The Austin auditions deliver a few promising country kids; an armadillo is put out to pasture

By Annie Barrett
February 03, 2011 at 06:04 AM EST
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On Wednesday’s Austin, Texas auditions episode of American Idol, a few promising bumpkins made it through, a teenage fowl impersonator stalked Ryan Seacrest, and the producers milked Steven Tyler’s obvious star power for all it was worth. They gotta stop doing that. As Seacrest teased yesterday over the radio, a card apologizing for “LAST WEEK’S OUTRAGEOUS BEHAVIOR BY STEVEN TYLER” did indeed appear at the top of the show. Then a second later, Steven Tyler swore again, or was about to. It was all pretty lame and confusing. Just let him swear! You don’t need to make it a thing.

The following kiddos (plus Shauntel Campos, Alex Carr, and Caleb Johnson, who shared the dreaded split-ends edit) earned golden tickets in Austin…

Corey Levoy, a 21-year-old from Longview, Texas, went horseback riding in a very tender montage with his sister, then sang “I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Bonnie Raitt for the judges. Aww, same as Carrie. Corey ‘n’ Carrie, sittin’ in a tree. With his sister. Corey has a very high voice and a self-proclaimed “J. Lo booty,” but Steven confidently assured him he wouldn’t be teased about his voice any longer. Oh, Steven. You’re so young, so naive. Appearing on American Idol is one of the only surefire ways to get teased in this country any more. You’re new; you’ll learn. I can’t wait to see how uncomfortable J. Lo will be in Hollywood when she must face (cheek?) this booty challenger again. She’ll be seated the whole time. He’ll have a clear advantage. Can she handle it?

Hollie Cavanaugh from Liverpool could definitely not handle herself during her two-part creaky wooden roller coaster of an audition. Randy called her out for switching keys five times on Etta James’ “At Last,” but J. Lo saw something in Hollie. She was so young. So blonde. So British. And that special something J. Lo saw was….the chance to emotionally torture a 17-year-old for a few seconds plus an entire commercial break. This was a real nail-biter. Would young Hollie go through with her nervous breakdown, or would she live to sing another song? Either option was a win for the producers. What’s it gonna be, girl? Well, duh. Hollie pulled herself up from Terror Mountain’s deepest crevasse with “The Climb” by Miley Cyrus. I counted seven different keys in her first verse, but as the lyrics switched from doomsville (“Lost with no direction/My faith is shaking”) to hopeful (“But I gotta keep trying/Gotta keep my head held high”), Holly suddenly found her groove and a shred of confidence. She’s just being Miley, y’all. Yikes. I mean, she has potential. But for now, what a mess.

NEXT: Cowboy, take us away!

John Wayne Schulz. Occupation: Heartthrob. I mean, cowboy. John Wayne (!!!) lives on a huge ranch and ropes cattle. That’s his NAME. (Thank God for that still of his Montana birth certificate, right?) That’s his JOB. And he loves his MAMA, who survived breast cancer and begged him to try out. And he sings COUNTRY. And his dad, who was wearing a rather jaunty metallic belt, made a homophobic comment towards Ryan, but you know the dad didn’t really mean it like that, and Ryan totally asked for it by egging him on, and obviously the dad will prove to a be sheepish, come-one-come-all hug monster in the front row once the live shows begin. It is all so perfect. After wading his way out of the Idol producers’ community drool pool just off-camera, John Wayne approached the bench and crooned Brooks & Dunn’s “Believe.” The judges believed that he believed, and so did we. Damn straight we believed. Oh, isn’t it such fun to have a new religion? In the end, they didn’t even need to play the Dixie Chicks’ “Cowboy Take Me Away” as John Wayne strolled away. We were all just feelin’ it, shoulders first, like J. Lo.

By pretending to find Ryan Seacrest the sexiest man alive, 17-year-old oddity Courtney Penry ensured herself an auditions-round spotlight and a Hollywood Week check-in, at least. Her speaking voice said one thing (“I’ll love you forever”) while her crazy eyes pleaded quite another (“AM I ON CAMERA?!?!?!”) At one point, Ryan’s noggin was bathed in a slight outer glow as it floated to Casey’s left, and all I wanted in the whole wide world was for his head to be made of clay and for her to begin lovingly molding it to the tune of Lionel Richie’s “Hello.” Shockingly, this trainwreck’s audition itself (“Stay” by Sugarland) was mediocre bordering on competent. The chicken thing, though? I just can’t. Terrible.

Did you all enjoy this week’s Ford Focus Fakeout (ft. sexy Seacrest) as much as I did? Who’s bringing the Focus? Courtney Penry’s loved ones!

NEXT: Steven Tyler keeps that flame alive

Jacqueline Dunford, 22, and Nick Fink, 19 (pictured), claim to be girlfriend and boyfriend. I thought for sure there would be a huge twist in their segment, and they would turn out to be…pairs figure skaters who wanted to be on TV in a different setting! Except EVEN CHEESIER. But no, they can both sing. It’s crazy. Jacqueline’s “Mercy” was too high and forced for my taste (not to mention there was simply no forgiving that white/floral sausage casing “dress”), but I liked Nick’s “Sunday Morning” — he didn’t over-sing it and smiled in a generally non-creepy way the whole time. Jacqueline, a slightly classier (?!) version of E!’s Kendra, gushed that she and Nick got along so well because he was just like her. “Like, everything I do, like, my mannerisms…” she trailed off. Oh, honey. “Keep that flame alive!” Steven Tyler encouraged them as they bopped out. Touché.

Janelle Arthur, 20, is a down-home Tennessee girl with a hearty, fresh voice. Her family — who has teeth and wears shoes, mind you — had been encouraging her to audition for five years. “We know she’s a star; we just want the world to know it,” said Janelle’s adorable dad. The farm is not enough. It never is. Janelle started out with Duffy’s “Syrup and Honey,” then switched to Shania Twain’s “No One Needs to Know” after Steven requested something more uptempo. Young, blonde, pretty, country, can sing. Boom. American Idol.

Finally, we heard from 19-year-old Casey Abrams and his tiny piano. (Melodica, by the way, is the name of an amazing album by a Norwegian electropop duo called Frost. Perfect for chilling.) Casey works at a film camp and is probably the best counselor or A.V. guy ever. He scatted his way through Ray Charles’ “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” wowing the judges within seconds and giving J. Lo an excellent chance to show off her manicure as she froze in Diva Hands Pose No. 36. I loved how the editors zoomed in on Steven Tyler during Casey’s most profound wail — of course, S. Ty didn’t even flinch. The sound was normal to him. It would be weird if there wasn’t a wail. “That was sick-good,” said Dr. Tyler, confirming to his young patient that no medical consultation would be necessary.

Best of all — Casey didn’t have a sob story! (He still might, though. He works at a camp.) And thanks to that, we were able to spend a few seconds hearing from Idol‘s clear Unsung Hero of the Night: Camera guy who matter-of-factly told Casey he looked more like Fraggle Rock than Seth Rogen!

Any Unsung Heroes or hidden gems I missed, friends? Does anyone want to see more of Marc Anthony or did his momentary presence make you jump away a little? And how many belt buckles would you press firmly into the fleshy underbelly of Seacrest’s hand, even though you knew it was hurting him a tiny bit, for the chance to let that cowboy take you away?

Read more:

Gallery: ‘Idol”s biggest tearjerkers

Gallery: 15 Steven Tyler Faces

All ‘American Idol’ recaps

EW.com’s ‘American Idol’ Central

Annie on Twitter: @EWAnnieBarrett

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