American Idol’s Top 20 finalists turned into the Top 21 on Sunday’s show as judges could not decide between two similarly stellar contestants.
Instead, they left the vote to America, telling fans to decide which one would go through by voting either online or by text message before next weekend’s episode.
Country singers Grace Leer, 29, and Lauren Mascitti, 28, said they ‘really bonded’ during their time in Hawaii, where they participated in the show’s final judgment round.
Tough call: Grace Leer made it too tough for the judges to decide on Sunday’s episode of American Idol on ABC
They both lived in Nashville, grew up performing, and roomed together at their plush resort.
Lauren, a nurse, worried which one of them the judges would choose when they heard they would both be sent for at the same time.
‘I’m rooting for her, and of course I don’t want to go home,’ she said of Grace, aware that there was only one spot left in the show’s Top 20.
The judges dug her rendition of Emmylou Harris’ Two More Bottles Of Wine, with judge Lionel Richie, 70, saying, ‘I like her’ and judge Katy Perry, 35, calling Lauren ‘classic and classy.’
Close bond: Lauren Mascitt bonded with Grace and the judges couldn’t pick who to let go
But Grace’s cover of Carole King’s (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman had Katy in raptures, exclaiming, ‘Teach the children!’ and holding up a hand to testify as she listened.
‘She literally came out here and made everyone look like they were on a talent show,’ Katy said of Grace, a technology sales professional.
When it came time to hear their fate, the singers held hands and walked into the judging arena.
Hawaii showcase: Katy Perry teamed up with Minnie Mouse during the Hawaii showcase at Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa in Ko Olina, Hawaii
‘We have arrived to the last two,’ said judge Luke Bryan, 43. ‘Have y’all counted how many people have went through?’
‘We think there’s only one spot left,’ Grace calculated, as her father was shown outside saying, ‘We think both are going through.’
‘There is one spot left,’ Luke confirmed. ‘Your performances last night, both of them, were really, really great. Lauren, you showed us this rocking side that we haven’t seen, and Grace, really one of the winners of the night.’
‘So we have one position left, and we couldn’t make a decision,’ he added.
‘We just couldn’t agree,’ Lionel affirmed.
The crew: Bobby Bones, Luke Bryan, Katy, Lionel Richie and host Ryan Seacrest were on duty in Hawaii
‘You guys aren’t out of the woods yet,’ Luke revealed. ‘We’re gonna turn it over to America to watch your performance from last night. We’re gonna let them vote who makes it into the top 20.’
‘We’re sorry to extend your anxiety, but we love you both….’ Katy offered.
‘… So we’ll say to you both, ”Congratulations,” and may America take control,’ Lionel finished.
Viewer voting: Katy revealed that viewers will decide whether Grace or Lauren makes the top 20
Grace and Lauren walked out of there holding hands and covering their mouths in shock.
‘Oh my gosh,’ Grace said, to which Lauren replied, ‘This is insane.’
When they got in front of their families, they both spoke at the same time.
‘So, this thing happened,’ Lauren began, as Grace went on, ‘They loved both of our performances.’
Music legend: Lionel told the singers that the judges couldn’t agree
‘They fought over us,’ Lauren continued. ‘They couldn’t come up with a decision, so…’
‘So it’s top 21,’ the girls said in unison, before hugging each other and saying, ‘I love you.’
The show got off to an emotional start with a song by Dillon James, a 26-year-old construction worker from Bakersfield, California who’d grappled with addiction and been sober two years.
Emotional start: The show got off to an emotional start with a song by Dillon James
The judges felt they were seeing a real artist as they listened to his cover of Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changing, and Dillon cried as they told him he was in the top 20.
‘You have come through a tunnel, and last night you came out of that tunnel,’ said Lionel, who hugged an overcome Dillon and urged him to ‘let go and let God.’
‘I’m excited,’ Dillon said, his eyes wet with tears. ‘I’m happy. I’m alive. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to people when I say that, but… I never thought I would be here.’
Franklin Boone, 27, who taught music in Durham, North Carolina, also made it to the top 20 after a moving performance of John Mayer’s Daughters.
He’d dedicated it to his daughter Zoe, recalling that he’d sung it at a karaoke bar the day before his wife Merrie told him she was pregnant.
For daughter: Franklin Boone, 27, who taught music in Durham, North Carolina, also made it to the top 20 after a moving performance of John Mayer’s Daughters
Katy loved it, declaring, ‘Okay, show’s over,’ after hearing the first note.
