American Idol Recap: Penultimate Fighting Championship

If I didn’t know better, I’d guess that Wednesday’s American Idol audition episode — the second-to-last in franchise history — was intended as a subtle advertisement for Second Chance (aka the show that Cookie Lyon will evict from Fox’s 9/8c timeslot at the end of March).

After all, the one-hour telecast featured plenty of auditioners hoping for one more swing at reality-singing glory. Season 14 Golden Ticket recipients Emily Brooke and Adam Lasher returned, as did The Voice grad Mackenzie Bourg. We even got the sister of last year’s unimonkered (and frequently ridiculous) Shi — codename “Poh” — picking up the mantle for her hastily eliminated (but gloriously tressed) sibling.

We also got an unwelcome return to the Land of Joke Auditions — including a particularly trite interlude with Clay Aiken attempting to channel Simon Cowell (emphasis on attempting) when confronted by a cartwheeling fame-seeker in a collapsing pleather dress. Honestly, if there weren’t enough solid-to-spectacular vocalists to fill the telecast, couldn’t producers have staged a concert featuring past standouts like Haley Reinhart, Adam Lambert, Jordin Sparks, David Cook and my Reality Check cohost Melinda Doolittle (just to name a few)?

OK, OK… we’re entering the Land of Great Ideas That Are Never Going to Happen Under the Current Idol Mgmt. So let me instead give a rundown of tonight’s Golden Ticket getters in order from least- to most-promising:

7. Joy Dove, “Jambalaya” | The judges praised this bubbly charmer for her “loud” singing — which, on its own, isn’t exactly a compliment, is it? I get not wanting to say no to her “put me in coach!” catchphrase, but Joy seems too much of a joy to be utilized as cannon fodder.

6. Adam Lasher, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” | Carlos Santana’s nephew gave Bob Dylan’s ballad a quirky, uptempo twist, but while I admired his big creative swing — and his major style upgrade from last year — his reworked melody bordered on unpleasant.

5. Miranda “Poh” Scott, “Fairytale” | I’ll admit, I cringed a little upon learning that “Poh” had learned nothing from big sis Shi’s failed attempt to quirkify herself with a pithy stage name. But despite that — and Shi’s backstage melodramatics — I didn’t mind Poh’s chronic-smoker tone or her loose delivery. Granted, there were notes and phrases that scraped against the guard rail, but the audition didn’t go off the cliff, either.

4. Mackenzie Bourg, medley of the judges’ hits | Mackenzie definitely has a little Kris Allen-esque geek-chic sparkle — and his mashup of judges’ hits hinted he might have some of the Season 8 champ’s creativity, too. I would’ve liked to hear stronger breath control and more oomph on Mackenzie’s extended notes, though, as I heard struggles with pitch and projection on more than one occasion.

3. Amelia Eisenhauer, “Many Rivers to Cross” | Fifteen-year-old fiddle player’s gruff tone was as haunting as it was unexpected — and I thought she delivered the lyric with a maturity beyond her tender years. Yet while Harry’s note about staying in tune wasn’t unwarranted, my bigger fear is that Amelia may be three or four years away from being able to match her voice with the performance skills that are so crucial in a televised singing competition.

2. Jenna Renae, “She Don’t Love You” | Jenna easily takes home the prize for the episode’s most deeply felt vocal performance — she painted such a vivid picture with Eric Paslay’s country ballad that I felt a little miffed when the judges stopped her for critique time. Of course, the lack of tragic backstory or other ridiculous selling point means she’ll probably disappear like a bag of Fritos at a Week One Atkins Diet convention, but let’s hold out hope, shall we?

1. Emily Brooke, “Careless” | I almost flip-flopped Emily and Jenna on my ranking — Jenna hit me harder, from an emotional standpoint — but Emily’s clear bright tone, excellent pitch and aura of confidence made me wonder if she might wind up going deeper into the season than her comparatively more retiring counterpart. Let’s get going to Hollywood Week, shall we!?

On that note, I pass the mic to you! What did you think of Night 5 of the American Idol Season 15 tryouts? Who were your faves? Sound off below!