On the fourth episode of “American Idol” auditions, country icon Kenny Rogers made a cameo appearance — in the form of advice learned and dispensed by judge Lionel Richie: “In pop music, you hit the right notes, while in country music you hit the real notes.”
Alas, plenty of wrong notes were also struck in one of the funniest episodes of the “Idol” reboot season. It was also the cutest show so far as birthday girl Katy Perry was surprised by fellow judges Richie, Luke Bryan and host Ryan Seacrest with cake and puppies. She was even gifted with a dress worn by a contestant and serenaded by another, earning the easiest Golden Ticket in “Idol” history. Plus, a girl born on the date of the original “American Idol” premiere in 2002 — Victoria McQueen — felt the birthday love with a shiny ticket of her own.
There were real notes, too, with stories and auditions that ranged from heartbreaking to inspiring as the episode jumped cities, from New Orleans to Nashville, Los Angeles and New York.
The hilarity came early in the show courtesy of Adriana Bolton, this generation’s answer to Mariah Carey. Well, at least when she hit the famed “whistle tone,” exasperating Richie who notes he isn’t sure exactly what he’s judging. The setup for Bolton was classic “Idol” — soundtracked by Demi Lovato’s “Confident” but oozing in awfulness. Ditto for a guy who had to spell out his last name as a dog pooped on the floor. The moment prompted Perry to whip out her phone while dragging out the poor stage hands armed with Lysol to disinfect the joint. Another male hopeful didn’t even bother to tune his guitar. Good thing he had a pro in the house — judge Luke Bryan — to oblige with a freebie worth about “$50,000,” joked Perry.
But make no mistake: Nashville is Bryan’s turf, and he seemed determined to find talent in the city that first welcomed him to Music Row. Bryan was tougher in his judging on Monday night — questioning vocals and genuinely straddling the fence on several contestants. As a variety of contestants are shown the door, including “The Voice” season 11 alum Johnny Rez and nuanced vocal teacher Britney Holmes, vocal prowess is clearly not enough.
Who did snag a golden ticket? Deep-voiced goat farmer Trevor McBane, who brought along his 81-year-old Nana for good luck (the grandmothers this season are amazing) and sailed through after a raw take on “Colder Weather” by Zac Brown Band.
Another unvarnished performance came by way of 18-year-old Genavieve Linkowski, one of ten kids in her family, who impressed at the piano with a breathy cover of “I Won’t Give Up” by Jason Mraz and received a (somewhat ridiculous) comparison to Celine Dion by Richie.
Kenedee Rittenhouse of Checotah, Oklahoma came in with what seemed like a built-in “Idol” pedigree — not only is she from Carrie Underwood’s hometown, she actually sang a duet with the season four winner, then auditioned with “I Told You So,” Underwood’s duet with Randy Travis. It’s here where Bryan begins to show his judging chops, leaning towards a “no” vote until Perry made her sing the chorus of “Firework.” Rittenhouse has pitch issues which could be exposed in Hollywood, but she earns a ticket anyway.
“Chill bumps” came courtesy of 22-year-old Alabama boy Brandon Elder. Adopted by a single mom after being abandoned by his birth mother, Elder was heartbroken when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and only began singing one year ago as a way to serenade her at her bedside. Strapping on a guitar, Elder delivered the sweetest two-chord original song, “Gone,” which Bryan says is “magically from the heart.” While Elder obviously needs help in the vocal department, he is already a winner.
The show continues with tickets awarded to legal assistant Dominique, who impresses with Donny Hathaway’s “A Song for You,” prompting Perry to predict that his job in a law office is not where his future career lies.
An interesting contender for the top 12 is found at the New York auditions in 28-year old Amalia Watty, who performs “To Make You Feel My Love” by Bob Dylan with a Macy Gray vibe as she plucks at her guitar. Also impressive is 22-year old Daniel Ethridge, who doubles down with a Chris Stapleton cover of “Fire Away” and an original song. And 20-year-old Somathias certainly looks the part of an Idol and shows promise at the piano. We’ll see how his hair holds up in the heat of Hollywood.
Two sisters enter for an audition that has the makings of a disaster. Younger sis Taryn Coccia, 17, and her 20-year-old sibling Payton come in for what is initially Taryn’s audition. While Payton accompanies Taryn – a former Jersey girl who now sings at the Nashville airport—on a Jessie J song, Perry decides Payton embodies all the aspects of a rock star, and faster than you can say Nick Fradiani or Colton Dixon, Payton is the recipient of a Golden Ticket.Her sister, however, is heavily critiqued by Bryan, who sheepishly offers a “yes” vote even though he is clearly unsure if it’s the right call. Perry is more decisive with a “no” vote. Richie seals the deal as both girls emerge victorious. You can see the Hollywood drama just around the corner.
Closing out the show was 28-year-old Marcio Donaldson from Compton, California (pictured at top), who grew up in a neighborhood where kids didn’t live to see their 13th birthday. He ended up in the foster system and after his sister, a drug addict, had a baby, Donaldson adopted the boy to keep him out of harm’s way. As he walked into the room and is praised a good “human” by Perry, he put everything he had into Labyrinth’s “Jealous,” and hit the right note with Bryan. Said the country star: “Your voice is a real voice.”
Auditions will wrap next Sunday, March 25. The Hollywood Week episodes are set to begin the following night, March 26. “American Idol” airs Sunday and Monday nights at 8 p.m. EST on ABC.