37 Memorable 'American Idol' Contestants: Then & Now

We thought ABC wasn't allowing bad auditions to get through anymore, so somebody needs to explain a couple of these people.

It's only the second episode of the revived "American Idol," and already the judges are getting comfortable in their roles and playful with each other and the contestants. One Latin singer got them all on their feet for an impromptu dance session that ended in disaster, with Katy Perry flat on her stomach. But she still had a good night, thirsting over all the pretty boys that came in, unable to even look a couple of them in the eyes.

Even better for ABC, the wrapping is off, and this show is a hit again ... but not a juggernaut hit. The premiere scored more than 10 million viewers in the overnight ratings, which was on par with its last season average, and easily won the night. That's enough for ABC to probably be pleased with this new iteration of the show, so long as it can at least hang onto those figures, or better yet, grow.

Any show would be thrilled to pull in 10 million viewers in today's market, and "Idol" immediately becomes one of the top shows on network television with that mark. It's a fraction of its heyday, which may be why Fox decided to drop it -- it was also one of the most expensive shows on television -- but a streamlined show that can still score numbers like this is nothing to scoff at.

The judging panel proved charming and had great chemistry in the premiere. Perry emerged as the de facto leader/goofball, with Lionel Richie as its heart and Luke Bryan as ... the wacky uncle? We've already seen some great performances, but we need something to blow us away and go viral to push "Idol" to the next level.

With only three judges, you stand as the fourth judge, as your votes will certainly have a lot to say about who wins. I'll proudly stand beside you. Who do I think I am? you ask. Well, I spent nearly a decade of my life sweating and bleeding to the music as a dancer. From is a young boy learning a shuffle-ball-change to performing with the St. Louis Ballet Company. During this time, I was also a member of the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra, as well as a gymnast, writer and cartoonist. I had a lot more energy in my younger years. And I've spent the last sixteen years analyzing and critiquing reality competition shows for various media publications. I've got this.

Fair warning, since I'm safe at home, I'm probably going to be a little harsher than my colleagues Lionel RIchie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan. But I might be nicer, too. Maybe. For these early rounds, I'll just keep ranking them from worst to first as I do and we'll see who emerges at the top.


Autumn Woods

Autumn Woods (27) sang ... ? ... "Total Eclipse of the Heart," but come on. Was that for real? She started much lower than her voice would allow, or she just can't sing. I thought we weren't doing this this year, ABC? That means she genuinely impressed someone in an earlier round which means either she just really blew it in front of the judges, or somebody needs to be fired. In their efforts to be nice, the judges didn't appear to offer her any critiques, and she was desperately in need of some. Judges: 3 No

Misha Gontar

Misha Gontar (26) decided to sing some scat and then break into rap in his native language from the Ukraine. It was certainly a bold choice for a singing competition. Sure, he proved he could sing in tune with the weird onomatopoeia chorus, but it didn't realy show me enough to say that he can carry a tune and express a song in the way that wins "American Idol." Judges: 3 No

Andrew Weaver

Andrew Weaver (16) took on Ed Sheeran, which I think we'll see a lot of this season. Sheeran seems like a safe choice, but he's a storyteller and there's something special about the way storytellers sing a line. Andrew knew the notes and had a charming smile, but he didn't sell the story to me. He's just too bland. Judges: Yes (only saw Katy vote)

Cameron Theodos

Cameron Theodos (25) Put a little too much into his audition; it was as if he thought someone had put a clock on him and he needed to impress the judges right now or they were going to take his house away. Desperation can fuel a performance, but for me, it just made Cameron seem a little rushed and over-eager. He had a tenderness at the end that was nice to see, but there was nothing incredibly special for me that made him stand above the pack. Judges: 3 Yes


Michelle Sussett

Michelle Sussett (22) brought her Venezuelan flare to the competition with a song in her native language complete with Latin dance moves. The audition turned into a dancefest with Katy landing on the floor, but was there enough from the actual audition to make it through? I wasn't driven to that, but the other judges put her through. She did showcase that she can sing on key and has an interesting gravel, but I definitely need to see more singing from her than spectacle (or paired equally) to be sold. Judges: 3 Yes

Christina Jones

Christina Jones (18) sings like she's known struggle in her life. We didn't get a backstory to support that statement, but it was in the emotion and pain she poured into the story of "Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me," by Gladys Knight and The Pips. That said, there was also an innocence in her voice that betrayed her youth around the edges, but that's something that could be trained out of her, or she'll just age out of naturally. For raw ability and range, I'd put her through to groom her. [You can see her audition in the video above for Adam Weaver] Judges: 3 Yes

Griffin Tucker

Griffin Tucker (15) looks and sounds young, but still managed to put his own stamp on The Beatles' "Lady Madonna." He has a nice rock edge to his voice, and accompanied himself on the piano beautifully. There was such poise and maturity in his interpretation of this classic song, it's shocking he is so young. [You can see his audition in the video above for Adam Weaver] Judges: Yes (saw no individual votes)

