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‘American Idol’ singer debuts eye patch after surgery, Katharine McPhee returns for emotional duet

It’s now up to you, America.

“American Idol” returned Sunday, for the first episode of the season filmed at its studio headquarters in Los Angeles. Throughout the night, 12 of the top 24 contestants performed solo songs, as well as duets with celebrity singers.

This was also the first episode of the season filmed with a live studio audience, who wore masks and sat in groups of their immediate household.

As usual, Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie offered their critiques. But it’s up to America’s vote to determine who among each group of 12 will move on to the top 16 and who will be eliminated. Fans can vote on americanidol.com/vote, the “American Idol” app or via text message.

Here’s what went down:

First up on Sunday's "American Idol" was 19-year-old college student Alanis Sophia, who channeled her powerful pop belt for Sia's "Alive." (Photo: Eric McCandless, ABC)

Alanis Sophia

First up was 19-year-old college student Alanis Sophia, who channeled her powerful pop belt for Sia’s “Alive.” She then took the stage with country singer and former “Idol” contestant Jimmie Allen for a duet of Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s “Shallow.”

Perry said she enjoyed the solo performance, which she called “very controlled” and beautiful.” But she said Sophia seemed a “bit overwhelmed” sharing the stage with a star for the duet.

Bryan agreed. “You’ve got to build on that character and owning the stage,” he said.

To give Sophia another opportunity to own the stage, text 1 to 21523.

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Coffee shop manager Cassandra Coleman, 24, crooned out a haunting version of "Find Me" by Sigma for her solo performance. (Photo: Eric McCandless, ABC)

Cassandra Coleman

Coffee shop manager Cassandra Coleman, 24, crooned a haunting version of “Find Me” by Sigma for her solo performance.

Before taking the stage for her duet with OneRepublic frontman Ryan Tedder, Coleman opened up about her nerves — something she’s struggled with throughout her time on “Idol.” Tedder revealed he also suffers from imposter syndrome and advised she channel her inner Beyoncé to feel confident.

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After their duet of OneRepublic’s “Apologize,” Perry complimented Coleman’s “otherworldly, angelic” voice.

“Your voice is a spiritual experience,” she continued. “As a new mother, I don’t have very much time, so I quit shaving my legs. But when you sing, the hair on my legs grew an inch and a half. So, full body chills.”

To vote for Coleman, text 2 to 21523.

College student Alyssa Wray, 18, put her theatrical voice to use with "Something in the Water" by Carrie Underwood, before duetting with former "Idol" runner-up Katharine McPhee. (Photo: Eric McCandless, ABC)

Alyssa Wray

College student Alyssa Wray, 18, put her theatrical voice to use with “Something in the Water” by Carrie Underwood, before duetting with former “Idol” runner-up Katharine McPhee.

Wray told McPhee that she used to watch her on “Idol” growing up and even taught the “Smash” actress some teenage lingo.

Their duet of Whitney Houston’s “I’m Your Baby Tonight” earned rave reviews from the judges, with Richie saying the two “complement each other so well.” Perry added that Wray was the first singer who “really held your own on stage with the other star.”

To vote for Wray, text 3 to 21523.

Wyatt Pike, 20, turned up his soulful charm while singing "rubberband" by Tate McRae. (Photo: Eric McCandless, ABC)

Wyatt Pike

Wyatt Pike, 20, turned up his soulful charm while singing “rubberband” by Tate McRae. The college student then teamed up with Ben Rector for a duet of Rector’s song “Brand New.” Coincidentally, Pike actually performed one of Rector’s songs at his high school graduation.

Perry called Pike an “authentic, superstar musician” who “can go on tour today and fit in right now.”

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Richie added that Pike has something that can’t be taught: stage presence.

“You owned that moment,” he said.

To let Pike have more moments on the “Idol” stage, text 4 to 21523.

Alana, a 23-year-old food delivery driver, bopped around the stage for a lively performance of Dua Lipa's "Blow Your Mind (Mwah)." (Photo: Eric McCandless, ABC)

Alana

Alana, a 23-year-old food delivery driver, bopped around the stage for a lively performance of Dua Lipa’s “Blow Your Mind (Mwah).” She then partnered with Brian McKnight for his song “Back at One.” McKnight said it was his first time performing the smooth tune as a duet.

Bryan complimented Alana’s “great energy” and said she’s “really started coming into your own.” But Richie said one thing is missing.

“You have the stage presence and the energy to be a star,” he said. “Now you need the attitude. Give us more attitude. That is the secret to your success.”

To give Alana another shot to show some attitude, text 5 to 21523.

After crooning out the Billie Eilish ballad "my future," 20-year-old college student Anilee List launched into an energetic rendition of Rufus & Chaka Khan's "Tell Me Something Good" with Joss Stone. (Photo: Eric McCandless, ABC)

Anilee List

After crooning the Billie Eilish ballad “my future,” 20-year-old college student Anilee List launched into an energetic rendition of Rufus & Chaka Khan’s “Tell Me Something Good” with Joss Stone.

