No pressure, Nashville, but the biggest "American Idol" winner in the show's history, Carrie Underwood, just happens to live in Music City. That was the not-so-subtle message "Idol" producers opened the show with on Thursday night (January 27) when our new favorite judging trio sat behind their desk in the legendary Ryman Auditorium to see what they could find in the home of country music.
By the time they got up, they felt like they might have found a winner in a 15-year-old country girl with a voice as big as all outdoors.
But things did not get off to a very good start thanks to helium-voiced chicken squawker Christine McCaffrey, a not-quite-there dental assistant from West Palm Beach, Florida, who butchered one of J.Lo's favorite songs, Lee Ann Womack's "I Hope You Dance." All Randy Jackson could keep saying was, "Really? Really?"
In past seasons, we've had twins, best friends, brothers and sisters, but Thursday night's show brought us our first auditioning exes. Aspiring singers and former couple Rob Bolin and Chelsee Oaks made beautiful music together, singing a flawless duet on the Bee Gees' "To Love Somebody."
"You were one voice," a pleasantly surprised Steven Tyler told them. "Sometimes passion comes from friction, and I saw how much in love you were." Restaurant worker Bolin, 23, showed off his deliciously raspy Ray LaMontagne-style chops on Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," while waitress Oaks, 23, was equally impressive with a rich run through Brandi Carlile's "The Story." Both made it through, so Hollywood Week should be interesting.
Amid the great ones, there were philosophical, Lynyrd Skynyrd-lovin', thick-as-a-brick tattoo artists, a screechy Chaka Khan killer, a kid in a blue bodysuit and a soulful former Miss Teen USA named Stormi (yes, with an "I") who got through over Lopez's objections about her "small" voice.
And then there was 27-year-old Wickliffe, Kentucky, student Adrienne Beasley. Her inspiring story was solid — she was adopted by a white family at age 2 and raised on a farm — but her singing was even better, mixing a hint of R&B grit and country twang on Lady Antebellum's "American Honey."
"I hear something so special in your voice, and I can't put my finger on it right now," said Tyler, who was close to tears after the performance. The real showstopper, though, was self-proclaimed recording artist and already-a-star Latoya "Younique" Moore, a 26-year-old who made up in sass what she lacked in vocal skills.
Her tone-deaf slaughter of Tamia's "When I Close My Eyes" was a disaster, and Tyler was kind when he joked it was "definitely unique." Randy was more blunt, calling it annoying and making a high-pitched buzzing-bee sound while breaking the bad news. But Moore wasn't done, as she sang her way out the door, hoping for one last chance, thinking perhaps it was just her tempo that was off and not everything else.
A succession of fellas knocked it out later in the day, showing off some ear-licious deep-fried soul and grit that got the judges excited. Matt Dillard's story was very inspirational, coming from a family that had housed more than 700 special-needs foster children over the past two decades. The brawny, cowboy-hat-wearing 27-year-old unemployed Tennessee good ol' boy surprised the panel with his low-key cover of Josh Groban's popera hit "You Raise Me Up."
Lopez wasn't swayed, but Tyler agreed with Jackson that it was worth taking a chance on Dillard.
Talk about saving the best for last! The judges were sure they found a potential winner in Rossville, Georgia, spunky 15-year-old Lauren Alaina, who cited her cancer-survivor cousin as the inspiration for her singing. And when she opened her mouth and poured out Faith Hill's "Like We Never Loved at All," the air went out of the room as her smoky voice wrapped around the ballad and hit all the high, low and in-between notes like a seasoned pro.
"Best we've seen today ... I'm blown away," Randy said. "I think you should cry," Tyler added as Alaina began to mist up. "Because you're going to make 40 million people cry tears of joy, baby."
She put some icing on the cake after she brought in her family and instructed Tyler to duet with her on his "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing," her parents' favorite song.
It's on to Austin, Texas, next week and two more nights of auditions.
Who was your favorite Nashville auditioner? Let us know in the comments!
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