“American Idol” returned with a poignant episode Sunday that likely left fans teary-eyed and calling their moms.
Each contestant performed twice for the Mother’s Day-themed show. First, they sang tunes from the band Coldplay, with input from frontman and guest mentor Chris Martin. Later, they gave touching performances dedicated to their mothers.
As usual, the singers got feedback from judges Luke Bryan, Lionel Richie and Katy Perry, who opened up in a virtual Q&A post-show about celebrating her first Mother’s Day as a mom. The pop star and her partner Orlando Bloom welcomed their first child together, daughter Daisy, last August.
“I got to nap with her today, this morning,” said Perry, who revealed she also celebrated the holiday with her family Saturday. “And, strangely, she usually naps for like an hour, but she napped for like two-and-a-half hours with me, and I was holding her hand, and it was perfect.”
She added that the Mother’s Day performances, especially the contestants’ original songs, hit even more close to home now that she’s a mom.
“My baby is my baby,” she said. “To see these mystery, strong men be sensitive and vulnerable and need their mommy, it’s so sweet. It’s so beautiful. I was really moved by a lot of their songs.”
Here’s what went down during the live coast-to-coast episode, which saw the final seven whittled down to five.
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First up was high school student Casey Bishop, with the rocker teen taking on the band’s song “Paradise.”
Martin gave the 16-year-old some advice on stage presence and confidence, telling her to “exist within the song” to calm her nerves.
And the teen succeeded, according to the judges.
“It was so great to see you let loose toward the middle of the song,” said Perry, adding that Bishop could get even wilder. “I want more tornado, but that was perfect.”
Bryan, who predicted Bishop would win the show after her first audition, told her he’s “never heard you hit a bad note this whole competition.”
“That was yet another glimpse into your future and what you can be,” he added.
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Bishop returned with her rocker edge for her second song, “Ironic” by Alanis Morissette.
Perry said Bishop delivered the “whirlwind” she was looking for.
“Way to be possessed by personality,” she added. “Keep bringing that kind of stage presence and energy.”
Heavy machine operator Chayce Beckham, 24, took the stage next, giving a rendition of “Magic” that brought all three judges to their feet.
“Half of the game is you have the confidence. The other half of the game is that you’re having fun,” Richie advised. “Enjoy the ride, my man.”
Perry praised Beckham’s vocals, but added she wished he took Martin’s advice to let a strand of his slicked-back hair fall in front of his face.
“You have that Chris Martin magic about you,” she said. “The only thing I missed was that strand. I stand for that strand.”
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For his second song, Beckham performed an original called “Mama,” which he wrote during Hollywood Week for his mom.
“If it wasn’t for her, I would be dead or in jail,” Beckham said post-show, adding that he hopes to release an album soon after “Idol” wraps. “Hopefully I got to touch some people’s hearts across America, because that’s all I want to do.”
Beckham certainly touched the judges’ hearts.
“As a songwriter, I’m gonna say, put that song out now,” Richie told the contestant, as he teared up onstage. “That’s a smash record.”
Perry called Beckham a “sensitive, vulnerable heavy machinery operator.”
“A-plus A-plus, A-plus!” she exclaimed.
Caretaker Willie Spence, 21, gave a soaring performance of “Yellow,” that Richie called “a religious experience.”
Perry agreed, saying Spence sings “between heaven and earth.”
“You let go and let God,” she added.
Spence gave another electrifying performance with Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful.” Post-show, he revealed he chose the song because “to me, my mom is the most beautiful person in the world.”
“I think only a mother’s unconditional love will get that kind of song opening up to the heavens like that,” said Perry.
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Caleb Kennedy, 16, gave a gravelly rendition of “Violet Hill,” which Perry said was the first time she’d ever been frightened by a Coldplay song.
“That scared me, and it scared me in a good way, because it was that good, Caleb,” Perry told the high school student.
Richie noted the teen’s confidence took a dip in the middle of the song.
“Remember, the crowd did not come to rehearsal,” he said. “Bring you every time you come to this table, because that’s what we’re looking for.”
Like Beckham, Kennedy also performed an emotional original song for his mom, called “Mama Said.”
“You, my friend, are a true anomaly,” said Bryan. “To be able to write songs like that, to truly connect like a 50-year-old wise man wrote it. It’s amazing.”
Richie agreed that the teen has talent far beyond his years.
“That’s a 90-year-old man writing that song,” he said. “That’s a smash record right there.”
Last year’s runner-up, Arthur Gunn, performed a folksy rendition of “In My Places.” The musician, 23, changed up the musical arrangement, with Martin’s blessing.
Gunn earned praise for his vocals, but drew mixed reactions from the judges for rewriting the song.
“Anyone who can stand before the writer and say, ‘I’ll change the melody, and I’ll change a few words too’… is called an artist, my friend,” said Richie.
Perry disagreed. Though she commended Gunn’s artistry, she wasn’t as gung-ho about the changes.
“I did want to sing along with you, Arthur, and I didn’t know that melody,” she said.
Gunn then dedicated a performance of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man” to “all the moms out there.”
Richie praised Gunn’s “signature voice,” while Perry complimented his song choice. Bryan challenged him to “really dig in even more.”
College student Grace Kinstler, 20, wasn’t sure which song to perform when she walked into her session with Martin. After going back-and-forth, the singer, known for her powerful belting and stealthy riffs, settled on a simple, stripped-down version of “Fix You.”
“Let’s just go super vulnerable,” Martin recommended.
And, according to the judges, the advice paid off.
“It was breaking through the facade of show business,” Perry said. “It was really connected. I think you finally arrived with that song.”
Bryan said Kinstler was so good that he almost said a bad word on live national television.
“It took me even out of what I’m doing,” he said. “It was amazing.”
After the show, Kinstler said she thought of recent losses in her family as she was singing, recalling how her father and grandmother died less than a month apart.
“I just thought of my family, everything I had witnessed, and how I felt,” she said. “That’s a really important part of myself to share, because that’s a lot of what’s made me who I am today and changed my perspective on my life.”
For her second song, Kinstler sang one of her mom’s favorites: “When We Were Young,” by Adele.
“It was like being in a movie,” Bryan said. “It was truly a magical performance.”
Hunter Metts, 22, put his smooth voice to use for a dreamy performance of “Everglow.”
The judges joked about how many fans have grown to love the software developer.
“I get so many texts about you,” said Perry. “Just know that you are beloved. You are beloved by the world, and it’s beautiful seeing you sing and soar.”
Richie predicted big things for Metts.
“You are a storyteller as well as having a unique voice, so the problem that you are going to have is nothing,” he said. “The sky is the limit for your career.”
Metts later closed the show with an original called “The River,” which Bryan rated a “10 out of 10.”
“It is one thing to sing, but to be a songwriter, to be in the driver’s seat of your life and your message is the whole thing,” Perry added.
Who went home?
Not every contestant could move on to the next round. After a “really, really close vote,” host Ryan Seacrest revealed Gunn and Metts didn’t make the top five.
“I learned so much,” Metts said post-show. “I made so many friends and doors opened and so much beautiful growth. I’m excited for what’s next and to get home and get to work for real because, at the end of the day, this is the launch pad.”
Gunn added that he’s happy to have been able to perform on the big “Idol” stage, after singing in quarantine last season.
“I wasn’t expecting it, but it just happened,” he said. “It’s a good feeling to be able to be on the stage and perform songs.”
“Idol” continues next Sunday at 8 ET, when the top five will be mentored by Billie Eilish’s brother and songwriting partner Finneas O’Connell.