“You got such a powerhouse voice. I felt like I was at a gospel Sunday brunch. You really took us all to church,” said Perry, though the judge added she wants to hear more ad libs and “dice rolls” from List next time.

“You are so close to next-level greatness,” said Bryan.

If you want List’s future to continue with “Idol,” text 6 to 21523.

Deshawn Goncalves, 20, sang "Forever Young" by Bob Dylan, before launching into a duet of One Republic's "I Lived" with Ryan Tedder. (Photo: Eric McCandless, ABC)

Deshawn Goncalves

Deshawn Goncalves, 20, sang “Forever Young” by Bob Dylan before launching into a duet with Tedder of OneRepublic’s “I Lived.” The college student told Tedder he’d channel his struggles growing up homeless while singing the song.

“You have one of the most unique, top three voices in this competition,” said Perry. “Let you body not be so stiff, because then I really know that you’re having fun.”

Bryan encouraged him to “walk out and be the star, baby.”

To keep Goncalves in the competition, text 7 to 21523.

After a groovy rendition of "Raye" by John Splithoff, 28-year-old aerial survey pilot Graham DeFranco duetted with Rector on Rector's song "Love Like This." (Photo: Eric McCandless, ABC)

Graham DeFranco

After a groovy rendition of “Raye” by John Splithoff, 28-year-old aerial survey pilot Graham DeFranco duetted with Rector on Rector’s song “Love Like This.”

Bryan commended DeFranco on his song choice, saying the contestant’s range went to “another level.”

“Singing is singing, and moving people to evoke an emotion is everything,” said Richie. “You moved us. It was a great, great job.”

To see the pilot soar to the top 16, text 8 to 21523.

Andrea Valles caught the judges' attention when she walked onto the "Idol" stage rocking a bedazzled purple eye patch over her left eye. (Photo: Eric McCandless, ABC)

Andrea Valles

Andrea Valles caught the judges’ attention when she walked onto the “Idol” stage rocking a bedazzled purple eye patch over her left eye.

It wasn’t just a fashion statement — the 23-year-old wedding singer said she recently had eye retina detachment surgery. 

“You have to learn to push through and just roll with the punches,” the contestant said.

After singing Eilish and Rosalía’s “Lo Vas A Olvidar,” Valles duetted George Michael’s “Careless Whisper” with McKnight.

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Perry praised Valles for giving the performances her all, even with one eye out of commission.

“I think everyone at home is going, ‘I’m gonna vote for the girl with the eye patch,'” said Perry. “It’s amazing! You can do anything: have eye surgery, be on the ‘American Idol’ stage.”

If you want to see more of Valles, text 9 to 21523.

Cecil Ray, a 20-year-old machine operator, showed off his country skills with "Paint Me A Birmingham" by Tracy Lawrence and later with the Jimmie Allen and Brad Paisley song "Freedom Was a Highway." (Photo: Eric McCandless, ABC)

Cecil Ray

Cecil Ray, a 20-year-old machine operator, showed off his country skills with “Paint Me A Birmingham” by Tracy Lawrence, and later with the Allen and Brad Paisley song “Freedom Was a Highway.” Duet partner Allen encouraged Ray to think about his daughter while singing.

“You’re the underdog here,” Perry said. “Everyone wants to root for you, but you got to root for yourself.”

Richie told him that “attitude is what we need now.”

If you’re rooting for Ray, text 10 to 21523.

Willie Spence brought the house down with his solo performance of Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath My Wings." (Photo: Eric McCandless, ABC)

Willie Spence

Willie Spence brought the house down with his solo performance of Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings.” But the 21-year-old caretaker soared to new heights with his duet of Céline Dion and Andrea Bocelli’s “The Prayer” with Katharine McPhee.

The song had personal resonance for Spence, who said he dedicated the duet to his grandfather, who recently died. McPhee said she dedicated the performance to her father, who died three years ago.

“This has really been one of the hardest times of my life,” Spence said. “My grandfather still is my hero to this day, and I just know he’s watching and smiling down.”

The judges were blown away by the duet.

“You do no wrong in my eyes,” said Bryan, with Perry adding, “It was goosebumps central, everywhere.” 

To vote for Spence, text 11 to 21523.

Closing out the show was 20-year-old college student Grace Kinstler, who worked the stage during her solo performance of "Queen" by Jessie J. (Photo: Eric McCandless, ABC)

Grace Kinstler

Closing out the show was 20-year-old college student Grace Kinstler, who worked the stage during her solo performance of “Queen” by Jessie J. She then teamed up with Stone for a duet of Gladys Knight & The Pips’ “Midnight Train to Georgia” that brought the whole studio to its feet.

Richie called Kinstler “a winning package,” and Perry said she was “soaring on a different level.”

“Focus on those timeless, classic songs, because that’s what your gift is,” Perry added.

To keep Kinstler in the competition, text 12 to 21523.

“Idol” continues Monday (8 EST), with the other 12 contestants performing their duets.

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