American Idol Hollywood Week: Can Claudia Conway Cut Out the Noise with Kellyanne Right There?

A marathon in two hours, “American Idol” delivered its entire first round of Hollywood Week on Sunday night and it … was … a … lot — 44 performances of a lot!

There were 44 different performances featured on the screen as we powered through a whole slew of contestants across six genres of music (Indie-Folk, Pop, Rock, Soul, R&B, Country). This is “American Idol” Hollywood Week and we’re already exhausted!

Contestants chose their genre, and then were divided by them so the judges could hear like-minded artists back-to-back-to-back. That didn’t mean a certain number would advance or go home, but it certainly helps with comparing voices, styles and readiness.

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This week also saw the return of Claudia Conway, the season’s most controversial and famous contestant. And this time, she brought along her even more famous parent, Kellyanne Conway. And yes, Kellyanne couldn’t resist singing.

Yes it was a bit of a distraction, but not as much as it could have been. The big question is, though, is it all too much of a distraction for Claudia, who barely eked through her audition because of all the noise of her life.

This time, she came with a whole new look, almost unrecognizable, and a new confidence. But was it enough? Plenty of our favorites from the audition rounds faltered, while some new faces emerged who really impressed us (and made us wish we’d seen their auditions).

And then, we got mad all over again when Yurisbel showed up on our screens, having stolen a spot (we know it doesn’t work this way, but anger has no logic) from so many more deserving contestants. We’d have much rather 16-year-old Ace Stiles get the chance.

This week saw so many teens his age and younger really impress with powerful vocals, and we really think he had something just as quirky and unique (and stronger) than some of the performers we saw here tonight.

Next up is the duets round, but this season comes with the twist of the judges choosing those duet partnerships rather than the contestants. Will that help with the drama? Make it harder? We’ll have to wait and see.

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.

Just for fun, I’m going to rank the performances from worst to first to see who my favorites are.

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POP GENRE

Yurisbel

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([unidentified] – 25, Miami, FL) No. Still no.

Result: Going Home

Ammon Olayan

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(“Lost in Japan,” Shawn Mendes – 18, Wahiawa, HI) Unfortunately, Ammon is not nearly as strong without his sister Liohana. His vocals were just okay, but sounded unpolished and unpushed, if that makes sense. There was a sense he wasn’t using his full diaphragm to deliver. And that falsetto just was not working at all. If you’re going to tackle Shawn Mendes you better got it, and Ammon didn’t quite rise to that level. Maybe with coaching he could get there, but we’re not seeing it yet.

Result: Going Home

She Nova

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([unidentified] – 27, Solana Beach, CA) With a voice perhaps better suited for rock, She Nova fits pop about as well as P!nk — which is to say, it’s unexpected, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be room for it. She’s definitely quirky, but in a way that left us feeling a little underwhelmed overall. There are some interesting elements to her voice, but we mostly got a wailing segment, so we didn’t get to see it.

Result: Going Home

Laila Mach

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(“Fix It to Break It,” Clinton Kane – 15, New Paltz, NY) A little warbly and all over the place with the notes she was chasing at times, it must have sounded a lot more confident and solid live in the room. Laila has some really nice qualities to her voice, but she’s definitely right in that she needs to work on her confidence, which will add strength and conviction to the choices she makes vocally.

Result: Going Forward

Anthony Guzman

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(“Fever,” Peggy Lee – 27, Santa Rosa, CA) We only got a few seconds of this, but there’s a sultry sizzle that really belongs in this song, and Anthony rose above it with a lighter jazzy interpretation. It didn’t quite work perfectly for the tone of this particular song, but he has a lovely tone of his own that’s enjoyable to listen to. We’re still trying to figure this “Viking” out, though.

Result: Going Forward

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Erika Perry

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(“In the Air Tonight,” Phil Collins – 26, Orange County, CA) Once again, Erika fell into the trap of trying to do too much. She’s very extra on camera, and we’ve no idea if she’s like that off as well. Katy stripped her back in her initial audition to reveal an interesting artist underneath the theatrics, but those were taking over again here. She even freaked herself out. We think Lionel hit it on the head in that there’s too much going on in her head. Once she started over, we got that cool, interesting, unique artist we saw glimpses of in the first round. She’s just gotta get out of her own way.

