"American Idol" hit Detroit on Wednesday, the show's first round of auditions in the Motor City since way back in season two. That visit was best remembered (in Detroit, at least) for Randy Jackson's quip that he felt the "Mo" had left the "Town," but things went better this time around.
In all, 40 Golden Tickets were handed out in Detroit, 20 of them to contestants from Michigan. The show featured the full audition of Marrialle Sellars, the 17-year-old from Indianapolis whose audition was teased at the beginning of this year's season opener.
Sellars' audition closed out Wednesday's episode, and her version of Bruno Mars' "Grenade" exploded in the judge's room. "You are gonna be a nightmare for the other competitors in this competition," Harry Connick Jr. told her, while Jennifer Lopez compared her to a cross between Rihanna and Miley Cyrus. (Lopez left out the part that Sellars has Beyoncé's eyes, too.)
Sellars was handed a Golden Ticket — two, in fact — but not before she followed Connick's orders and said dead into one of the cameras, "My name is Marialle Sellars and I plan on being the next 'American Idol.' " And so far, she's emerging as the season's frontrunner.
But there were a handful of contestants in Detroit that plan on giving Sellars a run for her money. First, there was Maurice Townsend, a 26-year-old father of four and a music minster from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Townsend's audition of John Legend's "So High" was so polished and professional that Connick remarked that he's the "one who should have recorded" the song. Townsend got bonus points for his adorable kids, one of whom got the honor of telling him he'd made it to Hollywood.
There was also 17-year-old Jena Asciutto from Farmington Hills, Michigan, who sang Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" without managing to sound anything like Adele (or any of the countless contestants who have sang that song to death over the last few years). Asciutto, who cut her teeth singing in bands before recently dropping out of the scene, was told, "you have an interesting way of enunciating your words" by Keith Urban.
Keith Urban was at the forefront of contestant Ethan Harris' mind; Harris had Urban sign a picture that he had drew of him and he also sang Urban's "You'll Think of Me" for his audition song. The 20-year-old from Garrattsville, New York, got props from J. Lo for the tone and sound of his voice — which Connick noted was remarkably similar to his speaking voice. That he looked like "the lost Osmond brother," according to Urban, was not counted against him and he received three "yes" votes to Hollywood.
Also receiving three "yes" votes was Malaya Watson, a 15-year-old who plays tuba in her high school band and who wowed the judges with her forceful version of Aretha Franklin's "Ain't No Way." "I don't need to hear anything else," Lopez said when Watson was finished singing, before comparing her to a young Michael Jackson.
Returning auditioner Brandy Neelly, an 18-year-old from Louisville, Kentucky, genuinely pleased the judges by singing Hunter Hayes' "Wanted." The nasally quality in her voice was a point of discussion — J. Lo had a slight issue with it, but Connick enjoyed it. Either way, it got her through to Hollywood, which at this point is all that matters.
As part of this season's continued shaming of "gag" contestants, only three were shown on Wednesday's episode, and all three were quickly discarded in one short segment. "Idol's" housecleaning continues, as does season 13's emphasis on talent over tackiness.
"Idol" resumes its search Thursday (January 23) with a visit to Atlanta.
What did you think of "Idol's" Detroit auditions on Wednesday? Let us know in the comments!