In the first round of the competition, Caleb Lee Hutchinson, Gabby Barrett, and Maddie Poppe sang their brand-new singles. The judges weren’t impressed, however, sensing overall discomfort from the contestants.
After Hutchinson’s performance of “Johnny Cash Heart,” Perry stated, “You have to make me a believer, and I didn’t feel like a believer. I felt like that was actually your weakest performance I’ve ever seen.” Barrett also faced harsh criticism after performing her new single, “Rivers Deep.” The judges told her that she needed to learn how to pick a song that doesn’t just work in a studio but can work on stage and in front of a live audience, who may not be familiar with the piece.
Poppe was the only contestant of the three not getting negative feedback from her first performance, which was of “Going Going Gone.” But it wasn’t the most exciting feedback, either. Luke Bryan told Poppe, “So, Maddie, in my opinion, you felt the most comfortable that we’ve seen out here thus far. Good job on that. I could relax watching you. So, finally, I can relax a little bit and take a breath. But way to come out here and deliver a solid performance.” The first round may have been a rough start for the contestants, but — luckily — by round two they had gotten their groove back.
Following the second round, in which each of the top three gave an encore performance of their favorite song from the competition this season, Perry told host Ryan Seacrest, “The first round … was a disaster. And the second round, I thought they got their confidence back, and I’m ready to see them, I’m ready to see why they made it the top three in this last round.”
Sure enough, by the third round, the top three were totally back in their element. Especially Barrett, who did Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” and got a special surprise visit from Steve Perry in the audience. “It was the most amazing version I’ve ever heard. Swear, it was beautiful. Just beautiful,” Steve Perry told an elated Barrett.
However, it was Poppe, the only contestant the judges praised in all three rounds, who ultimately won Katy Perry’s vote. In fact, following her final performance of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” Perry immediately took to her phone, saying simply, “I’m voting for you.”
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