An unassuming teen from West Virginia opens her mouth to sing in front of people for the first time and leaves everyone in tears as "American Idol" hands out its second Platinum Ticket of the season.
It’s only two episodes in on “American Idol,” and the judges have already found the contestant they think may be the biggest star to ever walk in. She certainly had an impressive array of vocal talent!
But she wasn’t alone in bringing a memorable performance to the “Idol” auditions. While Scotty McCreery’s Season 10 win ushered in a series of copycat singers with low registers, this may be the most authentically bass vocalist we’ve seen on this show. He may have even outbased Johnny Cash -- and yes, of course he sang Johnny Cash.
We also saw some heartfelt and authentic vocal performances from incredible artists, including a young man who says his background is R&B and soul, but his heart is in country music. He put such a fresh spin on a female country classic, the whole genre should be excited about his potential.
Another singer came out of West Virginia to sing in front of people for the first time and left the entire panel in tears. You can’t teach that kind of authenticity. And she wasn’t the only one, as Katy Perry may have to give up the rights to one of her songs after a beautiful interpretation left her gobsmacked.
And the contestants weren’t the only ones with memorable performances this week. If you doubted the artistry of our illustrious panel, you have to check out this moment when Katy came in as Luke Bryan was riffing on the piano, and she started ad-libbing and performing a song about queso. It was surprisingly catchy and Luke’s playing was absolutely beautiful.
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.
And just for fun, I'm going to rank the performances from worst to first in each round to see who my favorites are, and then see how they fare as the season progresses.
(“Make Me Feel,” Janelle Monae - 17, Upland, CA) Another short snippet, Kaitlyn brought her own dancers for this performance, and it’s probably a good thing. That was the best part of it. She definitely knows how to entertain and put on a show, but she didn’t even come close to having the pipes to back any of that up. It was just too much “extra” and not nearly enough substance.
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(“Every Little Step,” Bobby Brown - 25, Los Angeles, CA) He definitely had energy, but in the short snippet we saw of this performance, the vocals were not there. It was very nasally as if he was singing from inside his head. On top of that, he was very sharp, making the whole thing very uncomfortably -- but thankfully very short.
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(“I Got You,” James Brown - 22, Dallas, TX) Part of a montage of subpar auditions, Kurtis plays a pretty mean piano, but if you’re going to take on the Godfather of Soul, you’ve got to have at least a little bit of soul in your voice and a whole helluva lot more energy in your … everything! It was super, super sleepy vocally, which was odd and jarring, but not great.
(“Buckle Bunny,” Skylie Thompson - 17, Cyril, OK) Skylie had a pleasant enough tone and could carry a tune, but it had no spark to it. She also delivered her song with the wrong tone, smiling her way through it. It was a little overly cautious and she definitely sounded like a young singer who needs to spend more time honing her craft. This isn’t a voice that’s anywhere near ready for the rigors of this challenge, or the caliber of competition she’d be facing. She then performed with her father on Zach Bryan’s “Oklahoma City” and it still wasn’t there -- if we’re being honest, from either of them. It was better, but she was off key in places and it never came together for us. In the absence of video for her audition, we’ve pulled the cover song from Skylie’s official YouTube page.
Results: N, N, Y
(“A Moment Like This,” Kelly Clarkson - 27, Warner Robins, GA) The 2016 Miss America (from Georgia) sang classical opera as her talent, but went a different direction for “Idol.” She shared that her biggest dream is to be a Disney Princess. She then went for “Idol” royalty with her audition song, which is a huge task. What we appreciated was that her having lived through some of what she has put a little more depth and emotion into what was a treacly pop song. There were a few bum notes, but it was overall a very confident and strong performance -- she didn’t even miss a note when Katy tried over and over again to put her crown on. And she clearly knew where she was, as when Katy asked her to sing some country, she went with Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel.” She does need to find out what kind of artists she wants to be because she has a lot of tools in her arsenal.
Results: Y, Y, Y
(“Ring of Fire,” Johnny Cash - 20, West Chester, PA) Did Luke just go lower than Johnny Cash for this one? It was certainly an incredibly low vocal performance, but with pitch and control down there that is so incredibly rare in any singer. We kind of loved it when Luke Bryan pushed him into “Frosty the Snowman.” It’s such a rich bass and he had complete control of it at such a young age. That’s something truly magical. His interpretation of anything is going to be just great -- so long as he stays away from Josh Turner’s “Your Man.” We still hear Scotty McCreery singing, “Baby lock them doors and turn the lights down low,” in our nightmares!
