The judges attempt to find the next Carrie Underwood in St. Louis

By Annie Barrett
Updated February 03, 2012 at 04:12 AM EST
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Credit: Fox

Finally — the last glacially paced auditions episode of season 11! This time the crew hit St. Louis — “the gateway to American Idol success” — to find the next Carrie Underwood. I don’t know if they did, but I’m quite certain that Randy Jackson still hasn’t found the Arch.

Somehow the editors only found time to show us five of 46 golden ticket winners in an hour. The best-spent of the remaining minutes by far featured an amusing silent-movie spoof. But instead of The Artist, it’s The Contestant. No artists here! Just thousands of hopefuls — singing when they’re ready, stalking Steven Tyler with their dripping fangs, chasing their dreams in their Ford Tauruses. What a world.

Johnny Keyser, 22, delivered on Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” to the delight of the judges and a few dozen of his blonde family members. Randy, who is usually of little value, was so into the good-looking Italian restaurant waiter that he prompted him to keep singing because he wanted to hear the high note. “It’s been…” he begged with his hopeful dawg eyes. And it was a treat! “You know you’re gonna be a star, right?” J. Lo asked Johnny. So that’s who she’s been addressing all season. Recognize your destiny, boy! And bring me some arancini.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned so far on this season of American Idol, it’s that husbands are evil and their primary aim is to hold you back from your dreams. Our latest wronged woman was Rachelle Lamb, a 26-year-old construction worker (!) with a cute little bespectacled daughter named Madison. All the little girls are named that. You don’t even have to ask. So the former pro singer did a Faith Hill song her ex disliked, “Find Somebody New.” A new Carrie??? Not so fast, but I can see voters loving this woman. She’s up there singing a country song about being wronged, and she’s singing it to her daughter as if no one else is in the room. Very relatable.

I wasn’t as impacted by Reis Kloeckener, the bullying victim who found solace in the outstretched jazz hands of his high school’s glee club. Good tie-in for Fox, but was his voice really that great? Baby’s got the runs! We’ve all heard some melismatic renditions of “Lean on Me” in our Idol-watching days, but this one was a little over-the-top. So was Steven: “You made me cry; that’s how good it was. You made me tear up and get all crazy inside.” To be fair, he probably wasn’t lying. These things just happen when you’re Steven Tyler. “Don’t even say that to me right now!” sputtered Reis, having forgotten he was in the ultimate bully-free zone: A Simon Cowell-free Idol audition room.

Madonna then stepped up to audition with a special preview of her new video for “Give Me All Your Luvin.'” “Hey, football!” said Randy. “Come here Mama,” said J. Lo. “She’s–I mean, I’m too old to be so young,” said Steven. Three yeses! Madonna is through to Hollywood.

NEXT: Can somebody please get Ethan Jones a band-aid?

Ethan Jones, 22 and “St. Louis famous,” had dropped out of school to be a full-time musician in a band with his dad, who was currently in treatment for addiction. Naturally Steven wanted to meet the dad. “He can be the power of example to you!” he cried. I’m not sure which part of Ethan’s audition was more distracting — how much I can’t stand Edwin McCain’s “I’ll Be” or the fact that the poor kid was BLEEDING FROM THE FACE. He’d scratched his forehead out of nervousness in the holding pen.

So I don’t remember much about his voice, but I’d like to hear Ethan do a country song if that’s more in his wheelhouse. And hours later, I’m still shocked and in awe that there’s a town in Illinois with the word “Beach” in it. And I grew up in Illinois! God, this country is huge.

I’d absolutely watch a reality show about Lauren Gray‘s family and their one-stop wedding shop in Hardy, Arkansas. The 22-year-old was by far the biggest belter of the night on Adele’s “One and Only.” I wanted to love her but thought she was shouting the whole time and could have sounded so much prettier if she’d taken the volume down a notch. Randy and Steven loved her fearlessness in going so high that her voice broke. “Sexiest thing on the planet,” said Steven. I really like this girl. But most of all, I love her dad.

See you next week for “the most emotional and exhausting Hollywood Week ever”!

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Episode Recaps

American Idol

Ryan Seacrest hosts as Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan guide aspiring singers on their way to superstardom.

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