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A TikToker with political connections, a speedometer mockup with a Zoolander complex, and a reality competition veteran with a grudge against Meghan Trainor were among the standout auditions (for better or worse) as American Idol on Sunday for its 19th season returned to ABC.
Let’s get the first out of the way: No conversation about the premiere’s most memorable moments would be complete without talking about Claudia Conway, the daughter of former Donald Trump senior advisor Kellyanne Conway, to speak. The 16-year-old was personally supported by her father (and practically her mother) and presented the judges with her best attempt at playing Rihanna’s « Love on the Brain ». Like most of us, Katy Perry was probably hoping for better, so she let Conway try again.
For her second, shoeless attempt, Conway went with Adele’s When We Were Young. Perry put on her therapist hat and encouraged Conway to channel her real pain into the performance. (« You lost your youth because you couldn’t go through it alone without all that noise, » Perry said.) It was a lot.
The second song wasn’t much better, but with two out of three judges by her side Conway was still being sent to Hollywood. Luke Bryan was the only judge who gave her a no and acknowledged that she was « a little removed from the singing ». Let’s face it, any other candidate who received such criticism would likely get three no. Lionel Richie appreciated that Conway « stepped forward and announced who [she] is, » which is apparently more important than actually having the vote to enter the competition. It’s auditions like Conway’s that make me wish someone was on the jury with Simon Cowell’s honesty.
BENSON BOONE, 18 | Real TikTokers don’t have to tell you they’re on TikTok. You just know Usually from her hair. That was exactly the case with this Energizer Bunny, who showed off his backflip skills before surprising the judges with a beautiful rendition of Aidan Martin’s “Punchline”. He may be an anti-thirst trap, but Perry makes a valid point – Boones rhymes with fainting. Now I don’t know what to think.
ALEX MILLER, 17 | The last thing I expected as this humble boy sauntered into the room was that he would sing an original song about his affectionate ex-girlfriend. But that’s exactly what he did (« I got over you, over me! ») And his voice answered all of my questions. The thing has dirt on it. In fact, Bryan was so excited about Miller’s pipe that he requested a duet from « Big City ». Needless to say, this guy is about to become the most famous person in Lancaster, a town so small that they « have to count the cows and chickens to get a census report. »
JASON WARRIOR , 25 | Do you remember Fox’s short-lived singing contest The Four? Warrior remembers. This is where Trainor gave him the « no » that derailed his burgeoning career in the music industry. Or was it the fact that he attacked her for rejecting him? In any case, Warrior no longer sees itself as « all that and a bag of fries with hot sauce ». A much more humble version appeared before the Idol judges this week and destroyed Marvin Gaye’s « What’s Going On ». After sending Warrior to Hollywood, Perry said to him, « It sounds like you’re on the wrong show. » (That that, spirit of four!)
ANILEE LIST, 20 | This talented singer, diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome at a young age, cites former idol contestant James Durbin as her personal inspiration. (He even sent her a video message which was pretty adorable.) But List was the one who inspired this week and wowed the judges with a beautiful performance of Aaron Taylor’s « Blue ». Perry called it « one of the most technically perfect vocals » they saw on ABC’s Idol, while Bryan added, « Nobody has to criticize your voice. »
DJ JOHNSON, 18 | As the sixth child in her family (of 10!), Johnson broke the hearts of judges with an original song about the mother who left her. It was already a hopelessly emotional situation, but when Johnson’s father stood in the room and listened to their performance, the emotions got cranked beyond reason. Nor do I accuse Perry of sobbing at the table. Still, I didn’t necessarily love the performance. And I can’t help but wonder how the judges would have reacted without Johnson’s full backstory. I hope it proves I’m wrong about Hollywood.
NIA RENEE, 17 | Neither judge was ready for what this vocal machine had in store for them. The power in Renee’s voice blew Perry back into her seat and her strong legs left the boys visibly impressed. She brought an infectious energy to her performance of Aretha Franklin’s « Chain of Fools » and made Bryan wonder if she was « the new idol’s best soul singer ». Richie agreed: « We have never had anything like this before. »
GRACE KINSTLER, 20 | With her late father’s ghost surely watching over her, Kinstler destroyed Midnight Train to Georgia, but her audition didn’t end there. Perry was curious to see more of what she could do and asked Kinstler for another song. She chose « Natural Woman » under strict instructions that she sing it at a level consistent with the legends who wrote it (Carole King) and recorded it (Franklin). Gee, no pressure, right? Fortunately, Kinstler was up to the challenge and delivered a rendition unlike anything Perry had heard before.
Of course, it wasn’t just the good singers that we will remember after tonight. I enjoyed seeing Perry buy the jacket off Ryan Romano’s back, a decent consolation prize after failing to make it to Hollywood. I winced when poor Danice Steakley’s singing was interrupted by her intrusive father’s questionable guitar playing. and I loved every minute of screen time with Mario Adrion, a speedometer clad model who boldly inspired other models to be more than just beautiful. In all seriousness, while the human Zoolander was a little over the top, at least his segment was fun. That’s something this show has been sorely lacking for the past few seasons.
Did any of the Sunday auditions speak to you? Vote for the participants you already take root for in our poll below, then leave a comment with further thoughts.
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