Julia Gargano, 21, was deemed ‘Top Five’ by Katy during the audition rounds, so it was no surprise that she sailed through her cover of Pink’s Glitter In The Air.
The college student from Staten Island, New York, laughed when Luke told her, ‘All we need to do is… this girl needs a hit song and she’ll be on the Grammys.’
A frontrunner: Julia Gargano, 21, was deemed ‘Top Five’ by Katy during the audition rounds, so it was no surprise that she sailed through her cover of Pink’s Glitter In The Air
‘We still feel like you can go a long, long way,’ he said. ‘Maybe all the way. You are definitely in our top 20, and definitely becoming a front runner.’
Aliana Jester, a 19-year-old server from Tampa, Florida, was nervous before the showcase, but cheered up after her father James and stepmother Darlene surprised her by showing up.
She jumped into the pool with both of them after making it through with her cover of This Is Me from The Greatest Showman.
Feeling nervous: Aliana Jester, a 19-year-old server from Tampa, Florida, was nervous before the showcase, but cheered up after her father James and stepmother Darlene surprised her by showing up
Sophia Wackerman, 20, brought her ‘favorite person on the planet,’ her brother James, to Hawaii.
James had Fragile X syndrome, which made him overly responsive to sensory stimulation, but at home, he played drums ‘like a beast,’ Sophia said.
‘We learned music at the same time, and to see him watch me perform at such a big caliber, I feel like that’s his success as well,’ she considered.
Favorite person: Sophia Wackerman, 20, brought her ‘favorite person on the planet,’ her brother James, to Hawaii
The college student from Long Beach, California, rocked out to her version of Nick Jonas’ Levels, surprising the judges with her red jumpsuit and sultry moves.
‘Shake that hair, girl,’ Katy exclaimed, later telling her that she would go through.
Arthur Gunn, 21, earned a standing ovation from the judges for his version of Bob Marley and the Wailers’ Is This Love, which had Katy calling him ‘so pure.’
Standing ovation: Arthur Gunn, 21, earned a standing ovation from the judges for his version of Bob Marley and the Wailers’ Is This Love
The Nepalese musician from Wichita, Kansas, said he had a hard time performing onstage, but the crowd didn’t seem to notice.
Katy cautioned him to keep his eyes opened when he performed, noting that he sent them on a ‘journey’ when he did that.
‘I’m going to rip the Band-Aid off,’ Lionel told Arthur. ‘You, my friend, are probably the easiest decision we ever made. You’re in our Top 20, and you’re our shining star.’
Many of the show’s female high school students bonded in Hawaii, getting matching rings and enjoying the beach together.
Cyniah Elise, 18, from Atlanta, sang Labelle’s Marmalade with so much fire, Lionel said, ‘She came to take that bank!’
Teen talent: Cyniah Elise, 18, from Atlanta, sang Labelle’s Marmalade with so much fire, Lionel said, ‘She came to take that bank!’
Makayla Phillips, 17, from Temecula, Calfornia, hit notes so high on Demi Lovato’s Sorry Not Sorry that Lionel and Luke stood up and applauded.
Lauren Spencer-Smith, 16, from Vancouver Island, Canada, turned on the ‘sass’ and ‘attitude’ for her rendition of Aretha Franklin’s Respect.
All three teenagers made it through, as did Olivia Ximines, 17, from Menifee, California, a ‘competitive’ singer who choreographed her own dance to Tina Turner’s Proud Mary.
Sass on: Lauren Spencer-Smith, 16, from Vancouver Island, Canada, turned on the ‘sass’ and ‘attitude’ for her rendition of Aretha Franklin’s Respect
Kimmy Gabriela, 17, from Lakeland, Florida, wanted to show her ‘heart’ on Demi Lovato’s You Don’t Do It For Me Anymore, which left Luke saying ‘wow’ right away.
‘What, are you 17?’ Katy asked Kimmy, whose father was a professional musician. ‘You sound like a seasoned pro. You sound like you’ve been doing this for a thousand lifetimes.’
Kimmy’s face darkened as Katy said she wasn’t memorable enough, but brightened when the judge clarified, ‘especially going to the top 20.’
‘I’m the toughest b****,’ Katy joked afterward. ‘I’m gonna be a good mom. My kids are always gonna get it straight.’
American Idol will return next week on ABC.
Wow factgor: Kimmy Gabriela, 17, from Lakeland, Florida, wanted to show her ‘heart’ on Demi Lovato’s You Don’t Do It For Me Anymore, which left Luke saying ‘wow’ right away