This music teacher/R&B singer from Teaneck N.J. with a throwback style finally made it to the top 24 on his third try. We haven’t seen much of Aaron in the competition so far, but what we have seen — his taking the judges to church at his Pittsburgh audition with Sam Cooke’s ”A Change Is Gonna Come” or bringing a gospel edge to the standout group Groovesauce (Aaron, Reed Grimm, Nick Boddington, Creighton Fraker, Jen Hirsh)—indicates that Aaron is primed for a breakout moment.
Reminds us of: The gritty soul of season 3’s George Huff
Adam Brock is a crier. He sobbed when he left his daughter behind to head to Hollywood, he teared up when he faced the judges at the Green Mile, and he cried afterward when he found out he made the top 24. Adam, who fronted a local jazz band in his native Washington, Penn., has a big soulful voice and has alternately referred to himself as White Chocolate and as having ”a large black woman” trapped inside his body.
Reminds us of: With that gritty rasp, season 8’s Danny Gokey
Sixteen-year-old Baylie Brown was cut in season 6 after she choked in the Hollywood group round. Instead of coming back right away, she waited five years. Now, this 21-year-old country girl from Texas has matured and is ready to compete. This time she sailed through Hollywood.
Reminds us of: Her big smooth country vocals on songs such as ”Bed of Roses” and ”Here Comes Goodbye” call to mind Carrie Underwood.
Brielle Von Hugel
Seventeen-year-old Jersey girl Brielle Von Hugel was cut before the top 24 in season 10. She and her mother, Camille, came back for another go this year, and we found out that mom is not afraid to call out a kid she doesn’t think is pulling his weight (poor Kyle Crews) or brag about how bossy her daughter is. Brielle is a talented singer, but she’s also got a negative edit to overcome: There’s confident, and then there’s appearing cocky, which never goes well in Idol land.
Reminds us of: That other teen with a stage mom, season 3 runner-up, Diana Degarmo
Point Pleasant, W. Va. native, Chase Likens made it to the top 120 of season 10. But you’d barely know the 20-year-old country singer made the top 24 this year, because we’ve hardly seen him on camera. Singing since he was 5 years old, we caught a glimpse of Chase in Pittsburgh singing ”Love Don’t Live Here” for the judges, who waved him on after only a few bars.
Reminds us of: Thanks to the down-home country style, season 2’s Josh Gracin
Growing up in Stokesdale, N.C., a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it kind of town, Chelsea Sorrell dreamed of becoming a mom and a country singer. She made it to the top 61 of season 10 before she was cut. And she almost blew her chance in Hollywood this year when she forgot the words of her last-chance performance, Carrie Underwood’s ”I Told You So.” ”You sing so good, you got to start that over again, baby,” said Steven Tyler. The next time around, she nailed it, and made the top 24.
Reminds us of: Because of her every-girl appearance, season 10 runner-up, Lauren Alaina
Colton Dixon and his sister Schyler were season 10 hopefuls, back again this year. Well, Schyler was back—Colton was only along for support when Schyler auditioned in Savannah. That is, until the judges persuaded the 23-year-old from Murfreesboro, Tenn. to audition again. Colton made it to Hollywood and beyond. (Unfortunately sister Schyler was cut in Last Vegas before the top 42.) Colton has a penchant for Idol rockers, having covered both Daughtry’s ”What About Now” and David Cook’s ”Permanent” in front of the judges.
Reminds us of: With his boyish good looks, season 9’s Tim Urban
Creighton Fraker lives in New York City but was raised a preacher’s kid in South Dakota by his adoptive parents. His musical talent and outgoing personality come by way of his birth dad, a heavy-metal rocker whom Creighton only met three years ago. Creighton impressed the judges with soulful, run-filled versions of Smokey Robinson and Queen, and as member of the Hollywood group Groovesauce, with Nick Boddington, Aaron Marcellus, Jen Hirsh, and Reed Grimm.
Reminds us of: The flamboyant vocal stylings of season 2 runner-up, Clay Aiken
A 16-year-old Deandre Brackensick was cut at the Green Mile in season 10, but his beautiful falsetto was not to be denied in season 11. The San Jose native has a multi-cultural background that includes Hawaiian roots. He made a big splash when he sang a gospelized version of Buddy Holly’s ”It Doesn’t Matter Any More” with Jessica Sanchez and Candice Glover in Las Vegas. The judges were wowed by Deandre’s last chance performance: a delicate, beautiful rendition of ”This Women’s Work.”
Reminds us of: The smooth soulful falsettos of season 1 runner-up, Justin Guarini
Fifteen-year-old Eben Franckewitz, who’d only been eligible to audition for Idol a mere 13 days before he did, is the youngest contestant ever to make the top 24. Randy Jackson described this Justin Beiber lookalike’s sweet, soul-tinged vocals after he sang ”Ain’t No Sunshine” at his Pittsburgh audition as a ”a God-given gift.” A Loveland, Ohio, native with a background in local theater makes Eben a real life version of those fictional Lima, Ohio kids from Glee. Indeed, jazz hands and a high kick were on display when he performed ”The Night Has a Thousand Eyes” in Las Vegas with Haley Johnsen, Reed Grim, and Elise Testone.
