The final audition episode of “American Idol” aired Thursday night, and since the show closed with former judge Steven Tyler auditioning in full drag, it’s safe to say Hollywood Week can’t get here soon enough.
Tyler was not given a Golden Ticket to Hollywood, but 45 singers did make it through the show’s Tulsa, Oklahoma, auditions. None made more of an impression than wildcard Zoanette Johnson, a 19-year-old rehabilitation health specialist from Tulsa who sang an unhinged, free-associative version of the National Anthem that literally knocked Keith Urban out of his chair. Johnson made odd references to President Obama and rushed the judges along by telling them, “I’ve got a lunch date,” leading Randy Jackson to label her “a party all by yourself.” Nicki Minaj told her she was “obsessed” with her, and when Mariah Carey didn’t immediately offer up her opinion, Johnson put her on the spot. “Are you impressed, Mariah?” She asked. “I’m very impressed,” Carey responded. Johnson earned four “yes” votes — Jackson’s vote was tentative — but it was enough to get her a Golden Ticket to the next round.
Johnson was indicative of the strange vibes in the air during the episode. The show also saw ventriloquist Halie Hilburn earn a pass to Hollywood, even as she entered the audition with her puppet, Oscar, in her hand. (Oscar even yodeled for the judges.) Johnson started out with Patsy Montana’s “I Want to be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart” (with Oscar assisting) and followed it with Gavin DeGraw’s “More Than Anyone” (without Oscar), and it was when she put the puppet down that the judges were really impressed. “Baby, you can sing!” Urban told her, while Carey broke the tough news to her that she could go on to Hollywood but the puppet would have to stay behind.
Karl Skiller seemed at first like he might be a joke contestant. But the redheaded 26-year-old pizza chef “lit up the room,” as Jackson put it, with his quirky version of James Brown’s “I Feel Good” and later with an original song. “I want to be uncomparable,” Skiller told the judges, and he succeeded on that front. He earned four “yes” votes and was sent through to the next round.
Nate Tao and Kayden Stephenson were the episode’s requisite heartstring-tuggers. Tao, a 24-year-old ASL teacher from Reston, Virginia, with two deaf parents, impressed the judges with his smooth, easygoing take on Stevie Wonder’s “For Once In My Life,” which sent him through to the next round. And 16-year-old Stephenson from Tulsa was called “inspiring” by both Carey and Minaj after the mini-Bieber lookalike shared his story of being diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at 18 months old. Stephenson, who has been told by doctors he has a life expectancy of 35 years, sang Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish” and was told by Minaj he has the voice “of a baby Michael (Jackson),” on his way to earning one of those 45 passes to Hollywood.
Hollywood Week kicks off Wednesday with a two-hour episode, and continues Thursday with a one-hour broadcast.
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