This was the final batch of contestants on “American Idol” before Hollywood Week kicks off Monday night, and they certainly saved some of the best and most compelling artists for last.
They also saved the shirtless man with a mullet who almost got taken out by security when he crashed filming of a lighter segment featuring the judges sharing giant s’mores. It was a surreal and possibly scary moment considering he came out of nowhere to practically take Luke down, but then it took an even more unexpected turn.
The night also featured powerful and emotional auditions from contestants ranging from a homeless girl who busks on the streets with her mother to get by, a woman nine months pregnant who’s giving up the baby for adoption, a young man just learning to live his truth, an incredible music teacher and the return of an “American Juniors” contestant.
If you don’t know what that show was, back when “Idol” was the biggest thing on the planet, Fox commissioned a spin-off with kids. And yes, Ryan Seacrest hosted it, so it was a reunion of sorts for him and the contestant he last saw when she was 11 years old.
We love that the curtain has been pulling back the curtain a bit on the audition process, showing some of the coaching that goes on and, this week, even sharing how some of the tougher auditions are made.
For years in these breakdowns, we’ve commented on artists who have a nice enough sound but we predict don’t have that unique quality that will keep them in the competition through the middle rounds or even into the live shows.
It turns out your fifth judge isn’t the only one looking at them through that lens. If you have a pleasant voice with solid talent behind it, how does that compare to Alejandro Aranda or the types of artists people stand up for and vote for? It’s more than just hitting the notes, it’s touching the heart, it’s making a genuine connection through artistry and that’s even more rare than singing talent.
And just for giggles, I’m going to rank the auditions each night from worst to first to see who my favorites are. Will they move on? Will they win the whole thing? Will the judges recognize talent when they see it? Let’s find out!
(21, Wiliamstown, NJ) Just for giggles, the judges dragged a contestant from outside onto a boat to have her audition. She leaned a bit heavy on that vibrato and gave a more technically sound performance than an emotionally resonant one. This was a song with a story about pain and truth and heartache, and she gave us none of those things.
(24, Tuscaloosa, AL) Justin loved that his accompanist — we’ve seen him all season — is songwriter Phredley Brown because he was singing a song Brown co-wrote, Bruno Mars’ “Treasure.” There was a joyousness to how Justin sang the song, but it was also lacking real connection for us. He didn’t seem to be pushing himself to sing so much as just singing on the surface of his throat and voice.
Nash “Mullet Man”
(18, Newman Lake, WA) Vocally, he was affecting too much what he felt a true country voice was. Luke was dead on that it was too nasally, but it was also just too much everything, like a caricature of good country singing. Nash clearly is authentic as a person in that world, but he needs to stop trying to impersonate what he thinks a country singer sounds like and that trust if he sings as a country person it will happen naturally. There’s something there, but it’s not polished or ready.
(18, Kingston, Jamaica) Jahzan and her mother moved to New York for a chance at a better life three years ago, and they’re still working toward it, homeless (living in her uncle’s salon) and busking to get by. She has such a unique quality to her voice, as well as a lower natural pitch when she sings, but it almost seems like it’s swallowing her up at times. There are moments of greatness in there, and she’s got an ear, but it’s all a bit too theatrical and over-the-top right now. But her voice is absolutely her own so if she can find herself in there, it could be a remarkable result.
(27, Donaldsonville, LA) We didn’t expect such a soulful richness in Robert’s voice based on how nervous he was just to be there. It’s as if he transformed once he sat behind the piano. He suddenly delivered a complex, beautiful and thoroughly entertaining performance rich with runs, vocal affectations, deep-throated passion and vocal depth. That’s the kind of voice that can move people .and he could probably sing anything and be amazing.
(23, Orlando, FL) Before the formal audition even started, Gilberto got to steal Lionel’s chair and duet “Hello,” where he showed off some impressive chops on the spot. He then took it up a notch on “Proud Mary” and proved he’s really got a powerful and unique instrument there … to say nothing of his unique style. His voice is unmistakably his and his stage presence is every bit as unique as Tina Turner. While we get the theatrical style can be a bit confusing for some, Elton John and Liberace and so many others paved the way for these types of artists to be taken seriously, so why must he strip his vision for this show?
(18, Tampa, FL) With no accompaniment, Aliana really showed off a lot of strength in her voice, as well as a genuine vocal quality and natural talent. She hit every note she sought, offered a bit of growl and did it all from a place of reserved restraint. If she actually leaned into her gifts and believed in them (and her own worth) more, she could be a force to be reckoned with. Hopefully, this journey will inject some much needed confidence and unconditional love into her life to help bolster her confidence.
(17, Wellington, KS) Either Makayla kept her pain a secret or she has a natural-born talent to express that level of heartache and suffering at 17 years old. Either way, this was a simple but devastating vocal that had us hanging on every syllable. Dixie Chicks are no joke when it comes to female-driven storytelling and making you feel whatever emotion they’re selling, and Makayla kept up with that directive here flawlessly.
(25, Provo, UT) We’re not sure why Zack didn’t get the full audition treatment, instead leading us back out of a commercial break, because he really has a nice tenderness to his voice. “I’m on Fire” is such a distinctively Bruce Springsteen song, it’s hard to make it your own and still do the original honor, but Zack had a really cool vibe on it that felt effortless and very clean.
(26, Watts, CA) Coming straight from the church to the “Idol” audition, Roselyn didn’t shake off any of that soulful spirituality in her vocal style or even her passion when talking about wanting to show another way, another path for the people of her community. We love that Katy pushed for a secular song to show how marketable she is, because there’s no denying the talent. She’s the real deal, able to take you on an emotional journey with just her voice. The sky’s the limit with the right songs. On top of that her passion and drive as a human is inspirational, which makes her someone to root for.
(27, Nashville, TN) Top 20 on “American Juniors,” Grace backed away from music as a teenager. Even though her first song lacked a lot of dynamic range, there was no denying the depth and strength of her tone. She sounds authentically country, with a powerful storytelling quality that urged Katy to show the sadness in her voice. Then, she broke hearts on “Crazy,” bringing even more muchness to what was already an incredible audition.
(23, Couer d’Alene, ID) Amber had our attention in the quieter part of her voice, but we wished she’d pull for more. Then she started to belt and it was all there. Her nerves were battling her but she overcame them admirably to reach powerful vocal heights with a beautifully pure and sweet tone in her voice. Everything about her leaves you rooting for her and wanting nothing but greatness. At nine months pregnant — she’d opted to give the baby up for adoption — the biggest hurdle facing her is if Hollywood Week will happen at all. It’s set for one week after her due date!
(26, San Jose, CA) There is an effortlessness to how Demi delivers a lyric, and yet it’s done with such control and compassion that you find yourself living in her world. As the judges would put it, she has a “cry” in her voice that speaks volumes. It’s powerful to make an audience feel based on your voice alone, but Demi has that gift. She absolutely nailed this audition and made a strong statement. Now, she just needs to find who she is as an artist and she could be a real force.
(27, Durham, NC) What a cool indie rock vibe. Franklin looks and sounds like the guy you might see in the corner of your local coffee shop, but the version of that guy who should be selling millions of records. The quality of this performance, which was an ambitious stripped down take on Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” proved the depth of his talent and vision as an artist. He knows how to interpret a lyric and a song so it’s both recognizable and unmistakably his vibe at the same time, which is exciting to see and hear.
“American Idol” kicks off Hollywood Week Monday night and continues Sundays and Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC
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