It’s night three of the auditions stage for season two of American Idol 2.0, as judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan continue to wade through young performers eager for their big showbiz break — so young, in fact, that Lionel deems this stretch of tryouts to be be the “attack of the 15- and 16-year-olds.”
The first new face we see Sunday (March 10) evening is Ashton Gill, 20, from Livingston, Louisiana. That said, she brings along an old face — last season’s Laine Hardy, 18, who made it all the way to Hollywood week — to accompany her on guitar. Laine explains that Ashton is his best friend’s sister, and they’ve been playing together since they were pre-teens. Katy points out that Laine has new teeth and looks “like you’re liftin’.”
Ashton sings Chris Stapleton’s “Broken Halos” and it’s just okay. Katy says her nerves got the best of her and tells Ashton to pick the right songs. Despite that warning, she’s handed a golden ticket. All three judges then implore Laine to belt something out on his own, so he obliges with The Band’s “The Weight.” Lionel & Co. offer him a golden ticket for the second year in a row, and Idol makes viewers wait a whole commercial break before finding out if Laine accepts. (He does.)
Next up is 15-year-old Austin Michael Robinson, a self-proclaimed “small town country boy” who drove 30 hours with his family from Van Alstyne, Texas to audition in Idaho. With his long, blond locks, he kind of looks like the mighty Thor, if Thor was a gangly teen in flannel and a cowboy hat. Austin mumbles through Josh Turner’s “Your Man” and even pulls out Luke Bryan’s trademark pelvic gyration for added magic. Katy is a no, thinking the kid needs to slow cook a bit more. And though Luke agrees with Katy, he says yes to Austin because he’s not entirely confident Idol will get renewed for another season. (Hilarious.) And so away the young’n goes to Hollywood, but not before he takes a rope and lassos Katy. Fun?
In Manhattan, Jake Puliti, 20, and Shawn Robinson, 21, make it through to La La Land. Jake is from Etters, Pennsylvania, and his acoustic guitar performance of Montell Jordan party staple “This Is How We Do It” gets Katy to bust out her breakdance/worm skills on the floor. Meanwhile, Shawn is a hardware store worker from Atlanta who miraculously manages to shine, despite singing a trifle called “Who You Are” by Jessie J.
Elsewhere, it turns out Laine Hardy isn’t the only familiar face from Idol’s previous season, as Pittsburgh country queen Gabby Barrett, who made it to third place last year, is now mentoring 18-year-old Nate Walker, whose granddad taught Gabby to sing in church. (Got all that?) Nate plays piano and soulfully croons A Great Big World’s “Say Something.” Katy declares, “There’s something in the water in Pittsburgh,” and away Nate goes to Hollywood.
Wade Cota, 27, from Phoenix makes an impression, both with his backstory of enduring violence at the hand of his biological father and his rugged, old soul voice while singing George Ezra’s “Blame It on Me.” Luke compares him to Johnny Cash, while Lionel says, “I was not expecting that other person to jump out of your body. In my business, we look for the character. And, my friend, you brought me a character.” It’s a yes from all three on Wade.
Sixteen-year-old Riley Thompson, from Mabank, Texas, breezes across the screen in a flash. She seems sweet, and after performing an original song called “Oh, Daddy,” Katy likens her to “a country Lana Del Rey.” But she’s in, out and off to Hollywood before you can blink.
Another non-event is Peter Lemongello, Jr., 19, a 1950s throwback and son of Peter Lemongello, Sr., the guy who apparently “invented the infomercial” by becoming the first person to sell an album, Love ’76, purely through television advertising. I dig Junior’s look, but his vocals while offering up The Four Tops’ “I Can’t Help Myself” aren’t too grand, and so it’s a no from Luke and Lionel. Meanwhile, cut to me now becoming obsessed with Love ‘76 for at least the next three months. Thanks, Idol.
The rest of the evening sees country-crooning ginger Clay Page, 24, make it through, along with 17-year-old Piggly Wiggly worker Drake McCain, who was raised by a single mom and has a total of 10 siblings, and 16-year-old Madison VanDenburg from Cohoes, New York. Madison is the standout of the three, as she plays piano and offers up an emotional take on Dan + Shay’s “Speechless” that gets her a standing ovation and draws comparisons to Kelly Clarkson from the judges.
The night wraps in New York with Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon, a 25-year-old church janitor and pastor’s kid (or, as Katy calls him, “PK”) from Maryland whose original song “Almost Heaven” is straight-up old school Elton John, with its noteworthy piano chords and Jeremiah’s storyteller lyrics. Lionel actually compares him to Billy Joel. You say potato, I say po-tah-to, sir. Katy and Luke are equally blown away, and so Jeremiah ditches his broom and charts a course for Hollywood.
There are no more American Idol episodes until St. Patty’s Day (i.e. next Sunday, March 17). The luck of the Irish comes in many shapes and forms, lads and lasses.