompsonHunterGirlJayNicolinaFritz HagerLeah Marlene

As for what it means for results, it was almost impossible to predict. This is an extremely strong Top 7. That said, we did think it could be the end of the road for Leah. But we also had a hard time imagining America being ready to say goodbye to Fritz after two original songs and a solid night. He’s been great for so long.

Then you have to consider gender, as we’re already down to just three women left. Sometimes that factors into voting as well, so it was unlikely to be two women going. Perhaps, despite a stellar night, Christian’s uneven season would spell his doom? Or was Jay too polished? He was in danger at Top 14, so it’s possible America isn’t connecting with him.

For the purpose of our predictions, we went with Fritz and Nicolina saying goodbye. But is that what America did? No matter what happened it was going to be a shocker of sorts, as two great talents were about to say goodbye — until they return to perform in two weeks at the finale!

The first person Ryan sent into the Top 5 was Noah, which definitely felt like a no-brainer. He really was finding magic in that hotel room. He’d have done well in the quarantine season. Nicolina followed him, immediately throwing off our predictions — but after her final performance tonight, we can’t be mad about it.

The next over to the couches was HunterGirl, because of course it was. She’s been rock solid since day one, earning her Platinum Ticket over and over again. She was quickly followed by Leah Marlene, which is as much about her personality as it was her incredible second performance.

That left us with three guys: Christian, Fritz and Jay. Of these three, we were thinking maybe those originals would propel Fritz forward. Christian and Jay are polished and great, but they haven’t had as much dynamic personality in their performances and took longer to find themselves.

That is exactly what happened, as it was the end of the journey for both Christian Guardino and Jay. Jay becomes the first Platinum Ticket holder eliminated by America — after a near-miss several weeks ago. Did America get it right?

Based on the entirety of the season, we’d say they did. Christian really grew tonight, taking our overall top ranking, so we hope he leaves with his head held high. Jay finally started to find himself as a true artist beyond just a pretty voice, but it took some time to get there and he felt disconnected to his music for too long.

When everyone is incredibly talented, the entire season comes into play, and this season’s Top 5 has been far more consistent than these two guys, stellar though they were both tonight.

It feels weird that each of them took the top spot in one of tonight’s rounds, per our rankings. It’s odd for them to slay the entirety of the competition on their way out the door, but it’s a nice way to make a statement as to what they’re capable of, and a testament to how tough things are at this stage.

But now that we’ve survived this cut, how will we lose two more next week?!

“American Idol” continues for two more Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

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