20. Katelyn Epperly (New this week): Producers inexplicably played up her divorcing-parents backstory, and (blasphemy alert!) the shaggy-maned blonde admitted she’d long been “stand-offish” about auditioning for the show. Still, Katelyn’s choice of Duffy’s “Syrup and Honey” was refreshingly left-field, and as Shania Twain noted, girlfriend has the kind of voice one might hear on a hit record.
19. Maddy Curtis (Last week No. 17): Charming 16-year-old warmed hearts and won fans thanks to a sweet package that highlighted her loving relationship with her four brothers with Down syndrome. But nerves and inexperience bubbled through her rendition of “Hallelujah.” Perhaps a better prospect for season 11?
18. Seth Rollins (New this week): Burly father of an autistic five-year-old son showed off a lovely tone on “Someone to Watch Over Me,” making the insurance adjuster a leading candidate to fill Idol‘s perennial “everyman” role. That said, which is clearer in your memory right this second: Seth’s interview package or his actual singing? Exactly.
17. Jess Wolfe (Last week No. 12): Bespectacled blond rocked a “sexy librarian” look that made her smoky, soulful rendition of ”People Get Ready” all the more enjoyable. Still, major lack of screen time devoted to her Boston audition makes us wonder if we’ll need to take out an ad on a milk carton if we want to hear her voice again.
16. Angela Martin (New this week): Brought enough heartache to her audition to pack a Lifetime movie, and everyone likes a tale of Idol perseverance (Angela scored Golden Tickets in seasons 7 and 8). Still, Angela’s rendition of Mary J. Blige’s “Just Fine” possessed the sort of ho-hum competency that’s more the mark of a wedding singer than a musical superstar. And after Lil Rounds’ reign of mundane last year, is it too much to ask for a cutting-edge R&B diva this time around?
15. Tisha Holland (Last week No. 5): Last season Idol tried to sneak Kris Allen past an unsuspecting public with a very brief (but pretty damn good) audition clip of “A Song for You.” My first nominee for this season’s Contender Disguised as Cannon Fodder Trophy goes to Tisha, who displayed big range and ferocious energy on Christina Aguilera’s “Impossible,” rocked a pair of killer chunky-square earrings, and responded to her Golden Ticket with appealing air-leap/fist-pump choreography.
14. Justin Williams (Last week No. 6): He brought stubbly good looks and a mellifluous tone to his “Feeling Good” audition, but producers also saddled him with 100 pounds of backstory by focusing way too much time on his successful fight against cancer. Weirder still, how come no mention of the fact that Justin made it to Hollywood in season 8, where he performed as part of “White Chocolate” alongside eventual finalists Matt Giraud and Kris Allen? Conspiracy theorists, discuss!
13. Kasi Bedford (New this week): Only scored a few seconds of screen time, but the cute chica with the purple streaks in her hair clearly made a fan of Simon with her raspy rendition of “Something to Talk About.” Here’s hoping producers don’t give her the Without A Trace treatment in Hollywood.
12. Ashley Rodriguez (Last week No. 10): Stone-cold hottie prompted Kara to squawk the word “commercial” (j’ugh) but she delivered a strong, tuneful take on “If I Ain’t Got You” that earned her a well-deserved ticket to Hollywood. Now, she needs to do more than offer up pretty carbon copies of soul-diva anthems and prove she’s a unique artist worthy of the Idoltaurium (yes, I made up that word).
11. Charity Vance (New this week): Wide-eyed Arkansas teenager scored a rare upbeat interview package — she sings in her family’s salon! — and I can still hear her version of “Summertime” in my head a week after her audition aired. True, there were moments where her voice bordered on an unappealing squeak, but as Shania noted, if Charity can hone in on the better parts of her instrument, she could be a contender.
10. Vanessa Wolfe (Last week No. 7): Idol promised us more “real people” and fewer “semi-pros” in season 9 (as if it matters!), and Vanessa delivered bridge-jumping, dollar-store-shopping dividends. Her rendition of Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel” might’ve lacked polish and confidence, but she made up for it with passion and authenticity. We’ll be cheering her on…until her inevitable Hollywood Week self-immolation?
9. Matt Lawrence (New this week): Back in season 2, Idol booted early fan favorite Frenchie Davis over some revealing Internet photos. Now, the show is playing up the tale of a dude who spent four years in jail for robbing a bank. Regardless of the show’s fluctuating standard of what constitutes an unacceptable scandal, though, Matt rightfully earned his way to Hollywood with a smoky, soulful “Trouble” that Simon called “brilliant.”
8. Luke Shaffer (Last week No. 8): Cap-clad waiter nailed Secondhand Serenade’s ‘”Fall for You” (and offered up bonus holding-room harmonies with fellow Golden Ticket earner Benjamin Bright). Subsequent receipt of emails from not one but two friends about Luke’s “hotness”/”cuteness” probably bodes well for his ability to snag the Ace Young Semifinal Slot.
7. Katie Stevens (Last week No. 4): Sad story about grandmother’s fight with Alzheimer’s wasn’t enough to eclipse this 16-year-old’s wow-factor take on “At Last.” And while it’s true that nine out of 10 Idol youngsters prove to be 1-800-too-perky, Katie’s first impression was decidedly mature and down-to-earth. A legitimate contender from Episode 1?
6. Mallorie Haley (Last week No. 2): Sometimes you don’t need a tale of personal tragedy or violin-filled background music to get the Idol nation atwitter. Mallorie’s pitch-perfect, twang-ified “Piece of My Heart” stamped her as a vocal contender, and that whisp of a gladiatrix gown proved she won’t need a hair-to-heels makeover if she manages to crack the top 24.
5. Jermaine Purifoy (New this week): Handsome Orlando auditioner had guest judge Kristin Chenoweth grinning dreamily as he delivered an effortless, pitch-perfect version of “Smile.” Not even Randy’s battle cry of “two bazillion percent yes” could sour my excitement about seeing/hearing Jermaine’s Hollywood Week performances.
4. Tyler Grady (Last week No. 3): Who’d have thunk an audition package that kicked off with wrist x-rays, goofy dancing, and an anecdote about falling out of a tree would end with a sexy rendition of “Let’s Get It On” and a ticket to Hollywood? But bell-bottom-clad Tyler upended our low expectations with a sweet, soulful voice and an easy laugh that makes him an early, unlikely front-runner.
3. Janell Wheeler (New this week; pictured, right): Janell’s audition got crammed alongside two other ladies in a “why so brief?” 57-second package, but no matter: Her bluesy riff on “House of the Rising Sun” showcased a cut-through-the-clutter tone and an effortless vocal control that should send her directly to the Top 24. Of course, my unnatural early attachment probably means we won’t hear another sound out of Janell till she’s sobbing in a Hollywood Week holding room, her face obscured by other mourning, eliminated contestants. (For the record, I avoid Idol spoilers like Randy avoids a thesaurus, so I don’t know anything for certain.)
2. Jermaine Sellers (Last week No. 1; pictured, center): Okay, so he caught a mild case of Wanya-itis while performing Joan Osborne’s “One of Us” for the judges. But if the charming church singer (and one-time BET Sunday Best performer) learns that restraint is just as important as innovative song selection, he could reverse Idol‘s abysmal track record over the past few seasons with regard to showcasing black male singers with a legitimate shot at the crown.
1. John Park (New this week; pictured, left): The rich, buttery baritone he displayed on Blood Sweat & Tears’ “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know” was perhaps the tastiest treat to come out of the first four audition episodes of season 9. Plus, his lips, teeth, and bottom end have Shania Twain’s stamp of approval. How can you not get behind the guy?