Wednesday's "American Idol" opened on Casey Thrasher of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, four months before his audition. He was feeding his baby girl and rocking her to sleep while an episode of "American Idol" could be heard in the background.
The next we see him, Thrasher is in the chamber of dreams, or whatever this year's producers are calling the little holding cell before contestants enter the room — with J. Lo, Harry Connick Jr. and Keith Urban. "Idol" doesn't foreshadow like this for just any old contestant, so it was clear from the jump that Thrasher would play a big part in not only the episode, but the season to come.
Sure enough, that cold open was a tease for Thrasher's audition, which closed the two-hour Salt Lake City auditions. We learned that Thrasher, 22, lived in his aunt's home and was working every "crummy job" trying to provide for his babies, ages 2-and-a-half and six months. A year earlier, Thrasher promised Keith Urban outside the CMA Awards that he was going to meet him again one day, and Urban had told him, "I believe in you, brother!" Hence Thrasher's audition song: "Believe" by Brooks and Dunn.
He didn't disappoint. Thrasher sang with a mix of honesty, power and vulnerability that immediately made him stand out from the pack. "I love you," Lopez told him. "Everything wasn't 100 percent perfect throughout the whole thing, but it had so much feeling. There is a real voice there, I believed what you were saying, I just loved it, I really did."
"What I love about you is there's that mix of such hunger and desire and desperation and want to be able to like get a break, just get a dang break, and I felt all of that," Urban said.
Needless to say, Thrasher earned three "yes" votes, as well as what has to be considered a frontrunner position — along with Detroit auditioner Marrialle Sellars — for the season ahead. "Other than the day my children were born," Thrasher told the judges, "this is the best day of my life."
Thrasher was one of 30 singers from the Salt Lake auditions to earn a Golden Ticket to Hollywood, bringing the season total to a whopping 193 would-be "Idols." The field will be rounded off with the Omaha, Nebraska, auditions, which air Thursday (January 30), bringing this year's first round to a close.
Another prospect rising to the cream of Salt Lake's crop was Austin Wolfe, a 16-year-old from Park City who blew away the judges with her version of Imagine Dragons' "Radioactive."
Alex Preston of Mont Vernon, New Hampshire, was also a force to be reckoned with. The 20-year-old jazz band student impressed the judges by singing an original song and was praised for his soft tone, which was part of what caused Lopez to say, "I love everything about you right now."
C.J. Harris of Jasper, Alabama, was another stand out, singing the Allman Brothers' "Soulshine" and dedicating it to his late father.
Farmhand, duck caller and tractor driver Dexter Roberts also felt like the real deal, and the country music lover (and apparent "Idol" fan) won the judges over by singing 9th season finalist Casey James' "Drive."
It's just one more way "Idol" has returned with a freshened palate and a new approach in what is starting to feel like a lucky season 13.
What did you think of Wednesday's "Idol" episode? Let us know in the comments!