"American Idol" wrapped phase one of its season on Thursday (January 30), rounding out its seven-city, six-episode audition tour with a trip to Omaha, Nebraska, where David Cook once auditioned and ended up winning the whole thing.
Was there another winner in the midst this time around? Several singers made lasting impressions, but there is still a lot of ground to cover between now and May's finale. A total of 21 singers graduated from Omaha and were handed tickets to Hollywood, bringing the season total to 212 hopefuls. The next "American Idol" is in there somewhere, now we just have to find out who it is.
Andrina Brogden certainly stood out from the pack, and the 18-year-old shoe store employee from Fargo is looking to right the wrongs of 12 years of "Idol" never crowning a winner from North Dakota. Brogden sang Beyonc é's "Halo" but held back with it rather than going over-the-top, which the judges chalked up to her being scared. That fear turned Harry Connick Jr. into a doubter. "You're a better than average singer. Way better than average. But not strong enough for 'American Idol,'" he told her. "I don't know if that voice is going to make it all the way through." Still, Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban believed in her, and sent her on her way to Hollywood. "I've got the feeling you're going to rise to the occasion," Urban told her.
Paula Hunt had the night's strongest story. The 20-year-old from Nebraska sings for the U.S. Air Force band, and is carrying on the dream of her mother, whose singing voice was taken from her when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2007. Hunt flat out nailed Etta James' "All I Could Do Was Cry," singing with a confidence and elegance that came from years of singing and performing. "You have such a talent, and it still hasn't even begun to blossom," Lopez told her, and Connick said he wanted to hear her sing more. He'll get his chance in Hollywood, where she was sent with flying colors.
Alyssa Siebken gets credit for the most inventive audition song of the season, going before the judges with an acoustic rendering of Waka Flocka Flame's "No Hands" (what, "Hard in da Paint" didn't translate well to acoustic guitar?). Connick didn't buy it, telling her he didn't think her voice was strong enough, but Urban was on board, telling her, "I'd like to see where you go." With J. Lo also on board, she was headed to Hollywood. When given the news, Siebken did what many of us might do if we were given such good news: She took a victory selfie alongside Ryan Seacrest.
There were no victory selfies for Tyler Gurwicz; the 25-year-old musician and songwriter from Vermont barely slipped through his audition. His version of Adele's "Set Fire to the Rain" was good enough that J. Lo gave him a thumbs up, but Urban wasn't as convinced, leaving Connick to cast the final vote. He asked for one more song — it's rare that audition singers are given that second song — and his version of Jeff Buckley's "Grace" was just good enough that Connick let him through to Hollywood. But he immediately had regrets. "That may have been my first slip in judgment," he said, and time will tell if he was correct.
Hollywood Week starts next Wednesday, with new twists promised that are sure to shake things up. And who knows, maybe it's North Dakota's time to shine after all.