Grace Leer nabbed American Idol’s last Top 20 spot on Sunday’s episode of the show after fans picked her over fellow contestant Lauren Mascitti.
The two-hour show opened with host Ryan Seacrest, 45, telling viewers from his living room in Los Angeles that American Idol ‘during this uncertain time’ was committed to bringing ‘some sense of normalcy, some sense of community and hope, through the stories of our contestants’.
The singing competition will continue next Sunday from 25 different locations across North America at the homes of the contestants, judges and his own due to the coronavirus pandemic, Ryan said.
Going remote: American Idol opened on Sunday with host Ryan Seacrest telling viewers that starting next week they will continue with an at-home version from 25 different sites
He called it ‘television history’ and reminded viewers that they create ‘superstars’ on American Idol.
After a nationwide vote conducted via text and Idol app, Grace, 29, learned she would be joining the 19 other singers who’d already been sent through two weeks ago.
She and Lauren, 28, had been awaiting their fate since the judges told them they couldn’t make up their minds which one was better after they both performed in Hawaii.
‘We have one position left, and we couldn’t make a decision,’ judge Luke Bryan, 43, told the women following the final judgment round, opting to leave the choice up to the show’s fans.
One spot: Lauren Mascitti and Grace Leer were up for the last spot in the top 20 with viewers voting on their fate
On Sunday, Grace stood patiently in her San Ramon, California, living room as Ryan announced the results, with Lauren listening from her home in Nashville.
When Ryan told Grace she’d made it, the singer laughed with delight and hugged her mom, telling the other contestant, ‘Lauren, I love you. I wish I could hug you. I love you.’
‘I’m gonna make country proud, I promise,’ she added, as tears filled her eyes.
Video conference: Ryan gathered with Lauren and Grace via video conferencing to announce the results of viewer voting
Kept apart: The friends were kept apart due to the coronavirus pandemic
Country star: Grace promised that she would ‘make country proud’ after making the top 20
It was all a long time coming for the technology sales professional, who’d struggled to make it as a country singer in Nashville and had been performing since she was a child.
She’d even competed on a show called American Juniors, hosted by Ryan himself, when she was 11 years old.
‘I’ve been wanting to be a singer since I was a little girl, and this is the first time I ever felt like, ‘Holy crap, this is possible,’ Grace said after her Idol audition.
First impression: The 29-year-old singer made a strong first impression during her audition
When she got to Hollywood, Grace sang Kacey Musgraves’ Rainbow, which the judges called ‘solid’ in a clip airing for the first time on Sunday.
But in Hawaii, Grace’s cover of Carole King’s (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman was so good it had Katy Perry, 35, yelling, ‘Teach the children!’ and holding up a hand to testify.
‘She literally came out here and made everyone look like they were on a talent show,’ Katy said of Grace, as Luke replied, ‘She checked all the boxes on that.’
Natural talent: Grace in Hawaii performed a cover of Carole King’s (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman
In the judgment room, the Country Girl (Shake it for Me) singer dubbed Grace and Lauren ‘retro country girls,’ and Katy agreed that the two of them were ‘almost like twins.’
Grace and Lauren had become friends after sharing a room in Hawaii, bonding over the fact that they both lived in Nashville and had sung since childhood.
In Hawaii, Lauren’s cover of Emmylou Harris’ Two More Bottles of Wine had Katy calling her ‘classic and classy,’ and it was the equal of Grace’s song.
Good friends: Lauren and Grace became good friends while competing on the show
The duo held hands as they walked into the judgment room, and before the final decision was announced by Ryan, they told each other ‘I love you’ via video.
In the end, Lauren handled defeat gracefully, telling her pal, ‘Congratulations.’
Sunday’s show, entitled ‘This is Me,’ gave viewers a look into contestants’ lives at home, and also revealed more about what happened in their performance rounds.
Pop superstar: Katy Perry posed with MIckey Mouse and Minnie Mouse while in Hawaii
It also flashed back to the gas leak that famously affected its Sunriver, Oregon, audition studio.
In new scenes, Katy was shown applying lipstick in a mirror as the fire department arrived.
‘Obviously Katy had to ham it up,’ Luke cracked as his fellow judge vamped it up.
Good times: Luke Bryan had fun in the sand while they filmed in Hawaii in January
Katy wasn’t the only one getting attention from the opposite sex on Sunday’s show.
British singer Louis Knight, a 19-year-old pizza deliveryman from Philadelphia, was dubbed the show’s ‘heartthrob’ by Idol mentor Bobby Bones, 40.
‘Definitely not,’ a blushing Louis replied, saying of fans, ‘They’re too kind.’
‘If you make it in the Top 20, your DMs are gonna blow up,’ Bobby affirmed.
Pizza guy: British singer Louis Knight, a 19-year-old pizza deliveryman from Philadelphia, was dubbed the show’s ‘heartthrob’ by Idol mentor Bobby Bones, 40
During the audition rounds, Katy told Louis he reminded her of a One Direction star, and she introduced him in a British accent, saying, ‘This is Louis Knight singing Changes on Capital FM!’
In addition to that original song, Louis also sang Bazzi’s 3:15 with such intensity Luke thought he ‘might be the biggest star we’ve had on American Idol.’
Louis said he’d moved to the US as a kid, and had ‘a tough time’ in middle school, so his mother Amanda bought him a piano, on which he wrote his first song.
Music legend: Lionel Richie critiqued the talent during the previously recorded showcase in Hawaii
‘Often, he’s playing something and I say, ”Well, whose is that?”,’ Amanda said. ‘And he goes, ”It’s mine, mum! I just started doing that this morning”.’
