American Idol has been a fixture in my life since I was in middle school!
I have fond memories of watching the FOX singing competition turn ordinary people into household names. I will always remember where I was when I watched Clay Aiken’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” Jennifer Hudson’s “Circle of Life,” Bo Bice’s “Badlands,” Melinda Doolittle’s “Home,” Adam Lambert’s “A Change is Gonna Come,” Jessica Sanchez’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” and Clark Beckham’s “Georgia on My Mind.” I always wanted to have the chance to watch a taping live, meet the contestants and hear the judges’ (Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell, Kara DioGuardi, Ellen DeGeneres, Jennifer Lopez, Steven Tyler, Keith Urban and Harry Connick, Jr.) feedback to the contestants.
On March 24, I had the once-in-a-lifetime to be on the CBS Television City studio lot to watch one of the final episodes of American Idol and talk to the Season 15 Final Five. You could feel the energy of the room as the sun-kissed audience screamed in appreciation for the Final Five (La’Porsha Renae, Dalton Rapattoni, MacKenzie Bourg, Trent Harmon and Sonika Vaid), the judges and long-time host Ryan Seacrest.
The night themes were classic rock (which featured fan-favorite mentor and longtime E Street Band member Steven Van Zandt) and the Sia songbook, where the finalists were mentored by the Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter. In addition to a spot in the Final Four, the show’s signature Hometown Heroes visit was also at stake. Ryan revealed that La’Porsha Renae was the first Idol to receive that honor, and she exclusively told me one thing that she was excited for when she returned home to McComb, Mississippi.
“I can’t wait for the food!” said La’Porsha Renae. “I’m starving out here! I’m sorry, but California does not have soul food! I applaud California for being healthy. We do not have healthy food in the South. I am ready to return home and pig out; then I will come back to my Jamba Juices and healthy food.”
Ever since her superb audition at the start of the season, the 23-year-old single mother has captured the hearts of the nation with her bombastic, powerful covers of “The House of the Rising Sun,” “No More Drama,” “Come Together” and the Sia-penned hit “Diamonds,” which had guest judge and inaugural winner Kelly Clarkson predicting that the Mississippi native to be the show’s final champion.
“That moment has definitely put the pressure on me,” La’Porsha said. “But, it has also given me that extra boost of confidence that the first Idol told me that I had those qualities of being an American Idol really made me feel good inside.”
For her two performances, La’Porsha tackled Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” and Sia’s “Elastic Heart.” During her time with the “Alive” singer-songwriter, La’Porsha recalled both of her mentors were impressed with her ability to connect with her songs.
“Sia stated that I interpreted the lyric, internalized it and made it my own.” La’Porsha commented. “Meanwhile, Steven wanted me to be myself when I sang “Wanted.” I stuck to my guns, and both performances turned out alright.”
Joining La’Porsha in the Idol Final Four was Lafayette, Louisiana native MacKenzie Bourg. Like La’Porsha, MacKenzie was a standout in his audition after he performed an acoustic melody of the judges’ hits and had great moments with his rearrangements of “I See Fire,” “You Are So Beautiful” and “Billie Jean.”
“I always try to focus on the guitar first.” Said MacKenzie Bourg. “I spent most of my time arranging everything and then bringing my arrangement to Rickey Minor (Idol’s Music Director), and Scott Borchetta (Idol’s In-house Mentor) is usually on board every time…so it works out for the best.”
For this week’s performances, MacKenzie gave an interesting twist on Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me” and gave a superb cover on Sia’s star-making collaboration with David Guetta: “Titanium.”
“The major lesson that I learned from both of them is sticking with who I am as an artist and being me,” MacKenzie added.
When he visits his hometown, MacKenzie stated that there was a special group that he could not wait to meet.
“I am looking forward to seeing all the people that love me and have supported me through my Idol journey, and I cannot wait to get back home,” MacKenzie said.
With only two spots remaining, it came down to Trent, Dalton, and Sonika. Ryan stated that Trent would be the third finalist that would receive the hometown visit. Audiences have enjoyed the Amory, Mississippi native blossom right before their eyes and Trent exclusively stated to Jake’s Take on how being in the public eye helped him grow as a person.
