American Idol Season 14 Premiere Recap: Dancing With a Star!

American Idol is determined to discover a Carrie Underwood-level superstar in 2015 — as the show’s promotional tour and ad campaign keep reminding us — but it probably wouldn’t be bad for ratings if it managed to land a fourth husband for Jennifer Lopez, either.

I’m not trying to besmirch the good name of the Artist Formerly Known as an In Living Color Fly Girl. After all, she’s the one who commanded flirty 20-year-old Michael Simeon to take their slow dance from middle-school chaste to senior-prom snuggly all while he crooned Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” during his Nashville audition.

“I’m a great wife and girlfriend — I just pick the wrong f—ing guys!” J.Lo groused good-naturedly to fellow judges Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr., after Simeon exited the room with his Golden Ticket. Hey, that’s not a bad opening line for a Match.com profile, come to think of it (though a better selling point might be the discerning “no” vote she gave to the night’s initial auditioner).

But this is not American Boytoy The Bachelorette, people! And while the Season 14 premiere confirmed that Fox has no extensive renovation plans for The House That Kelly Clarkson Built, it did remind us that said structure can be a warm and very lovely place to relax for a few hours a week from January to May.

With that in mind, let’s weigh in on the seven hopefuls who are bound for Hollywood Week after tonight’s one-hour launch — ranked in order from least- to most-promising. (Side note: One-hour audition episodes are kind of the best, are they not?)

7. Amber Kelechi Walker, “Heartbreak Hotel” | Cute girl from “the hard part” of Memphis wins the episode’s consolation prize for Heart-Tuggingest Backstory, but her lack of breath support had me humming a different Elvis tune: “A little less shriekeration, a little more control, please/ Too much time on backstory makes my brain want to seize…

6. Priscilla Barker, “Delta Dawn” | Self-described “spunky” 19-year-old’s Tanya Tucker cover was mostly in tune, but might’ve benefitted from some Sudafed to deal with its intermittent nasal quality. As Judge Lopez noted in her dissenting opinion, “it needed to be a little more special.”

5. Cam Bedell, “You Are the Best Thing” | This waiter from a Mexican restaurant sounded soulful and solid (albeit a wee bit predictable) covering Ray LaMontagne (aka Patron Saint of Gravel-Voiced Soul Men on Reality Singing Competitions).

4. Kory Wheeler, “I Can’t Make You Love Me” | I really, really hope TMZ doesn’t post a story tomorrow that Kory didn’t actually work for a full year at the coffee shop across the street from the Nashville audition site — but instead paid off the manager the day before his tryout in order to create a more interesting backstory. (Coming up on your local news at 11: Is reality TV turning you into a cynical monster?) In any event, though, while I wasn’t quite as gaga as the judges over his crumbly, plaintive tone — not with the limitations he showed when reaching for the high notes, anyway — I’m curious to see if the glitches were a matter of nervousness or faulty technique.

3. Emily Brooke, “Blown Away” | Lanky 15-year-old proved that work ethic won’t be her downfall, seeing how she played gigs nearly every weekend to pay for her trip from Wellington, FL to the Nashville tryouts. Better still, she managed to deliver the booming country hit with true emotion and not a hint of the shrillness that often trips up lesser vocalists attempting to scale Mt. Carrie Underwood. Special bonus: No Randy Jackson around to yell, “Dude, she’s only 15!”

2. Riley Bria, “Georgia Woods” | I loved the sweet, final run Riley plunked on to the end of his cover of a Keith Urban album cut — and the fact that his reedy vocal tone was a little different from the Idol country-dude norm. (Side note: Wouldn’t it be great if the Season 14 kids gravitated more toward b-sides and shoulda-been-hits?) As the judges noted, the kid who’d once accompanied Keith on guitar at an awards show (thanks to a Grammy Foundation summer camp connection) commanded the room with the kind of effortlessness it takes to fill a larger stage.

