Italian restaurant waiter/college student went for a high degree of difficulty by choosing “A Change Is Gonna Come," and made it look effortless, with tasteful runs and a rich, soulful tone. Just as important, he didn’t get flummoxed when J.Lo playfully interrupted his audition with quips like "You know you're gonna be a star, right? Keep singing!" Watch Johnny’s full audition here.
9. AMY BRUMFIELD (Savannah Auditions)
This 24-year-old tent-dweller conjured up a powerful, lilting cover of Alicia Keys’ ‘Superwoman’ informed by her hardscrabble life experience, prompting Steven to declare, “the spirit of the children of the woods snuck into you.” Indeed! Watch Amy’s full audition here.
8. HALLIE DAY (Pittsburgh Auditions)
Luscious, brassy approach to “I Will Survive” was all that much more haunting when set against this 24-year-old’s life story that included financial ruin, drug addiction, and a suicide attempt — before meeting her husband and turning her life around. "She could win," remarked J.Lo, after Hallie left the room with a Golden Ticket. Watch Hallie’s full audition here.
7. BRITTANY ZIKA (Portland Auditions)
Her “Tripster the Hipster” intro was a little too twee, but her rendition of Brandi Carlile's "The Story" was as sweet and refreshing as a glass of lemonade. We just wish Randy hadn’t dumped a mess of salt in the glass by chewing his finger and asking her to take off her glasses, hat, and boots. Watch Brittany’s full audition here.
6. HEEJUN HAN (Pittsburgh Auditions)
Cute but visibly nervous contestant informed Ryan he wasn’t that good, but his smoky and soulful cover of Michael Bolton’s "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You" told a different tale. (Hopefully Randy can get over his unwavering instinct — “Surprising! I was shocked!" — that all Asian male contestants are variations on the unfortunate William Hung template. Watch Heejun’s full audition here.
5.CORTEZ SHAW (Houston/Galveston Auditions)
Warehouse worker, college student, and stone-cold hottie grew up intermittently homeless, but shared his belief that with “hard work and determination," any dream can become a reality. Talent helps, too, of course, and his a capella dance-remix of Adele's "Someone Like You" proved that he’s got plenty to spare. Now if we can just get him to take back that business about Randy being his favorite judge… Watch Cortez’s full audition here.
4. COLTON AND SCHYLER DIXON (Savannah Auditions)
Forget the trumped-up “sibling rivalry” angle the producers tried to create. Schyler’s rendition of The Script's "Break Even" showed off a warm wisp of a voice that was distinctive and full of emotion. Colton — who got cut in Season 10’s Green Mile in favor of Brett Loewenstern, and said he had planned on only accompanying his sister to tryouts until the judges demanded he sing — was rock-solid, and rockin', on David Cook's "Permanent.” Admit it: Having siblings duke it out for America’s vote would be kind of awesome, yes? Watch Schyler and Colton’s full audition here.
3. PHILLIP PHILLIPS (Savannah Auditions)
Tousled hunk was okay on Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” but once he picked up his guitar and jammed out on Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” it was clear we were witnessing the first steps of a true Top 12 contender. Watch Phillip’s full audition here.
2. ASHLEE ALTISE (Savannah Auditions)
Her funky “joy hop” dance could’ve been nothing more than a “Get me on TV!” gimmick. But that ugly-beautiful, funkdafied spin on "Come Together” made us see visions of Old Flat Top, groovin’ up slowly. Honey, work! Watch Ashley’s full audition here.
1. BAYLIE BROWN (Houston/Galveston Auditions)
Who can forget Baylie's first Idol journey, back in Season 6, involving a stellar audition and a subsequent meltdown in Hollywood Week? But more importantly, who can forget the opening number of her Season 11 comeback, a confident, flawless, and beautifully finessed rendition of Bon Jovi's "Bed of Roses"? Maybe she could’ve been a contender for Jordin Sparks’ crown and sash back in the day, but we’re far more interested in her now that she’s got a little more life experience under her belt. Watch Baylie’s full audition here.
AMERICAN IDOL: L-R: Colton Dixon and Schyler Dixon on AMERICAN IDOL airing Wednesday, Jan. 18 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. CR: Michael Becker / FOX.