With awards season in the rearview mirror, it’s time once again to roll out Ye Olde Dog and Pony Act American Idol.
The show is leaner this time around — previous years had the auditions sprawling over two episodes a week, though Sunday’s (Feb. 16) premiere is the lone episode until next week. Still, now-familiar judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan are back to guide us through the would-bes, as is coast-hopping host Ryan Seacrest.
Hilariously, Seacrest’s narration makes a brief mention of Laine Hardy winning last year before scuttling along and singing the praises of Season 17 runner-up Alejandro Aranda, who apparently has caused an influx of multi-talented artistes at the auditions. Actually, maybe that’s not so hilarious for Hardy. Sorry, kid.
Platitudes abound, as Bryan notes one new contestant “might be the biggest star we’ve ever had,” and Perry says things throughout the night like, “I got chills in my cheekbones” and “this is a whole new playing field.”
Here’s what went down.
A 27-year-old garbage man from Mobile, Alabama, Kiker is doing this audition to prove to his young daughter that you can achieve anything you set your mind to. The problem for the judges is that he’s never sung in front of a group before, nor does he understand any of the basics of music, such as warming up vocally before letting it rip.
Richie sends the garbage guy over to Seacrest, who escorts him out of the building. This seems way harsh until we see that the host is actually leading him to a nearby restaurant (gee, this wasn’t planned at all) to croon in front of “unsuspecting” diners at the joint.
Later, back in front of the three judges, Kiker is all “aww, shucks” and struck by how pretty Perry is, before revealing that he actually has a fairly soulful voice. Bryan ends up hopping on the piano to play Rascal Flatts’ “Bless the Broken Road,” on which Kiker sings along with ease. Well, golly, y’all — he’s on through to Hollywood.
Camryn Leigh Smith
Moving right along, this 16-year-old from Acworth, Georgia, is an acoustic guitar-carrying church worship leader who reminds Perry of herself at that tender age. Camryn gives us a fine rendition of Jessie J’s “Big White Room,” and isn’t this all nice and pleasant?
“Camryn, when you dug into that note towards the end, it gave me hope for the third season of American Idol,” Perry declares. I would swap out “hope” with “mild curiosity,” but let’s just agree to disagree and work our way forward. Next!
In Sun River, Oregon, 18-year-old pre-law student Francisco Martin from San Francisco is a bundle of nerves once he hits the American Idol oval on the floor in front of the trio of judges. Luke checks Martin’s pulse, and he and Lionel attempt to put the young buck’s nerves at ease.
Turns out Francisco from San Fran can really carry a tune, as he proves with his take on Maggie Rogers’ “Alaska.” He also tells the judges he writes his own original material, so Perry asks him to perform one of his numbers.
“Would you faint if I told you you were top 10?” Perry asks the kiddo. Willikers!
Hunter Gibson aka The Comeback
Oh, lawd. Down in the City of Angels we get our first painfully abysmal audition of the evening. I wish I could tell you this All American Rejects-loving rock enthusiast was good-bad. Or worth a chuckle or two. Alas, his howling and yowling and hyper movements in the audition room just make you pray for the zombie apocalypse to happen, STAT.
There’s a video above, folks. Just watch it. (You’ve been warned.) NEXT.
Well, well, well. Remember last season when dreamy young drink o’ water Nick Merico — former star of Nickelodeon’s short-lived Every Witch Way, now (per Idol) a server — came in and got Perry all hot and bothered, before getting a golden ticket then bailing on Hollywood Week for unknown reasons? No? Keep drinking.
The 23-year-old is back and overflowing with something that falls comfortably between confidence and arrogance (hubris, perhaps), which is evident as he struts in to trill for Richie and Co. But the judges’ aren’t letting him off that easy. When pressed on why he abandoned the show last season, Merico vaguely states, “Some personal things went down and I had to figure out a lot of things and really take the last year as a boot camp.” Whatever that means. “I’m so grateful for a second opportunity.”
