With Keith serving as a guide, country singers in the competition are being noticed a bit more so than on past "Idol" seasons -- not just by the judges but also by the new viewers Keith has recruited to the show. Our prediction of a country victory also stems from the recent success of those on other fan-voted shows. Cassadee Pope, mentored by Blake Shelton, didn't become the frontrunner on "The Voice" until she 'went country' with Miranda Lambert's "Over You." Additionally, cowboy hat-wearing family man Tate Stevens was a fan-favorite from the start of his appearance on "The X Factor," earning him the win.
Kree isn't the only contestant to fit that bill on "Idol," but as we narrow it down, her gender may also be an asset. "It's absolutely a girl's year to win," Keith said during a press conference call Wednesday (quote via USA Today). While the "For You" singer advised it was too soon to name a frontrunner, Kree was among those he pointed out, calling her, "extraordinarily gifted ... in an unusual way. She's just so effortless in the way she sings. There's nothing theatrical and large about her as a performer. There's just this incredibly authentic voice, in the same way that Adele has that incredibly authentic voice. I just believe her when she sings."
So what about Jenny Beth Willis, who performed Trisha Yearwood's "Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love," Wednesday night? Keith was impressed by her "effortless confidence" but not her song choice, and Randy Jackson was less than enthusiastic about her performance, saying it "might spell a little bit of trouble" for her. Louisiana native Brandy Hotard tackled Travis Tritt's "Anymore," but had "an emotional connection inconsistency," according to Keith, and a "pageant feel" to Nicki. Neither moved on to the Top 20.
Then there's the response from the other three judges after the demo singer's rendition of "Up to the Mountain." "You sang the hell out of that song," Mariah Carey told Kree, while Nicki paid a much more specific compliment: "I would be very afraid if I was any of these other girls here tonight. There's a mystery in you that can't be explained. Every time you sing a song, you make love to the song. I've never said that to anyone."
"Here is another natural born singer," Randy added, before referring to her modest attire. "She doesn't have to wear the outfit. She gets up there, opens her mouth, she connects with the lyric ... I felt like I was at your show and you've been doing this for 25 years."
Kree has indeed been honing her craft for years. She had, and unfortunately lost, a record deal a while back, and she continues to collaborate with other Nashville artists. She has spent more time in the studio than most contenders and has traversed the ups and downs of the music industry.
The next episode of "American Idol" airs tonight (Feb. 21) on FOX at 8:00 PM ET.
Watch Kree's Full Performance