The eight remaining contestants on Season 21 of “American Idol” were under pressure heading into the live show on May 7, 2023. As they each performed two songs, they faced superstar guest judges Alanis Morissette and Ed Sheeran, who were filling in for Katy Perry and Lionel Richie, with the Top 8 finalists to be narrowed down to the Top 5 by the show’s end.
Perry and Richie, who were in London to perform at the Coronation Concert, made a brief appearance at the top of the show, during which they were joined by the newly crowned King Charles III and his wife, Queen Camila. King Charles joked that he needed them to wrap things up at Windsor Castle so they could use the room they were in for a post-concert party, which both “Idol” judges said they’re excited to attend.
Midway through the show, Perry and Richie returned to praise both of the guest judges — whom Perry thanked for “taking our jobs” — and the contestants. They proved they were watching live from London by joking about some of the fun moments they’d witnessed during the show. Later in the episode, they returned again to marvel at the contestants’ interpretations of Sheeran’s and Morissette’s songs.
Viewers could vote only during the two-hour episode, and the results were announced by host Ryan Seacrest at the end of the episode. The Top 5 advanced to Disney Week, during which they’ll get to visit Disneyland and prepare to perform Disney classics live during the May 14 episode.
Spoiler Alert: Below is a full recap of the performances and voting results, so do not read past this point if you do not want to know what happened.
‘Idol’ Contestants Get Guidance From Alanis Morissette & Perform Her Hits
Earlier in the week, each of the eight contestants got to meet with Morissette for a mentorship session as they prepared to sing one of her hit songs on the show. American Songwriter says “Few artists are as evocative of the mid-’90s as Morissette and her grungy musicality. With her distinctive voice as the lifeforce, Morissette has clinched a number of hits that range from somber ballads to seething rock anthems.”
Heavy provided updates throughout the night on each singer’s session, performance, and the feedback they received from the judges, in the order the contestants appeared.
Warren Peay, 24, from Bamberg, South Carolina: Peay said his scariest moments on “Idol” have been when he’s put down his guitar to build his stage presence. Morissette said his “vocal tone is very strong” and she got chills as Peay practiced his version of her song “All I Really Want,” which he delivered with a funkier rock sound.
Morissette said she “never imagined” hearing the song the way Peay delivered it, saying she loved that he applied some of the vocal techniques they talked about. Sheeran told Peay he thought he did really well without leaning on his guitar, admitting that he always feels “very naked” without his own guitar, which he called a barrier between himself and the audience.
Meanwhile, regular judge Luke Bryan said he kept wanting to tell the guest judges, “You should have seen him two months ago!” He said that watching him step out of his comfort zone and move across the stage is really fun.
Zachariah Smith, 20, from Amory, Mississippi: Smith declared Morissette as “so frickin’ cool” after meeting her and asking her to help him with his body movements during his performance of her hit “Ironic.” Fittingly, it started pouring rain as he rehearsed the song, which includes the famous line “it’s like rain on your wedding day.” Morissette told him he had the “voice of an angel.”
Smith, whose stepkids got to attend the show for the first time, started the song softly, then burst into an energetic chorus. Morissette said she loved the “liquidity” of his voice and movements — which Bryan joked is a word that Richie had never used — while Sheeran said he loved that song and that Smith rocked it. He added, “I think your voice is super, super powerful and I was captivated for the whole thing.”
Haven Madison, 17, from Clarksville, Tennessee: Morissette advised Madison to just be herself because, as her dad told her growing up, there will always be three groups of people — one set who love her no matter what, one set who hate her no matter what and a third set “that don’t give a s***.”
Madison said she chose “You Learn” because she loved hearing how Morissette had learned and grown throughout her life, adding that she was going to “flex” to her parents that she got to spend time with the ’90s megastar.
Seacrest noted that Morissette had a huge smile on her face watching Madison’s performance. “Oh, wow,” Morisette said, noting all the things she liked about Madison “flipping” her voice from small to big, and being her authentic self throughout. Sheeran said he was really impressed, saying, “Vocally, it was nuts!” Bryan reminded everyone that she started out on the show sitting behind a piano, and that she’s grown so much herself throughout the competition.
Colin Stough, 18, from Amory, Mississippi: Stough told Morissette that Richie had previously encouraged him to “make it nasty” on his next performance, meaning he wanted him to dig into a grittier sound. Morissette suggested Stough lean into being OK with a performance sounding “imperfect.” Stough performed “Hand in My Pocket” with his acoustic guitar and a country flair.
“I did not see that coming,” Morissette laughed after the performance. “If nasty is this, then I love nasty!”
Sheeran said, “I mean, that’s really, really up my alley. I loved how it rocked out at the end but also how you gave it a different spin at the beginning.”
Meanwhile, Bryan said, “He’s just so damn cute, I don’t know what to do! You make people smile.”
Megan Danielle, 21, from Douglasville, Georgia: Danielle chose “Head Over Feet” because it reminds her of how her boyfriend had convinced her to believe in herself over time. Morissette had encouraged her to sing it “a little less beautiful” and said she loved how “vulnerable” it sounded after they worked together.
Morisette said she followed her guidance but marveled at how Danielle made the song more beautiful in another way, “just really soulful.” Sheeran said he “genuinely forgot” momentarily that they were on “American Idol” and felt like he was watching a classic ’60s performer on stage.
“Your tone is incredible,” Sheeran said. “It’s very, very unique. I’m new to this, but you obviously have done this every week and impressed people every week. But I was really, really impressed.”
Sheeran added that Bryan nudged him before Danielle came on stage, as if to say, “Watch this.” Bryan said he was loving watching the guest judges react to contestants he’d seen for months and said he was glad they saw Danielle’s gifts the way he had.
