Idol chose to open Season 13 — and then repeat a week later during the Detroit episode — Marialle’s expressive, if not technically perfect, Bruno Mars cover. Perhaps Hollywood Week will help us better understand why she’s the front-runner for executive producer Per Blankens’ “Chosen One” sash and crown.
Harry said this audition wouldn't have worked had everyone not known the 15-year-old's mom was Season 1 finalist Nikki McKibbin, but there was a brightness and soulful quality in the kid's vocals that made my ears perk up instantaneously. Plus, who can honestly say they don’t want to see how Nikki McKibbin’s son fares 12 years after the Kelly Clarkson-Tamyra Gray Era?
19. Keri Lynn Roche, "Radioactive"/"I'd Rather Go Blind" (Detroit Auditions)
The judges wanted a second song after her gritty, deeply felt, excellently acoustic "Radioactive," which made me go all, "WHAT? YOU'RE NOT WITHHOLDING THAT GOLDEN TICKET, ARE YOU?" Thankfully, my well of rage was percolatin' for naught: After an equally intense "I'd Rather Go Blind," she was on her way to Hollywood.
18. David Luning, “I Lost My Mind in Texas” (San Francisco Auditions)
The judges’ chuckled about the dark intensity of David’s self-penned ditty, but the blues and the grit and the way-down-in-it intensity of the performance was mesmerizing. “For Idol, it’s interesting,” hmmm’d J.Lo. Indeed, and that should always be the point of the exercise, shouldn’t it?
16. Paula Hunt, "All I Could Do Was Cry" (Omaha Auditions)
In a season where back stories have been kept to a minimum, Paula's tale of fulfilling the dreams of her mom — a Gospel/R&B artist who lost her voice to multiple sclerosis — as a member of the U.S. Air Force's Heartland of America Band brought undeniable warm fuzzies to the proceedings. Far more important, though, was the way Paula brought slow, aching intensity to her Etta James jam. As Harry noted, the woman simply knows when to throw in a run, and the result is both tasteful and elegant.
Hipster with a heinous moustache, a fabulous pompadour and a stunning weight-loss backstory gave me slight shades of Adam Lambert mixed with Kim Carnes — if that makes any sense — as he scraped the upper edges of Sarah McLachlan's plaintive ballad. The guy is undeniably distinctive (a major plus given that we've seen more Golden Ticket recipients this season than in any other), but while, the kid had a cold, he also veered once or twice into the shrill lane, no?
Yeah, he had a stumbling start, and indeed, my new BFF Harry opined that he's "not a good enough singer," but I found myself agreeing — ugh, I do hate this sentence now — with J.Lo. There was something about Keith's almost brogue-like inflection that gave Katy Perry's booming pop nugget an upgrade. It didn't hurt that he's awfully cute, too, did it?
13. Briana Oakley, "Stay" (San Francisco Auditions)
A victim of Season 12 Hollywood Week, Briana returned with a refreshing confidence and sticktoitiveness that felt more engaging than last season's overplayed bullying backstory. I wish Harry (or anybody) had warned her against using too much vibrato, but in terms of vocal horsepower and charisma, the gal's got it goin' on.
Remember when she auditioned on crutches in Season 12? Of course you do! Harry was worried this beauty's big, bold, belting style could damage her voice, but come on — you don't approach a saucy Carrie Underwood jam like a mouse! I loved that Megan infused her number with a hint of rhythm, and looked like she was having a blast while she did it.
Raven-haired, black-guitared beauty made it to Austin on her neighbor's generosity, and didn't disappoint with a silk-and-grime tone that reminded me a little of Shelby Lynne. As Harry noted, she had a nifty rasp, but didn't make it wear out its welcome, either.
10. Jillian Jensen, "Not Over You" (Boston Auditions)
Robbed by Demi Lovato during Season 2 of The X Factor, the gravel-throated songbird displayed greater vocal control and more confidence in her second stab at a Fox reality singing competition. Hey, maybe her "mentor" did her a favor, after all!
I'll admit that it took my ears a moment to process the juxtaposition of Tessa's quavery little instrument with the Man in Black's low, rumbly classic. But when she picked up the pace and jammed out on the second verse, my involuntary head-bobbing and foot-tapping convinced me she's got the kind of bravado and creativity to help make Season 13 the dogfight that the judges keep promising.
8. Dexter Roberts, "Drive" (Salt Lake City Auditions)
Farm-hand/dog trainer seemed a little low-wattage at first — but his light shone very, very brightly once he started singing. He's country, yeah, but was I crazy or was there a little bit of Elvis in his tone, too?
7. Paisley Van Patten, "When the Lights Go Down" (Salt Lake City Auditions)
One of those rare vocalists who doesn't wield her powerful, muscular voice like a blunt instrument. The subtle shading and meticulous phrasing hinted at a mature artist who means every word she sings. Can we send her straight to the live shows?
6. David Oliver Willis, "Too Close" (Detroit Auditions)
If you looked closely, you could still see the tracks across David's torso, from where Nicki Minaj hurled him beneath the bus during Season 12’s Vegas round. (She said she didn't like his terrific, bluesy rendition of "Fever," but seemed to have an even bigger problem with the fact that he was married.) Which is why I was stoked to see the dude not only return to the audition room, but deliver a scorching, acoustic version of a dubsteppy track that was soulful, aggressive and perfectly in tune. (Was it just me, or did his arrangement give anyone else shades of Bachman-Turner Overdrive's "Let It Ride"?)
17-year-old who lives with his grandparents showcased beautiful character and flawless phrasing despite his selection of a rhythmically tricky and fairly wordy jam. If Idol‘s going to have another “white guy with guitar” winner — I know, that expression is the worst — he could be the one.
Malcolm’s Stevie Wonder cover showcased perfect pitch and a wicked sense of musicality (along with some nifty air-guitar skills). I loved the way this fella (who looks like a young Billy Porter) openly admitted to how seriously he takes his music, and his admission that he’s envious of his competitors who’ve already mastered guitar.
Atlanta’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!
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— 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).
1. Jade Lathan, "You Know I'm No Good" (Detroit Auditions)
I'm not gonna lie: For me, it was love at first listen regarding the sandpaper-and-squeak tone Jade showcased in a stunning Amy Winehouse cover. Long-time readers of my Idol recaps know that my attachments are frequently as enduring as they are sudden, so whether or not Jade survives Hollywood Week, you can bet her name will join the hallowed ranks of Aloha Mi'Sho (nee Mischeaux), Mishavonna Henson, Deanna Brown and Kendra Chantelle. (Check those ladies out on iTunes, would ya? You won't regret it!)