Surely, after lord knows how many years of not producing a winner whose name anyone can remember by summer’s end, the youth of the country has become wary of American Idol, right? Wrong!
The series lumbers into its 17th season on Sunday (March 3) night, and it’s almost as if producers began shooting it the day after last May’s finale. Katy Perry still has her dyed-blonde pixie cut, Lionel Richie is chipper as ever, Luke Bryan remains all “aw, shucks” and Ryan Seacrest stays Ryan Seacresting with the contestants, before they do their song and make a bid for non-fame in front of the judges.
Speaking of the auditions, this year’s premiere episode sees the Katy & Co. roll into Louisville, Denver, New York City, Los Angeles and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. The judges are searching for diamonds in the rough. Will they find any?
The first recipient of a Golden Ticket flutters across the TV screen in the form of bespectacled, red-haired, piano-playing Walker Burroughs, a 20 year old from Birmingham, Alabama. That’s actually a lot of description for a contestant who probably won’t cut the mustard during Hollywood Week, so just know that I’m giving you extra gold here. Ben chirps out a Ben Rector tune, and it’s all very non-threatening. Still, the kid gets the ticket, so away he goes to La La Land.
During a commercial break, there’s a sneak peek at Disney’s upcoming live action version of Dumbo. The evening is looking up! Alas, before you can mutter “pink elephants,” we’re back to the circus that is American Idol.
There’s a segment featuring people eating potato chips because the show has pulled up to Idaho for the first time. Cue The B-52s’ “My Own Private Idaho,” which gives Idol five seconds of edginess it will never see again. Then a 23 year old from Vegas named Johanna Jones auditions by bringing along Her Own Private Guitar Player and singing Sam Smith weeper “I’m Not The Only One.” This, however, is overshadowed by Katy Perry stuffing an entire potato chip bag into her mouth, because ANTICS.
Next we meet Kai The Singer — a moniker chosen because her real name of Khalifa is already being used in the biz by Wiz. There’s a big buildup for the 19-year-old’s background sob story (tons of siblings, no money, she works in a factory, etc.), but she crashes and burns while strumming her guitar and doing a cat’s chorus of Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud.” We then cut to a commercial break.
We’re back, and Kai is still hanging around. The judges let her do one more song (“My Girl”), this time on the piano, and it’s still not great. Lionel, Katy and Luke must be feeling sorry for the emotional lass, though, as they push her on through to Hollywood.
Moving right along, six-foot-four-inch Louisiana oil field worker Tyler Mitchell makes his first trip to Manhattan to audition with Vince Gill’s “Whenever You Come Around.” Katy makes the strapping stud (who, by the by, is married) place his hand over her own for “comparison.” Despite that awkwardness, he aces the thing, utters a country-boy “Whoo!” several times and gets his golden ticket.
Something called VoKILLz, who’s a self-proclaimed mystic death creature vocalist, happens next. After the Dumbo trailer, this is the most entertaining part of the two hours. VoKILLz’s real name is Ethan Fingold, and he hails from Buffalo, New York. He “gifts” Katy a necklace with what appears to be black heart locket. Her response to him: “I rebuke you, Satan.”
VoKILLz screams out an original ditty titled “American Creature.” For once, I wish Idol would just go there and send him through to the next round. But I guess we can’t have grandma dropping her can of peaches and convulsing violently in front of her Panasonic. So…NEXT!
Margie Mays is an irritating blonde from Wilmington, Delaware who burps and “oh my gods” and trills and uses her arms to make a box around her head to calm herself down. I don’t really know why these things happen in my life, but she sings and snags a ticket, and away she goes. Katy declares, “That’s the craziest person I ever met.”
There’s a medley of terrible auditions (why, oh why, wasn’t Margie Mays just chucked in here?), but that leads us all to Vietnamese high school student Myra Tran, 19, who has only been in the States for a year. The producers deem the student’s accent to be thick enough to include subtitles when she speaks, but when she belts out Dreamgirls show tune “One Night Only,” it’s a musical revelation compared to everyone else who’s stepped in front of the judges so far. (Be sure to catch that final note she pulls off.)
“All I want you to do is from now on, rule your zone,” Lionel schools Myra. “Because you are going places.” The first place she’s going: Hollywood.
Sugar Land, Texas wedding singer Uche pops, locks and dips across the screen next, while crooning Christina Aguilera’s “Ain’t No Other Man.” It’s a bit all over the place, so Katy has him stand still and sing a gospel song. Lionel says no to putting him through, then changes his mind after Uche announces Bootsy Collins as an artist he’d like to emulate. Katy and Lionel are also a yes.
Next comes Laci Kaye Booth, 23, from Livingston, Texas. Her father is a performer who left home while Laci was a tot, to perform on the road. They reconnected years later by making music in the studio together. For her audition, Laci sings Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried,” which causes Luke to tell the talented hopeful that she “just slayed it.” Lionel sputters off more sage wisdom, and it’s off to Tinsel Town for Laci.
Nick Rogers, 17, and Tiffany Lemay, 20, both make it through. Nick flirts with Katy but can’t name a single Lionel Richie song. Tiffany, however, is a huge Lionel fan, and isn’t interested in impressing Katy or Luke. It’s a fickle business, viewers.
We wrap with Nick Townsend, a 25-year-old Nebraskan who toils away as a production assistant in Los Angeles. (Been there, kid!) Things get dark quickly when poor Nick reveals that both of his brothers, Zack and Matt, committed suicide. The pain inside comes across loud and clear as he sings James Bay’s “Let It Go.” Lionel tells Nick that he has a “natural cry” to his voice, while Luke mentions that two of his own siblings are dead. Needless to say, Nick earns a Golden Ticket.
The next crew of wide-eyed auditioners hits your TV set when American Idol airs this Wednesday (March 6).