American Idol recap: A 'we knew you when' audition comes along
Let's talk about how wild it is to rewatch Carrie Underwood's 2005 American Idol audition package knowing just how huge her career is now. It's a real "we knew you when" trip all these years later. The moment becomes extra-poignant, however, at the end of the episode when judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry, and Luke Bryan are positive they've stumbled onto another "we knew you when" moment. Katy even touches up her makeup so she can look her best when they roll this footage in 15 years. We'll get to that audition later. But first, let's find out who else made an impression on the judges and won their ticket to Hollywood.
Laila Mach / 15 / New Paltz, N.Y.
An original song by Laila Mach
The other reason Idol kicks off this episode with Carrie Underwood is to highlight the idea of future Idol contestants being inspired by the journeys of those who came before. Carrie Underwood inspired season 16's Gabby Barrett, who has inspired Miss Laila Mach here. Gabby has inspired her so much, in fact, that her "original" song is an homage to Gabby's hit "I Hope" just, as Katy Perry puts it, "more deranged." Laila's voice is more polished and mature than you'd expect from a 15-year-old, and she shows some real artistry. What really impressed the judges, however, is how much confidence she has in her talent. There's a lot of singer-songwriters making their way to Hollywood, so it'll be interesting to see how they all stack up against one another.
Re'H / 27 / Houston, Tex.
"Bad Girl" by Donna Summer
Oh, okay Re'H. This soldier in the National Guard comes into the audition room all demure and reserved, but then announces she's going to sing Donna Summer and runs off for a complete costume change. Sparkles and feather boa included. She puts on a show. Lionel, who lived, excuse me, LIVED through the '70s, is having the time of his life. The song shows a lot of personality and Re'H can sing, but I'm surprised they didn't ask her to sing something to show off more of her technical skills. But they had a good enough time to want some more and Re'H gets a golden ticket.
Michael Gerow / 16 / St. Louis, Mo.
An original song by Michael Gerow
There's a whole bit about how Luke Bryan is trying to hurry along the auditions because he doesn't want to miss the big Georgia/Alabama football game that day, but he's probably glad he didn't miss Michael Gerow's audition. Like Laila Mach, Michael is yet another teen singing his own song at the piano and sounding much more mature than you'd guess. It's cool and controlled. Lionel tells him he "love[s] the vulnerability in [his] voice" and Katy calls him an "exceptional singer" who is "top 10 material." He's definitely got some Ed Sheeran vibes, but again, this lane seems to be crowded this season. Will he be able to set himself apart? Time will tell! In Hollywood! Where he is obviously going!
Cameron Mcghar / 16 / Clanton, Ala.
"Girl Crush" by Little Big Town and "You Ain't Woman Enough" by Loretta Lynn
This is the second audition we've seen this season where "Girl Crush" gets a contestant in trouble, musically-speaking. Maybe just skip this song for now, guys? It is not doing anyone any favors. Here, our cheerleader singing for her grandmother, had to really force this song out. Nothing about it feels natural or comfortable, as the judges point out. It's "not believable," says Katy. They ask Cameron to do something else and she does seem to have much more energy in this Loretta Lynn song, but the judges are still on the fence. Cameron has a powerful country voice, but she's very rough around the edges and the judges are worried she's just not ready for what lies ahead in Hollywood. Lionel votes no, believing she needs more experience, but both Katy and Luke decide to give her a second chance to impress. We'll see what she brings in the next round.
Beane / 23 / Boston, Mass.
"Wait For the Moment" by Vulfpeck ft. Antwaun Stanley
Beane — who calls his grandmother Neen and it is adorable — is an interesting artist: Katy calls him a "walking pocketful of sunshine" after his performance, but even more than lifting everyone's spirits, the whole smiling, happy funk performance is believable. The judges are a little worried he might not be the right fit for American Idol — Luke votes "no" for this reason — but they're willing to give him the chance to show them they're wrong. It's going to be all about song choice here, especially as Beane competes against singers with more powerful, intense voices. All that matters now though is Neen is so proud of him — her eyes are probably getting so "leaky" again!
Ash Ruder / 22 / Turlock, Calif.
