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'American Idol' Recap: Final Season Kicks Off Auditions in Denver and Atlanta
American Idol returned for its 15th and final season tonight, starting with auditions in Atlanta and Denver. Season 14’s Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr. all returned as judges for the farewell season. The premiere immediately began with nostalgia as a montage revisited past Idol auditions and moments and also teased this season’s batch of contestants. Past Idol winners, including Taylor Hicks, Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken, returned to screen some of the Idol hopefuls before the judges.
The first audition came from 15-year-old Michelle Marie Lecza, who said she has wanted to be on American Idol since she was 4 years old. She sang “Blue” by Leann Rimes. “Some people just sing so naturally,” Lopez said, and all three judges unanimously sent her to Hollywood.
Next up was Josiah Siska, an 18-year-old from Dacula, Georgia, who sang Johnny Cash’s “Ghost Riders.” He had a throwback sound with his ultra-deep country voice. “We’ve never heard anything like that,” Connick said. After showing off just how low he could go, Siska accepted the second golden ticket of the night.
Lindita, a 26-year-old personal trainer, also surprised the judges with her voice with her rendition of “A Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World.” She churned out several impressive runs, and she got another unanimous send off to Hollywood.
Travis “Billy Bob” Evett, a self-described honky-tonking man, auditioned next, strolling in with a cowboy hat, guitar, and overalls. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a strong grasp on pitch. Connick liked him but just couldn’t say yes because of all the technical issues.
Lee Jean, a 15-year-old boy who lost his older brother in 2012, auditioned with “I See Fire” by Ed Sheeran, accompanying himself on the guitar. Lopez loved everything about the gorgeous audition. Connick pointed out that he still needs to work on his pitch, but he had beautiful tone. All three judges said yes.
The auditions then moved to Denver, where the judges met 15-year-old Jeneve Mitchell, who lives on a middle-of-nowhere farm on Saddle Mountain in Colorado. Where she lives is too far from power lines for her home to have electricity, but her family turns on a generator just to watch American Idol every week. She came into the audition with a cello, which she played while singing “Chainsaw” by The Band Perry. The judges sent her to Hollywood, where she’ll suddenly be on-the-grid.
Next, Sonika Vaid, a 20-year-old from Martha’s Vineyard, sang “Look At Me” by former Idol winner Carrie Underwood. She kept it simple, which led to an effortlessly beautiful performance. “That was a perfect performance,” Connick said, adding that she was the first person to audition who he could really see winning the whole competition.
The very confident Joseph Kohlruss auditioned next with a truly bizarre performance of “Hello” by Lionel Richie, and the judges did not give him a golden ticket.
Next up was Reanna Molinaro, a 23-year-old police officer. Before singing, she handcuffed Connick, who then tried to play the piano with them on. It didn’t work. But Molinaro’s audition was more successful, and she was sent to Hollywood.
Sylvia Lee Walker, who can sing and hula hoop at the same time apparently, auditioned with a yodeling song. It was...interesting. Urban liked her speaking voice a lot more than her singing voice. She did not make it to Hollywood.
Shevonne Philidor, who was auditioning for Idol for the sixth time, finally got her shot and advanced to Hollywood. Kory Wheeler, another repeat auditioner who made his first bid at making it to Hollywood last year, made it this time, along with Laurel Wright, who had also auditioned for the judges before.
Joshua Wicker, who came to the audition with his pregnant wife who was three weeks away from her due date, auditioned with “Stay” by Rihanna. He admitted he was more nervous about becoming a dad than auditioning for Idol. He had nothing to be nervous about, however, as he sailed smoothly into Hollywood.
A married couple auditioned next: Alexandra and Jordan Sasser, who also brought along their adorable baby, who couldn’t stop giggling about Hollywood. Alexandra sang Bruno Mars, and Jordan sang Celine Dion. While the judges didn’t think Alexandra had what it takes for Hollywood, her baby still had something to smile about, because Jordan made it.
Kerry Courtney auditioned with “Black Sun” by Death Cab For Cutie. Lopez said there’s a darkness to the way he performs, but she loved his unusual tone. All three judges said yes.
Small-town hairdresser Shelbie “Z” James gave a strong country performance for the judges. “You seem like you have a little fight in you,” Lopez said, who liked her a lot. “I don’t like you...I love you,” Connick added before sending her to Hollywood.
The last person to walk through the audition door of the night was Kanye West, who dropped in along with Kim Kardashian for a little farewell season surprise. He rapped part of “Gold Digger” and got the golden ticket.
What did you think of the return of American Idol? Tomorrow night, the auditions head to San Francisco and Little Rock.
This article originally appeared in THR.com.