Already this season, one audition has shattered our hearts while another saw the judges literally hiding behind the table.
After a successful — if not phenomenal in the ratings — revival last year, ABC’s "American Idol" reboot returned for its second season Sunday night and boy did it deliver with talent.
It also delivered with some truly stirring stories, surprisingly good vocal performances and one act so bizarre it left both Lionel Richie and Katy Perry terrified and hiding under the table.
And because "Idol" is all about pulling the heartstrings, the episode opened with a montage of aspiring contestants writing down who they’re auditioning for, who inspires them and what the dream is. They then launched those messages into the heavens a la the Rise Festival paper lanterns because if you put it out there, it’s more likely to happen, right?
But for those of us at home, the dream is for someone to move us with their voice, and maybe their story as well. Sometimes that story feeds into who that person is as an artist and it strengthens the whole package. Other times, it’s just manipulative claptrap and then it’s irritating.
By the close of this first night of auditions, we were all in tears as we got one of the most heartbreaking stories in "Idol" history leading into one of the strongest vocals. So much greatness in art comes from pain, and this is more pain that almost anyone can imagine.
We also got several sweet moments, including Katy Perry revealing her adorable meet-cute with fiance Orlando Bloom. And anyone who watched this show last season will not be surprised to find out that it was all about food, as we know Katy loves her food.
As with Season 1, the new "Idol" continues to de-emphasize the truly awful auditions, though we did get some highlights — would that be lowlights? — throughout the night. And rather than just trash them, the judges would try to put a positive spin on, "You’re awful." Even the power of shirtless flexing was only able to sway Katy’s vote.
Fair warning, since I’m safe at home, I’m probably going to be a little harsher than my colleagues Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan.
Just for giggles, I’m going to rank the auditions each night from worst to first to see who my favorites are. Will they move on? Will the judges get it right? After all, we know I’m right, so they just need to get on board.
24 years old "American Creature," VoKILLz
This nice kid from Buffalo, New York, seemed like he really wanted to be this badass death metal vocalist in every aspect of his being, but he’s just too kind-hearted underneath it all. It was actually kind of endearing hearing him explain that he’s a "mystic death creature vocalist," whatever that is, and it not sounding scary at all to anyone. His style is something he’s dubbed "mystic death trap metal" and it’s too adorable. We now adorable isn’t what he’s going for, but it’s what he’s got. He couldn’t even keep up menacing during his audition, but it did come out in his death metal vocals … which are quite different than what "Idol" normally does. We’re not going to lie, he was better at this than we thought he would be, but it got Katy and Lionel hiding behind the desk. We almost thought he’d make it through when Katy gave him a yes, and it would have been an interesting new look for the show, but Lionel and Luke shut it down.
24 years old "Ain’t No Other Man," Christina Aguilera / "God Is Able," Smoke Norful
We’re not sure the falsetto worked and Uche definitely overperformed physically for this audition in relation to what he did vocally on Christina, but he brought his own flare to it. We’re so glad Katy challenged him to stand still and sing because he showed a sulfulness in his voice on "God Is Able" that was otherwise missing during his over-the-top antics in the first audition. Yes, these shows are looking for the total package, but if the dancing hurts the voice, cut the dancing, dude! He said he was shooting for Bootsy Collins, Rick James, Prince, Bobby Brown and that was in there, but he needs to work on combining the moves and vocals without losing either. My man was out of breath after just a few bars! Maybe hit up the gym.
17 years old "Mine," Bazzi
This one may have been for Katy, per Nick, but she had to point out she was old enough to be his mother. He slipped into a rap verse that was a little too rapid-fire for him, but he almost had it perfectly wrangled to the beat. And honestly, he sounded pretty good on both parts. And then he tried to lie and say Lionel Richie was one of his big influences. "Name on Lionel Richie song," Katy challenged him and he totally couldn’t do it. Don’t put it out there if you can’t back it up, kid! But he’s got a chance to make up for it in the next round, but we’re going to need to see a little more quality from both sides of his talent if he wants to get much further than that.
20 years old "Love Like This," Ben Rector / "Hello," Lionel Richie
This unassuming little white kid from Birmingham, Alabama — birthplace of Season 2 winner Ruben Studdard — would have been even more nervous had anyone told him he’d be kicking off the whole season! His voice was a little tender yet, with almost no capacity to really belt, but he has a very genuine quality. And his piano playing is fantastic. Then Luke challenged him to play a Lionel Richie song, having on idea that Walker and his mom are superfans (he probably totally knew), and Walker was again a little tepid and hesitant.
