The American Idol crew heads to Nashville to find the best talent the South can offer.

By Stephanie Schomer
Updated January 08, 2015 at 04:07 AM EST
Michael Becker/Fox

American Idol

S14 E1
  • TV Show
  • ABC

Welcome to American Idol season 14, you guys! It’s finally here. Good for you for sticking with it.

I’m new to the Idol recapping game (be nice!) and am sincerely looking forward to experiencing this blissful and infuriating ride with you over the next few months. Loyalty is important in TV viewers, and we are not short on it here.

So season 14 is off and running. We open and Ryan Seacrest is in outer space! This starry backdrop is a message from Fox: This is no regular season of Idol. Everything has changed.

Ryan introduces us to the top 24, but before you panic, it’s not really a spoiler. It’s a (not-a-Ford-commercial) music video that features the voices of the top 24 and shots of the backs of their heads or their silhouettes—no faces—in angsty settings. I’m a little uncomfortable because it’s so unfamiliar, but isn’t that, after all, what this show needs? The good news is, everyone sounds good, and they sure look super hip. (Well done, costume department!)

After fancy new opening credits, we learn that the search for stardom will start with the judges’ hometowns—not to be confused with X Factor‘s creepy “judges’ homes”—and first up is Keith Urban’s beloved Nashville. (Yes, he’s Australian. Ignore this fact.)

We enter the audition room to be greeted by Keith, Jennifer Lopez, and Harry Connick Jr. God, I’ve missed their faces. First up is 17-year-old Riley Bria, who shares Keith’s pretty hair and his pretty blue eyes. He’s actually Keith, just 30 years ago. He’s even played onstage with Keith before! So we know the kid’s got talent. He sings—of course, Keith’s “Georgia Woods”—and he’s good! He’s pleasant and effortless and Keith promises that he can “shred on the electric,” so off to Hollywood he goes! Congrats, Riley.

Next up is Priscilla Barker, a perky and pleasant (though, I’m sorry, mildly irritating?) 19-year-old with nine siblings, which is an overwhelming thought. A sweet rendition of “Delta Dawn” is performed, and it’s definitely better than Monica Geller’s. She’s got an old school country charm, but I’m not sold on her voice. But, before we get to her audition fate, we must meet Priscilla’s mom, who is in love with Keith and once touched him at a concert, which is totally alarming. Keith agrees: When Priscilla asks if she can bring her mom in, he says “This doesn’t sound safe at all.” Such a reasonable man. But this is prime-time television, so Priscilla’s mom meets Keith while wearing a long knit vest. Sigh of relief that she is not a murderous fan.

Anyhow, J.Lo passes on Priscilla, but the teen gets a golden ticket by way of a confusingly enthusiastic yes from Harry and a wishy-washy yes from Keith. Ugh, we’re making mistakes already, judges! She’s not ready.

Third up, Cameron Bedell takes on Ray Lamontagne’s “You are the Best Thing” with guitar in hand. The 25-year-old has a really pleasant singer-songwriter vibe but not in the cliché way that American Idol has really come to embrace in recent years. He’s casual; he’s cool; he gets three yeses. The poor thing’s fly is definitely down, but who cares?! CAMERON IS GOING TO HOLLYWOOD.

(As a side note, can we discuss how much Keith loves Nicole Kidman? That tattoo! It’s just such a commitment. Well done, Urban family.)

NEXT: Where’s Nicki Minaj, and why does Harry need Purell?

Heading into this season, Idol made a promise to focus on the talent and really find kids who could perform, perform, perform. They’re making good on that promise, so far—the judges have not been the focus, and we’ve had virtually no Ryan Seacrest. This may just be premiere-night enthusiasm, but I’m feeling hopeful about season 14, which I already wrote about once today! (But, have we met our superstar yet? Dare I say, no.)

Remember the days when Idol audition episodes primarily made fun of lousy contestants? Those days are long gone, which makes everyone feel better, but we still get a 60-second cut of painfully bad auditions. They’re alarming and uncomfortable, but high-five to Fox for not putting the names of these Idol-rejects on-screen. This is a nice, new, J.Lo-approved Idol! (But Coca-Cola’s revoked sponsorship is glaringly obvious. There are no beverages on that judges’ table. Somebody get them some water!)

Let’s visit the holding room, where all the sad hopefuls wait and talk about how great the judges are. One poor girl seems to think she’ll meet Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey during her audition. Girl, just do 30 seconds of research before going to the MOST IMPORTANT AUDITION OF YOUR LIFE. Save yourself the embarrassment and me a rage blackout. Honestly, people.