Result: Going Home

Mary Jo Young

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(“Falling,” Harry Styles – 19, Cleveland, OH) She was definitely lacking in perfect control, but she took on a song that demands a lot from a vocalist and she had almost all of it. Her tender voice was absolutely divine, and there were moments in her big voice that really soared beautifully. She has an interesting and unique tone in her voice that’s very engaging. Considering her lack of experience, she’s quite solidly impressive on stage, meaning she’s got a lot of raw talent waiting to be nurtured.

Result: Going Forward

Claudia Conway

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(“River,” Bishop Briggs – 16, Alpine, NJ) She definitely appears to have pushed aside the noise of her life and famous parents — Kellyanne Conway joined her this time, but actually stayed mostly quiet — and found her own voice as a singer. This was a competent vocal with a compelling tone. She is still a little tepid overall, needing to really own that this is who she believes she is so we can believe it, too, but this was far more impressive than her first time. She might just have it to do this.

Result: Going Forward

Ava August

[[see Laila Mach above for video]]

(“We Are Going to Be Friends,” The White Stripes – Laguna Niguel, CA) Sounding like an indie pop version of Katy Perry herself at times, Ava really expressed herself vocally well beyond her years. It was a very current vibe throughout, with the stage presence of a young Taylor Swift on top of the quality of her tone. Ava’s really got something special in her voice and charisma that draws you in.

Result: Going Forward

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Liv Grace Blue

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(“Ain’t No Sunshine,” Bill Withers –  17, Studio City, CA) Liv has a big old voice and she definitely knows how to use it. We didn’t get a whole lot of this performance, but enough to know that she has the pipes to really stand out in this competition. She could work on making more intimate and moving choices vocally, but as a showcase piece, she showed up.

Result: Going Home

Colin Jamieson

[[see Mary Jo Young above for video]]

(“Sex on Fire,” Kings of Leon – 22, Boxford, MA) Colin brought a really interesting take on a very well-known track. We’d have liked him to manage his breaths a little better throughout, but there was a strange joyousness that almost completely transformed the song, while keeping it recognizable. He has a buttery smoothness to his vocal that is a perfect pop-rock sound — the kind you really don’t hear anymore.

Result: Going Forward

Liohana Olayan

[[see Ammon Olayan above for video]]

(“No Excuses,” Meghan Trainor – 17, Wahiawa, HI) We love how much sass Liohana injected into this performance, giving us everything Meghan can do with body language through her vocals alone while sitting behind a keyboard. She even got into the softer section to showcase some real vocal prowess (which we already knew she had), but really impressed with what a cool pop vibe she delivered. And then she’s all cute and sweet when it’s over like a teenager again.

Result: Going Forward

Andrea Valles

[[see Erika Perry above for video]]

(“Lay Me Down,” Sam Smith – 23, Houston, TX) This is the kind of heart and connection we were looking for, with Andrea bringing just about as much ache to this song as Sam Smith does (we’re not sure anyone can actually match him). She has great power and control of her instrument, and really delivered with conviction.

Result: Going Forward

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COUNTRY GENRE

Drake McCain

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(“Nothin’ on You,” Cody Johnson – 19, Spring City, TN) In our first look at him since last season, Drake came with a country vibe this year and it almost sounded authentic. We thought he leaned a bit too much into the twang and nasally tone of it all, taking away some of that genuine quality that makes true country ring so … well, true.

Result: Going Forward

Cameron McGhar

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(“Stay,” Sugarland – 16, Clanton, AL) Cameron didn’t quite rise up as high as we’d hoped, with a little uncertainty in her voice as she slipped on a few of the notes. We didn’t get to see much of her, but what we saw left us worried. She has a nice enough tone, and she definitely has a true country everything about her, but is that enough against some of this competition?

Result: Going Home

Cecil Ray

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(“Shake the Frost,” Tyler Childers – 20, Cameron, TX) Cecil was a bundle of terrified nerves and anxiety, dominating the early lines of this piece — even after a false start got him a second chance. He was able to redeem himself a bit by the end, and showed some of the heart that made him a fan-favorite in the audition rounds. But he’s really got to conquer those nerves.

