'American Idol' Recap: Things Get Weird in Oklahoma City

American Idol

Thursday night on "American Idol," someone auditioned with a puppet and made it through to Hollywood.

Let me repeat that: someone auditioned with a puppet and made it through to Hollywood.

If anyone had any wonder about the singing competition attempting to retain a shred of its former dignity, much hope was lost Thursday night in a sea of mostly nothing. Oklahoma City provided a few good singers, but nothing on the level of the previous night's San Antonio and Long Beach auditions. Six total full auditions were shown, one of which was a rejection. The show even resorted to featuring the hotly anticipated return of Steven Tyler to "Idol" – dressing in drag, no less. Dude, looks like a bit of a reach.

Five golden tickets televised. Let's talk about them.

Zoanette Johnson – "Star Spangled Banner"
My tepid response to the singers featured in tonight's episode as seen in the above writing is due chiefly to whether or not I find them winning quality. That said, Zoanette Johnson's audition is probably the highlight of the season so far for me. She definitely has a good voice – possibly great – but hides it beneath a neverending barrage of vocal runs and strange deviations from the melody. She promptly called out Barack Obama, telling him to invite her to the White House. I was incredibly confused half the time, but loved every minute of it. And if she reels in her singing a bit, she could actually be a formidable contestant.

Kayden Stephenson – "I Wish"
Kayden, 16, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, making his life expectancy dwindle to about 35 years old. But that's not keeping the kid down; he's easily one of the most positive contestants of the season, exuding an infectious can-do attitude and seeming truly blessed to be in his position. I don't think his rendition of "I Wish" shows a whole lot of vocal range, but the fact that he's made it this far is quite an achievement. With better pipes, he could be a Bieber with a tear-jerking story.

Halie Hilburn – "(I Want to Be A) Cowboy's Sweetheart"
Ah, the aforementioned puppet audition. Halie has performed with Oscar, a dog-ish thing, for years, getting her ventriloquist act down fairly well. As fate would have it, she brought Oscar to her audition, and decide to sing a "duet" with him, which is of course the best idea one could possibly have. Sans the gimmick, she's a pretty solid singer with a sweet voice that could fit well into the country mold. She got her Hollywood ticket after a few seconds of singing without Oscar, and as the puppet is taken away by Ryan Seacrest, Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" plays and it's kind of great.

Nate Tao – "For Once in My Life"
Unless Zoanette is able to tame her big voice, Nate Tao may have been the best voice of the evening, exhibiting an effortless singing style and tone that gets better as it rises; I wasn't totally sold on the 24-year-old until he hit his higher register. Seems fairly unassuming, too. Nate's cool story: both his parents are deaf. His father came to the audition with him, giving the broadcast a chance to show Tao's sign language in action.

Karl Skinner – "I Feel Good"/Original Song
You want to see someone really get into his/her audition? Look no further than Joplin's own Karl Skinner, whose "I Feel Good" was full of unbridled energy as he danced across the audition room floor. He brought his guitar with him, and as evidenced by every singer who brings their instrument with them into the audition room this season, the judges just had to ask him to play it. Frankly, I preferred his vocal on the guitar-less take, but the guy does have a decent voice. Maybe not good enough to go far, but decent.

As for a couple of quick hits:

  • Anastacia Freeman was the bad audition of the evening. She claimed she was told to audition by God and made some interesting remarks about Nicki Minaj before she left.
  • Oscar, 17, talking dog.
  • Favorite moment of the show: when Zoanette Johnson goes from super energetic to super emotional and back to super energetic in the span of about three seconds.

Next week begins Hollywood week. Will your favorites sink or swim? Tune in to find out.