'American Idol' Premiere: Top Three Who Shined in Nashville

American Idol
FOX via Getty Images

Judges Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez, and Harry Connick Jr. on FOX's 'American Idol' Season 13 Top 13 Perform Live Show on Feb. 26, 2014 in Hollywood, California.

American Idol is back.

After a cold open where the top 24 singers traded vocals on "Feeling Good" in shrouded secrecy, American Idol host Ryan Seacrest assured viewers of its mission statement: The show is "in the business of making superstars."

"This year, business is booming," he promised. "We combed an unprecedented seven cities and scoured thousands of online submissions to uncover the best of the best."

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Kicking us out of the January doldrums, Wednesday night's season 14 opener had a familiar feel, as the show's judges -- Harry Connick Jr., Jennifer Lopez, and Keith Urban -- returned to their home bases to find what the show hopes will be its next Kelly Clarkson.

There are a few tweaks: Idol musical director Michael Orland now accompanies singers along with the piano, and for the first time ever, contestants are shown auditioning on the stadium floor for the first round in front of producers.

Lighthearted moments include Lopez referring to her childhood home as a "magical house," Urban driving the judges to the Nashville auditions himself, and a cute sing-along with all three judges crooning to Sam Cooke's "Cupid." The chemistry of the panel still shines. To wit, Connick playfully rubs Urban's shoulders, who then jumps up in mock-horror when he questions an object in the New Orleans entertainer's pants (relax, it's his phone).

Lopez also works in a shot against former paramours, "I'm a great girlfriend and wife, I just pick the wrong f---ing guys," after one very solid auditioner sweeps her off her feet.

Oh, there were clunkers, too. One red-headed crooner attributed Supertramp's "Give A Little Bit" to the Goo Goo Dolls and ticked off Urban by ignoring critiques. Then there was the clueless girl who thought Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj were still judges.

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Another odd moment involved Missisisippi's Priscilla Barker (this year's Skylar Laine? Barker's Tanya Tucker cover was rootsy and real.) referred to her daddy as "Diddy" (did anyone else snicker when Lopez repeated that?).

Out of the mayhem is hope: Kansas City's Cameron Bedell got soulful on Ray LaMontagne's "You Are The Best Thing." Teens Amber Kelechi Walker, (rocking Elvis Presley gospel style on the eve of the King's 80th birthday), South Carolina's Ali Jane Henderson and Florida's Emily Brooke show real promise.

However, these three auditions really stood out:

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Riley Bria: The Nashville resident and Grammy camp graduate wowed the judges with his laidback, breezy cover of Urban's "Georgia Woods." He has a nice tenor, is a talented guitarist and he is cute. "You were made for the stage," said Lopez.

Kory Wheeler: The blue-eyed barista across the street strolled in and earned Lopez's first "I got goosies" of the season with Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me." With his haunting and unique intonation and vocal style, he made me love him too.

Michael Simeon: Keep an eye on this one. Not only did he romance Lopez by crooning Sam Smith's "Stay With Me" along with slow dance and musical accompaniment by Urban and Connick, Simeon showed confidence with vocals that fit in with today's pop landscape.

This article originally appeared in THR.com.


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