Merico plays piano and gives us Laruen Daigle’s “You Say,” and he’s fine. But Richie and Perry know he knows he’s good, and they’re not having any of this BS.
“I just have this feeling that you think you’re too good for us,” Perry warns. “There’s one thing that’s gonna get in the way, and don’t let it. It’s gonna be your ego.”
Richie takes it all a step further by telling Merico he doesn’t like the guy’s attitude: “I want you to understand what it feels like when people don’t adore you.” Despite this tough lesson in humility, Merico is on through to La La Land.
Dibesh Pokharel, 21, hails from Wichita, Kansas, by way of Nepal, Kathmandu, and he uses the stage name Arthur Gunn. Compared to Merico, he’s a humble servant of the sung word. He’s also just an all-around pleasant guy to watch on the screen.
Gunn tears through Bob Dylan’s “Girl From North Country” with the aid of his guitar, and when Richie asks for one more tune, the youngster easily gives us a spot-on “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” by Creedence Clearwater Revival.
“I am loving this discovery,” Richie states. Ditto. NEXT.
And just like that, my queen enters the building at the Washington, D.C., auditions. Her name is Alisa, and she’s a 28-year-old ball of charisma from Queens, New York, by way of Moscow. Did I mention that she’s accompanied on guitar by a “musical partner and mentor” named Luigi Babe, or that she’s a film extra who played Russian Stripper #2 in Hustlers? Hot.
Ermolaev screech-warbles an original titled “Say Goodbye” and no one at the judges’ table knows what’s happening. It’s called MAGIC, sweeties. Look it up.
Richie tells Ermolaev that he doesn’t “think it’s for us here.” Sigh. And so Ermolaev and Luigi Babe are done-zo. But before she fully departs the premises, the Russian flower shells the set with a volley of bleeped-out expletives. Brava. Go forth and prosper, my goddess.
A London expat, Philadelphia pizza delivery guy Knight, 19, tells the tale of he and his brother’s best friend Russell, who committed suicide. The teenage musician was so moved by the loss that he penned piano ballad “Change” to cope with his feelings.
It’s a moving audition, and it’s the one, as mentioned earlier, that has Luke declaring Knight to be “the biggest star we’ve ever had on American Idol.” Sure, Jan.
Perry says she “wouldn’t go that far,” but she appreciates “the original song and its sentiment.” And so off Knight goes to Tinsel Town.
Something Perry doesn’t appreciate is both of her colleagues’ votes on next hopeful Saveria. The 22-year-old was once a promising pre-teen singer for what appears to be the Canadian equivalent of Kidz Bop. But at her Milwaukee audition, her original tune “Tell Me This Is Real” fails to impress Bryan and Richie. The latter says there were “moments of great vocal stuff,” but ultimately he drifted off, as Saveria wasn’t commanding his attention.
After she’s outvoted on sending Saveria through, Perry storms off the set. Go grab a drink with Alisa, girl.
We’ve seen Francisco from San Francisco, and now we’ve got fitness instructor Meghan Fitton. The Brooklyn-based contestant is obsessed with The Bachelor, which is a lucky thing considering the series airs on ABC, just like Idol.
Fit Fitton performs Allen Stone’s “Love Where You’re At” with what comes across as affected vocals, but the judges are ga ga for her, so whatever. And, gosh, isn’t it just the cutest thing when Perry pulls out an iPad that beams in Bachelor host Chris Harrison to tell Fitton live she’s got a golden ticket? Absolute stardust. NEXT.
Samantha Diaz, 20, is a New York City subway performer living in the projects with her grandmother, and she’d prefer you call her Just Sam. She’s also a super sweetheart who gets so emotional while attempting Lauren Daigle’s “You Say” during her audition that the tears start streaming.
Just Sam gets a group hug from all three judges, who could tell, even through her sobbing, that the New Yorker has a decent set of pipes. Once she pulls it together, Just Sam gives a proper audition with Andra Day’s “I Rise Up.”
And with one last golden ticket handed over, the Season 18 premiere of American Idol comes to its heart-tugging close.