Result: Going Forward

Mason Picks

[[see Drake McCain above for video]]

(“Budapest,” George Ezra – 23, Winston Salem, NC) Another guy we didn’t see in the first round, and yet Mason came with one of the smoothest and purest country sounds all season long. His subtle twang was perfect on this George Ezra cross-genre track, even though we’d have liked a little more oomph behind those brief falsetto moments. He was a little too in the pocket the whole time. We’d like to see a little hunger!

Result: Going Home

James Perdue

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(“Simple Man,” Lynyrd Skynyrd – 28, Clear Creek, WV) We loved how effortless he had that grit in his voice, encased in a smoothness. Honestly, while we only got a few seconds of this performance, we were far more impressed than the judges seemed to be. That’s not an easy song to sing, and he had the right amount of everything to really sail through it.

Result: Going Home

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Christian McGuckian

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(“Gunpowder & Lead,” Miranda Lambert – 21, Easley, SC) Once again, Christian’s timing started to get away from her, but she really does have a special country quality to her voice. It’s almost hard to quantify exactly what it is, but she sounds like she means it when she sings this track. But her timing is just all over the place, and she has no real idea how to find it. Can she work hard enough to get some rhythm to go with those chops? That’s the key question..

Result: Going Home

Chayce Beckham

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(“Hard Times,” Tyler Childers – 24, Apple Valley, CA) With a natural grit to his voice, Chayce stayed a bit too much in one lane, but at least it was an effective one. He really did pick the right song for his story of overcoming his own rock bottom, as that pain was there. We didn’t feel it quite as much as we hoped, but with a little more variance vocally, as Lionel noted, he can get us there.

Result: Going Forward

Mignon

[[see Drake McCain above for video]]

(“I Drive Your Truck,” Lee Brice – 27, Nashville, TN) There’s no denying that she’s got powerful chops, but this entire performance (or at least what we saw of it) stayed in the exact same lane throughout. We’re absolutely impressed with what we saw in our first look at her this season and can see why the judges want her to carry through, but we’d need more to see how she can connect with and project the lyric — such an important skill for country music.

Result: Going Forward

Alex Miller

[[see Cameron McGhar above for video]]

(“Free Born Man,” Glen Campbell – 17, Lancaster, KY) He has the kind of attack you rarely see in country music, but he reminds us of a very young, very raw but very talented Garth Brooks. Alex has all the charisma he needs to carry a stage performance, he’s got a natural charm that carries through his performance and he’s got that old-school — very old-school at times — country sound that’s getting lost across much of the genre.

Result: Going Forward

Caleb Kennedy

[[see Cameron McGhar above for video]]

(“Whiskey and You,” Chris Stapleton – 16, Roebuck, SC) What a great song choice for the kind of gravelly strength Caleb has in his voice. His powerful voice was just as compelling as his tender one, which has this quality of touching your heart in the same way that Chris does (that makes him such a devastating artist to listen to).

Result: Going Forward

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SOUL GENRE

Celeste Butler

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(“Earned It,” The Weeknd – 23, Oceanside, CA) What was it about this performance that didn’t quite connect. She had plenty of quality vocal runs, but it all felt a bit cabaret. Or, as Katy Perry kept saying, she still sounds a bit like she’s on a Carnival Cruise entertaining the passengers. It just lacked that polish and control that makes you believe you’re listening to someone pouring their soul out.

Result: Going Home

Re’H

[[see Celeste Butler above for video]]

(“Get Here (If You Can),” Oleta Adams – 27, Houston, TX) A powerful song with a lot of heart, but Re’H didn’t quite rise to the occasion this time around. She sounded a little too in her sinuses early on and it never came together in a fully satisfying way for us. This song demands so much emotion, and all we felt was disconnected from her and her from it. The tools are there, as we’ve seen her do it before, but this wasn’t it.

