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Tapdancing on the Tightrope 4/28


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Top 9 Ranking


I’m going to be honest up front: I struggled to write this week.  Part of that is I’m just personally having a stressful week, and don’t have a lot of energy to devote to this.  But the double-barreled impact of finding out the season would be going back to mass eliminations, and the ridiculously poor handling of the Comeback episode, just takes a lot of the joy in this season for me.  Which is pretty unfortunate, because this remains one of the strongest casts in the history of the show.  But ABC continues to squander the wealth of talent they’ve repeatedly been provided.


It’s massively frustrating really.  This cast cries out for a long stretch of time where we could get to know them, they could grow into the stage, and we could get some incredible performances.  We might still get one or two.  But those throw-down-the-gauntlet “This is what we’ve been waiting for” performances don’t come so easily when you’re zooming towards the end, which has been clearly evident in every ABC season.  It’s a weird dichotomy, because superficially the show presents an image of nurturing and care towards the contestants, it doesn’t bother to actually help their artistic development or show them any deeper kindness.  


The Comeback episode is a prime example.  Theoretically, I approve of giving the contestants who kinda got screwed by COVID the chance at a more legitimate experience with the show.  If they’d been given a fast pass to Hollywood, it could’ve been a warm and fuzzy experience that also gave them a legitimate shot.  Idol got plenty of mileage out of offering similar opportunities to Alyssa and Laine in Season 17.  This, on the other hand, isn’t really fair to anyone.  It’s not fair to the current season’s crew, who earned their spots in the Finals the proper way, and are getting cut in larger numbers (essentially two spots down, one to the returnee and another lost because we wasted an episode on this).  It’s unfair to the viewers, who got frankly one of the worst episodes in the show’s history when we could’ve been getting some great performances from the actual Finalists.  And it really isn’t fair to the returnees either.  While it’s nice for them to get another moment on national television, most of them made clear why nobody voted for them last year.  Some actually got worse. And only a few of them have any chance of even getting into the Finals.  None will win.  If they’d come back in Hollywood, with time to settle back into the show and win people over, maybe (although frankly, I’m skeptical given the strength of this season).  But thrown on stage most of the way into the season when people have found new favorites, with mediocre introductions, and the stink of unfairness all over them (through no fault of their own)?  Not a prayer.  Given another large cut is coming in the next round, after a week off for whatever enthusiasm people might have worked up to fade, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the returnee immediately go home again.  Which would really just be the tainted cherry on the sundae.  That’s the last I’m going to say about this, I really don’t care enough to write about the performances.  I’ll incorporate whoever comes back, and leave it at that.


As for this group, there’s been some definite shifts, although they might not look so big just by the numbers.  The biggest impact is actually probably the reduced number of episodes, which shift the potential impact of a lot of things.  I’ve already made my feelings clear about the comeback, and of the three eliminees only Ava had a (fairly tough) road to the Finale.  But turning this season back into a sprint instead of a marathon puts a lot of pressure on certain factors.  As for the episode itself, it had some interesting ups and downs.  Some contenders made poor choices, some stragglers redeemed themselves, we got a fantastic performance and some pretty good ones, and no real disasters.  It’s the kind of episode you’d be pretty happy with in any season, but brought down a little bit by everything else happening around it.


1. Willie Spence (Previous Round 3), “Stand Up” from Harriet


Willie has several things going for him this week, which bumped him from the kind of presumed-frontrunner who seems likely to fall short, to legitimately tough to beat.  The biggest thing was that his performance was outstanding, real Moment material.  It was simultaneously his most impassioned performance, and maybe his most controlled and varied vocal.  The song choice was inspired, especially in contrast to the pretty well-worn material he’s been trotting out up to this point.  And the arrangement was great, with a real sustained build to the climax, a variety of sections, and some masterful key changes.  The band has, to be honest, been pretty lackluster this season, but maybe that was the fault of having to prepare 48 performances the first week and 32 (or 48 again?) the second.  Compare the bizarre key change in Set Fire To The Rain to the ones in this song, and it seems like a different group altogether.  Overall, this was the kind of performance that can lock undecided voters into being full supporters.


