For the first time during Season 21 of “American Idol,” the contestants’ futures are in the hands of viewers, with America’s votes determining the Top 20 during a three-hour episode on April 23, 2023. The episode also featured guest performances by Motown legend Smokey Robinson and Season 20 winner Noah Thompson with runner-up HunterGirl.
Viewers had the chance to vote for their favorites after ABC aired the Top 26 contestants’ performances in front of an audience at Disney’s Aulani Resort & Spa in Hawaii on April 17 and 18. Tonight, as host Ryan Seacrest revealed the results, each contestant who received enough votes to become part of the Top 20 had to immediately perform again, vying for a spot in the Top 12.
After overnight voting by viewers, the Top 12 will be announced during the season’s first live episode tomorrow night, April 24. Ten contestants will be chosen by viewers, while the final two will be selected by judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan, and Lionel Richie.
‘American Idol’ Top 20 Results
Appearing on a new “American Idol” set in Hollywood, Seacrest opened the show by announcing that 700 “Idol” fans were in the audience to witness the Top 20 reveals and performances, which he said had been determined by over 33 million votes. He then proceeded to begin announcing those who’ve advanced into the coveted Top 20. Here are the latest results.
Zachariah Smith, 20, from Amory, Mississippi: The first person to earn a spot in the Top 20 was Smith, who revealed before performing that the tornadoes that roared through Mississippi in late March devastated his town, including the burger joint where he works and the home owned by his stepkids’ dad. Saying it was “beautiful” to see everyone helping one another, Smith said he now feels like he is not only competing for himself and his family, but also for his city.
Smith took the stage to sing “I Want to Know What Love Is” by Foreigner. Richie told him he chose “the perfect song” and Perry said that she thinks he is “Top 10 material.”
Matt Wilson, 21, from Buffalo, New York: In a pre-packaged segment, Wilson cried as he watched a video the kids he works with as a teachers’ aide and his mom recalling how he’s always dreamed of being a singer.
Wilson sang “Say You Won’t Let Go” by James Arthur and received a standing ovation from all three judges. Bryan said he’s loved watching Wilson “come alive and to just let your voice soar” while Richie told him he is “absolutely on your way.”
Nailyah Serenity, 22, from Charlotte, North Carolina: Working as an astrologer since she was 16, Serenity shared insights about her work and said she believes her path to the “Idol” stage was “written in the stars for me.”
After Serenity sang “Baby Love” by Mother’s Finest, Bryan quipped, “I’m no astrologer, but I can spot a star when I see one!” Perry told her, “You are an artist through and through.”
Warren Peay, 24, from Bamberg, South Carolina: Before singing, the appliance repairman opened up about overcoming a time in his life when he “definitely had a problem” with drinking. By the time he started playing and writing music for a local church, he said, he was able to not rely on alcohol to feel okay about himself and his path.
Peay, whom the judges have often compared to country artist Chris Stapleton, sang “Up There Down Here” by Zach Williams. Richie said that his story is a great example of how when a person learns to “let go and let God, everything else falls into place.” Perry said she also loved hearing more of Peay’s story and thanked him for being vulnerable, while Bryan called his performance “world-class.”
Kaeyra, 21, from Algonquin, Illinois: Before Kaeyra took the stage, “Idol” producers shared a video of her cooking traditional Polish recipes with her mom and talking about how her parents emigrated from Poland to the United States in their 20s.
“My parents sacrificed so much for me,” she said. “I’m kind of like a part of their mission. Chasing that American dream, being on ‘American Idol,’ it’s like it goes hand in hand.”
After singing Lewis Capaldi’s “Bruises” while playing a grand piano on stage, Perry told Kaeyra that her song arrangement and voice just “smacked me across the face” in the best way. Bryan called it a “breakout moment” and “awesome.”
Mariah Faith, 22, from Conway, South Carolina: Conway revealed how close she is with her family, sharing that she lives in her mom’s “backyard,” in a small home on her mom’s four-acre property, and that her grandparents live two minutes away. The hairdresser shared that her grandparents, who had never been to Los Angeles, would be in the audience cheering her on.
Faith sang “Cry to Me” by Solomon Burke, which Bryan called a “great performance” and that he loved her look. Perry compared Faith to Bonnie Raitt because she can pull at a person’s heartstrings or pull off a “fun moment,” and told Faith that striking such a balance is key.
Iam Tongi, 18, from Kahuku, Hawaii: Tongi, who has the most Instagram followers of any of the top contestants and whose “Idol” performances have gone viral on social media, told producers that having people recognize him is “mind-blowing.” The high school student dedicated his initial audition song to his dad, whom he’d lost just weeks before singing for the judges, and said that he is still grieving that loss and is touched by how many people he’s heard from who are also dealing with their own grief.
With his mom cheering him on in the audience, Tongi played “The Winner Takes All” by ABBA. Richie said the audience’s reaction said it all and Perry quipped, “I guess it’s the ‘Iam Tongi Show’ now,” adding that his voice is “timeless.”
