Meeting Lionel Richie proved to be a religious experience for men and women of all ages on Sunday’s American Idol, elevating him to “Bell-Bottom Jesus” status.
The first to weep at the sight of Richie’s iconic ‘stache was Tristen Gressett, an Alabama teen whose peace necklace, feather earring and love of James Brown screamed old soul. So it came as no surprise when the 17-year-old said, “I want to bring back something that never should have left — soul.” The natural showman came in hot with a big performance of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” playing well to the cameras and showing off every trick in his book. Unfortunately, that was the judges’ exact critique, that was was “overusing” every single one of his talents. Their efforts to mold Gressett “from a gimmick to an artist” paid off with his second performance, a toned-down take on Black Pumas’ “Colors” that remained quiet and soulful with just the right sprinkling of big moments.
Additional Richie-related tears were shed by the father of 18-year-old Cadence Baker, a girl with music in her name and in her blood. Her grandfather apparently wrote “I Swear,” which (much to my surprise!) was a country song a full year before it became a hit for All-4-One. Anyway, with her dad backing her up on guitar, Baker fully reworked Whitney Houston’s “I’m Your Baby Tonight,” delivering a slinky, stripped-down rendition that earned a standing ovation from the judges. Luke Bryan sees Top 10 potential in Baker, while Richie saved all of his praise for her dad’s in-the-pocket guitar work. It was hard to tell which half of the father-daughter duo was more excited to receive that golden ticket. Watch:
Then came Richie’s turn to cry. Still reeling from the loss of his godmother, 26-year-old Dontrell Briggs pummeled the judges with a powerful performance of Tasha Cobbs’ “Lord if I Find Favor in Your Sight.” His emotions were obviously running high, but that only added more power to his voice. Tearing up, Richie told Briggs that God was came through in his voice… but the feeling wasn’t exactly unanimous. With a yes from Richie and a no from Katy Perry, Briggs’ fate rested in Bryan’s “utterly torn” hands, but all of that doubt faded midway through Briggs’ follow-up performance of “Tennessee Whisky.” Click here to watch.
Read on for a breakdown of more successful auditions from Week 3:
ABIGAIL BROOKS, 21 | This Manhattan barista was raised on Barbra Streisand, an influence that came through loud and clear during her stunning, theatrical performance of Don McLean’s “Vincent.” Clutching a broom in lieu of a microphone, Brooks sang from her heart, giving Perry goosebumps and prompting Bryan to predict that she’ll win this season’s Disney Night. Watch:
DAKOTA HAYDEN, 17 | There’s no denying the talent that Hayden possesses, but I was about as thrilled by his performance of Luke Combs’ “When It Rains It Pours” as I was by his and Bryan’s conversation about turkey hunting. His talent, looks and charm will likely keep Hayden in the competition for a while, so I’m hoping to see him step out of his comfort zone moving forward. Click here to watch.
EMILY FAITH, 18 | The judges clearly didn’t watch Six Feet Under, because they acted like Faith doing cosmetology for her family’s funeral home was the wildest thing they’d ever heard of. Anyway, their inexplicable terror soon melted away when they heard Faith’s “sweet,” confident vocals via Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings’ “Good Hearted Woman.” Click here to watch.
MARK OSBORNE, 26 | Best birthday present ever? Having previously given up on a music career, Osborne promised his mom that he would audition as a gift — one that turned out to be a gift for him, as well. The judges foamed at the mouth during Osborne’s performance of Whiskey Myers’ “Stone,” revealing a Bush-style rock voice hiding beneath that young Ned Flanders mustache. They love his effortless look, deeming him “the kind of person we look for on American Idol.” Watch:
RYLEIGH MADISON, 16 | I’ve never felt older than when Madison revealed that she’d be singing a song by Gabby Barrett, who finished in third place during Idol‘s 16th season. That said, Madison crushed the country jam, showing off an especially impressive upper register. In other news: Ouch, my bones! Click here to watch.
SAM FINELLI, 28 | Idol wrapped its third week of auditions by spotlighting Finelli, a passionate singer who was diagnosed with high-functioning autism. “You picked a perfect song, because there’s always been a rainbow hanging over your heard,” Perry told Finelli after his performance of the dreamy Kacey Musgraves ballad. Click here to watch.
Your thoughts on the third round of Idol auditions? Vote for your favorite new faces below, then drop a comment with your full review of the night.