The shortened finals only heighten that impact.  It leaves less time for that burst of potential supporters to fade in people’s memories and start quoting Janet Jackson.  This also boosts the benefit of Willie’s large early fanbase.  With his competitors having less time to catch up added to another burst of support here, he could cruise to victory.  


The third factor helping Willie is the surprising tenacity of his potential Funnel competitors.  DeShawn’s continued endurance in the competition suggests one of two things.  Scenario 1: DeShawn has an unexpectedly large reserve of supporters who are getting him through despite not making many waves in the competition.  If this is the case, Willie is undoubtedly the most likely candidate for them to support once DeShawn’s time runs out, and the fact that he’s lasted several more weeks than I would have expected gives them ample time to warm up to Willie.  Especially after this week.  Scenario 2: DeShawn is primarily benefiting from Willie’s supporters also viewing him reasonably favorably and throwing him some votes.  If this is the case, it suggests Willie’s fanbase is even larger than suspected.  Either way, it’s a positive for Willie.  While Alyssa feeds more directly into Grace’s potential votes, Willie also stands to potentially pick up some support from her lasting another round or two.


The biggest question for Willie is: What now?  While fewer rounds lowers the chances of this week getting lapped by one of his competitors breaking out closer to the Finale, lower doesn’t mean LOW.  What Willie does next week is going to be very important in determining how well this sticks.  If he makes another smart song choice and delivers it strongly, he can potentially get a firm grasp on any new voters.  However, if he goes back to the well of overplayed Idol standards, this week may read as a fluke.  Especially since the week off will dull people’s memories somewhat.  Unfortunately, Disney is a prime theme to tempt him into a bad choice, and there have already been rumors he was going for the most boring possible choice.  We’ll see if he comes up with something better.


2. Chayce Beckham (Previous Round 1), “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” from Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves


Chayce is in a somewhat nebulous position after this week.  This was probably his weakest performance, and somewhat jarring in that it’s the first time he’s sung something that wasn’t new to Idol.  It wasn’t bad enough to really undermine his existing fanbase, but I doubt he earned many new supporters this week.  It’s especially unfortunate, because given he was in no danger of leaving this week he had a real opportunity to take a risk that could’ve broken up the routine of his performances.  While Chayce can make a lot of headway on the basis of consistency and a broad pool of potential supporters, I’m not sure he can win JUST on that.  And he has less time to do a slow-and-steady path to victory.


On the other hand, while he didn’t stand out this week, he does still benefit from his competitors having less time to jump ahead of him, as Willie does but from a different angle.  I don’t think Chayce, at this point, is a particularly divisive contestant.  While his tone is distinctive, it’s not as aggressively love-or-hate as some past raspers like Wade, and he’s not so far into rock or country as to put off those who dislike the genre on principle.  He’s still the most likely beneficiary of most of the remaining singers, and with more of them going each round he can still steadily accumulate support, even if it won’t be as impassioned as some fanbases.  However, he needs some strong performances to make sure those generally favorable voters remain motivated, especially as large cuts ups the chances of people being left with a bad taste in their mouth after an undeserved cut.


Can Disney provide that opportunity.  It seems like there’s potential.  While this week was a letdown on song choice, Chayce has made good and creative choices through most of the competition.  Disney doesn’t really provide many obvious default choices for him, especially since Caleb has probably already hidden the sheet music for You’ve Got A Friend In Me under his hat.  If he’s forced to go back outside the box, there are some hidden gems deeper in the Disney canon which he could make a strong impression with.


3. Casey Bishop (Previous Round 4), “Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz


It’s kind of funny to bump Casey up another step this round, because I didn’t really like this performance very much.  While she had a couple of more delicate moments, the high notes were pushed to the point of straining, and at times flat.  I think this showed the limits of her vocal development:  she doesn’t have the control necessary to really keep a grasp of those high notes.  If the song sits more in her middle range, like Black Hole Sun, she’s fine, and if it’s a rock song which drives forward she can kind of keep running on momentum, although the strain still shows at times.  Something which really calls for subtlety like this is beyond her.


However, like Chayce I don’t think this was enough to lose her supporters, and unlike him she gains some benefits from the change of pace.  While I didn’t care for it, the variation in her routine fends off accusations of being one-note for a round or two, and by that point we’re almost to the Finale.  Like Chayce, while Disney offers a trap song choice or two (please god, not another round of How Far I’ll Go), there are a lot of less overdone choices which could reward Casey’s style.  They don’t even need to be particularly obscure, I Won’t Say I’m In Love is from a major movie and barely ever gets done.  She could strike a balance between going straight back to her rock comfort zone and going completely out of it, and really lock in that versatility impression with a better performance.