An original song by Ash Ruder
It is a big risk for the judges to hear that Ash is going to sing a song she wrote about her dad that he's never heard and then call her dad in to listen while she performs. This could go very badly! You don't know what the general vibe of this song is! I mean, it all works out, but still. That could've been awkward. Ash and her dad seem very open about their relationship though, which is good because her song is basically his life story, including talking about his struggles with addiction. He's now two years sober and they've been bonding over music. Ash has a great storyteller voice, but as Luke notes, going forward he'd like "to hear the dynamics" of her voice. Still, he was moved by her "really, really nice vibrato." Katy advises Ash to continue to play to her strengths: The easy connection she can make when she sings and her ability to evoke emotion.
Heather Russell / 20 / Toronto, Canada
"Harleys in Hawaii" by Katy Perry
When Heather walks in and announces she'll be singing a Katy Perry song, the artist herself warns her that it's "either a blessing or a trap." For Heather, it ends up being a little bit of both. Heather sits at the piano and shows off a soulful voice with a nice range (Luke loves the higher end of her voice), but she also litters the arrangement with a whole lot of runs and vocal tricks. Katy calls it "all frosting" and not enough cake. "It's way too much right now," she tells the young singer, noting that she has a great voice but has to "learn how to use it." That's what American Idol's Hollywood Week is for. We'll see what the judges think after Heather takes on Idol's boot camp.
Caleb Kennedy / 16 / Roebuck, S.C.
"Nowhere" by Caleb Kennedy
The young, small town country singer definitely has a confidence issue, but maybe his time in front of the Idol judges will help a bit. All three of them are immediately blown away not just by Caleb's deep, gravelly voice, but also by his songwriting skills. That's his secret weapon. Lionel tells Caleb that already at 16, he's "mastered a storyteller's voice" and Katy is moved by the "gravel and grit" that makes way for real emotion in his singing. They all seem excited about this one. Will Caleb be a dark horse in Hollywood?
Abby LeBaron / 19 / Springville, Utah
"All I Want" by Kodaline
Speaking of confidence issues, Abby is much more comfortable with taking a reserved approach to her singing and doesn't perform much. The judges want her to stop being afraid of "showing off." And the girl has a lot to show off — her voice is so easy to listen to and she already seems to understand how to take us on a ride with her performance; the song just grows bigger and more emotional as it goes. Luke does point out that she seemed to go wrong toward the end and Abby admits to missing a chord and it messing with her. But that small mistake actually doesn't matter: From the moment Abby started playing at the piano, Luke got chills. Abby's mission ahead of Hollywood Week is to learn how to relax a little when she's performing. No pressure or anything.
Murphy / 27 / Baltimore, Md.
"Just the Two of Us" by Grover Washington, Jr. and Bill Withers and "The Painted Man" by Murphy
Murphy is a little bit of a head-scratcher for our judges. His backstory is incredibly intense — he was born partially blind, his mother died when he was young, and his father was an addict. After his father passed, he spent three years traveling across the country as a busker, honing his sound. His first song doesn't show off much of what he can do, but when he sings his original, he's like a different artist. He has an interesting tone and as Lionel points out, they don't have "anything like this" yet in their Hollywood group. Katy is worried there's not enough "dynamics" and it is "a little too novelty" for Idol. Luke and Lionel, however, want to give the guy a shot. Murphy's headed to Hollywood.
Alyssa Wray / 18 / Perryville, Ky.
"I Am Changing" from Dreamgirls
Remember at the top when I mentioned an audition so good the judges are already predicting a long and illustrious career? We've arrived at that audition. Alyssa Wray, a 6 foot 2 inch teen from a town of 750 (!!) people, is good, guys. So, so good. She makes a very technically challenging Jennifer Hudson arrangement look easy. She demonstrates so much power and control over her voice that the judges get up on their feet within the first few lines. But more than just a killer voice, Luke Bryan points out that she has such a "presence" and commands a room, and that's something that can't be taught. Katy calls Alyssa a "once in a generation" type of performer. So, uh, they have some high hopes for Alyssa as she easily moves on to Hollywood Week.
Well, did Alyssa Wray blow you away like she did the judges? Who else gave an audition that'll stick with you?
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