By Maggie Fremont
March 15, 2020 at 10:00 PM EDT
Eric McCandless/ABC

American Idol

S18 E5
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Well here’s a small blessing in these troubling times: We’ve reached the end of the American Idol auditions! After this we can get down to the business of making dreams and crushing souls. Should be fun! Before we enter Hollywood Week, however, we have one last batch of auditions. These aren’t anything to bat an eye at either, there are some truly heartbreaking stories tonight and some talent that feels like, dare I say, “Top 10 material.” Who am I, Katy Perry? Let’s take a look at which hopefuls make it through to the next round:

Robert Taylor, 27, Donaldsonville, La.
“Bruises” by Lewis Capaldi
Right out of the gate and Idol has me crying already? Maybe it’s just spiked anxiety from, you know, life, but wow wow wow am I here for Robert Taylor (you may remember him from Team Christina on Season 8 of The Voice, BTW) to make it on this show. Being here is a big deal for him: He only recently came out, and was disowned by everyone except his dad, who wanted him to audition for Idol, but as his true self. His dad has passed in January. So anyway, we’re all crying. THANKFULLY, Robert crushes his audition. The emotion just pours out of his vocals.

Grace Leer, 27, Nashville, Tenn.
“Crowded Table” by The Highwomen // “Crazy” by Patsy Cline
A comeback kid! Grace was a contestant on the long-forgot American Juniors (Idol for kids) when she was 11, but opted for a normal childhood afterward. Now she is pursuing country music in Nashville and guys, she is very good. She has a classic country voice, complete with a little yodel and that cry that’ll give you goosebumps. Throughout her audition the judges cannot stop smiling – they’ve found a good one. Katy asks Grace to sing a “sad country song” just to hear her voice on it (still great). They love the texture of her voice and that she knows exactly the kind of artist she wants to be. Oh, it’s going to be fun to watch Grace move forward.

Franklin Boone, 27, Durham, N.C.
“Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac
I love when Luke Bryan gets all giggly during an audition. He does that here with Franklin, a teacher at the School of Rock, and declares this the “Alejandro moment” of the season. And after Franklin performs a cool, stripped down version of “Dreams,” Lionel gushes: He loves that Franklin’s come in with style in his voice, in his look, and in his attitude – Franklin’s already a complete package. Luke calls him a “first note kind of singer,” meaning that he knew everything he needed to from the moment Franklin opened his mouth. Will Hollywood Week ruin this true artist? Only time will tell – how exciting!

Roselyn Carter, 26, Watts, Calif.
“Mother Bowed” by The Pilgrim Travelers // “So High” by John Legend
Here’s another audition in which one judge is completely moved from the get-go. Roselyn explains that she’s here to set an example for people in her town, to show them there is a way out of the gang violence, as well as to hopefully find a way to continue to provide for her family. Her voice is raw and full of emotion, and I’m so glad Katy has her sing something a little more contemporary, because Roselyn sounds even better on the John Legend song. Lionel tells her that her interpretation of both those songs “knocks [him] out” and they can’t wait to help Roselyn hone her skills as she moves forward in this competition.

Megan Knight, 21, Williamston, N.J.
“When Your Mind’s Made Up” by Glen Hansard
It’s a beautiful day in Washington, D.C. and the judges want to go sunning on a boat. Who are we to deny them this? It’s clearly all so that Katy can force Luke and Lionel into a triple “I’m flying, Jack! I’m flying!” situation and I don’t blame her. The audition on that boat isn’t the most exciting: The judges give Megan a lot of constructive criticism – she’s overplaying her guitar and overusing her vibrato – but eventually hand over a golden ticket. They weren’t about to end this segment with a rejection, were they?

Gilberto Rivera, 23, Orlando, Fla.
“Proud Mary” by Tina Turner
Well, the judges did say they are looking for some unidentifiable “x-factor” right? Gilberto – a very hairy guy in a sequined tank and thigh high red boots – certainly gives this his all, complete with some classic “Proud Mary” choreography. Gilberto is a decent singer – he hits a lot of runs and can handle the Tina Turner-ness of it all. The judges can see this, but want him to strip away all the gimmicks. His voice should be the real show. The gimmick is too much for Lionel to get over, so he’s a hard ‘no’ but both Katy and Luke want to see what happens when Gilberto drops the act…and waxes his chest, I guess? That’s where we are now, as a show. Gilberto and his red boots earn a golden ticket.

