We're only through the third episode of auditions on "American Idol," and already we've seen some contestants to get really excited about. We're also watching this judging panel get more and more comfortable, and perhaps too comfortable as Katy Perry continues to treat the auditions tour like her own personal dating pool, while throwing in a veiled jab at Taylor Swift for good measure. It's all poor Lionel Richie can do at times to keep his fellow judges focused on the auditions.
At one point, a contestant apologized to Katy before revealing that his inspiration and favorite singer was Taylor Swift. "Oh you don't have to be sorry," Katy told him sweetly. "I love her as a songwriter as well." We see what you didn't say there. We see you, Katy.
At the end of the day, though, this show is about the singers, and there are some strong ones already. The real test is yet to come, as we get excited about contestants during the blind auditions of "The Voice," too, only to forget them completely by the time the next cycle rolls around. The "Idol" format keeps them in our faces week in and week out, which is helpful to build the relationship that will hopefully lead to album sales. We'll see if lightning can strike again.
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, I experienced the ups and downs of one of the most physically demanding sports on the planet. 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. But first, shenanigans!
As we saw last week, the new "American Idol" may be skipping out on the truly awful auditions -- though we've seen a few slip through the cracks -- but they're still bringing a playful banter to the show. This section shines a spotlight on those memorable moments, good and bad, that have little or nothing to do with the singing ... and largely to do with a single Katy Perry on the prowl.
Katy "Kuggar" Perry: She wasn't quite as brazen this time as she was when she stole one contestant's first kiss last week, but she still called herself a "kuggar," flirted with contestants as young as 17-years old and basically got all kinds of distracted every time a pretty face showed up. Here's hoping she gets a date by the time we get to the live shows so she can focus on the contestants and their journey, rather than their chiseled features and rock-solid abs. She may have met her match with a contestant nicknamed "Cougar," as he was even thirstier than her, but alas his journey was short-lived.
Lionel Gets Pranked: Poor Lionel Richie seems to ask every week what he's signed up for, because he was clearly expecting to serve as a guiding light for the next generation of talent. "I thought it was going to be judging, I thought it was going to be mentoring. I had no idea it was going to be babysitting," Richie said in voice-over as he was about to sit on a Whoopie Cushion. "Luke and Katy are like two mischievous kids figuring out what they can do to the substitute teacher." The poor guy really is trying to do right by these young people, but his efforts are being subverted by the oft-juvenile antics of his fellow judges. The question is, will they rise up to his level of professionalism, or will he sink to theirs?
Udder-ly Sex Education?: The whoopie cushions that are apparently a staple of the audition tour came in handy for one contestant when Katy asked her to show how one goes about milking a cow. And while the contestant gamely explained the proper process, things went south in a hurry when Luke discussed the importance of moisturizer. "If you have your udders milked on a regular basis, they get raw," he tried to explain, but neither she nor Lionel were thinking about cows at that moment. [You can see this and the following moment in Kristyn Harris' audition video below.]
Katy's Dance Party: Maybe I'm being overly sensitive, but in the same audition with the udder talk, Katy almost immediately got up and started square dancing to the country song, as well as doing other things she clearly thought were country-music based. Luke and Lionel joined her, and it may have just been a fun, silly moment, except that Katy had already decided to dismiss this auditioner. It looked like a lack of respect for the poor young woman's audition, as well as the country music traditions she was representing (Katy was again dismissive when Luke gave her and Lionel "country starter kit" gifts). Why turn the moment into a joyous dance party if you're about to crush someone's dreams?
Ryan Zamo (28) tackled Sara Bareilles' "Gravity," but either he was overwhelmed by the experience, or he forgot that he was supposed to actually sing. All he did was kind of give a spoken-word rendition. Maybe Katy telling him how much she loved the song made him even more nervous, but the audition was kind of a mess. When he settled into it, about the best I could see for him would be a bit player in a stage musical off-Broadway ... and then he hit the big note and I'm thinking community theater. It was so bad, how did he get through? Judges: 3 No
Kristyn Harris (23) was inspired by singing cowboys in the pictures. While her parents were trying to teach Ryan how to yodel outside, Katy was learning how to milk a cow using a whoopie cushion. What is happening on this show? Finally, after things got weird talking about udders with Katy, Kristin gave us her old-school take on Patsy Montana's "I Wanna Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart." She had a throwback vibe to her vocals (and yodeling), which sounded a lot like someone just mimicking a song, rather than interpreting it in a way that she truly connected with. That said, her natural vibrato. And then, for some reason, Katy decided it was time to square dance. Judges: 2 Yes, 1 No (Katy)
Tyler "Cougar" Gordon
Tyler "Cougar" Gordon (25) was looking to connect with Katy Perry, but did anyone warn him she's using this audition round as her own dating show? He certainly brought the confidence, but the producers were clearly playing that up, so it was clear he was a little delusional about his own greatness before he even began to sing ... and yeah, it wasn't great. He had a very '80s hair rock approach to his performance, and the boy definitely has a voice and a range, he just has absolutely no idea what to do with it. He needs some practical training, and to sing something he connects with intimately to better hone his instrument. Judges: 3 No
