‘American Idol’ Top 8 Announced: Full Recap

American Idol top 8

Heavy/ABC Ryan Seacrest announces the Top 8 of Season 21 on "American Idol"

For the second night in a row, the fate of the remaining “American Idol” contestants was placed in the hands of viewers during a two-hour episode on May 1, 2023, with the results of live voting announced at the end of the episode. The show also included a performance by former “Idol” winner Chayce Beckham.

Seacrest explained at the top of the show that voting would be open until the last commercial break, after which he’d reveal the results. Each viewer was allowed again to cast up to 30 votes per contestant — 10 votes online at AmericanIdol.com/vote, 10 votes via the “American Idol” app, and 10 votes submitted by texting the contestant’s assigned number to “21523.”

For the “Judges’ Song Contest” round, the Top 10 contestants were each given three songs selected specifically for them by the judges, and told to choose one to perform on the episode. They were not told which judge chose which song, so Seacrest said they’d be keeping score on which judge — Luke Bryan, Katy Perry, or Lionel Richie — had their song selections chosen most often by the contestants to perform.

Inside Each Contestant’s Performance & Judge Reactions

The show kicked off with Perry literally getting lost on stage, as she walked down the wrong runway on the new “Idol” set and had to be led to her seat, laughing, by Seacrest. He then reminded viewers they could begin voting for their favorites among the Top 10, even if they hadn’t yet performed.

Perry then stopped Seacrest and quieted the crowd. She let it slip that the “winning” judge would get to save one contestant — a detail Seacrest had not yet announced — and said the judges had talked backstage about whether or not that was actually a “good win,” given that they’d been “destroyed online for a week” after their previous decision to save contestants Nutsa and Lucy Love.

Spoiler Alert: If you do not want to know what the contestants performed or the voting results, do not continue reading.

Here’s a Detailed Recap of the Night’s Performances


Zachariah Smith, 20, from Amory, Mississippi: The three songs the judges suggested for Smith were:

  • “Crocodile Rock” by Elton John
  • “Wanted Dead or Alive” by Bon Jovi
  • “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” by The Temptations

Smith chose the Bon Jovi tune, reminiscing about wanting to be a cowboy when he was growing up. After his energetic rendition of the classic rock tune, Smith said he thought Bryan picked it for him but Richie revealed he was the one who suggested it. He told him his “nasty” attitude was perfect for the song. Perry said she hadn’t heard the crowd scream louder for anyone other than popular contestant Iam Tongi. Bryan, meanwhile, called his performance “amazing.”

Haven Madison, 17, from Clarksville, Tennessee: The three songs the judges suggested for Madison were:

  • “The Only Exception” by Paramore
  • “River” by Bishop Briggs
  • “Cuz I Love” by Lizzo

Madison chose the Paramore song, sheepishly revealing to her “Idol” vocal coach that she relates to the song because she might be in love. When asked if she wanted to “tell America who the ‘only exception’ is,” Madison giggled and said, “I’m gonna plead the fifth.”

Madison guessed correctly that Perry picked the song for her. The judge told her she picked it because it’s “delicate and beautiful and has room to soar,” which she said Madison is capable of doing with her voice. Bryan joked that he was going to help Madison’s dad find the boy she was talking about and make sure he doesn’t break her heart. But he also said she did a beautiful job and Richie agreed.

Wé Ani, 24, from Harlem, New York: The three songs the judges suggested for Ani were:

  • “Don’t Watch Me Cry” by Jorja Smith
  • “I Have Nothing” by Whitney Houston
  • “I Try” by Macy Gray

Ani said she knew Houston’s song “like the back of my hand” but that she knew it would be “easy to mess up.” Despite it being a risk given how well-known and beloved the song is, Ani and her vocal coach said it made sense for her to give it her best shot, so she got glammed up in a sparkling gold dress and blew the judges away.

Ani guessed that Richie picked the song and he revealed it was not him. She was shocked when Bryan said it was him and then he did a happy dance, proud to have picked the song. Calling her rendition “breathtaking,” Bryan said, “I am so proud of you in that performance; that was one of the most elegant things I’ve ever seen.”

Richie said he’d seen Houston sing it “90 million times” but that Ani “owned that song” during her performance. Meanwhile, Perry said she had been wrong about what would work best for Ani and that she couldn’t be kept in a box, saying that “true stars exceed people’s expectations,” like she had just done.

Oliver Steele, 25, from Mount Juliet, Tennessee: The three songs the judges suggested for Steele were:

  • “Heartbreak Warfare” by John Mayer
  • “Bigger Than My Body” by John Mayer
  • “High and Dry” by Radiohead

Steele said he felt that a John Mayer song would be “too safe” for him, so he chose the Radiohead tune. Steele also figured Perry chose it, noting the funny moment in Season 20 when winner Noah Thompson was also given two Mayer songs during this round and Perry made it clear she wasn’t one of the people who suggested them, given their rocky dating history.

Steele not only got that right; he also accurately guessed that Bryan chose “Heartbreak Warfare” and Richie chose “Bigger Than My Body,” which stunned the judges. Steele added that he’d just learned that if he made it through to the next week, his dad — who’s been in and out of the hospital after a stroke — is planning to attend. Perry told him his rendition of the song she chose was perfection and Bryan told him “you are a vibe” and encouraged him to keep playing the guitar on future tunes.

Warren Peay, 24, from Bamberg, South Carolina: The three songs the judges suggested for Peay were:

  • “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd
  • “Colder Weather” by Zac Brown Band
  • “Blue Side of the Mountain” by The Steeldrivers

Peay said all three are among his favorite songs, but decided on “Colder Weather” because it allows him to showcase his range with a ballad. He said “there’s no room for error, but there’s also no room for playing it safe.”

