American Idol season premiere recap: An emotional first round of auditions
Greetings, Idol fans! Welcome back to the land where dreams are sometimes made. We’re only one episode into season 17, but one thing is already clear: American Idol is coming for your tears. Admittedly, I’m an easy target, but I don’t quite remember sobbing during an audition episode before. Yet, here we are. So many Sad Stories tonight!
The two-hour premiere also contains a hearty dose of judging panel tom-foolery (Lionel Richie, Luke Bryan, and Katy Perry have all returned), montages about eating potato chips and people who have strange names because hey why not, and the requisite “I think your biggest hurdle is just your voice” auditions. The fact that Idol still spends time airing these bad auditions is one of the greatest mysteries of our time. Sorry fans of mystic death trap metal, but we’ll be sticking to good singing and moving stories as we recap our first audition episode of season 17. Buckle up, babies.
Walker Burroughs, Age 20, Birmingham, Ala.
“Love Like This” by Ben Rector
We’re kicking this whole thing off with a very cute nerd on the piano and he delivers some soul. I feel like there are some youths out there who could get very into Walker. Katy compares him to Ben Folds and Billy Joel and then tells him he’s “top 10 material.” If that’s not a good audition, I don’t what is. Not like he needs to prove himself any further, but Walker here returns to the piano to play a little of Lionel’s “Hello.” So, uh, yeah, this kid is going to Hollywood.
Johanna Jones, Age 23, Las Vegas, Nev.
“I’m Not the Only One” by Sam Smith
It’s Idol’s first stint in Idaho and it seems to be going well, judging by talent like Johanna here. They spend a lot of time chatting In-and-Out Burger (where she’s a cook) before getting to the singing. And yes, sure, Johanna is a nice blonde lady who can sing but the real story here is this older Alan person accompanying her on the guitar. When the judges praise Johanna’s controlled, precise voice, ALAN STARTS CRYING. Who is Alan and can he come back for Hollywood Week?
Kai the Singer, Age 19, Kingstree, S.C.
“Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran / “My Girl” by The Temptations
Kai isn’t the strongest singer in this batch of auditions, but her story packs a wallop. Her family struggles financially, they’ve been homeless, lived in shelters, and are currently living in a home with only two beds for eight people. The judges are moved that she’s pushed herself to get here, to follow her dream. So when she starts out on the guitar and nerves get the best of her, they ask her to sing something else. Kai heads to the piano and she’s a completely different singer. It’ll be interesting to see what songs she chooses in the next round.
Tyler Mitchell, Age 26, Florien, La.
“Whenever You Come Around” by Vince Gill
Let this gentle giant sing me to sleep! Tyler gets the “country bumpkin in the big city” edit — it’s his first time in New York City! — but no one’s worried about inexperience once he starts singing. The judges go crazy for this country crooner. I mean, saying things like “put your wings on, you’re getting ready to fly” level of crazy (that one is from Lionel, but all three have equally enthusiastic critiques). Tyler’s inexperience does come out a bit in his performance level, but Luke (who is such a fan, he even harmonizes with Tyler during his audition) advises him to simply “smile through the awkward times,” which honestly is some great general life advice, too.
Margie Mays, Age 25, Wilmington, Del.
“Shot” by Lawrence
Margie Mays is A LOT. But she knows it. And the judges love it (well, Katy and Luke love it, Lionel is just scared, mostly). The nervous burping. The forgetting her name. The weird noises. The best thing about Margie Mays is that when Katy tells her she’s a star, she curses so much she has to be bleeped. Okay, that was my personal favorite thing. The actual best thing about her is that yes, she’s a big personality, but she has some pipes to back it up. It gets a little shouty at times, but she easily proves she should move on to the next round. Dear lord, how much burping will we get during Hollywood Week?
Myra Tran, Age 19, Long Xuyên, Vietnam
“One Night Only” from Dreamgirls
I did some minimal research for you people (I have a life!) and discovered that Myra won season 2 of The X Factor Vietnam. This makes sense because DAMN. This girl can sing. The judges are slack-jawed as this big, powerful voice comes pouring out of such a tiny, bubbly person. Same, judges. Same.
Uché, Age 24, Sugar Land, Tex.
“Ain’t No Other Man” by Christina Aguilera / “God Is Able” by Smokie Norful
Uché is another singer who gets more than one shot to win over the judges. His first song choice shows off his personality (and maybe some dance moves). But the judges aren’t swayed by performance value alone. Katy asks Uché to stand still and sing something else, and he belts out a big gospel tune. Still, it isn’t until he lists artists like Prince, George Clinton, and Bootsy Collins as his influences that Lionel changes his ‘no’ vote to a ‘yes.’ But Uché has to bring it — both big performances and great vocals — to Hollywood.
Laci Kaye Booth, Age 23, Livingston, Tex.
“Mama Tried” by Merle Haggard
Laci Kaye Booth is one to watch, folks. The country music fans came out in full force last season, and they’re going to love her. More importantly, she has this ridiculously rich voice that could easily win over non-country viewers too. As one Idol Judge of Yore might say, she gives me the goosies. Pair that with the story of connecting with her musician father, who was a teenager when she was born, through music, and having him there, crying after she gets her golden ticket? Yeah, this is the best audition of the night.
Nick Rogers, Age 17, Denver, Colo.
“Mine” by Bazzi
Oh, Nick Rogers. He may get through to Hollywood, but he embarrasses the hell out of himself on the way there. After his flirty performance directed at Katy (“I could be your mom,” Katy responds, in a truly laugh out loud moment), he begins listing his musical influences. On that list, he includes Mr. Lionel Richie. Lionel is enthused. However, once Katy asks Nick to name a Lionel Richie song, the kid can’t even name one. I mean, not even “All Night Long.” NOT EVEN “HELLO.” If Nick doesn’t show up to Hollywood Week having memorized the entire songbook of both Lionel Richie and The Commodores, he is really doing this whole thing wrong.
Tiffanne LeMay, Age 20, Las Vegas, Nev.
“The Best Part” by H.E.R. featuring Daniel Caesar
Never fear, team. As Luke notes, Lionel gets “his swagger back” once Tiffanne shows up to her audition with an actual Lionel Richie album. She and her mom are basically his biggest fans on the planet. Lionel’s joy here is our joy. Thankfully, Tiffanne can also sing because it would probably kill Lionel to turn her down. Luke wants her to enunciate more, but her sultry, cool vibe wins them all over in the end. She offers to lend her Lionel album to Nick Rogers. What a pal!
Nick Townsend, Age 26, Tekamah, Neb.
“Let It Go” by James Bay
Katy and Lionel seem like softies when it comes to showing their emotions, but when Luke Bryan cries, you know things are serious. Luke has lost both of his older siblings, so when Nick comes in and talks about both his older and younger brothers committing suicide, it hits the judge hard. Nick’s mom worried her son would never sing again after facing such tragedy, but he’s here, pushing through. He sings a simple, pared down song and the judges applaud him for it. He’s “understated” and simply “nice to listen to.” Katy loves that he played with the power and dynamics in his voice. They’re all big fans.
Well, dry your eyes—that was only the first of several audition episodes. We have more work to do! I know it’s early in the game, but do any of these hopefuls stand out as possible contenders? Does your answer rhyme with Maci Shmaye Tooth? Cool.