For Thursday’s January 14 “American Idol” this week, it was a mash-up of the Denver and Little Rock prospects again, and some of these have a true chance of becoming THE “American Idol,” others really can become true artists, no matter the outcome, and others have to face the truth that the way they sound in the bedroom will never be good enough for a stage. Whatever their fate, they all realize that this is their last chance to stand under those dimmed lights, and await news that changes their whole future. From the first pair of good friends, to the final authentic soul, it was a satisfying sonic feast.
Amber Lynn and her good friend, James VIII, the name he prefers, made the trip from Utah to the auditions, and she talked him into trying out himself, and that was a great bet. Amber did “Unaware,” smooth and smoky all at once, with lots of technique that only a seasoned voice has, Jennifer Lopez noting the “soul” and Keith digging how she let the song take her “out of body.” James got scolded by Harry for ”rushing” on guitar, but when it came to his singing on John Legend’s “The Sun Comes Up,” his vocals of soulful gravel were nothing but great. Both friends earned gold for Hollywood, and Keith reminded, “the drive was worth it.” Let’s hope they stick it out through the grind that is to come. Emily Wears is a teenage auctioneer, with a sweet voice, and so in love with music. She gave her best on Jodee Messina’s “Bring on the Rain,” but the votes agreed that she just wasn’t quite ready yet. The right person needs to hear her voice after a few more years. CJ Johnson has been earning a living as a professional musician for 11 years, and needs this audition to give him affirmation that he’s been on the right road. He went with Hall and Oates and “You Make My Dreams Come True” for his moment, and the pleasing grit in his voice made it hard not to listen. Harry Connick, Jr. was digging on his “nice version” of the tune, and Jennifer called him “really good.” Keith gave him his golden ticket. Some might say that Ethan Kuntz is anything but seasoned, on the other hand, he’s already lead singer and guitarist in a blues band, and he sang the tail off of the Allman Brothers’ classic, “Stormy Monday.” Jennifer was sold at the start, Keith said he had “mixed reactions” because Ethan was so young. Harry was sure that Ethan should stay in music, but not ready to say “yes” now. Keith came to say yes, and the two votes forward were all Ethan needed to keep his dream alive.
Mary Williams made by the skin of her teeth, too, singing Tammy Wynette’s “Till I Can Make It on My Own.” She got some mixed opinions, too, but it was clear that her vocals were “rich in life.” Keith Urban missed the feeling in her performance, and even though Harry called it “clinical,” he still felt like it was really good, and Mary managed to give Jennifer Lopez “goosies,” the ultimate sign of approval. She’ll be singing a while longer now. The judges got a little boost of energy from sucking on oxygen in the high-altitude of Denver, but the host for the Denver Nuggets basketball team was a bit too affected in singing “Friends in Low Places,” so Xavier Soller will stay on the courts for now. Terrian has a different name, and her own style, and she showed it when she sang Pharrell’s “Happy,” all in her own way. Jennifer Lopez said that her voice was “mellow,” and “I like you,” and Harry and Keith simply added “me, too” to give her the right to take her golden ticket. Blue is a lovely 23-year-old, self-described “singing nomad” who has literally sung her way across the globe, writing songs to give the world joy as she goes. She had no song prepared for the panel, because she wrote it on the spot, using words that they each supplied for her, which took a funny turn when Harry said, “assistant.” LeeAnn Blue McIsaac proceeded to create a lovely performance, all original, and everyone fell in love with her, Jennifer calling her, “cute,” and Harry assuring her that she made them smile, but no one quite knew what to do with Blue, so she couldn’t make the Idol stage home. Thomas Stringfellow looked exactly like his name, Jennifer told him. The 17-year-old took Ed Sheeran’s “Give Me Love” in his own way, the judges all approved, giving him three yeses, and fueling his hopes to make music that makes the “foster kids” he grew up around feel better.
Taiwan “Tank” Jackson had an overflow of energy all through his audition, and it was contagious, charming all the panel, but the dance teacher proved that his singing even surpassed his moves. He sang Luther Vandross’ version of “Superstar,” and swayed the panel all his way. Harry Connick, Jr. praised that he was a semblance of Rev. James Moore, and everyone will be seeing and hearing more from Taiwan in the competition. John Wayne Schulz first came to the “American Idol” stage in Season 10 to audition, but when it came down to him or Scotty McCreery, Scotty got the decision, and the whole competition. The hard choice became a blessing in disguise, because John Wayne got to spend time with his mother, for the final months of her life. Now, he feels ready to go after his dreams again, with her love guiding his way. He put his own natural style to Garth Brooks’ “The Dance,” and that did the trick, giving him three yes votes, and his golden ticket. Harry called his audition “perfect.” Ms. Harbert hardly sang like Aretha Franklin or her mentor, Brittney Spears, so it didn’t take long to say goodbye. Jordyn Simone has the look of a lady who’s been singing quite a while, and the voice to go with it, but she’s only 15, but it sounds more like a “15 going on 25” tone. She chose the Jackson Five’s “Who’s Lovin’ You,” been so impressed the judges that Keith urban asked “What’s higher than a yes?” Jennifer Lopez assured her that “you don’t sing like 15, and Harry commended Jordyn for the “range of skills” that she already displays. She’s on her way to Hollywood and more. Kassy Levels has another of those rare kind of voices, and the judges told her “You’re a singer.” Shea Raj is another singer that America will come to know over the next few weeks. Jake Dillon is a hard-working plumber who can shake his dream of music. He brought along his wife and two children to remind himself, and the judges, of why this quest is so important, and all of that emotion poured into his performance of Kenny Loggins’ “Danny’s Song.” Jennifer Lopez had a soft spot in saying “good song.” Harry told Jake that he loved his voice and “whole vibe,” but that it just wasn’t “good enough” right now. Keith wanted more “boxes checked” but Jake’s emotion won him over. This journey could be life-changing for this family, so let’s hope Jake stays long enough to be remembered.
Ashley Lilione really embodies the “hang loose” mantra of her native Hawaii, and she sauntered to the audition stage without a hint of nerves, and then, sang “Black Velvet” without a care in the world, in a completely original fashion. Keith Urban thought it was a great song choice. Harry wasn’t sure if being in “American Idol” would fit her style, and Jennifer was disappointed because she “wanted more” from Ashley. Harry and Keith saved the singer’s dream, so America will see how long she lasts. Andrew Nazarbekian was born in New York, but moved and had his raising in Moscow, Russia. He put his full range on display with Adele’s version of “To Make You Feel My Love,” and the judges felt him. He got three yeses, his golden ticket, and then the handshakes that he wanted.
As par for this season, the last talent to audition was quite a memorable one. Elvie Shane is a name to keep in the memory bank, and his artistry is unforgettable. The Kentucky family man fought his way out of drugs to become the husband and father that his wife and adopted son. “Love is thicker than blood,” he reminded and his profile, and he poured his passion into a version of “House of the Rising Sun” like none other ever performed. Harry was instantly in love, saying that his artistry mattered more than your “jacked up guitar, not even in tune” and everything else external. The piano master even loved Elvie’s name. Three yeses and that golden ticket seemed to come easy for Elvie, but really have taken a lifetime. Now is his time to live his dream, for real.