"American Idol" continues to treat its youngest auditioners extra kindly, as Wednesday night's (Jan. 26) episode showcasing the Milwaukee, Wis., tryouts saw every single 15-year-old getting a golden ticket to Hollywood, according to host Ryan Seacrest.
From Thia Megia, a California high school student (and former "America's Got Talent" contestant) who impressed with a cover of Adele's "Chasing Pavements," to Colorado native Emma Henry, who was given a second chance despite a shaky version of Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors," the across-the-board kudos were further proof that "Idol" producers simply don't want to risk missing the next teen sensation.
Video: Thia Megia's "American Idol" audition
Host Ryan Seacrest admitted as much while narrating a montage about 16-year-old Justin Bieber, who at 15 made the lightning-fast leap from YouTube sensation to recording star. "It got us to thinking, because of his staggering success at such a young age, perhaps we should lower the age limit for our contestants," Seacrest said. "We did lower the age limit to 15, and they've certainly delivered so far on the road."
Randy Jackson had a different trend in mind while judging the Milwaukee hopefuls, though. "This is the unassuming season. Never judge a book by its cover," he said after Scott Dangerfield and Steve Beguhn, two contestants with nerdy exteriors, revealed their standout voices ("disturbingly great," as Steven Tyler told Beguhn).
Prodigal talents and "unassuming" ones have been the calling cards of other reality TV talent competitions lately (see Jackie Evancho on "America's Got Talent" and Susan Boyle on the show's British version). But "Idol" has always been best at finding contestants whose personal journeys have been fraught with struggle -- "sob stories," as devout fans of the show have come to call them. Tonight's was as tear-inducing as they come, with 26-year-old singer Chris Medina revealing that his fiancee, Juliana Ramos, was left severely brain damaged after a tragic car accident in 2009, leaving him as one of her caretakers and wedding plans on hold. Medina's take on the Script's "Breakeven" was strong, but it was undoubtedly this compelling backstory that led to him being chosen as the night's closer.
"American Idol" continues Thursday with the highlights from its Nashville, Tenn. auditions.