1. Michael Simeon, “Stay With Me” | Charming Ole Miss student displayed a tone so smokey and delicious, I’d like it added to the menu of the local Mexican place I’m supposed to be swearing off as part of my new “Eat Healthy in 2015” resolution. OK, yeah, his “will you dance with me, J.Lo?” shtick was the extra layer of melted cheese we did not need atop our quesadilla — sorry, the stomach wants what the stomach wants! — but better to possess a little extra swagger than to fade into the wallpaper like so many Season 13 fellas. (OK, you can say that was a low blow, but can you give me the first and last name of more than three of ’em without the help of Google?)

On that note, I pass the mic to you! What did you think of the American Idol Season 14 premiere? Grade it in our poll below, vote for your favorite audition, then hit the comments with your thoughts. Oh, and please come back to TVLine all season long for wall-to-wall Idol coverage — plus a brand-new season of our Emmy-nominated Web series Reality Check starring yours truly and the incomparable Melinda Doolittle!


Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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81 Comments
  1. Kaba says:

    That Emily girl, Michael, and the guy her performed…3rd I believe named Cameron were the ones I liked.
    I thought Kory was pretty…awful. Same with homegirl from the hood.

    • I absolutely agree about Emily and Cameron and even Michael the dancer man. I thought Harry was right that Amber needed more time on the vocals, but same could be said for Priscilla Barker. My favorite was Cameron, he just had a great voice, and personality, it was just easy. I liked that tonight’s episode was only an hour. It kinda weens us into watching the show for the next 4-5 months. Definitely a good start with some notable performances.

    • JM says:

      Yes! Thank you, Kaba. Those three were my favs as well. Can’t believe Michael ranked Cam 5th! Maybe he was biased, because he’s sick of hearing Ray LaM… songs.

    • The Beach says:

      I didn’t think either the girl from Memphis or the Mississippi Delta Dawn girl performed well enough to deserve golden tickets. I was fine with everyone else that got one.

    • mountdgal says:

      Agreed! Coffe House guy was terrible.. Really terrible. Memphis hood girl sounded like the kid sister of Zoanette Johnson.

    • darcy's evil twin says:

      I’m glad to see so many people commenting that Kory, the coffee shop guy, was awful. I was a bit surprised last night when the judges seemed to like him so well. I also didn’t care for him one bit.

      • A fan says:

        I thought he was absolutely awful! I couldn’t believe the judges let him through. It’s not the first time I’ve wondered if they hear things differently than we do from what comes over the TV.

    • Charlie from Revolution STINKS! says:

      Well just by the poll results above, we can pretty much guarantee another guy is going to win. All the fangirls are going to push the (cute) guys to the top, giving absolutely ZERO chance for a girl to win.

  2. analythinker says:

    It even took me awhile to remember who won Season 13, Michael. That’s how bad it (my memory? nahhh) was.

    Anyway, I didn’t watch and will probably catch up on YT, but I’ll sure be watching for your posts and the Reality Check!

    • Angela says:

      I can’t recall the winners for the last few seasons off the top of my head. I think somewhere around season 6 or 7 it starts to get fuzzy for me who all the contestants were.
      Anyway, I liked Emily as well, and I don’t think I caught the last two guys, but the recaps on them have me curious to go back and listen at some point. I also didn’t mind Cam…like noted, a little obvious with his choice, but I like that Ray LaMontagne song, so hey. I didn’t mind Amber in terms of her performance and confidence…but yeah, she definitely needs to tone down the shrieking. If she does that, though, she could be one to watch.
      Otherwise, however, yeah, lots of shrieking/overly high notes going on. Shrieking can be good every great once in a while in a song, but otherwise, calm those voices down, people, and just sing.
      Side note: Wouldn’t it be great if the Season 14 kids gravitated more toward b-sides and shoulda-been-hits?
      YES. I would love that. Totally up for a little more unpredictability in song choices/genres.

    • danlevin says:

      Caleb was the winner and jena irene was the runner up, i remember because that was the best finale in almost 4-5 years, caleb and jena are great artists
      last night i liked emily brooke,riley bria , not excited about simeone

      • Ya me too. I loved the finale. Everyone says there have been no “BIG” winners in years. Heres what I think. American idol was brand new when Kelly won. It was a new and interesting concept! I think people are over it and even a great singer like Candice or Sassaundra from the voice cant sell records, for that matter Caleb and Jena. Or even Josh Krajik from the X factor. I loved his voice. These shows are fun to watch ,but I think the days of” BIG MONEY STARS” coming from these shows is over. Or is it just that we cant find another Kelly or Carrie? But still fun to watch! The voice hasnt had any HUGE winners ever.

