37 Memorable 'American Idol' Contestants: Then & Now

Luke Bryan tries to learn a "hip thrust" as "Idol" calls it a wrap on the audition rounds.

It was the final round of auditions on "American Idol," and with it came the death of rock and roll (RIP) and the return of a former "Idol" contestant like we've never seen before! It was a night of great performances, a few bad ones, and a couple of fun surprises involve the judges.

As if in response to some of the social backlash she's been receiving for her antics during the audition rounds, Katy Perry basically presented a public service announcement toward the end of the show to assure everyone that she and her fellow judges aren't just playing around.

"We are having a great time and we keep it fun and funny but this is a serious job, there are serious dreams on the line, she said. "We don't take it for granted because we've been in their shoes. We know what it means to get the shot and how it changes a life."

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. 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.


Hello? The night offered plenty of surprises, but one of the sweetest was a completely random flash chorus set up to honor Lionel Richie. With only 30 minutes of prep time, two pop-up choir directors gathered the assembled "Idol" hopefuls and get them to get it together for an impressive production of one of Lionel's most iconic songs. The legendary singer was touched and honored, and couldn't resist joining in.

Elvis Has Left the Building. For some reason, we got a montage of singers inspired by Elvis Presley, most of whom proved very disappointing. But 20-year-old Bailey Eubanks sounded more like a young Elvis that I found myself on the edge of my seat ... and they didn't tell us if he made it or not. I hope he got a chance, because those were some damned impressive vocals.

Snack Time. Katy Perry likes to snack. To eat. To put food in her mouth. "My dog's name is Nugget because she looks like a chicken nugget, and I love chicken nuggets," Katy explained. "I love snacks." That is all.

Luke Can't Dance. Luckily, Luke Bryan didn't have to dance when he crashed a wedding after auditions one night. Producers found out about a wedding filled with Luke fans, so they had an absolute ball when he showed up. It's just a shame he didn't bring that "hip thrust" a contestant taught him earlier in the night. "That was like a life-long 'Humpty Dance,'" Luke said after twinging his knee ... or more likely pretending he twinged his knee so he could stop doing a "hip thrust."


Damiano Scarfi

Damiano Scarfi (19) is a rocker, but based on how he described himself, he's just a surface rocker; as in he's seen the '80s videos and he can mimic that look and attitude. None of it looked or felt authentic to who he was, though. It was just a show. And his voice was even worse than that. It just made me feel really sad for him, like he needs to take some time and find out who he really is rather than try and be some cartoon version of what he thinks a rock star is. Judges: 3 No

Gabby Barrett

Gabby Barrett (17) came in idolizing Carrie Underwood and took on her "Good Girl," but Katy Perry wasn't having it. Unfortunately, her second song choice was also Carrie when Katy was needing to see more dynamism. It was just too copycat karaoke at first. Finally, they convinced her to try a church song and were able to see something there. I'm going to have to agree that she can hold a note and has a fun stage presence, but she has no idea who she is as a singer. Hopefully she can start to find that as I don't think she's ready for this. Judges: 3 Yes


Lee Vasi

Lee Vasi (20) was almost overwhelmed by her nerves even before she got into the room with the judges. Her all-time favorite song is "Zoom," and as soon as Lionel Richie heard that he sprung into an impromptu duet with her. She sounded great there, but she was completely out of her depth on Toni Braxton's "Love Shoulda Brought You Home." She lost the tune completely and it became a painful mess. The judges were very forgiving, offering her a pass based on everything up to that point, which was very confident. She's got something there, but all those bad notes scare me. Judges: 3 Yes

Tory N. Teasly

Tory N. Teasly (26) was "on fire," per their own terminology, tackling Cee Lo Green's "Forget You," only why bother with the radio-friendly edit. With big eyes and a proud "F-ck You!" Tory actually sounded pretty good on this song, if a bit more like Green than I would have liked. Still, I can't deny there's a voice in there, I'm just not sure who the artist is yet. Judges: No (not shown)