Result: Going Forward

DJ Johnson

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(“Rise Up,” Andra Day – 18, Longview, TX) Still a little shaky overall and in her nerves, but DJ has the tools to be a very compelling storyteller with her voice. She has this innate ability to make you believe what she’s feeling as she sings it, projecting those emotions through her vocals. The question is if she can conquer her fears and insecurities and self-doubt enough to — ahem — rise up.

Result: Going Home

Grace Kinstler

[[see DJ Johnson above for video]]

(“10 Seconds,” Jazmine Sullivan – 20, Chicago by way of Boston, MA) Even Lionel pointed out that soul is not a color. Grace may be a white artist, but she has every bit as much soul as some of the best this genre has ever offered. Following up on an incredible audition, she brought just as much to this second round, making us really excited to see what a journey with her could look like. She is the real deal when it comes to vocalists, a true natural talent.

Result: Going Forward

Xavier Washington

[[see Celeste Butler above for video]]

(“Gravity,” John Mayer – 22, Atlanta, GA) This is how you come out as a soul singer and touch our souls. Xavier has beautiful range, power and control of his instrument. He brought his own flair to John Mayer’s modern classic, injecting it with a lot of passion and even took it to church in the best possible way. Even his falsetto lifted us higher. That’s how you do it!

Result: Going Forward

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INDIE-FOLK GENRE

Emisunshine

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(“Take Me to Church,” Hozier – 16, Madisonville, TN) She stripped all of the passion and conviction out of this song, and not just because she was playing it like someone told her she had 30 seconds to get through the whole thing. There was just no heart in her performance, and then there were the missed notes. But most importantly, this song is all about emotional connection, and we felt none. We are curious what her first audition was that got her here, because this was not good.

Result: Going Forward

Graham DeFranco

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(“Mama, You Been on My Mind,” Bob Dylan – 27, Rockwall, TX) Well, as much as we enjoyed Graham the first time out, more than four or five seconds would have been nice. He has a nice tone that’s engaging with a great control of his range, but this didn’t really do much for us one way or the other. Lionel seemed to think it was boring, but we’re not sure we got enough to say one way or the other.

Result: Going Forward

Lizzy O’Very

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(“Lights,” Ellie Goulding – 20, Ephriam, UT) Lizzy has a good voice, but we’re not sure what the message of this interpretation was. She definitely has the tools, but the choices she makes are so consistently bold and quirky, the question becomes, is it all too much? A few of the dramatic shifts in this interpretation were actually a bit jarring overall.

Result: Going Forward

Cassandra Coleman

[[see Graham DeFranco above for video]]

(“Dynamite,” Sigrid – 24, Columbia, TN) This was vulnerability on the verge of an emotional breakdown. We’re not sure if that was nerves, but it cost her a few of the big notes (out of tune). Nevertheless, she salvaged enough of it to show that she really connected with the message of the song. Interestingly, for as much as she was feeling it, it felt so internalized, not a lot of that came through. We were just worried she was overwhelmed and about to crack.

Result: Going Forward

Wyatt Pike

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(“Love on the Brain,” Rihanna – 19, Park City, UT) We actually really enjoyed the way Wyatt reinterpreted Rihanna’s track to wring out the story he was trying to tell. He has a really nice quality to his voice that’s perfect for storytelling, with that falsetto as a selective weapon to wake you up if you start to get a little too comfortable. It just comes so naturally for him, but in a good way.

Result: Going Forward

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Trinity Rose

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(“Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” Beach Boys – 17, Los Angeles, CA) Trinity gave this high-energy track a real low-energy vibe and we were here for every bit of it. She’s got a really interesting kink in her voice that definitely demands your attention. There was just the slightest wavering of control at one point, but mostly she’s the kind of artist where you find yourself curious what she’s going to do with the next song, which is exactly what you want.

Result: Going Home

Hunter Metts

[[see Graham DeFranco above for video]]

(“everything i wanted,” Billie Eilish – 22, Franklin, TN) Without trying to mimic Billie (which would have been nigh impossible), Hunter managed to match her vulnerability on the track with a beautifully controlled vocal. It wasn’t quite as haunting or emotional as the original, but it nevertheless captured forlorn beautifully, projecting that to the audience in a way that felt both organic and authentic.

