We are in it now, you guys. All the auditions are starting to blend together and I’m already counting down to Hollywood, but there are two things I know for sure: First, there’s got to be a few Top 10s in this group tonight, some of them are just too good. Second, as soon as I finish this recap I’m searching for Katy’s Lionel Richie t-shirt. Mama needs. So let’s get to the singing. I’m happy to report that there are fewer tears tonight (they’re not gone—they never are), but in their place, the judges are getting all kinds of goosebumps. It’s a welcome reprieve.
Ashton Gill, 20, Livingston, La.
“Broken Halos” by Chris Stapleton
Well looky here, Ashton is friends with Laine Hardy. Remember Laine? The teen country singer with the great rasp. He fell short of the Top 24 last season—too many country boys and he seemed to lack confidence. But he’s here to support his friend and play a little guitar accompaniment. Ashton has a pleasant voice, but, as Luke points out, there are some pitch problems. Still, the country sweetness can’t be denied. She’s in. You know what else can’t be denied? The judges miss Laine and want to hear him sing, which he does, and he’s even better than any of us remembered. Whether this was staged or not, I don’t care, I’m ready to watch Laine Hardy make a real play for the Idol title. He’ll take that golden ticket the judges offer him, please and thank you.
Austin Michael Robinson, 15, Van Alstyne, Tex.
“Your Man” by Josh Turner
Welcome to your uncomfortable moment of the evening in which a 15-year-old sings a song way too old for him and gyrates in Katy’s direction. Like so many teens I know, Austin Michael just will not enunciate. Stop mumbling, teens! It could almost cost you your trip to Hollywood. Katy’s a solid “no” here—she thinks Austin needs to let his voice mature a little. Both the guys are in, as long as Austin does a little work before the next round. And then he goes and lassos Katy and I don’t even know what show this is anymore. Just kidding—it’s always been bonkers.
Shawn Robinson, 21, Atlanta, Ga.
“Who You Are” by Jessie J
I don’t know if I don’t have my heat turned up enough or Shawn is just that good, but I got goosebumps the moment he started singing. It was sweet and pure and effortless. Katy is right, he seems like he has “joy inside” him and it is contagious. She still wants to see “another gear” but this is an easy ‘yes’ for all three of our judges. When Shawn’s mother and sister come in to celebrate Lionel starts crying, but honestly, what’s new?
Nate Walker, 18, Pittsburgh, Pa.
“Say Something” by A Great Big World
We’re getting a lot of flashbacks tonight. Nate Walker grew up singing with season 16’s third-place contestant Gabby Barrett. She can wail because Nate’s grandfather, who seems like a true delight, taught her. Obviously, Nate has some real talent too. The dude has runs for days. Years, even. Luke normally chides people for overusing runs, but they just work for Nate. His control is insane and the judges barely have to discuss this. When Lionel Richie calls you “anointed,” you know you’ve made it through to the next round.
Wade Cota, 27, Phoenix, Ariz.
“Blame It on Me” by George Ezra
Wade tells the incredibly heartbreaking story of how his family survived their abusive father and how he is doing this for his mom, who saved their lives, and then Wade opens his mouth and his voice is magic. This George Ezra song is a great match for him, but I bet this dude could sing anything and move people. When Katy asks him if he thinks he’s special (which, like, is a little aggressive, but okay), the former salesman simply says “I don’t think I should be selling stuff.” Oh, I’m excited about this one, you guys.
Riley Thompson, 16, Mabank, Tex.
“Oh Daddy” by Riley Thompson
Riley is way cooler at 16 than I could ever hope to be. Who looks cool in a turtleneck? Riley does. She also has a unique little country voice and exudes a maturity much, much older than her actual years. The judges can’t help themselves when she walks through the doors. Luke tells her she has “star quality” and that’s all she wrote, folks.
Clay Page, 24, Elberton, Ga.
“Die a Happy Man” by Thomas Rhett
The best way to convey what Clay Page is like is right there in how he informs the judges what song he’ll be singing for his audition: “I think I’m gonna do a Thomas Rhett tune.” Cool, calm, easy-breezy. Katy christens him “the gentle ginger” and she’s not wrong. He also tells this lovely little story about learning music from an elderly neighbor he called Uncle Norman who recently passed. Luke tells him that he isn’t the best country singer, but he doesn’t have to be because they are all eating up every word he’s singing. Lionel doesn’t call him “easy like a Sunday morning” but that will haunt him.
Drake McCain, 17, Spring City, Tenn.
“His Eye is on the Sparrow” by Civilla D. Martin and Charles H. Gabriel
Uh, sorry, I blacked out once the Sister Act 2 “Oh Happy Day” sing-a-long started. What a treat! Oh yeah, this Drake character has TEN SIBLINGS (not a typo! Definitely makes me nauseous!) and he is doing this to help his SINGLE MOM. He isn’t the most polished singer, but the kid has heart and it made Luke Bryan think about Sister Act 2, and at this point in the evening, that is good enough.
Madison Vandenburg, 16, Cohoes, N.Y.
“Speechless” by Dan + Shay
Madison is the tail end of a montage about how the teens are taking over (isn’t that always the case on this show? I am scared every season). Other notable teens who get the golden ticket include Mica Giaconi, 16 and Darian Baena, 15, who both deserve longer than a quick appearance in a montage. Madison, though, the judges are very excited about. They get goosebumps! They too, like the song title, are speechless. I get it, Madison is good, but they call her “the next Kelly Clarkson.” Like, slow your roll, judges. Until you’re crushing “Stuff Like That There” or murdering Celine Dion’s “I Surrender” when you weren’t even able to speak earlier that day, no one gets compared to the Queen.
Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon, 25, Catonsville, Md.
“Almost Heaven” by Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon
Jeremiah is the janitor at his dad’s church and coming out to his family didn’t go so well. He feels stuck; he feels alone. But he has music. And now he has Idol because there was no way the judges were sending this singer-songwriter-piano man home. What a time to be alive! His songwriting skills are a highlight, but the way he connects to music will help him move forward in this competition. He’s the last audition of the day and the judges are thrilled to close this thing out with such a special story and such a talented musician. Katy Perry sums it up best: “A janitor?! I love it!” Bless this show.
This was a good crop of auditions, but is anyone else feeling the audition fatigue already? I need finalists (some may very well be in this group!) and I need them now.
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