“Everyone should be nice.” Said Trent. “You do not know when people are looking at you. I feel the eyeballs staring at you because they recognize you from the show. I hate to say it, but they are seeking to see if you mess up or do something out of character.”
While he excelled with his interpretations of both “Chandelier” and “Sharp Dressed Man,” Trent credited his interaction with the E Street Band veteran for helping him deliver his best performances of the season so far.
“I paid very close attention to Mr. Steven during my mentor session. While I was singing, I was watching a genius’ mind opening up alleys.” Trent stated. “During his feedback, he told me: “That was cool what you did, why would you save until the end? (points his finger to the ground aggressively) “We are going to start with that!” I could just tell that he was the really cool uncle that I never got to have.”
As he prepared to head to the airport and get on his private jet, Trent left this exclusive message to his mother.
“Mom, if you are reading this…the first items that I want to see on the kitchen table when I get home are two sweet potato pies!” said Trent. “You can wrap one of them up because I am going to bring one back with me to LA and I am going to eat one right in front of the TV as we watch basketball.”
With La’Porsha, MacKenzie and Trent safe, it meant that the Bottom Two were Dalton and Sonika. Unfortunately, after escaping the bottom for two weeks, it was Sonika’s time to leave the competition. As Dalton prepared for his two performances, Sonika fought back tears as she watched her montage of her best moments on the show, which included her “Skyfall” duet with Season 13 winner Caleb Johnson and her standout performance of Evanescence’s “Bring Me to Life.”
“Those two moments are definitely my favorites.” Said Sonika. “I never thought that I would have moments while I was on the show. To be on such a platform like American Idol blows my mind.”
As she prepared to leave the CBS Television City soundstage, Sonika shared some of her future goals with Jake’s Take.
“I want to stick with music. That is something I see myself doing.” Sonika added. “I would love to have the opportunity to work with Disney. I have always been a fan of Disney, and I have always wanted to work with them.”
Finally, Dalton closed out the night with his covers of “God Only Knows” and his personal best performance on the show, “Bird Set Free.” Like his fellow finalists, Dalton accredited both of his superstar mentors for bringing out the best in him.
“Stevie Van Zandt talked about how the music behind the song is half of the emotion, and that struck a chord with me.” Said Dalton. “He’s right about that. There are musical pieces that have no vocals that still get the same feeling as one with vocals. Sia also made a huge impact on me, because I learned that she has the same bipolar disorder as I do. She is such a huge inspiration, who teaches everyone not to give up.”
While he gave rock makeovers to “Phantom of the Opera,” “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” “Hey There Delilah” and “The Sound of Silence” and was mentored by Chris Daughtry, Dalton does not consider himself a rocker.
“I am inspired by a lot of rock music. But, to put myself in that box of being “the rock guy,” it does not make a lot of sense.” Dalton stated. “If I wanted to pursue pop music, which I love. I feel like there is a certain thing to be said about the emotion and stories that rock songs bring, which I try to bring out in my performances.”
Also, with the prospect of sleeping in his bed when he visited his hometown of Sunnyvale, Texas. Dalton stated that he was looking to reunited with his loved ones.
“I am excited to see and have all of my family be in one place,” Dalton commented. “That is something that you do not see when Idol is on the air; it can be emotionally taxing at times being away from the people that you love. But, I am very excited to be coming home.”
However, after a quick trip back home, the Final Four must prepare for the April 7th series finale. Earlier this week, the show released a who’s who of Idol alumni that will be joining the Season 15 cast to close out the show. Among the alumni that are expected to be at the finale include winners Ruben Studdard, Fantasia, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Hicks, Jordin Sparks, Kris Allen, Scotty McCreery, Candice Glover and Caleb Johnson; runners-up Justin Guarini, Clay Aiken, Diana DeGarmo, Bo Bice, Katharine McPhee, Blake Lewis, David Archuleta, Lauren Alaina and friends to the blog: Jessica Sanchez and Clark Beckham and fan-favorites Tamyra Gray, Kimberley Locke, LaToya London, Chris Daughtry, Melinda Doolittle, Sanjaya, Pia Toscano, Joshua Ledet and Skylar Laine.
To view my exclusive photos with the Top Five, visit my Facebook page!