Johnny Keyser, Lauren Gray Wow ‘American Idol’ Panel

Reis Kloeckner, Ethan Jones and Rachelle Lamb also fly through to Hollywood.

In popular music, St. Louis might be known as the home of Chuck Berry or Nelly, but in the world of “American Idol,” it’s the city that hosted Carrie Underwood’s audition.

“Idol” returned to the Gateway to the West on Thursday (February 2), hoping to find the show’s next megastar. And they got off on the right foot with contestant Johnny Keyser, 22, from Pompano Beach, Florida, who blew the judges away with his rendition of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” “Should we just vote now?” Steven Tyler asked only a few bars into the song. Keyser was quickly sped through to Hollywood and set a good tone for St. Louis.

As did Lauren Gray, who works at her family’s one-stop wedding shop and sings in a wedding band with her father. Gray’s version of Adele’s “One and Only” left Jennifer Lopez’s mouth agape and had Randy Jackson calling her “fearless.” Lopez called her “one of the best female voices we’ve heard” and the three of them sent her on her way to Hollywood; later, when summing up the St. Louis auditions, Lopez said, “I have two words for today: Lauren Gray.”

In all, 46 contestants were passed through to the Hollywood round. Among them was 20-year-old Reis Kloeckner, whose version of “Lean on Me” brought a tear to Tyler’s eye. “That was so beautiful. You made me cry. That’s how good that was just now,” Tyler said. Lopez and Jackson agreed and sent the pizza maker — whose name is pronounced “Reese” — through to the next round.

Next up was 22-year-old Ethan Jones of Pontoon Beach, Illinois, a singer in a country band who belted out Edwin McCain’s “I’ll Be” and bled through his audition, due to a cut on his forehead he accidentally opened up while in the waiting room. (Seriously, no one had a Band-Aid?) Jones earned three yes votes from the judges and hopefully stopped bleeding somewhere on the way to Hollywood.

Rachelle Lamb, meanwhile, joined Portland auditioner Britnee Kellogg by singing a song directed toward an ex who did her wrong. The 26-year-old construction worker sang Faith Hill’s “Dearly Beloved” (which she referred to as “Find Somebody New”) and earned a passing grade from the judges; maybe she and Kellogg can team up come Hollywood.

With the audition phase now over — in voice-over, Ryan Seacrest called them “the most successful road auditions we’ve ever had” — the dreaded/ feared/ beloved Hollywood Week kicks off next week.

What did you think of Thursday’s “Idol”? Were these “the most successful road auditions ever”? Let us know in the comments!

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