Several finalists from ABC's first season make surprise returns, but nothing can prepare the judges for Lady Mapo!
The audition rounds wrapped up on "American Idol" with some stellar talent, and fans were treated by return appearances from some of our favorites from last season, including the top two!
One contestant brought a bona-fide country star to join her audition, and his was perhaps the most adorable and genuinely sweet support we've seen all season. In fact, there was a lot of country on the night, probably more than any other genre, but that wasn't all.
We also got an authentic interpretation of a Billy Joel classic, a classic crooner and saw both sides of the risks of singing original songs. One contestant poured his coming out story into a gorgeous song, while another pandered to 'Murica with one of the worst, treacly, over-the-top saccharine sickening songs we've ever heard.
But our favorite contestant of the night had to be our new goth hero, Lady Mapo, who came onto the show because it was so boring last year and way too "American." And then she broke into "Rainbow Connection."
Honestly, all props to the makeup department for making last season's winner absolutely unrecognizable, and Maddie got her voice so low, we were almost convinced she was a man. It was a fun way to tease the judges.
Just for giggles, I'm going to rank the auditions each night from worst to first to see who my favorites are. Will they move on? Will the judges get it right? After all, we know I'm right, so they just need to get on board.
Okay, this song was terrible with a capital T-E-R-R-I-B-L-E, but underneath the cliche lyrics, awkward rhythm and hackneyed imagery, Jakob showed glimpses of a voice. It's probably not quite there yet, but he could be on his way to making a name for himself in country music with a little more time and practice ... and maybe someone else writing for him.
10 years old - "The Fireman," George Strait
Last season's runner-up, Caleb Lee Hutchinson, swung by to help judge and surprise his old pal. Now Jared has an authentic country voice, but he picked about as safe a song as you can from the country catalogue. On top of that, what he gave us was little more than a very good karaoke rendition of it. It lacked any grit and didn't sound as if he even cared about the words or the story, he was just working his way through the notes. All that said, though, he's got a real nice quality to his voice that's a bit of a throwback. He could do some interesting things on more modern tunes. Other than Lionel, the judges decided he wasn't ready, and he really did fail to show what he's got in there.
Ryan was singing to the rafters, bringing every bit of his church to his audition. He's got a big voice, but it wasn't completely in control of the message and intimacy of the song. He basically took a passionate song filled with emotion and belted it out like he was on a Broadway stage singing in front of a church choir. He's got a great voice, but he needs to learn to hold back at times. It was a bit of too much all the time and he didn't hit everything perfectly, but if he were to reign it in and just let his voice shine, he could be really special.
22 years old - "Strawberry Wine," Deana Carter
She sounded more mature than her years in presenting this story, and while she put a slightly different spin on it, the song still came home for the chorus. And that's where her voice really shined, too, caressing the lyric to wring the emotions out of them. Good country singers tell a story and pull you in and make you feel that heartache they seem to always be talking about, and Jade seems to have the instrument to do that. She did, however, hit a few bum notes and overstrained at a few points early on before settling in.
19 years old - ""Vienna," Billy Joel / "Toxic," Britney Spears
Christiaan channeled every bit of Billy Joel's vibe, bringing that storytelling quality almost like a casual lounge act but kicked up a notch or two. He has a really unique quality to his voice you don't hear often enough in modern music that is compelling and really brings you into his world. The judges, however, were equally fascinated by his girlfriend, who is also a singer but was too shy to audition. So they brought her in and convinced her to sing a duet with him, which was really adorable. She's not ready for the big time, but maybe this helped with her shyness.
27 years old - "Porch Swing Angel," Muscadine Bloodline
Flatfooter Zeb is the real deal in the world of country music. He strained a little unnecessarily throughout this song, but his natural tone is absolutely beautiful. A little bit Garth Brooks, a little bit Chris Stapleton and a little bit something all his own. We'd love to hear him caress a song the way he powered his way through this one, because the natural tone and quality of his voice is just beautifully authentic.
This Nickelodeon star went from "Every Witch Way" to "Idol" to give music another chance after puberty messed up his first one. But he didn't sound like a kid on this Winehouse classic. It didn't have quite the grit that she has, but he managed to make it his own and was able to put some of that pain into his performance. On top of that his voice is smooth and silky and even his falsetto was effortless. Nick easily has one of the strongest natural voices we've seen yet, and so effortless.
16 years old - "Stupid Boy," Keith Urban
'90s country crooner Billy Dean actually joined her as an accompanist for her audition. Chloe needs to work on her performance and her upper register just a bit, but she is an absolute natural as a country crooner all her own. Having a bona fide country star as a mentor certainly doesn't hurt, but Chloe has a natural charm and talent that's all her own, too. She's someone who could really blossom through this process, clearly takes guidance well and might just be able to crack Nashville. If she's this polished at this age, the sky is her limit.
We weren't completely sold on her at the beginning, but Emma absolutely won us over as she showed every bit of her vocal ability in this performance. At the top, maybe it was nerves, but she wasn't selling the message of privilege. It lacked authenticity. By the end, though, she had us in the palm of her hand. That's a powerful tool she has and so many different layers and sounds and affectations and just everything. Emma is a real-deal singer and someone who could probably sing anything if she believes in it.
23 years old - "Heaven," Jorgie
Now this is how you do an original song right on this show. Jorgie's voice just soared through the stratosphere effortlessly, it was like Sam Smith but still something totally his own. Jorgie has one of the easiest and smoothest voices to listen to, and even though his falsetto wasn't as strong as the rest, it was still a solid addition to an incredibly impressive arsenal. You could also feel the genuine heartache and pain he's gone through as a closeted homosexual for so many years, worried about how his family might react -- he's still stressing that.
Jackson totally has that modern indie/alternative sound to his voice. It's filled with a wonderful grit that he knows just how to use. It's the kind of voice that stays with you and lingers in the back of your mind and makes you wonder how they'd interpret your favorite song. On top of that, because he's been through some things in his life already, there's an authentic pain he injects into the lyrics which makes every line ring true. It's something you can't put on; it's either there or it ain't. Jackson is one who can go far.
"American Idol" airs Sundays and Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.