Three days from now, the final top four in American Idol's 15-year run will be reduced to a top three, and seven days after that, one member of the remaining trio will be crowned as the last winner (at least in this incarnation of the iconic TV series). Before that happens, Billboard caught up with the four finalists who are still standing to talk about front-runner status, their performances last week and how they felt about meeting Sia.
The one to beat has been La'Porsha Renae for several weeks now, but the resident of McComb, Mississippi, pays no attention to the chatter. "I never view myself as the front-runner because I know how the show is and anything can happen," she explains. "There are different factors that go into why people vote for you. The four of us who are left are all unique and different, so any one of us could be the front-runner. We all appeal to different audiences. When people say I'm the front-runner, it does make me feel good, but I don't let it get to my head or even take it in, because it can be me this week and Dalton next week. You just never know."
Asked how she is feeling now compared to the person she was when she auditioned for Idol last year, she revealed, "The La'Porsha who auditioned for American Idol was running from my situation back home. When I sang 'No More Drama,' I purged all of that. I faced my ex-husband through the TV screen and told him, 'No more drama.' I really took that to heart as well as mind, body and soul, so this week I was happy. There was nothing on my shoulders, nothing holding me down. I've stopped running. And now I'm embracing everything about myself, about this new life and this new career, and being on Idol. I'm enjoying it and I'm so blessed."
As for her performance of Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive," La'Porsha says, "I research all the songs before I sing them. I found out what the song meant. He was singing about his life as a rock star and 'I'm a cowboy' was metaphorical. He was talking about the fact that he travels so much, seeing different people and different places all the time. Because I respect artists who write about their truths, I wanted to do him justice and tell his story. The song had a western feel to it, and I love Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and Little House on the Prairie, so it made me feel like I was back in those days, sitting around the campfire telling stories."
La'Porsha also talked about working with Sia. "I've been a fan of her music and lyrics. She's a great writer and even greater performer. Meeting her was an experience like no other because she really made us feel comfortable with who we were and our differences. She wanted us to embrace that about ourselves and I got to see her beautiful face."
Trent Harmon agrees with that sentiment. "She's good-lookin'! It's a shame you don't get to see her face, because you're all missing out. We got to see her. It was great." There was only one rule: No photographs. "I respect that," says Harmon. "She said she really thought a lot about that. 'Sia, this is you, you're not going to show your face when you perform.' I'm sure there's a lot more meaning behind it. She didn't explain it to us, but she didn't have to."
Harmon says the contestants had an image of Sia that turned out not to be true. "We thought she was going to be very somber. 'These are my songs and take them seriously. I am an artist with a capital A.' She wasn't like that. She was all goofy and making fun of herself. We're taking lessons from these people. They don't know it, but just like the little kids who are watching us, wondering if we really are what they see through the TV screens, we're watching [our mentors]. They can either be nice and courteous or not. And she was a class act."
How does Harmon feel about being in the top four? "I feel like at any point you could get cut and I'm always prepared to be cut. I tell myself, 'Trent, if you get cut tonight, you can go home and feel good.' And [then] I don't get cut. I hope [the judges] realize I'm taking what they're telling me seriously because I'm writing it down. I'm taking all these things into consideration post-American Idol. I love Idol and I'm so grateful to be here, but I'm trying to get a job after the show. I'm prepared for not next week, but next year."
Dalton Rapattoni has a similar take on making the top four. "Every week, I'm dumbfounded that I get to keep doing this. I appreciate every step that I've gotten to take. I obviously would appreciate everybody's votes because I really, really need them, as evidenced by the fact that I was in the bottom two."
Thursday night was an emotional evening for Rapattoni, who broke into tears right after he finished singing Sia's "Bird Set Free." The singer from Dallas told Billboard what happened: "In the middle of the song, I saw my mom and she was crying. At that point I knew I was going to cry so I tried to hold on as long as possible. There were some sloppy notes in there because I was trying to hold back tears. I did my best to hold back until the end."
Rapattoni also talked about his choice of Sia songs and how he connected with "Bird Set Free." "I didn't know it. I didn't know most of the songs on the list except for 'Elastic Heart' and 'Chandelier' and other ones that were really popular. With the ones that I didn't know, I read the lyrics before I listened to them and I picked the one I connected with the most. It was the right call."
His other selection last week was the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows," a song that was a Billboard Hot 100 hit 30 years before he was born. "An ex-girlfriend showed me the song and I really loved it and then she dumped me and I hated it. It started to grow on me again because no natter what context you hear it in, it's an amazing song."
Like his fellow top four finalists, MacKenzie Bourg was a Sia fan even before he met her. "I love a lot of her music. You hear some songs on the radio and it's like, 'Get out of here!' and then you hear her hits and it's like, 'Awww, I love that.'"
Bourg told Billboard about his Sia selection: "I thought 'Titanium' was the best song for me because it was super-popular and it was something you could turn and flip. It was my best bet." Bourg also agrees with the other finalists' personal assessment of Sia. "Not only was she beautiful on the outside, she was beautiful on the inside. She made us feel welcome. She made us feel like we were on the same level as her. We're nowhere near her and for her to make us feel loved and appreciated, it really meant a lot."
Bourg's other song choice, Cheap Trick's "I Want You to Want Me," came under heavy fire from the judges. "It's tough to get criticism. I really didn't know the song at all," says the singer from Layfayette, Louisiana. "Yet I felt great about the arrangement and a lot of people felt good about it too. It was interesting to hear the judges' take on it. Hopefully the people at home liked it."