It seems inevitable that at least one Finale spot will go to a female contestant, and it’s a bit of a muddle which person will take it.  Casey seems to be maneuvering into the lead for that spot, as she’s been delivering performances which are more vote-friendly than Grace, and has been more consistent than the other remaining women.  She would make a somewhat hard to predict impact if Willie and Chayce were the other two, as she shares more genre with Chayce, but is perhaps closer to Willie in primarily selling herself on the basis of power vocals.  I’m not 100% sure she can capture enough of the Idol audience to really power to victory of either of those two, but she could make it a very interesting race.


4. Grace Kinstler (Previous Round 2), “Happy” from Despicable Me 2


I’m starting to have concerns about Grace.  I think she’s gotten into her own head with how she’s choosing songs, and it’s not doing her any favors.  On paper, I can understand the thought process.  It can be very risky to stick too closely to expected song choices, as it’s hard to make a strong impression with a song everyone’s heard a billion times, and even solid singing can get boring.  This is especially the case for the belter/diva archetype, as those songs are particularly overdone due to the early years of Idol basically being nothing but this type.  It also could negatively impact your chances post-show, as it’s hard to sell yourself as a contemporary star while singing old chestnuts which nobody wants to record today.  Grace seems aware of this, and has been picking primarily contemporary songs, and ones which are more energetic and performance-oriented than you’d expect with her skillset.  Theoretically, making choices like that would be smart.  I’ve complained several times about Willie going for worn out choices and the potential effect on his chances, and praised him for going a different direction this week.  Why doesn’t the same apply to Grace?  

I think there are several errors she’s making, any one of which would be manageable, but all together they’re putting her in a dangerous position.  For one, the benefit of those outside the box choices is usually that they provide variety in a contestant’s routine of more expected choices, showing different facets of their abilities than the obvious selections.  However, by almost entirely sticking to these choices, Grace is essentially ending up more monotonous.  She’s avoiding putting herself in one box, by forcing herself into another which doesn’t suit her as well.  Another problem is that she’s not doing much to tailor these song choices to her own style.  She’s trying to present herself as a viable artist, but instead of individualizing them she’s been mostly singing straight covers.  Happy is an excellent example.  When I read the song spoilers, I thought there was a path to making it workable.  It has gospel elements already present in the song, a good arrangement could have brought those out, shown Grace’s vocal prowess, kept the benefit of the unexpected choice, and been more interesting.  There was a little effort towards this with the opening, but after that it just reverted to the original version.  While she tried to show off vocally towards the end, it was too sudden a switch instead of building gradually to the climax, so it just seemed kind of desperate.  The final problem is, frankly, these just aren’t very good songs she’s choosing.  Queen is one of Jessie J’s weakest songs, Elastic Heart isn’t one of Sia’s best, and Happy is just obnoxious at this point.  Dangerous Woman is solid, but there are still better choices which could have been made in a similar style, and it was in a non-voting round.  


Grace is throwing away her biggest selling point, her powerful vocals, and needs to put them front and center if she wants to start building momentum towards a spot in the Finale. However, Disney is a tricky week to do so.  On the one hand, there are plenty of big classic ballads which would let her stay still and belt her face off, which theoretically would be good.  However, many of those ballads run straight into the previously mentioned problem of “this song is so overdone that you can’t impress.”  Reflection, Let It Go, Colors of the Wind, they’ve been done.  The fact that she’s been avoiding standard fare thus far would make going that overdone all of a sudden all the more jarring, like Chayce’s choice this week.  But if she’s goes for another obscure, lower quality song, she’s throwing away another chance to deliver the kind of performance she needs.  There are songs which are less overdone but still powerful, but the already tricky needle the cast needs to thread for this theme is all the harder for Grace.


If she makes a strong selection, she can rebuild her trajectory and still has potential for a Finale spot.  However, with the shortened season there’s not much more time to waste.  I’m already starting to question if she has sufficient opportunity to overcome Willie’s advantage in the belter sweepstakes, especially after his performance this week.  If next week is on par with her run thus far, I don’t think she’s likely to go home, but she could easily go in Top 7.