        • Aprilcot says:

          I think Phillip Phillips is doing pretty well for himself so far…

          • MAB says:

            Forbes has Phillip Phillips earning 5 million dollars this year making him the top 3rd idol for 2014. Scotty is right behind him earning 3.5 million.

          • Jared says:

            It’s a shame that they can’t seem to ignite the singles from his current album. Unpack Your Heart is great and he kills it live!

          • karenb says:

            I agree! So happy for his success. Love both CD’s.

            Cam was my favorite tonight.

            American Boytoy! As usual you crack me up Slezak!

          • Yes Phil Phillips is doing very well. I just somehow think he may be the last of the big stars, because since his win, no one else on the voice or idol has made it real big. I think Daughtry does okay too. Oh and Adam Lambert. Now there is a voice! I myself think Melinda Doolittle should have been a HUGE star. She was one of the best i have ever heard!

  3. Jeff Marley says:

    Can’t wait for Loren Sharice Lott, Sarina Joi Crowe, and Savion Wright tomorrow night!!! 😃😃😃 my favorites tonight were emily and michael. Although I love amber

  4. R.D. Frable ♞ says:

    Jen-neeeeeeeeee…

  5. Magali says:

    Oh how I’ve missed a bit of Reality Check in my life!

  6. Mary says:

    Hate to say it but only liked one of the contestants a couple others were okay. If AI has any hope of retaining a following they need to put good contestants front in center especially on opening night. If I wasn’t such a die hard fan they would probably lose me after tonight.

    • Jeff Marley says:

      Don’t worry, I heard tomorrow had more people to talk about. I’m rooting for Loren Lott, Sarina Joi, And Savion!!! 😃😃😃

    • Timmah says:

      And what’s worse, the girl who sang the Elvis song would have been a joke contestant a few seasons ago. This tells me they’re really hurting for talent this season.

  7. Scott says:

    Was Riley wearing eye shadow?

    • Lyn says:

      Not sure, but I got an impression of an extremely diluted Keith Urban, except totally lacking in charisma. He may be relaxed and a good musician but he has zero star quality.

  8. Mel1602 says:

    You just have watched a slightly different edit if the show bc in NY Cameron was not part of a montage. He got extended screen time and I don’t recall seeing Ali or Alex. Cam was actually my fave but enjoyed Riley as well and Priscilla Michael and Emily have great potential

  9. danin says:

    I don’t’ know..that Kory kid sounded pretty awful from my TV.Emily,Michael& Riley sounded just fine.

    • S. says:

      Michael’s Sam Smith tone is put on. There were times where it slipped off despite his best efforts and what I heard then was so much better and brighter. Didn’t sound so ‘I listened to this on the radio and wanna sound like this style of singer.’ The boy can belt clearly if he’d just let himself do it. It’s like when women hear Mariah do runs or Amy Winehouse’s soul or something. Whoever the quirky tone girls on The Voice listen to when they come up with that cutesy ethereal thing–there’s always a few in every season. Maybe they’re going for a poor man’s Ingrid Michaelson? Anyway, they come on a reality show and try to copy it but end up getting exposed. Michael’s creating that tone in his throat in a forced way and if he tries to keep doing it, eventually he’s gonna strain his voice. I think he’s gonna have to choose good air support or that facade. He can’t keep both.

  10. LeahKittyS says:

    I totally agree with your rankings for #1 and #2. To me, those two were the only ones who stood out. The others were all just meh. I would think they would pull out all the stops for this episode, just to keep people tuning in as the season goes on. What gives? Tomorrow night is supposed to be better, but how many casual viewers are gonna come back after tonight.

    Too much focus on the judges. Again. That better tone down when we get to the live shows.

    And for the record, I can name all 13 of last year’s finalists, first and last names (and in some cases, middle).

