This week’s debut of the “American Idol” fifteenth and final season shot out of the gate on January 6, filled with nostalgia and memories from within its familiar oval symbol, but never maudlin or soppy, but committed to celebrating the hopeful talents that have held and maintained the competition’s reputation. The show even began with host, Ryan Seacrest, joined by the initial, unfamiliar sidekick, Brian Dunkleman, and judges Harry Connick, Jr., Keith Urban, and Jennifer Lopez, were taking things easy, even with their stance as they each evaluated the contestants from Atlanta and Denver for the opening night. Jennifer Lopez promised that the competition would “go out on a high,” and Harry said that the talent selection was “the greatest,” so it didn’t take long for special voices to make their mark, and take Golden tickets.
Michelle Marie is just 15 now, but she has been a faithful fan said she was 4, and her fervent dream was to perform for the panel. Looking like a lovely image of a country doll, Harry gushed, “I like everything I’m seeing,” from the time she walked out. It only got better when she tore into “Blue” with her natural timbre, that the judges immediately praised. “You just sing so naturally,” Jennifer noted. “America’s gonna go nuts over that, “ Harry insisted, and Keith Urban concurred with “I agree,” so the first voice heard earned gold, and began her dream.
Past title takers, and famous runner-up, Ruben Studdard, Clay Aiken, Kris Allen, and Taylor Hicks, all helped out scouting the auditions, and Josiah Siska from Georgia got his shot with the panel, and his low voice and his six-gun came ready and blazing on “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” going even deeper than his Idol, Johnny Cash, with the Highwaymen. Harry couldn’t control himself, jumping up to accompany with cattle sounds, but no one could deny Josiah’s authenticity. He was unanimously voted through to Hollywood. Lindita is a native of Kosovo, who lost 150 pounds as part of her journey to become the American Idol. She gets a little carried away on runs through “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” but her voice delivered. Keith Urban confirmed it was “easy to trim out runs,” while Jennifer lauded that Lindita “sang like a big girl” for another triple gold. Billy from Florida came along just at the time the judges needed a stretch break, so the robust singer got to see Jennifer Lopez in the position just like the poster that he had at home, and endeared himself to her by proclaiming his love since her Fly Girl days on “In Living Color.” Everyone loved Billy Bob, and loved that he sang Waylon Jennings, too, but couldn’t let him through with “a pitch all over the place,” as Keith Urban put it, so for now, it was a sad so long.
Lee Jean has been musical from birth, and his energy exudes that. He has especially taken his inspiration from his brother, who was killed in an accident that his passion poured out when he sang “I See Fire,” and the judges felt it. Jennifer Lopez said “I just want to squeeze you,” again and again, and Harry was amazed that the young singer understood about singing in tune, while Keith Urban simply praised, “You’ve got so much talent.” Lee Jean could last a while. Jenveve Rose Mitchell certainly has her own style with a cello, and she put her own spin on The Band Perry’s “Chainsaw,” that wowed all the panel. Harry had his own words, saying “That was some crazy , stupid funk” and that this real cowgirl had “a lot to work with.” Sonika, yes that is her name, brought her beauty, her heritage from India, and a lovely voice all the way to the “American Idol” auditions, and she had everyone looking, and listening to her, when she sang Carrie Underwood’s “Look at Me.” Harry Connick, Jr. called her audition “perfect,” and Keith marveled at how “you just let it go,” and Jennifer Lopez gave her the news,” You’re going to Hollywood.” Don’t expect this beauty to be leaving anytime soon. Joseph Kohlness was “101% sure” that he had the voice that the competition needed, with his “classically trained” range. Harry found his low range particularly like a screech, though, and he never really found any note for sure. Keith Urban told him he had a voice, but didn’t know how to use it, and when Harry asked him to sing a scale, that made it a sure thing that Joseph was not “Idol” appropriate.
Reana Molinero is a Hobbs, NM police officer, and before she sang a note, Harry Connick, Jr. was so smitten with her that he asked to be handcuffed, and placed under arrest! He enlisted Keith to stage a mock dispute, and the fisticuffs ended up taking more time than the song, but Reana’s ringing Patsy Cline still got her a golden ticket, and Harry decided that he wanted to be tasered! Sylvia Lee Walker is a nonstop talker from Alabama, with a “show goat,” and she charmed the socks off of the judges with her lifetime recollections, but still got “no’s” on her final decision, even with her yodeling skills thrown in for good measure. This was the sixth audition for Shevonne Philidor, who started out when Randy Jackson was still sitting in his seat with “his dawgs.” This time, her rough, and perfectly raspy voice got gold, and so did Kerry Wheeler and Laurel Wright, who kept her confidence high this time. Keith, Jennifer, and Harry then all broken to the theme from “Laverne and Shirley” and Keith knew every lyric, never mind growing up in Australia. Joshua Wicker is a worship leader, and his life was just three weeks from delivering baby daughter, already named Branch Eisley, when he walked out to audition. He poured emotion into his performance, and it was palpable for the panel. Keith Urban complimented “You sang it like you wrote it,” Jennifer liked the “colors” in the vocals, and Harry called Joshua “compelling,” so the man of God with looks like Ryan Gosling is moving forward.
A first-ever kind of audition was next, with wife, Alex Sasser, singing first, and husband, Jordan Sasser, going next, all witnessed by beautiful, giggling baby Sasser. It was clear that Mrs. Sasser thought she was most deserving, singing Bruno Mars’ “I’ll Be There,” but after Jordan’s soulful rendition of Celine Dion’s “It All Comes Back to Me,” he was the one to take the ticket. Hubby did his best to comfort the Mrs., to not much avail. All of the “goodness and light” that the judges’ felt so strongly seemed to vanish with her sour jealousy over her hubby moving on– it was sad to see, but hopefully, this sweet family can stay united in Jordan’s journey. Kerry Courtney has a dark and brooding side, mostly derived from the grief he felt losing his mother to cancer, but he definitely displayed artistry in singing Death Cab for Cutie’s “Black Sun,” and surprisingly, it was too dark for the panel to approve. Keith Urban was taken with the “unique style” in Kerry, and Harry was loving the “quirky and different” vibe, and Jennifer was intrigued, despite the “dark and scary” kind of mood. Kerry will live to sing in Hollywood. There was an interlude of Keith Urban adoration next, with so many hopefuls describing their heartfelt connection to the country superstar. Then came Shelbie Z., an Alabama hairdresser with one hot attitude, and the voice to match! She’s got personality out her ears, and her talent rang out when she sang Carrie Underwood’s “Last Name” with complete conviction. Jennifer Lopez said “I like you,” and Harry said, “I don’t like you—I LOVE you!” after a playful pause. Shelbie got three yeses, and took her ticket to take her ride to Hollywood.
There was one last audition for the night, as instantly recognized Kanye West came out to audition. Jennifer Lopez got into instant groove on “Gold Digger” as wife, Kim Kardashian, watched with Ryan Seacrest on camera. He got his golden ticket despite all the censor bleeps, and seemed proud of the momento to end a momentous night.
The auditions moved to San Francisco and Little Rock on Thursday.