5. Cassandra Coleman (Previous Round 9), “Writing’s On The Wall” from Spectre


Everything is chaos this week when it comes to Cassandra, and this boost up the rankings may be as much hope as logic.  On the one hand, she had one major benefit from this round: her nearest competitor, Ava, is gone.  In recent rounds, Ava has been stealing Cassandra’s thunder, and it was threatening to send her home early.  However, things can shift quickly on Idol.  The two of them have been a study in contrasts thus far.  Ava was extremely consistent, steady, and restrained, which lead to some striking and lovely performances.  However, steady and restrained can easily become boring if the material isn’t strong enough to shine, and that got Ava eliminated.  Cassandra, on the other hand, has been uneven, with somewhat strange song choices, and vocally flawed performances.  However, she managed to reverse those issues somewhat this week.  She chose a better known song than some of her previous selections, with a more dramatic, attention grabbing style, and… mostly delivered it.  Her vocals still carried their trademark elements, with the distinctive vibrato, and almost wild delivery, but she managed to avoid going off the rails entirely like she did in Light On.  The emotional openness which is her strong asset remained intact, and may have helped paper the divisive quality of her voice.  


Where does she go from here though?  While she pulled off the big vocal this week, I remain skeptical that it is wise of her to continue chasing after them.  Cassandra makes an interesting mirror to Grace, in that both seem to be repeatedly trying to prove they can do something outside their comfort zone, and are losing opportunities to really display their best qualities in the process.  Even when she doesn’t fall apart, these dramatic vocals aren’t Cassandra’s strong suit.  Emotional connection, and purity of tone and phrasing, those are where she shines.  She has an advantage over Grace, in that she still comes across as distinctive and individual in these ill-fitting choices, but her lack of vocal power means they’re much closer to disaster.  Admittedly, I just talked about how Ava got eliminated giving restrained, pretty performances, but the fact that it’s easy to be boring in that style doesn’t mean it’s inevitable.  You can give an impressive vocal performance which doesn’t rely on pure power, and you can deliver emotion without having to belt.  You just have to choose a good song to showcase those aspects, which Disney offers many examples of.  However, if she tries once again to show that she can belt too, and goes looking for a Disney ballad to do it on, she’ll find one.  And she’ll go home.


It feels like, unless she makes excellent choices every week going forward, and delivers them expertly, it’s going to be tough for Cassandra to make the Finale.  She’s just been too inconsistent, even if she manages to capture most of Ava’s supporters, and possibly Hunters’ soon as well.  ABC Idol thus far has primarily benefited the most consistent contestants, given the rushed format and… suspect support from the coaching staff.  Cassandra would need to be on a Maddie trajectory of delivering to the maximum of her abilities on a weekly basis, and making excellent strategic choices as well, and she hasn’t been.  However, prior to this week I was skeptical if she’d make it past Top 9, and I could see a path where she gets a week or two more.  Disney is going to be extremely pivotal for that, and I hope she has a great song choice on deck.


6. Caleb Kennedy (Previous Round 6), “On The Road Again” from Honeysuckle Rose


It feels appropriate that Caleb is staying in roughly the same position, given that he’s basically cruising through the competition at an even plateau.  Which is fine.  His performance this week was fine, a little more old school country than his previous song choices but basically the same general performance.  It was fine.  I’m sure his fans, and a fair chunk of country fans in general, enjoyed it.


I don’t really see Caleb changing much in the remaining weeks either.  If there were more episodes, he might have more room to stretch outside his comfort zone, but mass eliminations are likely to scare even more confident contestants away from risks, and Caleb is perhaps the most narrowly focused person left.  It doesn’t really leave me with much to say.  I feel like I’ve said that before, but the repetition is somehow appropriate.  Caleb could make Top 7, but he could also go home this round.  Without a major disaster from one or more people, I don’t really see him making Top 5, and reaching the Finale would require several collapses on the part of his competitors.  Pixar provides numerous opportunities to stay in his lane (I’m going to let you fill in the Cars pun yourselves), so Disney isn’t likely to make much difference in his trajectory.  It’ll all be on others.