Iam Tongi, 18, from Kahuku, Hawaii: Tongi chose to sing Morissette’s song “Guardian,” which she said she wrote as a message to her “inner parent” and that the chorus is about her son. But Tongi said he wanted to dedicate it to his mom, Lily, and when Morissette heard it through that lens, she said it brought tears to her eyes. Morissette encouraged Tongi to “go big” at the end of the song, which he said he wasn’t sure he knew how to do but that “she helped me a lot.”
At the end of his performance, during which he wore a flowered Hawaiian lei sent by his aunt, Tongi shouted, “Love you, Mom!” and the crowd went wild. Morissette said that Tongi took the ideas they worked through to another level and that she loves his empathy, singing to his mom and showing the world what it means to sing from that place.
Sheeran said, “I just felt like you really connected with the song and that, just, makes us as listeners connect to it. It was just really, really beautiful.”
Bryan noticed that Tongi leaned to the side and smiled several times during his performance, and Tongi admitted it was when he “messed up.” Bryan then quipped, “Well, then I need to learn how to make my mess-ups look so endearing!”
Wé Ani, 24, from Harlem, New York: Ani told Morissette she’d chosen to sing “Uninvited,” dedicated to an unnamed boy she was thinking of. She chose not to say his name, Ani said, “because he’s uninvited, like you don’t have access to that anymore. Big boundary. Big B.” Morisette said the challenge with Ani was to help her be a “little less perfect” to make the song more believable.
Morissette told Ani, “Every area of every part of that song, it was just you directly communicating so beautifully. It had all these different flavors and, just, such agency and access to it. It was chilling to behold you.”
Sheeran loved how she arranged it to showcase every part of her voice, making it “super powerful.” Bryan said many contestants had performed the tune throughout the years on “Idol,” but he’d never heard a better version.
Oliver Steele, 25, from Mount Juliet, Tennessee: Steele, who was saved last week by the judges, said nearly being eliminated lit a fire beneath him. Recognizing that critics have called him “sleepy” and dissed his song choices, he said, “I think it’s about time I wake people up.” He chose to sing the hit “You Oughta Know,” which Morissette loved because he brought a “masculine vulnerability” to the tune.
Steele said he hadn’t shared his angry side in a song, and Morissette responded, “I love anger. I think it moves worlds.” Playing an electric guitar, Steele’s rendition was more rock-flavored than his past performances. And he ripped off his hat at the end, which he’s always worn, to reveal his newly shaven head, a tribute to his dad, who was in the audience after multiple major health challenges.
“Pride is an interesting thing,” Morissette told him. “I barely know you, but I’m very proud of you.”
Sheeran said he loved it, felt the power of the tune as soon as he began, and was really touched by learning he’d just shaved his head in tribute to his dad.
Contestants Team Up for Duets of Some of Ed Sheeran’s Biggest Hits
In between solo performances, contestants paired up to perform duets of some of Ed Sheeran’s biggest hits.
Iam Tongi & Oliver Steele: The first duet of the night was “Photograph,” performed by Steele and Tongi, who have become dear friends behind the scenes, since they sang a duet during Hollywood Week. Steele said they were both raised by their dads to love music, and that Tongi has been a huge support to him and his dad, who was in the crowd, since his recent hospitalization. The buddies ended their song with an acoustic harmony that thrilled the crowd. Sheeran said he got “emotional” listening to it.
“That was so beautiful to listen to, both the tones fit so well with each other,” he continued, and Steele told him, “You’re my hero.”
Morisette echoed Sheeran’s glowing compliments and added, “hearing men be vulnerable — be still my beating heart.”
Wé Ani and Warren Peay: The second duet paired Ani and Peay’s soulful sounds on Sheeran’s hit “Perfect.” The two were beaming at one another by the end of the tune, and Sheeran was, too.
“I’m just loving these renditions,” he exclaimed. “No, really, really, really cool. I love both of your voices. I’m just really happy to be here. Thank you so much for doing it.”
Morissette said they both “indicated your massive range” and Bryan recalled their original auditions and how amazing it was to see them “blossom individually” and then come together to do something “really special.”
Haven Madison and Zachariah Smith: Smith and Madison took on Sheeran’s hit “Thinking Out Loud,” and every time the camera turned to Sheeran, he was grinning from ear to ear.
“I usually find that when people cover my songs, they usually sing it better than I do,” he said afterward, thanking them for performing it. “It’s really soulful, really powerful, and I really, really, enjoyed it.”
Morisette said they turned a hit song by Sheeran into a tune that sounded like it was made to be a duet. Bryan said he had “smile cramps” because he, too, was smiling so wide watching them “do star-like things.”
Megan Danielle and Colin Stough: In the final duet of the night, Danielle and Stough performed a countrified version of Sheeran’s “Dive.” The two fist-bumped at the end of the song, which made Bryan laugh. Stough started to laugh at one point during the performance and admitted later that they have so much fun together, he had a hard time being serious on stage with Danielle.
“Even right there, I couldn’t do it,” he laughed.
Sheeran said he’d actually seen them practicing during soundcheck earlier and that it was an indication that it was going to be a good day. Sheeran said that whomever put them together “is a genius” because they “complement each other so well.” Sheeran said he felt like “it’s such a privilege” getting to hear the contestants sing new versions of his songs so well.
Morissette agreed, saying they duo seemed really connected and joyful. Bryan said, “I’m just smiling at our babies up here on stage” and that he loved Stough trying to do a Sheeran-esque vocal run.
Who Made the Top 5 and Who Got Eliminated?
At the end of the show, Seacrest announced the following contestants were moving into the Top 5:
- Zachariah Smith
- Megan Danielle
- Iam Tongi
- Wé Ani
- Colin Stough
That means Haven Madison, Warren Peay and Oliver Steele are heading home.