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'American Idol' recap: 'Denver Auditions'

Among a sea of new hopefuls, one singer makes an emotional comeback

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Ray Mickshaw/Fox

American Idol

TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
Harry Connick Jr., Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban, Ryan Seacrest
Reality TV

A new day, a new opening, y’all. Tonight is all about personal stories — firefighters and grandpas and how Jennifer gets the goosies when people sing to her. Outside of Jennifer’s goosies, this opening sequence shows just how much cultural currency American Idol has. Remember “Pants on the Ground” guy? He was so great. But don’t be caught lookin’ like a fool with your pants on the ground and your focus in the past. Tonight isn’t about failed previous contestants. It’s about the now.

We kick things off in Denver with James Grey Dawson, a.k.a. James the VIII, and Amber Lynn (Anne Boleyn?). Amber actually forced James the VIII to come because he doesn’t even identify as a singer. What do you think will happen and how royal do you think it will be? Amber opens with Allen Stone’s “Unaware.” After Amber finishes, Harry critiques JAMES for rushing the song via guitar. Her performance, by the way? Flawless. If we didn’t figure it out from her ironic flat-bill hat, she’s a definite singer-songwriter type.

James VIII follows with a John Legend song. He goes into his falsetto and does this weird thing with his mouth, and I start touching my ears like I’ve never heard music before. I honestly have no idea what happens to me during episodes of American Idol. I think my desire to see people pursue their dreams in a public forum overwhelms my basic social cues, and then I do things like tap my ears when I hear things I like. It’s a strange contest between Amber and James because they’re both just…incredible. The contest doesn’t matter though. Both of these Denver hipsters are going to strum their way to Hollywood.

Following those two is Emily Wears, 25, who is a professional auctioneer. Speaking at that speed is my life goal. Imagine how many positive qualities I could tell potential dates at the club with that skill set! She chooses Jo Dee Messina’s “Bring on the Rain.” It’s very authentic, and her voice has a nice Sara Evans essence. But when it comes to the big notes, she plays it safe. And when it comes to the high notes, she can’t quite get there. Fortunately, she has that auctioneer career, but she struggles to sell to the judges. No Hollywood week for Emily.

Chris Johnson follows. He is from Memphis and goes by CJ. He’s a professional musician, which is crazy ambitious unless you’re, you know, successful. He chooses Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams,” and it’s everything you hope it will be. He has this Memphis barbecue style to his voice (run with me, here). It’s dry and authentic in a way that’s hard to explain. And what’s great about CJ is that you want to root for him. He gets three thumbs up.

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Did you guys even know we switched to Little Rock? I swear it just…happened. It might have happened with CJ, but it’s definitely obvious with Ethan.

Ethan Kuntz, 15, is from Nashville, Ark. His family trains hunting dogs, and he calls Ryan Seacrest “sir,” which is hilarious because Ryan isn’t that spring chicken he used to be back when he had Dunkleman on his arm. Ethan is just a laid-back teenager with a squad of hunting dogs who likes to jam with his blues band on occasion. His song choice is “Stormy Monday” by the Allman Brothers. His performance is strong for a 15-year-old, but that whole stigma about having to “live life” to sing the blues rings terribly true, in my opinion. Harry and Keith agree, but Jennifer steps up to fight for Ethan. Honestly, he’s a wonderful kid, but for a career in the blues, ihe’s just not ready. Harry says no. Jennifer says yes. And Keith, regardless of his gut, gives him a pass. Oh, Ethan.

NEXT: The problem with making songs up on the fly