7. Hunter Metts (Previous Round 7), “Falling Slowly” from Once


Hunter may have gotten one of the highest vote counts this round.  The outpouring of reactions to his teary breakdown at the end of the performance suggest a lot of support for him, and people appeared to like his performance up until that point.  It probably gave him a solid boost this round.  However, I’m not sure it does him any favors in the long run.


This performance drove home a lot of my concerns about Hunter’s longevity on the show.  I didn’t particularly care for this performance.  It was solid at times, but his falsetto is very weak, and he doesn’t have the vocal power to really bring the song to a climax.  More importantly, I really don’t feel Hunter has the confidence or the stability to succeed on the show.  Many people have forgotten their words on Idol, and quite a few have done so to a worse degree than Hunter did.  I can’t recall any of them having an extended, weeping emotional breakdown over it, including some who were teenagers.  It seems quite likely that Hunter will have another major error in the next round or two, given his general inconsistency.  Will he break down again?  While one emotional outburst might spur a protective wave from fans, I feel like that spike in support can’t be repeated to the same effect.  Given the long break between episodes, I’m not sure people will retain the warm reaction to a significant degree going into the next round of voting either.  


Unlike Caleb, Hunter is likely to rise or fall based on how well he maintains his equilibrium in the next round.  I feel like without the emotional outburst he might have been at risk of going home instead of Ava, but there’s a strong chance he would have been safe regardless.  If he musters a solid performance on par with his Victory song, he could be safe for another round as well.  But I think, at the latest, he’s likely to hit a major obstacle once they reach the multi-song round, which seems likely to be Top 7.  And by that point, I don’t think he’ll have anywhere to hide from elimination unless someone has much worse trouble.


8. Alyssa Wray (Previous Round 10), “This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman


Alyssa makes a fascinating contrast to Grace.  It’s almost a mirror-universe method of song choice.  Where Grace has almost perversely been steering away from the expected diva ballads, Alyssa has been going further and further into overly-expected choices.  Up until this point that lead to diminishing returns, with The Greatest Love of All being particularly underwhelming.  Given what a nightmare This Is Me is to sing live, even for the original performer, this seemed like the choice that might finally cut Alyssa’s run short.  However, I think she pulled this off, far better than her previous uninspired songs.  She showed a lot of restraint through most of this song, which normally pushes people into more and more screaming, and when she reached the power notes in the ending she nailed them.  This is the other side of these tired songs:  If you’re bad, or even mediocre, you’ll be mercilessly judged, but if you actually manage to nail them, there can be a lot of pay off.  Which is what Grace is really missing out on, since she has the vocal capacity to smash some old chestnuts (like she did on Midnight Train).  If only the two of them could trade off half their song choices, they both would be stronger.


While her performance this week put her in the safe zone, I’m not sure it can really turn the tide on her momentum by itself.  Right now, it feels like a one-off, with the positive response being somewhat begrudging.  If she can follow it up with a song which is delivered with the same skill AND more inventive, I can see a scenario where she manages to overtake Grace (although it would be a stretch).  But if she defaults to the overdone again (and Disney offers a lot of temptations in that direction), she’s likely to struggle, which would be deadly in another triple elimination.


9. DeShawn Goncalves (Previous Round 11), “The Way We Were” from The Way We Were


Every season, there seems to be someone who I just cannot imagine advancing, and every season they advance several rounds before the voting audience catches up with my bafflement.  DeShawn seems to be the beneficiary of my curse this season.  And you know, of all my opponents over the years, I dislike DeShawn the least.  I don’t even dislike him at this point.  This was actually one of my favorite performances of the round.  He kept his tendency to get overindulgent with the vocals in check, and just delivered a strong vocal performance and solid emotional connection.  I was pleased… I just don’t know who’s voting for him.  Usually, the people in this position are the weakest WGWG of the season, or getting carried through by the judges.  DeShawn is neither so, maybe it’s the Willie overlap I speculated about before?  An abundance of old school soul fans?  Possibly a mysterious organization of extremely mannered space aliens?  Given another triple cut, I find it hard to imagine he lasts past the next round.  But I’ve been saying that every round, so what do I know?

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I don't really have much motivation to talk about the departed at length to be honest.  But I will say that, for all three, I think their elimination came down to my perpetual topics: Identity, and Song Choice. 