20 years old "Best Part," Daniel Caesar & H.E.R
You could hear the Motown influence from the first note, but Tiffane could stand to rein in her voice a little to better control the message of her singing. We get that this was an audition, she she wanted to show off her arsenal as much as possible as quickly as possible, but we’d love to hear her interpret a lyric through that instrument. Her genuine love for Lionel was adorable, though, and she wasn’t playing around with that.
Kai the Singer
19 years old "Thinking Out Loud," Ed Sheeran / "My Girl," The Temptations
"We have to be very compassionate about it," Katy said of telling auditioners no, which is a far cry from the glee that Simon Cowell got from telling them no. But the show still loves a good sob story, and Kai genuinely comes from one. She grew up rough and still lives that way compared to many Americans, and yet she’s grateful for the car when she was homeless and the blanket she has when she sleeps on the floor. Attitude is so much of success, and hers is remarkable. Unfortunately, she was a mess on Ed Sheeran, rattling and shaking and clearly overwhelmed by her emotions and nerves, but regained some confidence when she tickled the ivorys on The Temptations. Still, it didn’t sound like she was quite ready for this as there was a nice tone and quality to her voice but she only had inconsistent control of it. How much of that was nerves and emotion? The judges put her through, so we’ll all find out together.
26 years old "Whenever You Come Around," Vince Gill
We cannot tell a lie, we thought Tyler might be the first "bad" audition of the season, but this 6’4" oil worker was anything but. There was an instant authenticity to his voice as he jumped into this country music classic. He had that storytelling tenderness in his voice that brings you into the tale he’s weaving, and it was so heartfelt that Luke couldn’t help harmonizing with him. He does need to work on projecting, as he sings inward even on the bigger parts of the chorus, but he’s definitely got something there. It sounds like he’s just been dealing with a lack of confidence, which is exciting in a way. If he can shake that, he could easily be one of those artists who elicits tears.
23 years old "I’m Not the Only One," Sam Smith
So Katy Perry’s safeword is "In-N-Out Burger"? We bet that’s led to some awkward moments. Or is it because she met fiance Orlando Bloom when he nabbed one from her bag at the Golden Globes? It was an adorable story as she was ready to be mad when his hand went right in there until she followed it up and saw who was attached to it. Oh yeah, Johanna sang, too — after a potato chip eating contest. She put her own spin on Sam Smith, which has so much character already, and it was effortless, soulful and so very sweet.
Laci Kaye Booth
23 years old "Mama Tried," Merle Haggard
There’s a grit to Laci’s voice, which even broke and cracked through her audition, but there was something compelling about it. She sang with a maturity and a meaning behind her words even though she was singing an experience she definitely didn’t live. Katy called her voice "a diamond in the rough" and that has to do with how unique the quality of it is. The judges gave her great advice in honing her singular talent and voice and style because that’s how she can emerge as the kind of unique vocalist who can make it in the industry.
25 years old "Shot," Lawrence
Margie was so nervous and amped up on energy she sounded like she was chugging 5-Hour Energy drinks before fumbling her name out of her mouth in he audition. She performs like she has to pee really, really bad but her voice is the real deal. Underneath all that manic craziness is a true vocalist who did more than just karaoke her way through, she was able to sing the meaning of the song. And there was something fun about watching her just do what she does and be who she is. If she powers into the top whatever, she will probably stand out as one of the most memorable contestants of the season.
19 years old "One Night Only," Jennifer Hudson
Vietnamese-born Myra took on "Idol" royalty with this big ol’ song. And then this tiny little woman with a sweet voice and an even sweeter smile dropped a full octave to start belting this song like she’s been performing on professional stages her whole life. And she was the first contestant who absolutely knew how to sing from her diaphragm and really belt those big notes. She did miss every so slightly on one of them, but Myra is definitely one to watch. She catches you by surprise for sure. Perfect song choice for her voice.
25 years old "Let It Go," James Bay
Sometimes, "Idol" plays the emotional manipulation card too hard, but there’s no way to understand Nick as an artist without understanding the recent pain he experience of losing two brothers to suicide, one younger and one older. Those losses are just gut-wrenching, and so recent that it colors everything of who he is right now; especially as he blames himself for not being there for his younger brother. And then he poured every bit of it into a beautiful, soul-searing performance. This is a falsetto mastered, and every bit of emotion poured through his hands and vocal cords. Nick is a strong young man to have endured so much heartache, and he is a powerhouse to watch in this competition.
"American Idol" continues with a special episode on Wednesday and then back Sunday, both at 8 p.m. ET on ABC. It can’t settle into its usual Monday time slot until after "The Bachelor" wraps next week.
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