Haven Madison, 17, from Clarksville, Tennessee: The high school junior said her life has “completely flip-flopped upside down” since her “Idol” audition,” adding that her high school community has been “so supportive” of her journey. The school threw a pep rally to celebrate her success thus far, and she said “it’s the coolest thing ever” to get recognized more often than her dad, who has worked in the music industry for years.
After singing Leanna Crawford’s “Mean Girls,” Perry told her it was a “great song choice” because it sounded like something she could have written and added that, while she’s always seemed like a star, she now has a “refined sparkle” to her. Bryan told Madison it was one of the best performances he’s seen her do and Richie said he’s excited to watch where her career goes.
Oliver Steele, 25, from Mount Juliet, Tennessee: In an interview that aired before Steele sang, he revealed that his dad, whose own music career ended after a debilitating stroke, had recently been hospitalized for several weeks and was unconscious and unresponsive for part of that time. Steele reported that his dad is now out of the hospital but on dialysis.
“I’m unable to be there for him right now for that,” he said. “It’s just difficult. But at the same time, I just see this happiness coming from him as I go further in this competition.”
After singing his own composition, called “Too Soon,” Bryan gave him a “10 out of 10” for being able to perform his own song for the first time on the show. Richie told him his “talent is on fire.”
Lucy Love, 28, Holly Grove, Arkansas: While a pre-taped interview with her aired, “Idol” producers showed Love crying on stage as she listened to herself talking about what it was like growing up in poverty.
“I come from a very strong and supportive family,” she said. “We just didn’t have anything growing up, that’s all. I know about that. I know about wearing the same outfit for two and three weeks. I know about gluing my shoes back, clothes when they would tear up.”
Love sang an original song called “Boulders” about facing so much hardship and becoming the “survivor” of her own story. Perry told Love she’s not just going to survive her story, but that “you’re gonna thrive and you’re gonna show and you’re going to be a leader.” Bryan said he loves how she attacks her songs and that she “captured my heart” with her music.
Hannah Nicolaisen, 24, from Houston, Texas: A former D1 college volleyball player, Nicolaisen said she still thinks about the sport all the time, but shared how finding music has filled a void. Having only begun singing two months before her “Idol” audition, she said she hopes to become an even better musician than she was an athlete.
Nicolaisen, who works as a recruiter when she’s not singing, performed “Somebody to Love” by Queen. Perry said her last note confirmed that “this is your path, and hopefully you’re just on a rocket ride.” Bryan said he loves the “smokiness” in her voice but loved hearing a different dynamic from her.
Olivia Soli, 21, from Los Angeles: In a pre-recorded interview, Soli tearfully talked about how close she is with her sister, revealing that she was in a serious ATV accident in 2019 that, due to her hand being injured, ended her path as a pianist. Soli said that she feels like she’s living out the “Idol” dream for both her and her sister.
After belting out “I Surrender” by Celine Dion, Bryan said the college student “brought the house down” while Richie said her level of power is “incredible.” Perry said she thought America “got this right” and that she was relieved to hear more about her back story. She also advised that she keep singing powerful songs like Celine Dion because there may be new viewers just discovering her voice.
Marybeth Byrd, 22, from Armorel, Arkansas: In a pre-produced segment before her performance, Byrd was filmed working as a radio DJ and talking about how she struggled to overcome “a really difficult stutter” as a young girl. The only time she didn’t stutter, she said, was when she sang. Byrd also revealed she still struggles with anxiety, but that she’s been brave by “just doing the darn thing” whenever she’s facing a challenge.
Byrd sang a song she wrote herself, called “People Pleaser,” and teared up at the end. Richie said her performance was “superstar material.” Bryan agreed, saying it was “a big, big moment for you” and Perry said that by singing her own song and sharing a piece of her story, she went from being “sweet and beautiful” to being “a star.”
Michael Williams, 21, from Mason, Ohio: A music lover and “Idol” fan since he was little, Williams said his parents have always recorded his experiences and performances, so he’s trying to keep up the tradition by sharing his journey in social media videos because he doesn’t want to forget any of it.
With his parents in the audience, Williams sang “Lose You To Love Me” by Selena Gomez. Perry, who noticed he’d cut his longer hair, said Williams had just “stepped into the artist version of yourself.” Bryan said he looked “like a million dollars” and that he “crushed” the song. Richie agreed, saying that while everyone arrived on the show as singers, Williams was an example of how many of them are emerging as true artists.
Paige Ann, 16, from Idaho Fallas, Idaho: The high school student is also a longtime “Idol” fan who has tried to build her confidence as a singer by performing on state fair and festival stages. Though she did not make it through to the show’s Top 26 originally, the judges chose her to take a spot vacated by another contestant who left the competition, making her advancement to the Top 20 particularly special for her.
The teen sang “Say Something” by A Great Big World and burst into tears at the end as the judges gave her a standing ovation. Saying that the notes she reached were incredible, Richie told her, “This is not a consolation prize, this is God’s plan for you.” Perry also said the judges had gotten it wrong when they eliminated her, and that something bigger was at play to ensure she moved on in the competition.