For Madison, even after 8 performances I really don't have a firm grasp on her.  She did the singer-songwriter thing, she made some attempts at a current pop star performer, she belted old-school diva stuff.  Over the course of the competition, she came across as someone who was trying to give the audience what they want, without first figuring out what they would want from her specifically.  This used to be a viable strategy on Idol, to be honest.  You could just find something which fit the theme, and was appropriate to your voice, and people would buy it if you were good.  But I think we're past that point.  I've remarked before that the ABC Idol framework seems to prize, above all other things, authenticity and sincerity.  Every performance might not be a perfect one on the way to victory, but it needs to be a real one.  And Madison always came across as overthinking instead of just going with the performance. 


Beane was on the opposite end of the spectrum, despite also having a difficult to pin down identity.  I buy that all of his song choices were meaningful favorites of his that he sincerely loved.  I buy that the audience would believe that too.  That doesn't make them good song choices though.  His Wildcard performance fit both his identity and what works on Idol, and I maintain that there was potential for his Oscar song to work with the right arrangement (although I think a bland acoustic rehash beginning to end wouldn't have been it).  However, his Dua Lipa song was messily arranged, and didn't show him to great advantage even without that, and his Top 16 song was both insanely obscure, and a less than ideal fit for the show.  I think having those be his first two voting solos really kneecapped his chances of building any momentum.


As for Ava, her song choices were clearly stylistically coherent and fit with her persona, AND theoretically showed the parts of her voice which were her strong points.  It showed in the success she had with some of her performances.  But City of Stars, despite all that, was just a bad song choice.  It's an incredibly sleepy song that doesn't really go anywhere, and while it's woven into the fabric of its movie, it's as much as a theme in the score as the vocal performance.  More to the point, we'd already seen this side of Ava repeatedly, in better performances.  It made it all the more forgettable.  You can't just be thinking of an individual performance if you want to succeed on Idol.  You need to take into consideration how it relates to both your past ones, and the moves you plan to make in the future.  Or else you can get shock eliminated.  We might see that pattern repeat this week, given some of the song choices.



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I echo IdolFan17's thoughts and am so happy that you decided to post your power rankings for the Top 9 contestants! Unfortunately, I'm going through a pretty stressful time in my own life as well and reading your posts help to take my mind off what I'm dealing with, even if only for a few minutes. I agree with basically all of your rankings this time, although I do think you might have Chayce ranked a bit too high. I still think there is a slight chance that a second female contestant can sneak into the finale over him and I'm really hoping that it will be Grace, despite some of her poor song choices. Will you be providing your input about the Disney song choices the contestants have made once they become official?

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On 4/29/2021 at 3:03 AM, Winterfan said:

I echo IdolFan17's thoughts and am so happy that you decided to post your power rankings for the Top 9 contestants! Unfortunately, I'm going through a pretty stressful time in my own life as well and reading your posts help to take my mind off what I'm dealing with, even if only for a few minutes. I agree with basically all of your rankings this time, although I do think you might have Chayce ranked a bit too high. I still think there is a slight chance that a second female contestant can sneak into the finale over him and I'm really hoping that it will be Grace, despite some of her poor song choices. Will you be providing your input about the Disney song choices the contestants have made once they become official?

I don't think we're going to get indication of who's singing what until the performances, and there are quite a few which could be many different people.  I'm cautiously optimistic for what I think Cassandra is doing (When You Wish Upon A Star), and if Casey is doing Into The Unknown it could go very well.  I'm not feeling like Circle of Life is going to do anyone any favors.


Made some comments on the three eliminations, but not extensive ones.

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Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the eliminated contestants as well. I totally agree with you about what did Madison and Ava in. My problem with Beane was that he, too, struggled to figure out what direction he wanted to go in on the show. And you're right that that might be a problem for several of the remaining contestants as well. What are your thoughts on Grace possibly singing Into the Unknown? Because if that's what she's singing, I really think it's fairly risky, once again. And I agree with you that singing Circle of Life isn't going to do anyone any favors at this point.

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I don't always reply to these as I probably should, but also just wanted to echo the sentiment about how much I enjoy your write ups--even when the show itself is ridiculous. 


Thank you for taking the time to post this. 



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