American Idol Atlanta Auditions Recap: By Georgia, I Think They've Got It! [Updated]

american-idol-recap-atlanta-auditions-jessica-meuseFour episodes in to American Idol‘s 13th season and I find myself standing at the intersection of Delighted and Nonplussed.

Oh sure, everything’s peachy keen on the surface: Extended footage of a whopping number of Golden Ticket recipients (close to 90 over four nights); a near total absence of fameosexuals desperate for their 15 1.5 seconds; Ryan Seacrest gettin’ spanked on camera (!) by his mama. But where’s the feeling of white-hot rage that’s always gone hand-in-hand with these early weeks of the competition?

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To be clear, I j’loathed the way Seasons 1-12 exploited the mentally unstable for questionable laughs, tried to turn foreign-born auditioners into human punch lines and allowed Randy Jackson to impale the English language on a stake and dangle it over an open flame. But still, like a Big Mac without its bun or a Katy Perry verse without a cliche, the experience of Idol auditions without the toxic mcnasties, without the desire to send a strongly worded email to Fox chief Kevin Reilly, has taken a bit of getting used to. I liken it to touching a low-wattage electric fence and asking oneself, “Do I like how this feels?” (Of course you do, you lunatic!)

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The good news is that tonight’s Atlanta auditions episode only lasted an hour presented us with several more Season 13 standouts, kids who might look/sound downright natural standing side by side with Kelly Clarkson, Fantasia Barrino, Phillip Phillips and Candice Flippin’ Glover.

To that end, I’m gonna count down my favorite hopefuls from tonight’s installment — and without any further ado!

Top 8 Atlanta Auditions
(No, 15-year-old Jordan Brisbane and 15-year-old Bria Anai did not make my cut; where was Hatchet Harry to tell these kids they needed another 5-10 years of groundwork? The former ‘s When I Was Your Man” wasn’t merely overbaked, but downright torched; the latter brutalized  Adele’s “One and Only” like a chef attempting to tenderize a tough cut of meat. Send ’em back!)

8. Chris Medina, “Chasing Pavements” | Handsome fella with a black lab at this side showcased a distinctive, smoky tone, but his absence of personal charisma was a bit off-putting. I mean, I can’t be the only one who was a little weirded out by Chris’s total non-reaction to Harry’s extended schtick about the dude’s dog dropping a deuce on his lap, can I?

7. Caleb Johnson, “You’ll Find a Way” | The producers showed very little of this Season 11 Vegas round evictee’s rock-soul return, but what we did hear sounded pretty solid.

6. Nica Nashae, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” | Nica’s one of those  contestants who can boast that she’s gonna win the whole enchilada without coming off as cocky or stank. It helps that she’s got a big, powerful instrument (and a moniker that’s tailor-made for the pop charts), although it remains to be seen if restraint is a part of her repertoire.

5. Ben Briley, “Arms of a Woman” | I’m not sure Ben’s tone left me quite as elated as Keith — who said if he heard the dude’s voice on the radio, he’d drive right off the road (!) — but there was a gruff, emotional quality to his singing that made me curious about how he’d fare when staring into a theme like Disco Week or Billboard Hot 100.

4. Jesse Cline, “Washed by the Water” | This late-shift gas-station attendant looked positively tickled when the judges praised his voice and his “believability” on his NeedToBreathe cover, which only made him seem all the more “plucked from the actual real world” rather than the “showcase of erstwhile major-label artists” that often pop up on The Voice. (Not that there’s anything wrong with the latter, of course.)

3. Lauren Ogborn, “Fancy” | Man, that Harry gives great constructive feedback — even to the kids he likes. When he told the be-flagged, bandana-sportin’, southern gal that she was “overaccessorized to the point of ridicule,” even Lauren nodded her head in agreement. Styling issues aside, though, the 19-year-old sang with a clarity of tone, a straightforward purposefulness and an authentic twang so appealing, I didn’t even cringe when J.Lo said “goosies.” (I’m a sucker for “Fancy,” though, so I might be a little biased.)

2. Majesty Rose, “Violet Hill” | The night’s first contestant — decked out in a rose tiara for emphasis — hit a rough note or two, but in the vein of a Tracy Chapman or a Joni Mitchell (or even a Crystal Bowersox), Majesty’s style isn’t about bombast or note perfection. She injected every word, every strum of her guitar, with such passion and nuance that I found myself holding my breath waiting to see what came next. As Keith noted, “the quieter you got, the more I leaned in.” Preach it, Aussie!

1. Jessica Meuse, “Blue-Eyed Lie” (original track) | You’ve got to love an auditioner who introduces herself by saying she’ll either die “a successful musician or a broke one” — and then showcases both the singing and songwriting chops to back up her crazy passion. (Bonus points if said auditioner is from the “so brilliantly named, you wonder if she made it up” town of Slapout, Alabama.) The grit in Jessica’s tone — and the expressiveness with which she delivered an original track I’d never heard before — have me ready to do a Google search to determine if she’s got any indie gems for sale (or at least some YouTube renditions of her own tunes that I can peruse). That, perhaps, is the greatest achievement of new EP Per Blankens’ Season 13 reboot: The triumph of new and exciting voices over the depressingness of pranksters and the deluded. I mean, whether or not Jessica survives the Hollywood Week lunacy and graduates to the live shows, she’s one of 90-some-odd artists who’ve gotten exposure to some 15 million people in the last two weeks. And if that’s not a win for underappreciated vocalists — and for people who love music — I don’t know what is.

With that, let me turn things over to you: What did you think of Episode 4 of Season 13? What did you think of the judges tonight? Any fave moments or decisions with which you disagreed? And who was your favorite Golden Ticket recipient? Sound off in the comments, and for all my Idol-related news, recaps, interviews and videos, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!