American Idol 2021 premieres tonight with the first batch of auditions. Who will get a coveted golden ticket to Hollywood? Who will be sent home! We’re live blogging all the performances here.
Judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan return, along with host Ryan Seacrest. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing is the rule in the studio! Additionally, instead of auditioning hopefuls across the country, the crew taped episodes in three California locations, including Los Angeles, San Diego and Ojai.
THIS IS….AMERICAN IDOL! The judges share how happy they are to be back in the studio after last year’s COVID restrictions forced everyone to go virtual.
Benson Boone – Punchline by Aiden Martin – 18 – Monroe, WA – College Student – So, he’s your basic annoying Tik Tok bro star. You know…ANTICS! Zzzzz. But there’s an audience for that, so what does an old person like I know. He only started singing a year ago. But he’s super passionate about it now. As far as Tik Tok is concerned, Benson insists he’s not a “thirst trap.” GOOD TO KNOW. The song he performs is by an X Factor UK alum. The judges rib him as he warms up on the piano, like his bros probably do. His tone is nice, but he overuses vocal affectations, which will get pretty annoying fast. Lionel calls him a “natural talent.” Luke calls his a “true talent.” Katy says the girls are going to swoon. And that’s the thing that will help him go far! He’s cute and comes across very earnest when he sings. Girls love that. Heartthrob. Katy thinks he can win. Well…I don’t know about that. – 3 yeses
Alex Miller – I’m Over You (Original Song) – 17 – Lancaster KY – High School Student – American Idol released his audition early HERE. He’s like a caricature of the down home Kentucky boy. Alex and Luke bond right away! “I hope you sing like you talk,” says Lionel. I hope he doesn’t, to be honest. While the song he wrote is very simple, it adheres to the trad country style Alex favors. He needs a polished songwriter to make it less cliched, though. Luke promises to help him get on the Opry before hopping up front to duet on a Merle Haggard song. “We have to count the cows and chickens to get a census report” Alex says of his small town. I’m sure there’s a million more where that came from. His voice is solid, but it’s his big personality that will help Alex get pretty far on the show. Everybody heads out to the ZOOM ROOM where they whip out his golden ticket so the fam back at the farm can see. – 3 yeses
Ryan explains the Zoom Room, outfitted with giant virtual screens. Contestants can connect with their friends and families no matter where they are in the world. A montage of crying hopefuls and their families punctuate Ryan’s description. TEARS.
Jason Warrior – What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye – 25 Chicago IL – Music Teacher – So CRAZY. This audition was leaked earlier HERE. Jason acted like an a** on the FOX reality show The Four in 2018. AND HE TELLS THE ENTIRE STORY ON AMERICAN IDOL! There are even stills from the show. Story short–he confronted the panel after he was eliminated, got right in Meghan Trainor’s face. Pretty sure it’s the first time a contestant name checked a prior show they appeared on. Typically, a contestant would refer to a prior experience, but vaguely. The specificity here is interesting. By the way, this is the THIRD major singing show Jason has been featured on. He got to the Playoffs on The Voice in 2016. Three years out from his The Four experience, Jason is humbled. He’s even reeled in the oversinging The Four judges nailed him on. The judges praise Jason to the skies. He cries as Lionel urges him to put his past behind him. In the end, Jason gets 3 yeses
A MONTAGE OF NOS:
Miranda Kitchpanic a 19 year old musician. The judges weren’t impressed with her guitar playing and wind machine. Yes, she brought a fan to the audition. Plus, Stelle Amor, a bartender from from Louisville KY and Jessica Smalley, 28 from Shelton CT. Stelle, in particular, is pretty bad.
Oddly, during the montage, we caught a one second glimpse of Kiko, a nurse. The official photos feature him performing with last year’s Francisco Martin on guitar. I’m going to assume it was a no for Kiko?
Ryan Romano – Rocket Man by Elton John – 15 – Romeo MI – Student – He seriously plays a Keytar. It’s not even a joke. He’s a 15 year old who loves Elton John. So there’s that. His singing is very bad. So is his playing. But sadly, he’s not a joke contestant. He’s really trying. Luke says his vocals have a little ways to go. The judges are being kind. “Take this experience and learn from it.” Katy pulls a Paula and compliments his outfit. Oh ha. Katy is buying his sparkly jacket for her dad. FOUR HUNDRED DOLLARS FOR THAT. On Venmo, right on the spot. Hm. Katy’s dad looks pretty big and tall compared to tiny Ryan. – 3 nos
Anilee List – Blue by Aaron Taylor – 20 – Los Angeles CA – College Student – She’s been on stage forever. But at age 7, she started developing facial and motor tics. She was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome at 10. On season 10 of American Idol, James Durbin made it to the Top 4, and it motivated her, because James also has Tourettes. She even met James back then. Her voice is a little too soft in spots. But she really shines when she adlibs in her upper register. She’s a very musical singer! Not surprising she’s a Berklee student. Lionel calls it “amazing.” Luke has chill bumps. Katy calls it “technically perfect.” James Durbin congratulates her in the Zoom Room! – 3 yeses
Ooh. American Idol has a sponsorship deal with Chevy. Will the champ win a car? Like the old days.
