Warning! The following contains spoilers for the American Idol Season 18 episode "Hollywood Week Duets." Read at your own risk!
Hollywood week rolled on at American Idol, and just as it went in the episode prior, Season 18 shook things up with yet another themed round to challenge artists. This time, however, singers were paired off and given a list of songs to perform as duets, and there was high drama from many competitors as they were forced to work together. Many contestants lived and died by the performance of their partner, metaphorically speaking, and when all was said and done, there was more heightened drama and unfair eliminations than actual good performances.
It seemed weird that American Idol would introduce a duet round to begin with. This is a series wholly centered on finding solo artists, so the value in seeing how well random contestant parings worked is questionable to say the least. It seemed like the producers and judges understood this, which is presumably why there was an option to advance one competitor from the team if a performance fell apart due to one person and not the other.
Yet, American Idol had more than a few duet performances where one contestant dropped the ball, only for both competitors to get dropped unceremoniously. The most obvious case was showcased in Courtney Timmons and Zach Dobbins' number; their indecision about song choice, combined with Zach's lack of confidence, tanked both contestants' chances to advance in the competition. You can watch that unfortunate mess below.
It was a disastrous performance that should've never happened to begin with. Zach Dobbins and Courtney Timmons were phenomenal in the audition rounds, and both were far better singers than what was on display for their duet. Because they were paired together for a collaboration that forced them out of their comfort zones, both floundered and inevitably got dumped by the judges, in a situation that felt really unfair to both of them.
In other cases, it seemed the duet round over-protected certain pairs hopefuls, like Margie Mays and Jonny West. American Idol's judges gave Jonny a pass, even though there was just cause to drop him while advancing Mays on her own. To be fair, West has shown he's talented, but situations like these definitely make me wonder how much the producers may have voiced encouragement for the couple stay in the competition for now.
In American Idol's defense, Kat Lopez and Alex Garrido did reach a split decision for who stayed and who left, so I can't say going into the competition as a couple benefited or destroyed everyone. What I can say is that the duet round felt very gimmicky for American Idol, especially when it feels the talent pool for Season 18 is just as deep as it was in Season 17.
Unconventional rounds like these make advancing feel much more like a game of chance than actual skill, and felt more designed to heighten the odds for dramatic moments to go down amongst these already stressed-out contestants. As if the live voting didn't already turn everything into a popularity contest anyway. The genre challenge was fine enough, but perhaps American Idol producers should rethink the duet round when preparing for next season.