Ayana "Rose" Lawson

Ayana "Rose" Lawson (22) has been homeless for four to five years working at Navy Pier in Chicago, so her motivation to audition was as much to help her family as to further her own ambitions. She took on Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me" and proved herself stronger as a guitarist than singer. It's a song filled with passion and emotion, and Rose was able to pour her own experiences into the story of the lyric, but I wanted her to shine brighter than she did, even though there is no fault in what she brings. I think she's got it in her, she just needs some confidence and to be given a chance. Judges: 3 No


Jurnee (18) got married at a very young age, with her wife set to deploy very soon. She oversang Andra Day's "Rise Up" and it made the song lack authenticity, even though she was proving the ease at which she can hit all those high and big notes. It was technically proficient but lacked in heart for me. I think she has more to offer as a performer and if she can find a way to really emote through her songs, to really feel what she's singing, she's going to be a real threat in this competition. Judges: 3 Yes

Caitlin Lucia

Caitlin Lucia (22) strummed "I Kissed a Girl" down to a singer-songwriter rendition, offering a nice falsetto and a great indie vibe on the song. She made the song sound hip and current, putting her own spin on the decidedly pop song She has a great vibe and confidence with the guitar slung around her neck. I'm not sure what range she'll offer as an artist, but she definitely gave the sense that she's got great control of her instrument. Judges: 3 Yes

Michael J. Woodard

Michael J. Woodard (20) started off awful, but after a good shake from Lionel, he got a second chance and made the most of it with Ed Sheeran's "Make It Rain." He turned it into a slow jam with a classic Motown sound blended with Mariah Carey's intonation. He's unpolished, but he's got a really powerful voice and great range and control of his voice ... if the nerves don't get the best of him. Judges: 3 Yes

Drake Milligan

Drake Milligan (19) got into music through Elvis Presley, having won competitions as an impersonator, but has expanded into an interest in country music. He stepped outside of the impression to present himself on George Strait's "You Look so Good in Love." It was a cool and confident performance from a seasoned performer at just 19 years old. Drake has the chops to really take the country side of the competition far. Judges: 3 Yes

Mylon Shamble

Mylon Shamble (24) took a song with very little dynamism and injected every line with little vocal tics and runs and flares that truly made "Stand By Me" sound like something almost wholly different, without losing what makes it a classic. She made a very old song sound so very cool, Katy had to declare it the best version of the song she'd ever heard, and it was pretty damned dynamic and exciting. Judges: 3 Yes

Brielle Rathbun

Brielle Rathbun (18) shook off the nerves by teaching Luke Bryan a hip thrust before delving into Sarah Bareilles' "Gravity." She over-pronounced some of the words early on, but proved that she could handle the full range of such a challenging song. She made it cool and fun, and while it was very derivative of what Bareilles did, she put enough of her own spin on the song that we got a sense of who she would be as an artist, and it's someone pretty cool. Judges: Yes (not shown)

Samuel Swanson

Samuel Swanson (28) left the farm for Harlem to follow his dreams, and those brought him in front of the judges with Al Green's "Let's Stay Together." He has a throwback vibe to his voice, but what a voice it is. He took this song on with no fear because he knew there wasn't a note he feared and no part of it he could not wrangle and make his own. He made those big old notes look easy. Judges: 3 Yes

Ada Vox

Ada Vox (22) made it to the Top 50 in Season 12 as Adam Sanders, and then totally lost his way after allowing the vitriol of the Internet get to him. Five years later, she returned in full drag with a fabulous new persona and confidence and absolutely slayed "House of the Rising Sun." That is not an easy song, and Ada just took it to school and spanked it on its bottom, she made it look so damned easy. Judges: 3 Yes

Carly Moffa

Carly Moffa (25) is an admitted weirdo who brought an original song called "I'd Let the Lion Out," written about her mother's health struggles. But all of her quirkiness is because she is a true artist. The song was both beautifully written and flawlessly executed. She had elements of Tori Amos and Florence Welch and is genuinely exciting to watch whether she's singing, talking, emoting or just doing whatever it is she does to process her excitement. Judges: 3 Yes

Monday night kicks off the "Hollywood Week" round of the competition. Many will fall apart completely in dramatic fashion, while others will fall just short, leaving us with a Top 24 when it's all over. "American Idol" airs twice weekly on Sundays and Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

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