It’s down to the nitty gritty for aspiring contestants on season 17 of American Idol. The final night of auditions took place on March 18 and judges Luke Bryan, Katy Perry, and Lionel Richie have seen some of the best young singers in the United States. In fact, there’s been such an abundance of talent this season, they waste no time getting to it.
When 22-year-old Jade Flores stood in front of Katy, Lionel, and Luke, she was so effervescent, she almost popped like a bottle of champagne, and the bubbly goodness didn’t stop once she started singing Deana Carter’s “Strawberry Wine.” Following her performance, Lionel spoke up saying, “Watching you entertain us was just as powerful as your singing,” Lionel told the aspiring country star. “You really have the personality to back up the voice,” Katy told her. “I heard you as an artist and I actually heard you as a country artist. I really believed you. So thank God you’re actually good.” And Luke added, “And work on believing that you’re good.” And with that, the Waxahachie, Texas native is off to Hollywood.
Jakob O’Brien of Alva, Oklahoma didn’t get the same reception of his original song, “America,” but his inspiring patriotism fired the judge’s up and he walked away saying, “I’m proud to live in a country where I have the right and the freedom to do what I love and that’s music.”
We’ve said it before and we’ll likely say it again, Katy, Lionel, Luke, and host Ryan Seacrest seem to be having as much, if not more fun than anyone else in the American Idol audition process. In their conversation with 19-year-old Christiaan Padavan of Hampton Bays, New York, they discovered that the talented contestant’s girlfriend was also a singer, albeit a bashful one. After giving him a golden ticket for his torch performance of Billy Joel’s “Vienna,” Katy demanded that he bring Victoria to the sound stage to sing. Giving an earthy rendition of Britney Spears “Toxic,” the judges were delighted, but Victoria said, “It was terrifying.”
Before Modesto, California’s Ryan Hammond began his audition number, he and Katy discovered that their parents may have known each other since her folks were pastors and his dad was a gospel musician. They also learned that the handsome young man had recently lost 170 pounds through weight loss surgery. Following his performance of Sam Smith’s “Lay Me Down,” which showcased vocal gymnastics and great upper register, Luke said, “I thought you were going to burn up a clutch. You didn’t hit everything perfectly, but you’re really selling your voice.” “It’s one thing to sing a song like someone. It’s another thing to take someone else’s song and make it your song,” Lionel told him. And Katy? Well, she had a golden ticket.
The judges may not have known the petite 16-year-old beauty that stepped into the room next, but both Luke and Lionel recognized Chloe Chanel’s guitar player—90s country star Billy Dean. “I’m good and washed up now,” he joked. Apparently, the legendary Kenny Rogers had discovered Chloe and asked Billy to work with the vocalist. We aren’t sure how much work Billy had to do, but Chloe’s tender performance of Keith Urban’s “Stupid Boy” dazzled the judges who called her confident and brilliant. Luke commented, “Your voice is a little small at first and then you showed us it wasn’t small at all.” It was almost as if she didn’t expect to go to Hollywood as she burst into tears as she took her ticket while Billy stood teary-eyed in the background.
Sweet Emma Kleinberg and her brother, Alex, grew up singing together but she auditioned for Idol alone. After college, Alex had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had attempted suicide. He survived, but suffered an anoxic brain injury from oxygen deprivation to his brain. Fortunately, Alex was there to hear his 21-year-old sister sing “American Privilege” by Allen Stone, and to get a ticket to a ticket to Hollywood. But for all of the compliments that the judges gave her on her performance, it was her own words that resonated as she left the room. “When I came out and saw my brother smiling, that was a year of sadness brought to healing,” she said.
Zebulon “Zeb” Spencer already has one title to his credit—state champion flat-footer. That’s a clog dancing term. After a demonstration of his hoofing at Katy’s request, he performed a gutsy and raw rendition of Muscadine Bloodline’s “Porch Swing Angel” and Luke was all in. “You have everything country and you have the country soul that doesn’t sound forced,” the superstar told him with Katy adding, “You gave us glimpses of this grit that I hope to see a little bit more of.” Lionel made it unanimous and three yeses equal one trip to Hollywood.
If you think it takes a lot of courage just to audition for American Idol, imagine being 23-year-old Jorgie. The L.A. resident not only performed his original song called “Heaven,” but he also came out to his parents through the audition process. Oh wait, there’s more. He also nailed it with Katy and Luke calling his performance “pro” level and Lionel saying, “When I say you nailed it, I mean to the point of in awe. I love what you just did.” They all loved what he did and sent Georgie on to Hollywood.
This wasn’t Nick Merico’s first brush with Idol. The 22-year-old auditioned for the American Idol Disney Experience at 14 and earned a golden ticket, but puberty hit him hard right in the voice. With his music career on hold, he went on to appear in Nickelodeon’s Every Which Way, but the call of music was hard to resist and the Miami native was back for more. Giving a chilling version of Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black,” he left the judges nearly speechless. When they finally collected themselves, it was a yes from all three and a golden ticket in his hand.
There’s a lot of good-natured ribbing between Katy, Lionel, and Luke at their table of judgment, but when 20-year-old Lady Mapo of Omaha, Nebraska stepped in the room, a darkness fell over them. Dressed in gothic black with dark hair, eyes, and lip piercings, the judge’s seemed to wish they were anywhere but there…until Lady Map began to sing Kermit the Frog’s “Rainbow Connection.” It turns out, it was last season’s winner, Maddie Poppe, in costume to get one over on the esteemed panel of professionals.
Many former contestants came in to visit familiar crew, but 2018 runner-up Caleb Lee Hutchinson also came to support his pal, Jerrod Sanders, who was auditioning for the show. The bona fide firefighter sang George Strait’s “The Fireman” appropriately, but it wasn’t quite hot enough for Katy and Luke. Their nays outweighed Lionel’s yay, but all three encouraged the 20-year-old to return next year and to draw as much as he could from Caleb’s expertise.
Some people make the best out of anything. Jackson Gillies, 19, of Santa Barbara, California seems to be one of those people. Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes early in life, and later with the autoimmune condition hidradenitis suppurativa, Jackson seemed to be innately upbeat. While his disposition made the judge’s fall in love with the person, his gutsy, raw cover of Foy Vance’s “Make It Rain” made them fall in love with his voice. “Every once in a while, God sends reminders,” Lionel told him. “I had a couple of things that bothered me this morning when I woke up. I”m going to go to bed now without a care in the world because of how you’re looking at your life and the positive approach that you’re taking. Hallelujah that you can sing.”
And a ticket to Hollywood was in his hands.
That’s it for auditions, folks! Get ready for the next step a big season of even bigger talent when the Idol crew and contestants head to Hollywood on March 24.