American Idol Final Auditions Recap: Once More, With Feeling

As Porky Pig so famously put it, “Th-th-th-th-th-that’s all folks!”

OK, not really. For the Idoloonie Nation, we haven’t even gotten to the thrilling parts of American Idol‘s farewell season — the live shows, where the red plastic husk of the jokesters and the delusional are tossed aside, and we get to binge on the delicious goudas and bries and provolones who comprise the Top 12. (OK, sorry… that cheese metaphor went on a little too long, but it’s the inevitable result of snacking primarily on celery and carrots for the last two weeks.)

Nevertheless, if you got a little misty-eyed when Idol producers switched out the lights in the audition room and reminded us that we shall not pass this way again, you’re not alone.

Consider this: If you gasped with delight at Paris Bennett’s “Cowboy Take Me Away/Take Five” combo or got a lump in your throat during Didi Benami’s “Hey Jude” or still remember every detail of David Cook’s “Livin’ on a Prayer,” then at some point in time, the Idol audition process has taken a little piece of your heart. So it’s only natural to feel a little wistful that the process is now consigned to the history books, along with Simon Cowell’s withering put-downs, Paula Abdul’s spacey bon mots and the cavalcade of fame-seekers dressed up like chickens, strippers, and even the Statue of Liberty.

To me, though, if Season 15 is going to hold any meaning, Idol needs to stay in the present — and focus on the business of crowning a winner worthy of being etched in bronze alongside Kelly, Carrie, ‘Tasia, Kris and their brethren. So let’s not rehash Idol history — OK, maybe just Briana Davis’ “Phantom of the Opera” —  and instead rank tonight’s 16 Golden Ticket recipients from least- to most-promising:

16. Brian Dale Brown, “Unchained Melody” | Dude’s overbaked growl was reminiscent of a drag-car revving up — and yet still managed a standing ovation from Keith Urban. I know Hollywood Week needs cannon fodder, but surely there were at least 100 singers with more natural talent who went through the cattle-call auditions, no?

15. Usen Isong, “Not the Only One” | I’m not sure what about Usen’s overwrought approach and frequent flat notes made Harry Connick Jr. declare him a Season 15 threat — but if this affable TV extra makes the live shows, the real threat will be to our collective eardrums.

14. Kacye Haynes, “Brother” | Handsome Alabama native who overcame teenage drug addiction was solid — but didn’t do anything that’ll have me remembering his audition a week from now.

13. Lillian Glanton, “Country Boyfriend” (original track) | If this were American Songwriter, I’d tab her as a Top 10 contender, but Harry’s “no” vote — and assessment that the 15-year-old’s voice simply wasn’t ready for primetime — was actually kinder than Keith and J.Lo’s tepid affirmations.

12. Jaci Butler, “It Will Rain” | She’s got big, brassy pipes, but the green-haired diva’s tendency to open her mouth to double-decker sandwich width created weird pronunciation issues and an intermittently strident sound.

11. Chynna Sherrod, “One Last Time” | Put a neat acoustic twist on Ariana Grande, but her laid-back style resulted in too many clipped phrases and wobbly notes for my taste.

10. Bianca Espinal, “Brave” | Momentarily forgot her lyrics during her montaged audition, but hit some pretty lofty notes once she got up and running. Buoyant personality won’t hurt, either.

9. Melany Huber, “Talking to the Moon” | Teenager who survived Stage 3 non-Hodgkins lymphoma brought a sweet, delicate vibe to her Bruno Mars cover, but ultimately, I don’t think her voice is distinctive enough to go past Hollywood Week.

8. Zach Person, “Next-Door Neighbor Blues” | He’s got some tremendous skills as a blues guitarist, but I found Zach’s vocal tone to be a tad croaky and his grasp of pitch to be a tad inconsistent.

7. Rachel Karryn, “Why Haven’t I Heard From You” | Relegated to a three-person montage (not a good sign in Idol’s recent seasons, though it didn’t hurt Lee and Crystal in Season 9), Rachel showcased grit and real soul in her few seconds of screentime.

6. Stephany Negrete, “Who’s Lovin’ You” | Harry wasn’t wrong that the gorgeous San Diego native has enough talent to rival any contestant in the Season 15 mix, but J.Lo’s critique — that Stephany was so focused on executing an abundance of runs that she forgot her connection to the lyrics — wasn’t inaccurate, either. Stephany needs a quick reminder that it’s Season 15 — not Season 2 — and a tidal-wave approach to runs is no longer in fashion.

5. Caroline Byrne, “Unaware” | Another contestant reduced to a snippet — and it’s hard to fathom why. Caroline brought heartfelt intimacy and a buttery tone to her Allen Stone cover, but the lack of screentime means she’ll probably be one of those poorly explained “also going home” roll calls in Hollywood Week.

4. Colette Lush, “Who’s Lovin’ You” | This redheaded nanny’s intro set her up like a joke contestant, but her muscular instrument and pinpoint control — and her ability to resist sacrificing those skills on the altar of oversinging — make her a true threat, as long as she doesn’t overdo it with the quirkiness once she gets to Hollywood.

3. Avalon Young, “XO” | There was something about Avalon’s folksy vibe and loose vocals that took me back to the A.M. radio hits of my childhood. I heard one or two iffy notes in the 21-year-old tomboy’s Beyoncé cover, but her warm tone and meaningful phrasing trumped those tiny errors and made her one of my faves from the episode.

2. Manny Torres, “This Love” | The season’s — and series’ — final auditioner came on a little obnoxious with his “hot for J.Lo” declarations, but once he put a Latin twist on Maroon 5’s jam — and infused it with a gruff tone and an abundance of swagger — I held up my white flag and surrendered. I just hope Manny limits his future on-camera interviews to his love of music, and spares us his audition reel in an imaginary season of The Bachelorette starring Jenny From the Block.

1. Jessica Cabral, “Brand New Me” | Her warm, lush, Pink-esque vocals were as potent on the song’s delicate moments as they were when she was belting — and she proved she knows how to take her time with a lyric without ever verging on dirge-y. I’m with Harry: I’ll be shocked if this extraordinary talent doesn’t make it far in the competition.

On that note, I pass the mic to you! What did you think of Night 6 of the American Idol Season 15 tryouts? Who were your faves? Sound off below!

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