Opening with a dramatic montage about music’s impact narrated by Carrie Underwood, American Idol returned for its new life on ABC. Idol ended its 15-season tenure on Fox in 2016. For the ABC revival, Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan were tapped as judges. With Ryan Seacrest back as host, the new American Idol looked a lot like the old. Seacrest recently faced sexual harassment allegations, and the Idol producers have stood behind him.
Just like in the past, the season started with the auditions. Artists gave short performances in front of the three judges, and if two of the three voted in their favor, they got a golden ticket to the show’s Hollywood Week, where the competition really heats up. The showrunner for this season previously stated that the show would not intentionally show bad auditions this year.
The first artist who auditioned for season 16 was 17-year-old Catie Turner. “I’m not popular,” she said heading into her audition. After Perry asked her if she writes her own songs, Turner opted to sing an original called “21st Century Machine.” She played guitar and had an indie singer-songwriter vibe. Perry thought it was a very well written song. “I love the sound of your voice,” Richie said, comparing Turner to a martian. Turner got the first golden ticket of the season.
Ron Bultongez auditioned next. He shared his story of immigrating to the U.S. from the Congo when he was 10-years-old. He sang “Let It Go” by James Bay, accompanying himself on the guitar. He had a really delicate voice and already exhibited strong storytelling instincts. Bryan was excited about him, but Perry thought the cover was too much of an imitation. Richie didn’t think it was the right time, and Bultongez did not get a golden ticket.
In a bizarre move, Richie decided to bring Bultongez back. “I couldn’t get you off my mind,” Richie said, telling Bultongez that he was changing his vote. He’s going to Hollywood after all.
Next up was Maddie Poppe, singing “The Rainbow Connection” made famous by Kermit the Frog in The Muppet Movie from 1979. She had a throwback sound with a bit of a modern twist, and her phrasing was great. “We need you in this show,” Richie said. All three judges said yes.
Musical theater actress Koby gave a very theatrical audition next, oversinging the song in a way that was memorable but way too much. “The truth is that, this is not how we listen to music,” Perry said. Koby was a little aggressive about wanting a ticket, but the judges all passed.
In Nashville, Harper Grace was the next audition. Her claim to fame is that when she was 11-years-old, her performance of the National Anthem went viral as one of the worst renditions of the song ever. Six years later, here she was auditioning for American Idol. She sang an original, giving a bouncy country performance. Perry said the chorus was really well written. They had her sing one more and then voted her through to Hollywood unanimously.
Layla Spring kept the country auditions going, bringing her younger sister in to her audition. She let her younger sister sing first just for fun. Spring sang “Who’s Loving You” by the Jackson 5. Her voice was technically strong, but she was a little too loose with her ad libs. “I think you’ve got something,” Perry said, adding that she could learn a lot from the Hollywood Weed experience. Richie was worried about her not being ready for the competition, but he still voted yes. Spring got her golden ticket.
Singer-songwriter Benjamin Glaze went next, accompanying himself on the guitar. Bryan said he needed to hone his vocal skills more. Perry said it was a little rushed. The judges passed on him.
Los Angeles brought more auditions, starting with two very different artists. Rock ‘n’ roll singer Nico Bones sang a children’s song about worms while playing electric guitar. Perry said he was dope, and Richie said he was happy the song ended when it did. But next up was 18-year-old farm boy Noah Davis, who said if he won American Idol, he’d want to buy an alpaca. He played piano and sang “Stay” by Rihanna, and it was one of the best auditions of the season so far. He got a golden ticket.
Alyssa Raghunandan, at just 15-years-old, went next, singing “Almost is Never Enough” by Ariana Grande. She had a really strong voice, and she finished her audition in tears. “I full-body felt what you were singing,” Perry said. “You’re top ten.” Raghunandan is Hollywood-bound.
Sardor Milano, who won Russia’s X Factor and was a finalist on Russia’s The Voice, auditioned next but gave a weirdly theatrical performance that just wasn’t the right fit for Idol. The judges passed.
Sock collector Zach D’Onofrio gifted the judges with new pairs of socks before his performance of “The Way You Look Tonight” by Frank Sinatra. He had a surprising crooner voice, but Bryan wanted to hear more attitude from him. He gave them a little more, and they were sold. He got a golden ticket.
After a slew of rejections, the next promising artist was Dennis Lorenzo. He sang “Unaware,” accompanying himself on the guitar. It started strong, but he really shined when he slipped into his falsetto. The judges were totally enchanted by him, and he easily secured a golden ticket.
What do you think of the return of American Idol? The auditions continue tomorrow night on ABC.
This article originally appeared in THR.com.