    • Angie_Overrated says:

      Ok, i’m gonna try
      CJ, Malaya…
      I seriously can’t name another one. lol I think I can name all the finalists from the two seasons previous to last, but last season destroyed my faith in the show unfortunately.

      • LeahKittyS says:

        One of the reasons I remember them all so well is because I write those musical adventure stories about them. This was the first year since 2010 that I actually finished writing the story in the same year I started it. Not only can I remember them in order of elimination, I remember what voting number each of them had, because those numbers played a very important role in the story.

      • danlevin says:

        I HOPE IT WILL BE A GREAT SEASON
        I DONT THINK IT COULD MATCH UP TO LAST YEAR GREAT FINALE 2 – THE AMAZING CALEB AND JENA BUT WELL SEE

    • Montavilla says:

      CJ Harris
      Dexter Roberts
      Sam Woolf
      Alex Preston
      Caleb Johnson

      HA!

      Emily Piris
      MK Nobliette
      Malaya Watson
      Jessica Meuse
      Jena… Irene(?)

  11. Owen says:

    …where were these montages of people with golden tickets…?

  12. trimaran12 says:

    Michael, I love you but Kory was awful. The rest were ok, or at least sweet, like Amber and Priscilla.

  13. Michael H. says:

    I enjoyed the initial show overall. I am pretty much in complete agreement with you Michael, especially when it comes to the songs that should’ve been hits. I cannot wait for my fix of Reality Check yayyyy!

  14. Mike says:

    WELCOME BACK IDOL!
    DONT CARE WHAT THEY SAY, I STILL LOVE IDOL!
    GREW UP WATCHING IT. I HATE SOME PARTS OF IT THROUGH THE YEARS, BUT MY HEART STILL SAYS I GOTTA LOVE YOU TIL DEATH DO US PART!

    • Song Plugger says:

      Not a bad start. I enjoyed Emily too, but she’s too young yet to survive into the live shows. I haven’t heard much about the winners of the past 2 seasons in the music news…. Phillip Phillips did very well from season 11 with a platinum sales (over 1 million) album release after the season. . He has also toured with John Mayer and O.A.R..

  15. Timmah says:

    Hopefullly “the pressure is on to find the next superstar” means the show gets canceled after this season when they don’t find one.

  16. AlyB says:

    Riley & Emily were my favorites tonight. The rest didn’t leave me excited to hear more. I hope tomorrow we see a lot more wow and a lot less meh. As for JLo’s crooning dance partner, his ego seemed wildly disproportionate to his talent.

  17. Jill Moy says:

    Well, a few were ok; no standouts. At least no goofy looking people like last year (so far)!

    • Hey Jill Woo Hoo! Good to hear you! I liked Riley. But we still have more to see.

      • Jill Moy says:

        BECCA,

        HOWDY! I wasn’t crazy about anyone. How did you like CWB win on THE VOICE? Heard ’em a few seconds and plcked him to win! Never listened to anyone else! You liked him too! He debuted at one on Billboafd 100 and topped Country Charts too! He will be a star as I thought he would! We were right…good judges of talent!

        • Yes I was very happy about that! I liked Craig from the beginning. I found that I like that last girl that sang “Aint no Sunshine when shes gone”. She is the one that is 28.The Tequila Tuesday girl. I had to laugh. I said please dont let her be from Portland, I was already embarrassed over Taylor AMISH John Williams from the voice and him being from Portland! Omg and yes we do have Tequila tuesday and other weird things here. But yet, when she started to sing it sounded good for a minute and then got weird. Lovey is from Portland too. At least she seems to be normal. But yet Tequila girl might surprise us all!

  18. Tom says:

    The premier season show suck, won’t be watching for the rest of the season

  19. Tom says:

    The premier sTeason show suck, won’t be watching for the rest of the season

  20. Drew says:

    I haven’t watched a full season of idol in the past few years, but I always look forward to your reality check Michael! I followed you over from EW idolatry (R.I.P) it’s my favorite part of the spring tv season! Love love love Melinda too :)

  21. wendie says:

    Oh snap… Ofc I can name season 13 singers first and last. Erm, no, Jessica Meuse and Sam Wolfe were all I got. A few first names tho! Ok that was an eye opener, esp as Caleb something was all I could come up with for the winner, and that was only after I thought up one of the contestants.

