American Idol 5th Judge: Daughter of Late Voice Contestant Nolan Neal Ready for Her Dream

Legacy came to “American Idol” as the daughter of late “The Voice” and “America’s Got Talent” contestant Nolan Neal was ready to start her own chapter.

In an episode that aired in the middle of the night after the Oscars, Cay honored the memory of her father, who passed away in October of last year after a lifelong struggle with addiction, by performing an original song she’d written about him and their life together.

Cay was, in fact, one of two artists facing a similar struggle as another broke down emotionally while trying to keep hope alive for her own mother’s ongoing battle with addiction.

The night had a lighter side, too, with lots of nod the “Idol” itself. One contestant’s mother, who’s been a fan of the show since the beginning, joined the panel to judge her daughter singing a Katy Perry song — in front of Katy Perry. Another took on Fantasia Barrino’s winning single, so these kids were not here to play.

Add in a couple of singers who have no idea how good they are — one only started taking it seriously two months ago and the other Katy declared the best country singer they’ve seen — and a girl who got Kanye’d at her high school’s graduation by another girl, and you’ve got some truly memorable moments!

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.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, get help. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline (1-800-662-4357) provides 24/7, free, confidential support for people in distress.

(“Eye of the Tiger,” Survivor – 23, Darlington, SC) We’re not sure how this ended up an audition with Savanna and the panel wearing virtual reality gear, but it definitely added a surreal element to the performance. Unfortunately, it didn’t improve the vocal quality at all. Savanna was a little shaky with her pitch and the tone of her voice all at the same time. None of it worked. Eventually, Savanna explained that her friend invented this VR “Metaverse Idol.” It looked fun, but did not make us believers in Savanna’s talent.

Results: N, N, N

(“Holy Diver,” Dio – 28, Kensington, CT) Look, we have a soft spot for rock because it seems to be a dying genre in music, which is heartbreaking. That said, though, it’s more than just screaming and hollering. Ronnie James Dio had one of the most incredible voices in all of hard rock, so this wasn’t doing it any justice. Rach didn’t even manage to stay in tune. It was all style and no substance. It was performative, like she was doing a tribute to rock as a fan (or even a parody) rather than being someone who is trying to embody it from within.

Results: N, N, N

(“City of Nashville,” Cay Aliese – 24, Dandridge, TN) Cay almost had a very different life as her dad apparently had a string of record deals offered to him, but kept blowing it as he struggled with addiction. She shared that two months ago, he lost that struggle. She used to perform and produce music with him, but ultimately seeing him pushed her away from it for a long time. Now that he’s gone, she said she’s felt the draw to find her way back to it as a way to honor and connect with him, while starting her own chapter.

Cay’s dad was Nolan Neal, who reality fans will know from “America’s Got Talent” and “The Voice.” He died in October 2022 due to a fatal overdose involving Fentanyl. As part of her way to honor his memory, Cay performed a song she’d written about him. The song itself was sweet and we got a hint of who she could be, but it felt like we were just starting to pay attention when she stopped. We didn’t hear anything that grabbed us in her tone or presentation. The panel also felt emotionally disconnected from her performance, but they were willing to roll the dice.

Results: Y, Y, Y

(“I Believe,” Fantasia – 20, Madison, WI) Reette shared the story of her mother’s ongoing struggles with addiction and how it impacted her life. You could hear the pain she’s endured in her voice, but at the same time it was a voice very unseasoned and untrained. She was able to reach just about all of the notes Fantasia wailed so beautifully on this track, but it was otherwise a fairly bland performance. There is no character in her voice, and she’s not learned at all who she might want to be as a singer — or probably even a person. She admitted to feeling overwhelmed and anxious to her sister before her moment, and afterward, it all came crashing out of her in tears.

This is an interesting case because Reette is someone who has a voice, but no identity. Can one be formed within her, or more importantly pulled out of her on this journey? We’d be skeptical, to be honest, though we know how hard she would fight for it. The panel felt more of it in the room (and maybe that was more palpable live). Luke gave her an intentional no to remind her that she’s really going to have to work hard to be able to rise up to this occasion, which is absolutely true.

Results: Y, Y, N

(“Bust Your Windows,” Jazmine Sullivan – 20, Yonkers, NY) Talk about going viral for all the wrong reasons, and we don’t mean Amara. She just put a girl on blast on national television for pulling a Kanye on her. While Amara was just starting to sing the national anthem at her school, another girl came up and snatched the mic from her and said that since it was her graduating class, she should get to sing it. The next year was Covid, so she never got a do-over of that embarrassingly awkward moment. Boy do we love that she chose such an angry song to process this.

The panel was throwing names out during her audition — and then she spilled that it was a Sarah (oops!) — but we were all in on the performance. Amara could have dug even deeper into the whole performance, as there was only one section where we really believed the anger coming from her. Otherwise, we heard nerves and angst trying to do her best. She has a lovely tone and it was very pretty. We just wanted it to be a little more ugly, too.

Results: Y, Y, Y

(“I Believe to My Soul,” Ray Charles – 18, Florence, SC) There’s an interesting scratch in Tripp’s voice that isn’t always there. He sometimes sings out of the side of his mouth, but all of these elements come and go, giving him different ways to attack a song. This was such an intriguing performance, we found ourselves hanging on every note to see how he might play with it. He could handle this old-school track with an unexpected authenticity, and Ray Charles is not easy for anyone to sing. It’s clear this type of music is his passion; we’d love to see how diverse he can get because he has such an interesting approach to his artistry.

Results: Y, Y, Y

(“Make You Feel My Love,” Bob Dylan – 23, Houston, TX) Hannah said she’s only been working on music for about two months, but we suspect that only means she pivoted to taking it more seriously two months ago. This former collegiate volleyball player has a beautifully rich depth in her voice that was wholly unique. There’s a haunting, almost whispery quality to her full-throated sound, and we only got the subtlest glimpses of what kind of range or power she might possess. There’s a good chance she has no idea herself. When you’re talking about finding diamonds in the rough on a show like this, Hannah is definitely that. With some proper training and coaching to pull even more out of her, she could really shine bright.

Results: Y, Y, Y

(“Rock Salt and Nails,” Flatt & Scruggs – 21, Magnolia, TX) A complete novice to this whole thing, which you could tell by how he delivered this, Colton’s talent is absolutely magical. This was so incredibly understated, it’s clear this boy has no idea how good his voice is. It’s not just the beautifully authentic gravel in his belting voice, but the sweetness of his gentler tone, too. We could hear nerves throughout, but underneath those was the stuff. We can just imagine how incredible he could be if he could shake those nerves and tap into that authenticity from a place of belief that this is what he’s supposed to be doing.

Results: Y, Y, Y

(“The One That Got Away,” Katy Perry – 23, Suffern, NY) In a way, this was the culmination of a lifelong bonding experience for Dany and her mom. Dany shared that her mom has been watching the show since Kelly Clarkson won it all, and has been acting as her unofficial judge for just about as long. She’s also urged her daughter to take this chance. The audition also marks the first time they’ve seen one another since Dany moved to Oklahoma to live with her girlfriend, so emotions were definitely running high.

Just for fun, the panel added her as the “fourth judge,” (still leaving room for us in that “fifth” slot, thank you very much!). Already stressful singing Katy’s song in front of Katy, adding mom had to make it even harder. But Dany stepped up in a big way with a very subtle strength in her voice. It was so timid at first that it was able to deliver even more pain than Katy’s record. There was so much emotion in this performance, with just a hint of grit in her voice that only punctuated that heartache. It was a beautifully understated performance.

Results: Y, Y, Y, Y

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

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