Reminds us of: His youth and teen-idol potential calls to mind season 7 runner-up, David Archuleta
Twenty-eight-year-old singing coach and musician Elise Testone has been has been steadily performing, she said in her interview, with as many as 10 gigs a week. The hard work has paid off for the Charleston, S.C. resident, who impressed the judges with a version of ”It’s a Man’s Man’s World” in her last-chance performance. She joined fellow contestants Haley Johnsen, Reed Grimm, and Eben Franckewitz in Las Vegas to sing an updated version of ”The Night Has a Thousand Eyes.” ”You’re one of the best singers we’ve seen,” Randy Jackson told Elise as the judges advanced her to the top 24.
Reminds us of: The bluesy growl of season 10’s Haley Reinhart
Erika Van Pelt
This Rhode Island-based singer-songwriter works the wedding circuit on the side as both a DJ and a performer. In her Pittsburgh audition, the 25-year-old’s version of the classic, ”Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” caught the judges’ attention. Steven Tyler called her husky alto ”sexy.” Erika’s passionate take on P!nk’s ”Glitter in the Air” in Hollywood further sealed the deal for the judges. The singer appeared to stumble during her last-chance performance of Adele’s ”Don’t You Remember” when Jennifer Lopez turned to Randy Jackson and said, ”I don’t like this song for her.” But it was just a blip. ”We’re going to take one more chance on you, Erika,” said Jennifer as they delivered the good news.
Reminds us of: The throwback style of season 7’s Brooke White
Twenty-three-year-old Haley Johnsen hails from Beaverton, Ore., where she attended college and sang in coffee shops. She didn’t make it past the first round when she auditioned for Idol a few years ago. ”I didn’t feel like I had the confidence to be the type of person to say, ‘Oh, I’m a star’,” she told the camera. But as she advanced, her confidence grew. In Las Vegas, her jazzy vocals were front and center as she performed ”The Night Has a Thousand Eyes” with Eben Franckowitz, Elise Testone, and Reed Grimm. ”Wow. Unreal,” said Steven Tyler.
Reminds us of: The quirky style of season 9 runner-up Crystal Bowersox
After Hallie Day’s stint in New York City with a girl band fizzled, she faced depression so crippling she attempted to take her own life with a handful of pills. Meeting the man of her dreams, who would eventually become her husband, set her on the right path. His confidence in her gave this 24-year-old waitress from Baltimore the courage to audition for Idol in Pittsburgh. ”I Will Survive” was a fitting audition song.
Reminds us of: Another Idol with a hard-luck story, season 5’s Kellie Pickler
Never mind that he’s really more of a comedian than a singer, Heejun Han captured the hearts of viewers with his Jim Halpert-like asides to the camera during Hollywood week in his ”war” with ”Cowboy” Richie Law. But the 22-year-old from Flushing, N.Y., has a serious side. Not only does he work with disabled children, but Heejun’s brother, Heesueng told the New York Daily News that the singer is ”very religious” — young Heejun grew up wanting to be a Presbyterian minister. Also, the family had no idea that Heejun could sing! ”You have that buttery tone,” Jennifer Lopez told Heejun after his last-chance performance of ”New York State of Mind.” When Heejun learned he made the top 24, he broke down in tears. He’s such a softie.
Reminds us of: His dry sense of humor and smooth vocals is reminiscent of season 8’s Anoop Desai
Some of you may remember Hollie Cavanaugh from season 10, as she sobbed before the judges gave her a chance to sing a second song at her Austin audition. The 17-year-old cried her way through ”The Climb,” but the judges advanced her anyway. She came back this year, but curiously, we didn’t see her at all until her last-chance performance. Her big voice shone as fellow contestants Shelby Tweten and Ariel Sprague were cut. Of course, Hollie cried when she got the good news.
Reminds us of: Fellow second-chancer, season 6’s Gina Glocksen
Twenty-five-year-old Jen Hirsh is a graduate of the esteemed Berklee School of Music, and sang with season 3 Idol, John Stevens, in the Boston-based swing band, The Beantown Swing Orchestra. The singer, who hails from Augora Hills, Calif., first caught our attention with a pure and powerful version of Patty Griffin’s ”Up to the Mountain” in Hollywood. She continued her impressive run singing ”Hold On I’m Coming” with Hollywood group Groovesauce. Her close harmonies with fellow contestants Creighton Fraker and Aaron Marcellus on ”Sealed With a Kiss” continued a hot streak in Las Vegas. A solo of ”Georgia On My Mind” earned her a standing ovation. Luckily, a less than stellar last-chance performance of ”Baby I Love You” didn’t end her luck. ”One of the best singers this year,” said Randy Jackson.