Moving on from painfully-ignorant-audition-girl, we meet Amber Kelechi Walker, a 15-year-old from Memphis—”the hard part,” she explains—who tells us about the dangers of her neighborhood and how music has probably saved her life. She’s self-assured, charming, loves her family, and is immediately likable. Crossing my fingers hard for this one.

Amber meets the judges, Harry, the world’s No. 1 music fan tells her that “music’s pretty strong stuff,” and she moves into her performance of “Heartbreak Hotel.” Amber is basically the reason I love this show: She’s an actual child, has killer pipes, seems grounded beyond her years, and is wearing a sassy bow tie. She is one to watch. J.Lo agrees, though to my sincere confusion, the gentlemen are unsure. But Keith is a softy and sends her through, and I think she smacked her face on the floor when she fell over with excitement. She’ll be fine—she’s got a golden ticket.

Next we meet a Carrot Top-looking fellow from Staten Island named Kyle Blaine Corman, who seems to be the producers’ obligatory kooky character of the night. Kyle, a produce packer, tells us about how little old ladies come to his job and ask to touch his hair, and how it frustrates him. So naturally, Harry asks to touch his hair, and then immediately asks for Purell, which is rude. Harry and I might be in a fight after tonight—new territory for us. Anyway, Carrot Top is fine. Not good, not great, a little off-putting (ok, a lot off-putting), and he’s sent on his way.

Carrot Top’s sadness is followed by a sad montage of sad rejects, which is maybe entertaining in a heartless way, but let’s consider how many truly talented people are rejected from this show. A lot of people have really good voices, and a lot of people show up thinking they’re going to make it to Hollywood. And they’re good! They’re just not good enough, so they’re kicked to the curb. It’s thoroughly depressing.

But Fox knows this, and they trick us out of said depression with a precious gentleman who works as a barista LITERALLY ACROSS THE STREET FROM THE AUDITIONS. Kory Wheeler, 26, is a sing-with-your-eyes-closed kind of guy, and he reminds me, facially, of Scott Foley, which is great. He sings a solid rendition of “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” and J.Lo gets the season’s first goosies. GOOSIES!

NEXT: GoPros and frat bros

It’s worth noting, while we’re discussing Kory Wheeler, that the producers are attaching GoPro cameras to the guitars of contestants. It creates a really weird camera angle. It’s also worth noting that I’m watching this show with my dear friend and Idol fanatic Brad, his boyfriend Russ, and my roommate Sydney, who does not care about this show at all. I don’t want to steal anyone’s words, so here’s how the presence of the GoPros was received in my apartment:

Brad: “It’s a no on the GoPro.”

Russ: “NoPro.”

Sydney: “Zing.”

So that’s where we are.

Back to the show, J.Lo has the goosies, and Kory gets a golden ticket and heads back to the coffeehouse because he only had an hour break to chase his dreams.

Next up is 20-year-old farmworker Michael Simeon, who attends Ole Miss and seems like a fun-loving frat boy and looks a little bit like Pacey Witter before he frosted his tips. But Michael throws some Sam Smith at us and, you know what, he’s not a cliché! His voice is sweet yet raspy, his pitch is killer, and the song sounds fresh. Three quick yeses, and we’ll see you in Hollywood, Mike. Before he goes, though, he asks J.Lo to dance. She resists, but Keith takes the guitar, Harry hops on the piano, and all of a sudden, we’re at a prom. Michael and Jennifer dance, and he sings as she holds him maybe too closely? It’s totally weird but is definitely the best four minutes of Michael’s life, so we’ll let him have it. Commercial break, please.

I get my wish, and when we return, we meet the last contestant of the night, who has traveled to Nashville because Ryan Seacrest (honestly, Ryan, WHERE ARE YOU?) spoke to her through her television and told her to audition. Which, I suppose he did, but he also told 10 million other people to do the same thing. But she took the initiative! Impressive for anyone, let alone a 15-year-old, as Emily Brooke is. She’s cute, wearing a feisty bohemian top, and sings Carrie Underwood’s “Blown Away,” and girl, it’s really good. She’s like a more approachable, comfortable version of season 13’s Jessica Meuse. So of course, Emily, who knows she’s good but doesn’t know she’s THAT good, is West Coast-bound. Harry says she’s got the most potential of anyone so far, and I’m going to agree with him. Harry, we’re no longer in a fight.

And with that, Nashville is dunzo. See you guys in Kansas City. Hopefully Ryan Seacrest will be there.

Episode Recaps

American Idol

Ryan Seacrest hosts as Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan guide aspiring singers on their way to superstardom.
  • TV Show
  • 16
  • 574
  • ABC