Johnny Brenns (18) auditioned without his parents' knowledge, to pursue what he wanted despite their vision for what he should be doing. He performed an original song "Blue Jeans." There was something smooth both classic and current about Johnny's delivery of the song, which definitely fell into the John Mayer camp, with a heavy jazz and big band influence in how he interpreted a lyric. He was a little too timid in his delivery, but there's something special about how he tells a story that clearly means something to him. He's also very young, which means all that potential is just ripe for picking and shaping into something wholly unique and special. Judges: 2 Yes, 1 No (Lionel)
Shannon O'Hara (17) took on a big song with Adele's "When We Were Young," and she just wasn't up to it. She lacked the polish and control to really sell the song or performance. As she got deeper into the chorus, there was a glimmer of the potential living inside her, and that potential could grow into something with confidence and proper mentoring. Shaking off the nerves was the best thing she could have done, but I'm a little on the fence with her. I think she could crack under the pressures of more intense rounds in the future. Judges: 3 Yes
Ricky Manning (22) brought an original song called "LA Is Lonely" about the challenges of chasing your dreams. The lyrics were more than a little trite, and his voice was Ed Sheeran-lite, but it was a well-constructed song musically. He also sang the whole song at full, cracking voice rather than show any nuance and range in presentation. That said, Katy connected with the story of it, as it mimicked her own experiences. Judges: 3 Yes
Crystal Alicea (20) has primarily been singing karaoke, lacking the confidence to face a full audience, due to bullying. She certainly wasn't shy when she went into the room with the judges, though Katy's face said it all when Crystal revealed her background was in karaoke. No one believes real singers are hiding behind scrolling lyrics and drunken bar patrons. She started with a slightly affected and overwrought performanced of Sam Smith's "Lay Me Down," before she settled down and simply gave an effortless performance with impressive range and nuance. She's one to watch. Judges: 3 Yes
Johnny White (18) knows "This Is a Man's World," but he knows he wouldn't even be at this audition without a woman. It was his vocal coach who gave him the love and support he'd been seeking. He definitely oversang this James Brown song, but that was probably a combination of youthful exuberance, and nerves. The bottom line, though, is that this kid can sing. The ability is there; it's just about teaching him to rein it in. There were too many "Idol Power Notes," like he had no idea the message he was trying to convey. Lionel knows what he's doing, and went up to push Johnny's shoulders down on a second song, forcing him to settle more into the lyric. That's the kind of coaching that shapes singers, and it proved Lionel saw that raw potential. Judges: 3 Yes
Les Green (27) kicked it old school in old school kicks with Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come." Les has the voice, but I wish he hadn't hit so hard coming out of the gate with those first few notes. Thankfully, he settled into a groove and it was passionate when needed and powerful when warranted (if always a little more than the moment had earned), but I liked his gentleness better. This guy definitely has the ability, he just needs to work a little on song interpretation to really make it as an artist in the business. Big notes can score votes from home for awhile, but they will always lose out over someone who can really sell the particular song they're presenting. Judges: 3 Yes
Caleb Lee Hutchinson
Caleb Lee Hutchinson (18) had a playful confidence even before he started singing, showing off his Luke Bryan impression and talking about coming from a family of listeners of music. He was instantly likeable, meaning he better be able to sing! And oh, he's got it. This kid's voice has a maturity to it, and he knew the words he was singing, interpreting the story of losing your will and mind for love. He is incredibly watchable, and that's with a serious lack of stage presence and performance. Judges: 3 Yes
Amelia Hammer Harris
Amelia Hammer Harris (26) comes from a musical background; her father wrote huge songs like "Great Balls of Fire," but she didn't meet him until she was 16-years old. After he passed, she's hoping to carry on his musical legacy, and gave it a good push with her take on The Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter." It's just effortless from her, everything from the control and range of her vocals to her charming stage presence and performance. This is a confident and seasoned professional who knows what she's got. This is a polished singer ready to go right now. I look forward to going along with her. Judges: 3 Yes
Julian & Milo Sposato
Julian & Milo Sposato (17) are twins who auditioned together with Bruno Mars' "Runaway Baby," accompanied by their dad on guitar. It was a family affair all around, with Julian on trumpet and Milo playing sax. Julian sang first, and the boy has got it! There was a confidence in his rapid-fire delivery, and a sweetness in the intonation of his voice that was undeniable. Milo came in a little later, and offered a little more strength on the vocals, but I absolutely love these two together. Their accompaniment and back-and-forth was a thing of beauty, Judges: 3 Yes
Maddie Zahm (19) gained 100 pounds in high school due to a medical condition, which rocked her confidence. She then found special needs students singing and befriended Marcus, with the two of them motivating one another to find confidence and get out there. The judges invited Marcus in to sit with them as Maddie belted Dua Lipa's "New Rules." And she got me. The only audition of the night that touched me emotionally started off a little shaky, but when she got into the meat of the song, I could feel it with her. That was a young lady who has rediscovered her confidence and her sheer fabulousness. Judges: 3 Yes
Effie Passero (26) took to the piano for a fearless performance of an original song, and she belted that song. This is one of those cases were she didn't sing it, she SANG it, and gotdamn, girl, you go! That voice was filled with soul and passion and power and control and she made it look so effortless. That's how you blow away professional singers. She sat there as the epitome of what a show like this is trying to accomplish: plucking a property manager from nowhere and putting them on a national stage so our jaws can drop. Judges: 3 Yes
"American Idol" airs twice weekly on Sundays and Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.