Aliana Jester, 18, Tampa, Fla.
“Who’s Lovin’ You” by The Miracles
Okay, this is a story. When Aliana was 12, her mother, who was raising her alone, joined a “religion” and when Aliana didn’t want to join and eventually started dating a non-religious person, her mother got so angry she basically locked her in her room. It’s awful and Aliana almost didn’t survive. Finally, she was able to contact her father and he got her out of there. He saved her life. It’s wild. But now she’s here on Idol with her cute emotional support dog, making things happen for herself. Aliana has a big ol’ booming voice. The judges want her to infuse more emotion into her performance, but other than that they are in love. She reminds Lionel of a “young Whitney” and what more of a response do you need than that?

Jahzan, 18, Kingston, Jamaica
“Warrior” by Demi Lovato
Idol is really hitting these big stories hard tonight. Jahzan and her mother fled from Jamaica when she was 15 “for safety” reasons, but says she’s not allowed to expand on it any further than that. Now, she and her mother live in their uncle’s salon in New York and busk for money. Her mother is her hypewoman and they’re both putting all of their hopes for a better life into this audition basket. Jahzan has a crazy unique voice – Katy says it’s a mix of Toni Braxton, Cher, and Shakira, if that helps you at all – but it is definitely unpolished and lacks control. The judges, however, see lots of potential and are moved by her story, so they are willing to help coach her, and so hand her a ticket to Hollywood Week.

Jordan Moyes, 25, Provo, Utah
“I’m On Fire” by Bruce Springsteen
Hey, it’s another artist giving Luke Bryan the giggles. More than that, during Jordan’s audition, Luke leans over to Katy and whispers, “I want to sign him now.” Honestly, he should do that! It’s a way easier path than suffering through rounds and rounds of Idol! Luke is enamored with his skills on the guitar, his delivery, and his vocals. It’s a haunting cover of this Bruce classic. Lionel just says that Jordan is “very, very, very good” which doesn’t sound like a lot, but guys, it’s the way he says it. The judges love Jordan.

Demi Rae, 26, San Jose, Calif.
“Mad At You” by Noah Cyrus
Demi Rae is legit sunshine and I am thankful! for! her! First of all, she’s rocking a pink sweatshirt, biker shorts, gems on her eyelids, and some serious hair clips. More important, when she was nine, she wrote down that her dream was to be on American Idol, and even though her home life hasn’t been ideal, she is here, making it happen! Okay, wait, actually most important: SHE CAN SING. Luke is especially impressed by her “perfectly done falsetto runs” and when they all hear that she’s never pursued music because she thinks she doesn’t look the part, they pretty much want to throw things at her. But, like, in a good way – in a she is deserving of pursuing her dream kind of way. She’ll get to do just that in Hollywood.

Makayla Brownlee, 17, Wellington, Kan.
“Travelin’ Soldier” by the Dixie Chicks
“Little Kansas snake hunter, you’re going to Hollywood” is a real sentence that was uttered and not just Luke Bryan playing mad libs. Makayla is a country girl through and through, all the way to her “sweet and sincere” country voice. It’s actually shocking to hear such a delicate, haunting voice come out of Makayla’s mouth, but that’s her, folks! Lionel tells her that her “magic trick” is the natural “country yodel cry” she has, and she should definitely keep picking songs that take advantage of that. Luke warns her that the female country artist contingent is strong this year, so she needs to be prepared, but he believes she can get in there and battle with the best of them.

Amber Fiedler, 23, Coeur D’Alene, Idaho
“Trust In Me” by Etta James
AMBER. Amber is 38 weeks pregnant, but as she explains to the judges, she is giving the baby up for adoption. She’s had a tough life – her own mother battled with drugs – and isn’t at all ready to be a parent, so she’s found a family who can give this child a better life. She says it all very matter-of-factly and it is very moving and mature. But can we also talk about her singing? The greatest thing about this audition is that is just gets better and better. She has complete control and confidence in her voice, so she doesn’t mind waiting to really open up and knock our faces off. It’s effortless and “timeless,” Luke says. It’s the perfect way to end the audition rounds.

Hey friends, you want to know something great? Now we’re all going to Hollywood! The Hollywood Week promos promise more twists and crying than ever before. That’s something to look forward to, right?

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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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