Result: Going Forward

Murphy

[[see Wyatt Pike above for video]]

(“I Got a Name,” Jim Croce – 27, Baltimore, MD) Suddenly, we know exactly who Murphy is as a person and an artist, and we didn’t even need his story to fill in those pieces. He delivered it all in this absolutely beautiful and authentic throwback performance. It was exactly what he needed to do in this moment to sell himself as an artist and make us believe in him.

Result: Going Forward

Christina Daugherty

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(“Hit the Road Jack,” Ray Charles – 28, Knoxville, TN) We’re not a huge fan of bending the enunciation quite so dramatically — and from an English teacher, no less! — but there’s no denying she has that compelling indie/coffeehouse sound with a breathiness and a grit reminiscent of ZZ Ward or Elle King. It’s such an easy and listenable vocal, you find yourself smiling with every bit of rasp.

Result: Going Forward

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R&B GENRE

Vahhley

[[no video]]

(“Love on the Brain,” Rihanna – 23, Brooklyn, NY) Vahley stripped this song down to the bare bones and poured every bit of herself in it. It was almost too much rawness, but she grappled with it well to create a lovingly nuanced performance that really turned out quite beautiful. She’s got a lot of emotion inside of her, and if she can master channeling just enough (not too little or too much), she could be a real powerhouse.

Result: Going Home

Willie Spence

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(“All of Me,” John Legend – 21, Douglas, GA) It’s just so effortless for Willie. We can almost understand why they saved him for last and didn’t even specify which genre he was competing in. Based on the track and his performance and the fact there’s only one person in it (and they didn’t advance), we’re going with R&B (thoug he’s totally a soul singer, too). But really, Willie is so incredible, he could probably sing just about every genre. Even his viral Rihanna video is just impeccable. That voice is so silky smooth.

Result: Going Forward

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ROCK GENRE

Christian Terry

[[no video]]

(“No Longer Slaves,” Jonathan David & Melissa Helser – 21, New Castle, IN) We didn’t get a lot of his vocals, but what we saw was certainly impressive and authentically rock. He’s got a very cool grit in his voice, and a little bit of soul to help sell the deeper meaning of the lyrics. It’s the kind of rock voice that can make long-lasting classical music. We could hear him on the radio today.

Result: Going Home

Beane

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(“Bennie and the Jets,” Elton John – 23, Boston, MA) Beane really stepped up on this one, without losing any of his quirky Mister Rogers demeanor that so endeared him to the judges in his audition. Nerd rock is totally a thing, and he brought a lot of vibrant energy and pizzazz to one of the toughest vocalists out there. He surprised us in the best possible way here.

Result: Going Forward

Althea Grace

[[no video]]

(“Girl,” Maren Morris – 21, Chicago, IL) Althea punctuated the lyrics of this song perfectly, to add just a little extra punch to the story. She’s definitely got a cool rocker vibe to her, but with more crossover potential into the country genre and even a bit of pop. There’s grit and soul in her voice, and that makes her a very interesting singer with lots of possibilities.

Result: Going Forward

Casey Bishop

[[see Beane above for video]]

(“The House of the Rising Sun,” The Animals – 15, Estero, FL) We have to slap ourselves each time to remind ourselves that this girl is 15 years old and belting with this much power and depth of voice. She sings like such a seasoned performer, it’s incredible to imagine the potential that lies before us. There was so much power in this, and yet perfect control. It was an incredible performance.

Result: Going Forward

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BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE…

Delivered in a quick montage that offers us nothing more than knowing they made it through (and maybe we’ll see them more in the next round), the following additional singers also advanced, all under the backdrop of Amanda Mena’s powerful vocals. So we didn’t get to see much of her, but we did hear her..

  • Abby LeBaron (19, Springville, UT)
  • Alanis Sophia (19, Wesley Chapel, FL)
  • Alyssa Wray (18, Perryville, KY)
  • Amanda Mena (18, Boston, MA)
  • Anilee List (20, Los Angeles, CA)
  • Jason Warrior (25, Chicago, IL)
  • Madison Watkins (25, Fayetteville, AR)
  • Ronda Felton (19, Milwaukee, WI)
  • Zach D’Onofrio (19, Wesley Chapel, FL)

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


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