Reminds us of: The big soulful vocals of season 1 winner, Kelly Clarkson
Randy Jackson nicknamed 19-year-old Jeremy Rosado ”Dirty” when the Valrico, Fla., native revealed he worked the front desk for a doctor who specializes in infectious diseases. What makes the situation tricky—Jeremy is germ phobic! As Jeremy sang ”Superstar” in Hollywood, Jennifer Lopez held out her arm—goosies! Jeremy also shone on Duffy’s ”Mercy” alongside fellow teens Arial Sprague, Eben Franckewitz, Gabi Carruba, and David Leather’s, Jr. in the Hollywoood group Hollywood 5. Jeremy’s last-chance performance of Carrie Underwood’s ”I Know You Won’t” had the judges voicing their approval even before he finished. ”Get out of here!” said Jennifer. The judges loved the way he cheered the rest of the contestants. Calling his last performance ”transcendental,” Jennifer said, ”There’s no way we wouldn’t want you in the top 24 this year.”
Reminds us of: The soulful croon of season 10’s Stevano Langone
Sixteen-year-old Jessica Sanchez was a contestant on the inaugural season of America’s Got Talent, when she was 10 years old. She made it as far as the Wildcard, but wasn’t picked as a finalist. A fan base already began brewing around Jessica when her name popped up on spoiler lists. It was her performance in Las Vegas, of Buddy Holly’s ”It Doesn’t Really Matter Anymore,” with Deandre Brackensick and Candice Glover, that made Idol fans take notice. But it was Jessica’s last chance performance, a mature-beyond-her-years take on Celine Dion’s ”The Prayer,” that made her a break out star. ”I’ve been doing this all my life,” said Jessica, ”I’m tired of seeing my family struggle. I want to be able to support them.”
Reminds us of: Fellow AGT alum, season 9’s Thia Megia.
We haven’t seen much of Joshua Ledet in the competition, but he commands the stage every time he’s on camera — whether the 19-year-old from West Lake, La., was singing ”Hit ‘Em Up Style” with his troubled Hollywood group led by Brielle Von Hugel (and her stage mom!) or moving the crowd in Hollywood with Christina Perry’s ”Jar of Hearts.” His last-chance performance was a powerful rendition of Patty Griffin’s ”Up to the Mountain.” ”Can I get an amen!” said Randy Jackson after putting Joshua through to the top 24.
Reminds us of: Another gospel Idol, season 9’s Jacob Lusk
Hopefuls aren’t allowed to play instruments for their initial audition, but producer Nigel Lythgoe made an exception for 21-year-old pawn-shop worker Phillip Phillips. P2, as his fans fondly call him, picked up his guitar and turned Michael Jackson’s ”Thriller” right on its head. Phillip — who was already a fixture in the local Albany, Ga., music scene, according to Albany Uncovered — has a style reminiscent of jam-band musician Dave Matthews. For his last-chance performance, Phillip picked up his guitar again to sing the Usher hit, ”Nice and Slow.”
Reminds us of: His way of re-working pop calls to mind season 9 winner, Kris Allen.
Twenty-six-year-old Reed Grimm was utterly charming when he hit the Pittsburgh auditions with a quirky, jazz-inspired rendition of the Family Matters theme. ”You are crazy,” said Steven Tyler, ”that was genius.” The Ellsworth, Wis., native developed his musical instincts when he joined his family’s band at the age of 2. And it was instinct that drove him to get behind the drums to sing ”Georgia” after the producers wouldn’t allow him to sing a capella, effectively saving a performance destined for disaster. (Sadly, Reed’s father passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2005.)
Reminds us (and Randy!) of: The deep musicality and off-beat personality of season 10’s Casey Abrams
Fifteen-year-old Shannon Magrane brought her entire family to her Savannah audition, including her dad, Joe Magrane, who pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1980s. Six-foot-tall Shannon is also sporty, playing volleyball back at home in Tampa, Fla. She sang Etta James’ ”Something’s Got a Hold on Me” with a big big voice. ”Nerves of steel, this girl,” said Randy of the cool calm and collected Shannon. She didn’t even blink when Steven called her ”hot, humid and happening” in front of her dad! The judges didn’t care that she forgot her lyrics on Hollywood group day, after a performance of ”The Trouble With Love Is” had Jennifer Lopez declaring ”Goosies!”
Reminds us of: This statuesque singer-athelete with the famous dad calls to mind season 5’s top 24 contestant (who had a Massachussets senator for a dad!) Ayla Brown
Our first glimpse of 17-year-old Skylar Laine was atop a four-wheeler. ”It’s time to get changed,” said Skyler, ”and go kill a deer.” If you thought she was kidding, the deer head hanging above her bed would prove otherwise. This spirited Jackson, Miss., native helps out in her family’s restaurant and loves country music. ”I love it,” said Jennifer Lopez after Skyler’s audition performance of Pistol Annie’s ”Hell on Heels” in Galveston, Texas: ”We know exactly who she is.” Coming down with the ”Idol flu” in Hollywood didn’t stop Skyler from performing a full-throated version of the Band Perry’s ”You Lie”. ”I hope you put some rock & roll into that country,” said Steven Tyler after putting her through to the top 24.
Reminds us of: Another outdoorsy country gal, season 7’s Kristy Lee Cook