Fan favorite Francisco Martin, a 19-year-old college student from San Francisco, also showed in two unseen performances why Luke had written ‘winner’ down while watching him.
His heartfelt audition cover of Kings Of Leon’s Use Somebody had Katy yelling, ‘Yes!’
Fan favorite: Francisco Martin, a 19-year-old college student from San Francisco, also showed in two unseen performances why Luke had written ‘winner’ down while watching him
During Hollywood Week’s solo round, his original song Lover was so compelling that Luke sang the words himself, helping the shy Francisco gain the confidence he needed.
Kimmy Gabriela, a 17-year-old high school student from Lakeland, Florida, got musical advice from her musician father, Gabino, who looked like Lionel Richie in his younger days.
Like Francisco, she had judges telling her she was ‘Top 10’ at her audition, and Katy gave her standing ovations twice during Hollywood Week, even saying ‘The show’s over’ after she sang.
Teen talent: Kimmy Gabriela, a 17-year-old high school student from Lakeland, Florida, got musical advice from her musician father, Gabino, who looked like Lionel Richie in his younger days
DeWayne Crocker, Jr., a 23-year-old worship leader from Pensacola, Florida, brought his 78-year-old great-grandmother to his audition, where she flirted with Lionel in six-inch heels.
In an unseen Hollywood Week performance, DeWayne dedicated Bill Withers’ Grandma Says to her, accompanying himself on piano, and the judges gave him a standing ovation for it.
‘It’s a blessing to have people love you,’ DeWayne said at the Hawaii rounds, surrounded by four generations of women in his family, and his girlfriends’ parents.
Supportive family: DeWayne Crocker, Jr., a 23-year-old worship leader from Pensacola, Florida, brought his 78-year-old great-grandmother to his audition
‘We’re gonna have another big family one day,’ DeWayne said of his girlfriend, laughing when her father said they would talk ‘when the camera’s off.’
In her audition, Faith Becnel, a 20-year-old server from Destrehan, Louisiana, told the judges her music career started at age 10, when she joined a kids’ rock band.
As a singer for The Rowdy Rough Boys And A Girl, she rocked the stage in fishnet stockings and combat boots.
Child singer: Faith Becnel, a 20-year-old server from Destrehan, Louisiana, told the judges her music career started at age 10, when she joined a kids’ rock band
Her over-the-top audition almost got her denied a ticket to Hollywood, but Katy and Luke voted her in, and when she sang Khalid’s Location for Hollywood Week, Katy fought for her again.
‘I just think she needs to be there,’ Katy told Luke and Lionel. ‘I just love her so much.’
Dillon James, a 26-year-old construction worker from Bakersfield, California, was also shown in his younger days, singing at age six, and playing a guitar at age 11.
Childhood talent: Dillon James, a 26-year-old construction worker from Bakersfield, California, was also shown in his younger days, singing at age six, and playing a guitar at age 11
In an unseen performance from his Idol audition, Dillon sang Gunsmoke, an original song about being a ‘California city slicker,’ which had Katy calling him ‘a country Post Malone.’
Dillon, who’d been open about his past substance abuse issues, said, ‘I’m now nearly two years sober, I have a beautiful relationship with my family, and I’m on American Idol. I’m blessed.’
Cyniah Elise, a 17-year-old high school student from Atlanta, first sang in a church choir at age 2, and noted, ‘My mother noticed I had this gift… my family realized I had the gift, and they started pushing it forward ever since then.’
Super young: Cyniah Elise, a 17-year-old high school student from Atlanta, first sang in a church choir at age 2
Her family rushed the judges’ table after her successful audition, where her version of Adele’s What If I Never Love Again had Lionel standing and saying, ‘Wow. Wow.’
‘It means everything, because my mom wanted this dream,’ Cyniah observed. ‘She wanted to be a singer, and now she’s living through me. I’m really doing this for my whole entire family.’
Aliana Jester, a 19-year-old server from Tampa, was shown in her own unseen audition performance singing Steve Winwood’s Higher Love, with her emotional support dog by her side.
In Hollywood, Aliana covered former Idol winner Kelly Clarkson’s Because Of You, a song about parental abandonment that echoed her own story, as she was estranged from her mother.
Teenage singer: Aliana Jester, a 19-year-old server from Tampa, was shown in her own unseen audition performance singing Steve Winwood’s Higher Love, with her emotional support dog by her side
‘She is truly just… a damn star,’ Luke marveled afterward.
Jovin Webb, a 28-year-old musician from Gonzales, Louisiana, wowed with his cover of Gregg Allman’s Whipping Post, and said being in the Top 20 ‘gave me my smile again.’
Jovin had been deeply affected by the recent death of his mother, and his pain was palpable in his Hollywood take on Ed Sheeran’s Make It Rain, which Lionel called ‘so real.’
Smiling again: Jovin Webb, a 28-year-old musician from Gonzales, Louisiana, wowed with his cover of Gregg Allman’s Whipping Post, and said being in the Top 20 ‘gave me my smile again’
Jovin said he kept going for his toddler Javin, whom he called ‘his savior,’ saying ‘I just want to show my son that you can rise from the dirt and reach for the sky.’
American Idol returns with live at-home performances next week on ABC.
A preview of next week episode showed some of the top 20 performing from their homes with varying degrees of production value.
Going remote: The top 21 are shown together in Hawaii in January and beginning next Sunday the top 20 will perform at home while in self-quarantine due to the coronavirus pandemic