I have been a fool. For 10 episodes, I have been focusing on the guys competing on “American Idol’s” 17th season. Laine Hardy is the cute one, Alejandro Aranda is the cool alt-dude, Walker Burroughs is the boy wizard and Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon is the choir master.
But now that there are only three females left, I finally realized something on Episode 14: Madison VanDenburg is INCREDIBLE! What did it for me? When I heard her pick on Disney Night was “How Far I’ll Go” from “Moana,” I suddenly had a PTSD music moment when I remembered what happened when a previous highly praised contestant attempted the deceptively tricky song — Myra Tran, who did OK initially but way over-sang the last note to the point of being shrill and off-key. The winner of “The X Factor Vietnam” was duly dismissed during the Top 40 Showcase Round after initially being overpraised during her “Idol” audition.
So when I learned that Madison picked the same song to perform, I suddenly recalled that Tran wreck and hoped for the best. But not only did she deliver a perfect heartfelt rendition, but she resuscitated that final note and allowed it soar into the heavens. Or, as Lionel Richie said, she hit “a stratosphere of notes.”
She earned a standing O from the trio of judges, with Luke Bryan jokingly asking her, “Can you try to make it look difficult?” He noted that they have heard a slew of versions of the Lin-Manuel Miranda-composed tune, but hers “surpassed any other version.” Also impressed was “Pitch Perfect” star Rebel Wilson, who coached the hopefuls. She called Madison “one of those rare people that doesn’t seem to ever hit the wrong note.”
According to our Gold Derby odds right now, Laine is the favorite to win with 21/10 odds. But Madison is second and on the rise, with 10/3 odds. So even if I am late to fully appreciating her abilities, I am definitely not alone in backing her. But I am a bit disappointed for not realizing her enormous potential sooner. Part of the problem is the Upstate New York teen is only 17. But, as Madison said at her initial try-out when she was still 16, she has been gigging all her life.
She shares a vocal coach with Moriah Formica, who was on “The Voice” in 2017 and on “Idol” this year but was sent home during Hollywood Week. They both attend Shaker High School in Latham, just outside of Albany. Madison sure isn’t afraid to choose songs that demand a big voice and great technique. She easily handled Jesse J‘s “Domino,” Alicia Keys‘ “Fallin’,” Lady Gaga‘s “You & I” and a duet with Pat Benatar on her hit, “We Belong,”
I re-watched her audition again (see below) — which has nearly 2 million views on YouTube — when she did Dan + Shay‘s “Speechless” while playing the piano. The judges declared her “the next Kelly Clarkson” — but they would say the same thing to Tran. But Madison gave both Katy Perry and Luke goose bumps during her song, something Tran did not achieve. Let’s see how she does with a Queen song next week when Adam Lambert is the coach. In the meantime, I suggest Hardy pardy-ers change their front-runner.
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