(“2016,” Sam Hunt - 20, Greenville, SC) The most unenthusiastic person to ever walk in, possibly, Aaron certainly didn’t look or act like he was going to have enough to make it. That same quiet tenderness was in his singing voice, but there was also something there. He has a sweet sincerity in his voice. It sounds very young, but hopeful in an uplifting way where you find yourself rooting for him. This is the kind of singer and artist, with his look and voice, that can get screaming teenage girls behind him. He does need to inject a little more confidence into his performances to really gain control of what is an interesting vocal personality and be able to harness and control the full potential of his gift. It could be great if he commits and pushes himself.
Results: Y, Y, Y
(“Steal My Girl,” One Direction - 20, Normal, IL) With personality for weeks (not days), Leah came in with all this energy, but when it came time to sing, she had a whole different vibe. It was chill and cool, like a coffee house crooner you can’t take your eyes off, curious what she’ll do next. There is definitely a quietness in her voice, though we know she’s got power in those lungs, so it would be fun to see her pushed beyond what we saw here. But then Katy asked her to sing an original, and there it was. She’s got all that power, but that also tells us of her artistry that she knows when to pull it in and show a more tender side. Just like that, she’s even more interesting. She could be fun to watch.
Results: Y, Y, Y
(“Strawberry Wine,” Deana Carter - 27, Warrenton, VA) What an incredible interpretation of a well-known female country classic. Mike didn’t take anything from the original, but he was so intentional with it, the lyrics stood in the forefront more than ever before in a way that presented a story with such wistful heartache. His is a storytelling voice, but not at all in that traditional country music way, which makes him utterly compelling to watch and listen to as he performs. We can’t say every choice he made landed perfectly for us, but the overall presentation was something special.
(“Tainted,” Allegra Miles - 18, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands) Allegra got short-changed, but at least we got to hear her performance as the soundtrack to clips of the judges talking to her after. She has a beautifully full voice that tethers effortlessly to a breathy falsetto. As a songwriter, she’s quite gifted and definitely has a very current sound. This was a track you could hear on an album today. She knows who she is and what she’s about, and she’s absolutely relatable to other people her age. But is she so singular in her style and vision that she’ll struggle to adapt? We’ve seen other artists stay in their lane and do quite well. Time will tell how she’ll approach it, but she definitely deserves the chance.
Results: Y, Y, Y
(“Piece by Piece,” Kelly Clarkson - 18, Boone County, WV) Kelsie has crippling shyness which kept her from performing at church as her grandmother (who raised her) wanted before she passed last September. Now, Keslie is stepping up in a huge way, singing for the first time in front of people -- and it’s these people! Kelsie gifted us this Kelly Clarkson heartbreaker and then “When We Were Young” by Adele and gosh is she raw but so damned talented! That’s a natural gift right there, and her sweet humility and challenges she’s faced in her life have only made her gift more authentic, more authentic. She’s the real deal, and we loved when Katy tried to pull more out of here, she had more to give. She’s going to be so teachable!
Results: Y, Y, Y
(“A Song for You,” Donny Hathaway - 21, Long Island, NY) A bundle of nerves with a very sweetly charming personality, Christina then opened his mouth to sing and belted! This is not a song that just anybody can sing, but Donny was effortless in projecting the back of the room with passion and conviction. He’s got power and range and passion. It’s such an unassuming presentation and then he goes for it, making it this amazing surprise. He’s got an incredible gift -- and didn’t let his ill fitting glasses throw him one note. That’s a no-brainer right there. How far can he go?
(“Wide Awake,” Katy Perry - 25, Tuskegee, AL) Lady K said this song resonated with her, and you could tell by how she caressed each lyric and felt every line. It’s incredible how a fresh interpretation can reimagine a song so well-known. This time, Katy was blown away by Lady K’s interpretation, and she knows the song better than anyone. Lady K has a stunningly straightforward tone with so much heart in it. You could feel the pain of her life experiences, including the tragic suicide of her brother and the struggles within her family, but also that hope for a brighter tomorrow. That’s a lot to put in a vocal performance, and not something that can be done intentionally. It has to be felt and then you have to have the gift to share that emotion through art.
Results: Y, Y, Y
(“Applause,” Lady Gaga - 17, Crozet, VA) Way to give away that Kenedi was going to get the Platinum Ticket before her segment even began with your teaser for it. Every single tool in her arsenal was on full display in this performance, which she accompanied herself on piano. We heard some indie break, some tenderness, a lot of power, a beautifully controlled falsetto and the ability to shift effortlessly through her abilities. It’s an incredible thing to have so many layers and such nuance -- not to mention the choices she made in interpreting this song to make it her own -- at any age, much less 17. We can see why the judges were so excited. Is she already the front-runner? Unless this is a huge anomaly, she’s going to be a real contender.
Results: Y, Y, Y [Platinum Ticket]
“American Idol” continues Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.