Nutsa, 26, from Tbilisi, Georgia: Growing up in the country of Georgia, Nutsa recalled growing up with her single mom, who sometimes didn’t have enough money for food or rent. Wanting to take care of her mom financially, the singer said she’d perform in festivals and competitions to earn money for the rent. “Idol” producers shared a video from an interview Nutsa did when she was 17, saying that she dreamed of making it big in America — and the host telling her it would happen one day.
After she sang “Un-Break My Heart” by Toni Braxton, Richie told her she is “the hardest-working person I have ever met on this show” and that she is “a force to be reckoned with.” Perry, who had previously advised Nutsa to tone down some of her “glitter” for a future performance, told her she got the message by showcasing how she can also be “sophisticated” and still hold the audience’s attention.
Tyson Venegas, 17, from Vancouver, British Columbia: Producers shared a video of Venegas with his mom as they watched videos of him performing from the time he was little, including dancing on top of their coffee table as a toddler. Both of them got emotional talking about his journey, from struggling to speak when he was young to earning a Platinum Ticket during his audition for “American Idol.”
While playing the piano, Venegas sang an original tune called “180” that urged his generation to make the changes necessary to create a better world. The high school student received lots of praise from the judges, including Bryan telling him he did a “marvelous job” capturing the audience’s attention.
Perry exclaimed, “Oh my god, I know who you are now! It was so cool. It’s so great when you perform your own song. I know what you stand for, I know what your values are, I know what your perspective is, I know where your heart is, and therefore I can fall deeper in love with you, Tyson!”
Megan Danielle, 21, from Douglasville, Georgia: Danielle talked about how hard it was when her dad walked out of her family’s home and her parents’ divorce. His departure when she was seven impacted her self-confidence, and she shared that it’s been a life-long struggle to find her self-worth. But with each round she’s advanced on “American Idol,” the teen said she’s felt her confidence go “up and up.”
After Danielle sang “Holy Water” by We The Kingdom, Bryan told her it was the best performance he’s seen her do this season, adding that no one in the Top 20 sounds anything like her. Perry agreed with Bryan, saying that her “confidence has just settled in” and that it was her best performance yet.
Colin Stough, 18, from Amory, Mississippi: In the segment that aired before he sang, Stough talked about the difference between living in a town of less than 300 people and being in Los Angeles, which is full of people and new experiences. Marveling at the opportunity to be on “American Idol,” he said that where he comes from, “you drive a truck, go in the military or work in a plant — there ain’t really no in between.” But Stough’s mom signed him up for the show, confident he was born to be a star, for which he said he’s so grateful.
After singing “Pretty Heart” by Parker McCollum, Richie told him he’s doing a “great job” and Perry said she wanted to push him to sing more notes, reminding him it is now his “time to shine.” Bryan said he sees Stough as his own science experiment, noticing that when he gives Stough visual cues to turn on the charm he does — but that he must do that throughout his performances and “for the rest of your life.” Bryan added that he believes Stough is a big star but must believe it himself.
Wé Ani, 24, from Harlem, New York: Ani revealed in her pre-song segment that while in Hawaii, she noticed a little girl in the audience was using American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate with her mom throughout the performances. Ani went up to connect with them, revealing that her brother had lost his hearing for several years when they were younger and that she learned to sign then. Ani said she’d learned from the ASL community that music is not only a “sonic experience” but also about telling a story through expression and “exaggerated” movement, which she thinks has helped her become a better performer.
After singing “Skyfall” by Adele, Perry told her that she was “shook” by both her performance and also that Ani was announced as the final member of the Top 20, leaving previous Platinum Ticket winner Elijah McCormick out of the running. All three judges said she is extremely deserving of the honor, but also urged viewers to vote because their favorites are not always safe.
Who’s Going Home After the Top 20 Reveal?
Halfway through the April 23 episode, Seacrest revealed three of the contestants who did not make it into the Top 20.
- PJAE, 23, an R&B/Soul artist from Lawton, Oklahoma
- Elise Kristine, 19, a Utah Valley University student from Issaquah, Washington
- Emma Busse, 20, a theater school graduate from Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
At the end of the episode, the final three to be sent home were announced as Ani took the stage.
- Dawson Wayne, 21, a Brigham Young University student from San Antonio, Texas
- Malik Heard, 26, a former contestant on “The Voice” from Dallas, Texas
- Elijah McCormick, 21, who nearly died in a car crash the day he graduated from high school in Raeford, North Carolina
In an Instagram post shared at the end of the episode, McCormick wrote, “Well, my time on @americanidol is over! I’m not disappointed I left, I’m just a little hurt because I feel like I was doing this for all of us. I didn’t lose anything by leaving the show I just gained a lot of knowledge and grown so much. Im super grateful for this experience and I know this is all a part of God’s plan. This journey was more than I could ever dream of.”