With the “American Idol” 2018 finale just one week away, the May 13 performances were bound to put the top five contenders into an emotional spin, but the superstar mentor and Mother's Day combined to make the event a sentimental tidal wave. Carrie Underwood is the most successful “American Idol” contender ever, from a commercial standpoint, and the Grammy-winning, chart-topping superstar took the hopefuls under her wings this week, as each dared to take on a Carrie Underwood classic. Compounding that inspiration, this week's installment coincided with Mother's Day, and each of the remaining talents wrote heartfelt letters to his or her mom and sang a song directly to her.

Tissues were mandatory, and the last moments were wrenching, if not colorful.

Altitude and attitude rising

Judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry, and Luke Bryan all pledge that they were going to get tougher this week in giving “realistic critiques” about “having more of the boxes checked” in being a potential superstar, according to Katy Perry. After the opening of “See You Again,” which looked like a professional caliber performance, with the hopefuls shoulder to shoulder with Underwood, it was hard to start off with anything negative, and Carrie Underwood couldn’t say nary a harsh word. Ryan Seacrest’s mom tried to sit with the panel, and the emotional pull started with the very first song.

Michael J Woodard is always up for a daring move, and he chose “Flat on the Floor” as his Carrie Underwood song.

It was hard to imagine the conscientious Michael from the bowling alley being able to conjure any feeling nasty enough to pull off the attitude in the song, but he certainly tried. He was as “in-your-face” and high-energy as ever, moving everywhere on stage. Lionel Richie notices the effort with attitude. Katy Perry was all love, saying there was no one in the competition, in the music industry, or “on the planet” like Michael.

Luke Bryan simply said that Woodard delivered. It's a promise that a stage waits for Woodard.

Gabby Barrett amped up the attitude, singing Carrie’s 2008 hit, “Last Name” with everything she had. Barrett basically collapsed into her own idol’s arms at their meeting in the Bluebird Café, and Underwood praised that Barrett was “better than me” at the same age.

Katy Perry told Gabby that she was certainly making a national impression, and Luke Bryan said her performance was like watching Carrie Underwood “reincarnated.” Gabby still needs to focus on becoming herself more than being like her Idol.

The hopefuls had their first official professional photo shoot before Cade Foehner took the stage with his rendition of former “American Idol” judge and songwriter, Kara DioGuardi’s song for Carrie Underwood, "Undo It.” Carrie counseled Cade to “hold back” more vocally early in the song, and it didn't seem like he listened. Someone must have also told him to show more of his chest, too, to the delight of many along front rows. Luke Bryan praised the way that Cade has gone outside his comfort zone in the competition, while Lionel Richie see’s his “authentic self” onstage.

Katy Perry wants Foehner to continue to take Underwood's advice and showing more nuance and subtlety.

Caleb Lee Hutchinson had the perfect song with the anthemic Underwood song, “So Small.” The country crooner came across as purely genuine with each verse, and more and more, his nerves are subsiding. “You're as real as it comes,” raved Lionel Richie. Caleb's authenticity was clear to Katy Perry, and Luke Bryan reminded Caleb to always stay true to “your own voice,” because that is what will be coming across on radio soon.

Folksy Maddie Poppe proposed that she was a Carrie Underwood fan from an early age, and she didn't even know that her selection, “I Told You So” was originally a Randy Travis song.

The superstar mentor discouraged Maddie from “thinking too much, and Maddie made her own tribute in style to Underwood, wearing a silver shimmering dress as she sang. Katy Perry praised that she was totally absorbed in Maddie's world, and couldn't wait for her record. Luke Bryan praised how the singer constantly is able to “tell your story,” and Lionel Richie summed it up in three words, “you have it.”

A mother’s moments

When it comes to leading by example, Carrie Underwood conquered the stage and her own fears and doubts following her facial and wrist injury after a fall. She got an ovation at the CMA awards, but this performance of “Cry Pretty” for “American Idol” was even more personal and powerful.

Looking as beautiful as ever, with the same vocal power that shakes a chorus to the floor, Carrie is back. It is obvious that the effects of her injuries bother her more deeply than any of her fans. She simply needs time to realize her healing.

Gabby Barrett opened the performances for mothers, describing how she took shelter from thunderstorms against her mother's back while snuggled in bed. She sang Whitney Houston's “I Have Nothing,” already looking like a diva. Luke Bryan said he was “shutting up” because he had no words. Lionel Richie praised “you did it” of the singer from the Pittsburgh auditions. Katy Perry asked a question, “Where is Gabby and what have you done with her?”

Cade Foehner was as vulnerable as could be with his mom, breaking down in tears after sharing his letter to her.

His choice of Lynyrd Skynyrd's “Simple Man” is the kind of song that many fans have been wishing for from this rocker. His mother sang along with every word, Lionel Richie called the performance a capsule of “the late 60s-70s.” Katy Perry loved seeing his heart and openness, and Luke Bryan called the rendition perfection.

Michael J Woodard’s mom was so tearful with pride, and he was constantly consoling her. No consolation was needed for his passionate and rousing performance of Yolanda Adams’ “Still I Rise.” To call the moment moving is an understatement. Three standing ovations were offered from the panel, and Luke Bryan was so moved that he could not speak, and this was before he was surprised by his mom!

“You’re anointed,” offered Katy Perry, and Lionel Richie confirmed the same.

Caleb Lee Hutchinson playfully teased that there were no coupons inside his letter to his mom, but his song “Stars in Alabama” said all that was needed about a life in music, home, and family. The performance was genuine to the core, and Luke Bryan conveyed that it was “so in your wheelhouse” to the singer. Lionel Richie said that Caleb should know he is an artist when Lionel can know him “in two notes, as in this song. Katy Perry invited Caleb to drink a beer with her when he turns 21.

Maddie Poppe had nothing to prove by the time she sang the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” to her mom, but she blew the judges away with the purity of her performance.

Maddie's mom mentioned that she was most proud that her daughter was “kind to everyone,” and the judges were very kind to the singer. Lionel Richie said that he had “Papa pride” in the voice-only performance, and was so proud of how Maddie has grown. Katy Perry said the song was one of her three favorite songs ever, and that Maddie had done it justice. Luke Bryan loved that Maddie choked up at the end.

In just minutes, everyone watching and in the audience would be choked up, because the live vote results were tabulated for the top three. Standing arm in arm, the five “American Idol” hopefuls heard the names of Caleb, Gabby, and Maddie moving forward. It is unfortunate that America’s vote overlooked color in this gifted group.

Bittersweet as it was, there was still overflowing joy from the stage.

The "American Idol" season finale will air next week on Sunday and Monday, including hometown visits and revealing the 2018 winner, but many of these talents have already confirmed their callings.