Peay guessed that Bryan picked the song for him, and was surprised when Richie revealed it was actually him. Richie said he loved the attitude Peay showed when he threw his guitar behind his back and made the song his own. Perry agreed, saying she loves his “beautiful softness” as well as his grit.

Iam Tongi, 18, from Kahuku, Hawaii: The three songs the judges suggested for Tongi were:

  • “What A Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong
  • “Consider Me” by Allen Stone
  • “More Than Words” by Extreme

Tongi said “More Than Words” was one of the first songs he learned on the guitar, but once he tried Hawaiian singer Israel Kamakawiwoʻole’s version of “What A Wonderful World,” he realized how beautiful it sounded. Despite being worried he wouldn’t do it justice, he decided to go ahead with it — and the judges were thrilled he did.

Tongi guessed that Richie picked the song, but it was actually Bryan, who said he “prayed” he would choose to do it. Richie said that Tongi’s “sensitive, emotional” tone and talent makes him a “phenomenon.” And Perry asked if, when he “wins ‘American Idol,'” he’ll still play “More Than Words” for her sometime because she loves everything he sings.

Marybeth Byrd, 22, from Armorel, Arkansas: The three songs the judges suggested for Byrd were:

  • “Wasted On You” by Morgan Wallen
  • “Here You Come Again” by Dolly Parton
  • “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” by Crystal Gayle

Byrd admitted she didn’t know any of the tunes, so needed to learn them from scratch. She felt drawn to Wallen’s song and said she’s spent her life trying to get comfortable with showing her emotion and that this song let her do that. In fact, her voice cracked at the end of her performance because she felt the song so deeply and she said “it was really, really hard for me.”

Byrd guessed that Bryan picked the song because he’s “besties with Morgan,” but it was actually Richie. He said he was hoping she would “fight,” get out of her comfort zone and “leave your emotions on the stage,” saying he was so happy she did just that. Perry said that on the previous night, she didn’t think Byrd evolved but that this performance was her “butterfly moment.” Bryan agreed, saying it was Byrd’s best performance thus far.

Tyson Venegas, 17, from Vancouver, British Columbia: The three songs the judges suggested for Venegas were:

  • “When I Was Your Man” by Bruno Mars
  • “Someone Like You” by Adele
  • “Someone You Loved” by Lewis Capaldi

All three suggested songs were ballads, which the “Idol” vocal coaches said would give him a chance to sing an “emotional” song. The teen revealed he’s been somewhat homesick while at “Idol,” and the coaches encouraged him to channel that into his performance. After singing, Venegas leaned on Seacrest and said he was relieved.

Venegas guessed that Perry chose the song and he was right. Perry said “it was exactly what I wanted to see from him.” She said he too, like Byrd, had “graduated to butterfly status.” Bryan said the whole group seemed to be feeding off each other as they evolve, grow and show up to deliver strong performances. Richie agreed, saying everyone is stepping into their own style and that Venegas had just done that, too.

Megan Danielle, 21, from Douglasville, Georgia: The three songs the judges suggested for Danielle were:

  • “Go Rest High On That Mountain” by Vince Gill
  • “Rescue Story” by Zach Williams
  • “Make You Feel My Love” by Bob Dylan

Danielle said she’d sung Gill’s tune at her grandpa’s funeral, and she’s not performed it since because it holds so much meaning for her. Danielle said she wanted to honor him and that doing so on “Idol” felt like the perfect way, even if she got emotional doing so. Danielle ended the tune with tears in her eyes and Seacrest encouraged her to take a breath before moving on.

Danielle guessed that it was Richie because he reminds her of her “Papaw,” but Bryan said it was actually him. He ran onstage to give her a big hug and whispered to her her that it was “unbelievable.” Back at the judges’ table, Bryan told her he loved that she’s never scared to “tell everybody your faith,” which made Danielle cry even harder. Richie told her she has “an amazing ability to touch” people. Perry said that Bryan didn’t really choose that song, but that her grandpa did so through him as a “Heaven-sent” way to tell her she’s in the exact right place.

Colin Stough, 18, from Amory, Mississippi: The three songs the judges suggested for Stough were:

  • “’Til You Can’t” by Cody Johnson
  • “Starting Over” by Chris Stapleton
  • “It’s Been While” by Staind

Stough said the Staind song was “completely different” than the others and he recalled playing it all the time as he headed into work as an HVAC repairman. He said he knows it’s time for him to play songs that mean something to him and dedicated it to other “blue-collar guys.”

Stough guessed that Perry chose it, which she did and that made her pull ahead as the winner of the judges’ song contest. She said Stough listened to his intuition when choosing that song and was turning into a star before their eyes. Bryan agreed, as did Richie, who loved that he let go on his last note and nearly “scared yourself to death.”

Here’s Who Made the Top 8

After a final commercial break, “Idol” returned with its Top 10 contestants lined up across the stage and Seacrest holding the results. He then read through those who made it through, after nearly 23 million votes. The contestants comprising the Top 7 are as follows.

  • Megan Danielle
  • Haven Madison
  • Warren Peay
  • Wé Ani
  • Colin Stough
  • Iam Tongi
  • Zachariah Smith

That left Byrd, Steele and Venegas as the bottom three. Because Perry won the contest, she was allowed to choose the eighth contestant to go through but asked to consult with her fellow judges briefly, saying there’s “no I in Team.” She then announced they’d chosen Steele to move forward as part of the Top 8.

“American Idol” will return on Sunday, May 7, when the competition is whittled down to the Top 5.