Northern Kentucky University freshman Alyssa Wray moved three steps closer to the American Idol crown Sunday night.
Wray, 19, a musical theater major, impressed the judges who gave her a standing ovation – and viewers voting from home – with her rendition of "This is Me" from The Greatest Showman during an evening of Oscar-nominated songs. Three of the top 12 contestants were eliminated by viewers.
"It was absolutely fantastic. Spot on the money," said judge Lionel Richie of her performance. He praised Wray for her control of her powerful voice.
"You are a subtle force. Follow me? The more you hold (back) – we know when the guns go off, it's going to be amazing – but the fact that you held it, and you held it, and you were subtle in your movement (so) when you finally delivered, we were all cheering," said Richie, the only judge allowed to comment on Wray during the live broadcast.
In a taped segment before her performance, Wray said she'd like to win an Academy Award in addition to the Idol recording contract. "One day I want to win an Oscar. I'm an actress. I'm a singer. I want to do it all," she said.
Idol aired a brief video clip of her singing as a 17-year-old student on a Kentucky high school basketball court. Wray, who is 6-foot-2 and played basketball for Boyle County High School, said she "used to slouch so I wouldn't be too tall."
Now she wears heels, she noted. And on Sunday she wore a sparkly long gown that made her look "like a disco ball," Wray said.
Viewers could vote Sunday night during the two-hour live broadcast before the contestants sang. Wray sang shortly after 9 p.m., midway through the show.
Three performers were sent home at the end of the show: Ava August, 15, from California, the youngest contestant; and two singers "saved" by the judges last week, Madison Watkins, 26, an Arkansas hair model, and Beane (no last name ever given), 23, a Massachusetts wedding singer.
This is Wray's second time attempting to become American Idol. She auditioned as a high school sophomore, but didn't get past the initial round singing for producers.
Wray, from tiny Perryville, Ky., in the central part of the Bluegrass state, calls herself "a bubbly, good ole Kentucky girl." Read more about her in my April 11 story here.
Idol will be pre-empted by ABC's Academy Awards telecast next Sunday. It resumes Sunday May 2.