There’s a distinct possibility that no one is having more fun than judges Luke Bryan, Katy Perry, and Lionel Richie during the auditions for season 17 of ABC’s American Idol. But as many laughs as they are having, they also aren’t wasting any time racking up the talent. In fact, right off the bat of night three, they whipped out a blue light two-for-one special.
Livingston, Louisiana’s pretty 20-year-old soprano Ashton Gill brought along a familiar face to play guitar for her audition. Her brother’s best friend, Laine Hardy, auditioned during season 16, but the 18-year-old was cut after three weeks. So, after Ashton earned her golden ticket for an ethereal performance of Chris Stapleton’s “Broken Halos,” the judges insisted that Laine sing a bit, too. He begrudgingly obliged, with an impromptu rendition of “The Weight.” What he wasn’t expecting, though, was that the judges offered him a ticket to Hollywood, too.
Alstyne, Texas native Austin Michael was up next and if history is any reflection, the 15-year-old could win the whole season based on his audition piece. Singing the same song that launched Scotty McCreery’s career, Josh Turner’s “Your Man,” Austin threw in some hip swivels that rivaled Luke Bryan’s. And although the judge’s had some minor reservations, they pushed the young man through to Hollywood…which earned them a lasso demonstration from the young rancher.
Jake Puliti may have surprised the judges with his performance of “This Is How We Do It” by Montell Jordan, but his relaxed demeanor and confident vocal was also enough to get Katy on the floor for a bit of break-dancing, including the worm. In fact, they credited the Etters, Pennsylvania 20-year-old’s calm for earning him a golden ticket, too.
There were no antics when 21-year-old Shawn Robinson sang Jessie J’s “Who You Are,” but it may have been because his tender tenor was so melodic it had soothed Katy, Lionel, and Luke into a dream state. Because of his ultra-high head voice, Katy did have some concerns about the diversity that Shawn may have and encouraged him to show off the dimensions of his voice…in Hollywood.
It seemed to be a night of legacies for American Idol contestants. When 18-year-old Nate Walker introduced himself, he revealed that one of his Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania church choir pals was Gabby Barrett, who placed third during season 16. Sitting behind the piano, who delivered an impressive version of the Christina Aguilera and A Great Big World collaboration, “Say Something,” complete with vocal runs that dazzled Luke. “There’s something in the water in Pittsburgh,” Katy said after he finished, and Lionel added, “You were anointed, my friend,” Lionel. And he’s Hollywood bound.
Sometimes the promotional packages that the aspiring artists present are so compelling, it would seem that was enough to earn them a golden ticket. But the judges are responsible about doing the job they are tasked with. And that could have been the case with 27-year-old Wade Cota from Phoenix. Bearing actual scars on his face from abuse inflicted by his father, Wade said he simply wanted to take care of his mom. After his performance of George Ezra’s “Blame It On Me,” he may have the chance. “You have your own thing like Johnny Cash does,” Luke told him. “I hear your voice in movie soundtracks.” With resounding yeses from all three judges, Wade is heading to Hollywood.
If dynamite comes in small packages, 16-year-old Riley Thompson could blow up the entire 17th season of American Idol. The Mabank, Texas girl performed an original tune titled “Oh Daddy” and it barely took a blink for the judges to decide that her unique and readily identifiable vocal would serve her well in Hollywood.
Understated and warm, Elberton, Georgia’s Clay Page seemed almost effortless with his mellow rendition of Thomas Rhett’s “Die A Happy Man,” earning him the nickname of “The Gentle Ginger” from Katy. “That’s not my wheelhouse, but I live close to the area,” Lionel told him, “I like your vibe. I like who you are.” Luke summed up Clay’s performance saying, “It’s like a perfectly not trying too hard delivery.” He also added, “You’re not the best country singer in the world, but you don’t have to be. You had us hanging on every word.” With that, the Gentle Ginger is off to Hollywood.
Drake McCain of Spring City, Tennessee brought his own fan club with him to the Idol auditions—his 10, yes 10 brothers and sisters, all raised by his mother alone. Maybe that’s why it didn’t seem to surprise the 17-year-old when Katy chimed in while he was singing the gospel classic, “His Eye Is On the Sparrow.” That wasn’t enough for Katy, though, who rolled into “Oh Happy Day” after that. In fact, one may have expected that the pair could have serenaded listeners all night long if they hadn’t had to pause to offer Drake a golden ticket.
While we didn’t see all of the contestants who were given golden tickets or sent home, Lionel pointed out that there was an overwhelming number of contestants who were 15 or 16. Madison Vandenburg of Cohoes, New York was one of those teens. Accompanying herself on the piano while she sang Dan + Shay’s “Speechless,” Katy wiped away goosebumps, then admitted to the young singer, “It was my first goosebumps. I thought I had lost all feelings. I’m so glad you gave me back my pulse.” After comparing her to Kelly Clarkson, the 16-year-old heard the words, “you’re going to Hollywood.”
We’ve already seen that many of the aspiring artists this season are competent musicians as well as singers, and some have even revealed that they are budding songwriters, too, but none may be at the level of Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon from Catonsville, Maryland. The 25-year-old preacher’s kid sat at the piano to sing his original song, “Almost Heaven.” Also the final performer for the third night of auditions, the evening ended on a very high note with Lionel telling Jeremiah, “We are blessed to have you on ‘American Idol.’
We’re just two weeks away from the first round of Hollywood eliminations where we’ll find out who makes it through to the Showcase Round. American Idol will also welcome radio personality Bobby Bones back to the show as a mentor and coach to the contestants.
American Idol returns on Sunday, March 17.