Danica Steakley – I Can’t Help It If I’m Still in Love with You by Hank Williams. – 17 – Gulfport MS – High School Student – Dad is along for Danica’s audition. He’s turning 73? He looks older. TOO old to be her dad. So he had Danica in his 50s? OK then. Dad is playing guitar. Yikes. Dad’s terrible guitar playing IS NOT HELPING AT ALL. She has a beautiful tone, but her phrasing is dull. Katy notes her lack of experience. Oh. She calls out her “timid” phrasing. Exactly. Lionel loves the high end of her voice. Luke says she has all the makings to grow into a great singer. He encourages her to gig and play. Dad is mad. Real mad. He mocks the judges. SHE is handling the rejection in the proper spirit. He’s embarrassing the crap out of her. He won’t even stop with her to chat with Ryan. “Next time I’ll have her audition for The Voice.” Go ahead. She’ll get no turns. She’s not ready yet. – 2 nos, Katy says yes
DJ Johnson – Scars (Original song) – 18 – Longview TX – Student – She comes from a family of 10. Her mom up and left last year. But DJ was actually relieved. She was never a good mom. She criticized DJ constantly. “I believed everything she said.” Dad, on the other hand, is encouraging. DJ delivers a heartfelt original song. So heartfelt, that she breaks down in the middle of it. Lionel hands her his handkerchief to wipe her eyes. After a minute, she starts again. The song lyrics are obviously very personal. Katy is now crying. She’s not the greatest singer ever, but DJ allows herself to be vulnerable in an emotional moment. Dad says if the judges say no, she needs to take in their wisdom. Very different from the dad before. Lionel acknowledges DJ’s trauma, and calls her song “a hit record.” Luke says, “Be happy you have an outlet to let it out.” Katy says pain can create a great artist. – 3 yeses
Nia Renée – Chain of Fools by Aretha Franklin – 17 – Little Rock AK – High School Student – This girl is young, but very poised. Whoa. Her voice is bold and muscular. I was not expecting that. This ain’t a copy of the Aretha version either. She’s pretty great–growly and assured. Her lower register is like honey. The judges call her a natural, “Born to do it.” She grew up singing in church and school. No backstory. No crying. Just GREAT SANGING – 3 yeses
It’s another montage of NOS including Christian Terry a 21 year old from New Castle IN and Bella Lucarelli a 26 year old from Loveland CO.
And NO KIDDING next is Keith Trump from Carmel IN. It’s never revealed whether he’s related to the ex president or not. But it’s the perfect segue to the next audition…
Claudia Conway – Love on the Brain by Rihanna & When You Were Young by Adele – 16 – Alpine NJ – Social Media Influencer – Folks who follow politics know the saga of the Conway family. Kellyanne “Alternative Facts” Conway worked as the ex president’s counsel. George criticized him throughout his term as president, and worked to elect Biden. Claudia uses social media to act out against her parents, her mom in particular. Also, Claudia is a Bernie Sanders style Democrat. Yes, it’s very complicated. George is with Claudia in California, while Kellyanne wishes her good luck from the Zoom Room. Claudia explains that when the family moved to Washington DC in 2016, she was really unhappy. She calls the relationship with her mom “Iffy” Ya think? She calls the Internet a “dark place.” She wants to get out of the controversy and drama. Except, actually, the drama never stops. George explains that she loves music, and that being on Idol will be good for her. Aw. He’s crying. Hm….the singing. Flat out: She wouldn’t singing in front of the judges if her parents were nobodies. Katy asks for another song. THEY REALLY WANT TO SAY YES. Katy coaches her on the meaning of Adele’s “When You Were Young.” It seems to help–this second performance is definitely better. But it’s obvious that Claudia is an amature–a shower/karoke singer. She needs vocal coaching and experience. Luke thinks she’s limited by her range. Lionel compliments her coachability. Katy actually gives her good advice, that she needs to tune out the drama or she’ll never move past her parents. Luke says NO. Katy and Lionel say yes. I’m Team Luke.
Mario Adrion – 26 – Germany – Model – Guy in speedo is TOTAL JOKE CONTESTANT TOTALLY. Katy challenges him to a model WALK OFF. Luke joins in, which is kind of funny. AND THEN LIONEL. Amusing. “This modeling is hard work,” says Luke. Basically, they say, too bad you can’t sing. – 3 nos.
Grace Kinstler – Midnight Train to Georgia by Gladys Knight and Natural Woman by Aretha Franklin – 20 – Chicago IL – College Student – She goes to school in Boston. Probably Berklee. Her dad passed away unexpectedly last year. He was her main cheerleader. They watched American Idol together as a family. She’s sure he’s there with her in spirit, and wouldn’t want her to give up. Her upper range is amazing. So strong. She riffs, runs and growls in her upper-reaches. She has an easy, breazy effortless style. Except at the end, where she’s a little screechy. I think she’s nervous. Katy suggests she sing “Natural Woman” like the legend that she is. She settles down for her second performance. It’s very emotional and no screeching. Lionel compliments her control. Luke says it’s the first time that someone’s singing made him cry. “You’re dad is very proud of you now.” He compares her to Kelly Clarkson. Luke addresses her family in the Zoom Room afterward, sharing that she’s “Up there with some of the greatest voices of Idol.” – 3 yeses