William Casanova

William Casanova (26) knows he's pretty, and has that swagger. He chose this name for the obvious reasons, which is a little cringey, but even his voice backed up the name. He had the range and power to make Danny Hathaway's "A Song For You" all his own, but more importantly, he had the tenderness to back it up. There were just a few missed notes along the way, but it was an effortless rendition. This Casanova has "smoove" on lockdown so hard Katy Perry refused to even look at him, his testosterone-fueled energy might devour her. Judges: 3 Yes

Garrett Jacobs

Garrett Jacobs (17) came in looking like a country crooner, but then he told the judges he was taking on James Brown's "It's a Man's Man's World." That ain't just a song. That's a SONG. His voice was in his head a little bit, when I wanted him to project it more out toward the judges and the audience. But that's something that could be taught, and to give that confident vocal at 17 is nothing to scoff at. He's a talent to be groomed and honed into something special when he finds himself as an artist. Judges: 3 Yes

Rissa Watson

Rissa Watson (17) tackled Adele's "When We Were Young," and there was a similar quality to her voice, not necessarily in range and intonation, but in conviction and passion. Adele was a young ingenue who took the industry by storm as a teenager, and while Rissa isn't quite that polished, she has an instrument that could be shaped into something truly special. When she hit an effortless falsetto -- only a little shaky -- she showed that she is ready for someone to help her become. Judges: 3 Yes


Trevor Holmes

Trevor Holmes (27) is a so-so guitar player, but he has a folksy quality to his voice that makes you want to scootch a little bit closer to him when he performs. There was an intimacy to his take on Brett Young's "In Case You Didn't Know" that was palpable through the screen, and nearly brought Katy to her knees. She was already impressed with Trevor's good looks, but throw good vocals and a down-home charm, and she was lost. Most importantly for this show, though, Trevor has the goods where it counts ... his voice, people, his voice! Judges: 3 Yes

Gabbii Jones

Gabbii Jones (20) has 30 days to accomplish her dreams, per her father, so it's this or nothing. There was a desperation in her audition, but it still rather worked on Ariana Grande's "Dangerous Woman." I believe that Gabby is ambitious enough to be a bit of a dangerous woman, but she also has a raw talent there just begging to be crafted into something special. Her voice has a lovely rasp and passion. I could feel how much this moment meant to her and she was left absolutely nothing left in the tank. Judges: 3 Yes

Thaddeus Johnson

Thaddeus Johnson (25) auditioned back in Season 9 and made it to Hollywood, but fell short. He then changed his life around, exemplified most by a more than 160-pound weight loss. He emoted beautifully on Swedish House Maffia's "Don't You Worry Child," and you could hear the maturity and life experience that ushered him to this second chance in his life. He oversang it a little bit, but that could be reined in. The important thing is that he's got a big old voice and fantastic control over it. Lose those pesky "Idol power notes and emerge as a true artist and this guy's gonna be someone to watch. Judges: 3 Yes

David Francisco

David Francisco (25) lost the use of his legs after getting hit by a car shortly after moving to Nashville to pursue his musical dreams. Now, he's slowly recovering and looking to embrace his original passion again. With his fiancee by his side, he sang Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely," and I really needed him to be better than his story. There was a hint of nerves, and he missed a pickup early on, but there is a quality to his voice that is effortless when tackling one of the best vocalists of all time and one of the hardest to follow. Judges: 3 Yes

Mara Justine

Mara Justine (15) was adorably starstruck by Ryan Seacrest and the whole experience ... but mostly Ryan Seacrest. She was just so normal, it was refreshing and charming. But then she opened her mouth and started singing Rihanna's "Love on the Brain," and I had to remind myself she was 15 years old. Like, damn, girl! She had nuance and depth and range and stank on that voice; she was interpreting the story rather than just regurgitating the notes. It was a powerful start to the second night. Her lowest register was her only weakness, but this is a voice still growing and polishing. Wow! Judges: 3 Yes

Laine Hardy

Laine Hardy (17) was worried that his shyness would hinder him in front of the judges, but oh my did he have nothing to worry about. From the first line of The Band of Heathens' "Hurricane," his voice had every one of them hanging from his every note. There was just a hint of a gravel in his youthful voice and it added so much. This kid from the country has soul and damn if he doesn't make it look easy. That's a storyteller voice, and he absolutely lived and breathed that song he didn't write, which is harder to do that it sounds. Judges: 3 Yes

Brandon Diaz

Brandon Diaz (21) really laid back his take on Allen Stone's "Unaware" and turned it into a slow jam with effortless falsetto incorporated into a voice with depth and meaning. He had a great attitude going in, and evidence of a strong work ethic and a great attitude, and all of that came through in a confident and commanding performance. Brandon just put it out there like he'd already won, but none of that came with swagger or attitude. This is a great young man who really doesn't know just how poised and powerful his instrument is. I predict great things. Judges: 3 Yes

"American Idol" airs twice weekly on Sundays and Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

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