  22. John says:

    Did anyone think that Michael Simeon actually sounded better on the dancing version of “Stay With Me,” or was that just me?

    • darcy's evil twin says:

      I liked him better on that version as well. He’s talented but a little full of himself (although that character trait is crucial if you’re going to make it in this business, I’m sure). Perhaps he was a big more relaxed during the dancing version?

  23. Buffy0531 says:

    I do not understand the fawning over Kory. Seems like a nice guy, but he was off-pitch for most of it, and seemed to be struggling with even mildly challenging notes. I’m used to Keith and Jennifer glossing things over, but Harry surprised me with that one. What did they hear that I didn’t?

  24. ChrissieK says:

    Strange not seeing those big red Coca Cola glasses on the judge’s table (Keith sneaking drinks from his big white cup kept down on the floor.) I am so glad Idol is back, it returns me to my comfort zone…I love the new intro and it seems to have a bit of a layer of fresh over it. I loved Michael Simeon…only 20 years old! It was such fun with the dancing and Keith on guitar and Harry doing the piano portion. Jen’s comment afterwards was priceless! Loved it! Cam was another voice and personality I really enjoyed. Two hours tonight! Yahoo! Bring it on!

  25. darcy's evil twin says:

    Welcome back, Idoloonies!

    I don’t necessarily disagree with Mr. Slezak’s top three, although I liked Cameron quite well and I do NOT understand how Kory got a golden ticket. My husband, a casual watcher, even said “Are they hearing something differently”?

    Whatever. It’s good to be back and welcome back Mr. Slezak!

    • Jane says:

      I agree with evil twin and husband. I really liked Cameron alot. And Kory was NOT good at all. Sometimes I don’t like someone, but I get that they are talented. (Like Jessica last year). But Kory was off tune and painful to listen to.
      I’ve been an Idol fan since season 3, but I’m watching out of loyalty(so far) this year. Taking it show by show. Hopefully they fix some of last year’s mistakes AND get dome exciting contestants.

  26. darcy's evil twin says:

    No one has mentioned the intro – where they showed the Top 24, although you couldn’t really see who they were, and you heard a group number. That was different.

    • Aprilcot says:

      I really enjoyed that bit. I thought they sounded fantastic as well. Obviously it was produced and whatnot, but sounded much better than the normal group numbers we get.

  27. Maria says:

    Did anyone else think they were using a laugh track for the judge’s banter??

  28. Dave in Alamitos Beach says:

    I was shocked that my favorite musical moment of the night came from, gulp, Jennifer Lopez. I can’t remember what she started singing a capella but she did an interesting take on it and seemed to stay in tune the entire time. She’s not auto tuned 24/7, right? :-)

  29. Jbrit says:

    What? no mention of the music video of the top 24?

  30. Jared says:

    Amber Kelechi Walker’s growl reminded me faintly of Haley Reinhart. I mean this in a good way as I love all things Haley!

    • Don’t mention Haley Reinhart. You will seriously make me go on Youtube and watch all of her Idol performances again. She was one of my FAVORITE Idol contestants of all time! Curse those country folks, Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina! Dagnabbit!

  31. j says:

    Where was Adam Lambert? I thought he step in for Keith, for the first show?

  32. syb says:

    I liked Cameron the best. Riley seems like a good musician, ok singer, and good look for TV, ala Casey James. So he’ll probably do well on the show and be successful thereafter. He’d be my #2. I didn’t find Michael particularly memorable other than “the dance.” Nice voice, but meh. I thought the guys last season were more interesting than THAT, Michael. lol. Didn’t care for any of the female singers last night.

  33. Emily Brooke is Incredible, She gets my votes!!

  34. Shannon Nakamura says:

    I just loved Emily Brooke. She has that voice they’re looking for. Very talented young lady and my favorite by far.

  35. Jeff Rahn says:

    Emily Brooke was the best by far. She is also an amazing songwriter.

  36. Elizabeth Talatinian says:

    Well done, Emily!