“American Idol” returns on February 16 for its third season on ABC and 18th overall. As always, Ryan Seacrest is the host of this reality competition series. Returning to the judges table are country superstar Luke Bryan, pop princess Katy Perry and Oscar-winning singer/songwriter Lionel Richie.
A huge part of the appeal of “American Idol” are the audition episodes. These make for must-see TV as much for the awful acts as the ones that sound and look like they could go all the way. Over the course of five episodes, we will see the three judges give upwards of 150 contestants that coveted ticket to Hollywood.
By the end of Hollywood Week, which took place in December, the judges will have culled these would-be winners down to just 40. These lucky few who made it to the showcase round got an all-expenses paid trip to Hawaii in January where they auditioned for judges again, this time in front of guests staying at Disney’s Aulani Resort in Honolulu.
Only half of them made the cut. Those Top 20 then took turns performing on their own and with celebrity guests. Fourteen of them got put through to the live shows, which begin in early April. At that point, you will be able to predict the outcome of each episode in our predictions center.
Below, follow along with all the action on the Night 1 season 18 premiere episode of “American Idol.”
8:00 p.m. — Last year Laine Hardy became the latest Idol to join the legacy of stars created from the hit reality TV series. Meanwhile, runner-up Alejandro Aranda is currently on a sold out tour and his singer-songwriter style has changed the landscape of “American Idol” and the type of artists interested in auditioning. Let’s get started!
8:15 p.m. — The auditions kick off in Savannah, Georgia and the judges are hoping there is still some untapped talent left to find. First up is a garbage man who has never performed for anyone in his life and doesn’t look like a typical pop star, but can he sing? Lionel gives him some advice and asks him to go warm up his vocals and in the meantime a 16-year old worship leader named Camryn Leigh Smith comes to show off her talents. She auditions with “Big White Room” while strumming a guitar. She’s got an effortless, acoustic style and impressive range for a youngster. It’s enough to get a standing ovation from Katy and they even compare Camryn to the multi-platinum selling judge. Luke said it was natural and easy and Camryn got a big time “YES” from the judges.
8:20 p.m. — The garbage man has returned and we can now call him by his legal name, Doug Kiker. He belts out “Bless the Broken Road” and seems to be pushing it a little too much. Katy says she wants to see more range from him, but Doug doesn’t know what that means. Luke sits down at the piano and gives an impromptu vocal lesson which greatly improves Doug’s sound. The judges think they’ve found some untapped talent and there’s something just likable about this garbage man from Alabama. He doesn’t know his own talent and Lionel is inspired. Doug is heading to Hollywood!
8:30 p.m. — We head up to Sun River, Oregon for some more auditions and up first is an 18-year old guitar player named Francisco Martin from San Francisco. He can barely contain his nerves so Lionel and Luke stand up and try to calm his nerves a bit before he sings “Alaska” and proves that even when he has trouble composing himself to speak he has no trouble performing. Once he hits the chorus the judges are nothing but smiles and they’re thrilled by his potential. Katy asks him to play an original song and he launches into one called “Stories,” which only hypes up the judges even more. Luke advises the pre-law student to drop out of school and Katy says he’s Top 10 material. Francisco his heading to Hollywood!
8:40 p.m. — The auditions head down to Los Angeles which brings in a few wild contestants including a rock singer named Hunter Gibson aka “The Comeback.” He’s an awful singer with an obnoxious personality. Katy sings along with his audition and I’m not sure if she loves the song or just can’t stand listening to him sing alone any longer. Even the musician tasked with accompanying him looks like he wants to push Hunter out the door. The coaches are perhaps too polite in telling him his vocals won’t cut it, but regardless Hunter won’t be back. We can be thankful for that.
9:00 p.m. — The next California boy is coming back after making it to Hollywood last year, but backing out and not following through with the process. Nick Merico seems a little arrogant in the video introduction we see but humbles himself for the judges. More importantly, when he sits down at the piano to sing “You Say,” he proves to be a good piano player with decent vocals. Nick isn’t the best singer I’ve heard (even tonight) but he’s got some charisma to him. Luke says Nick is still dreamy and Katy confronts him head on by saying she thinks that Nick thinks he’s too good for them. Katy says his ego will be the only thing that gets in his way. Then Lionel takes it a step further saying he doesn’t like Nick, his voice or his attitude. He goes on to say he doesn’t think Nick will make it in Hollywood. Ouch! Then we learn Lionel was just teaching Nick a lesson in how it feels when people don’t adore you. Life lessons with Lionel. Nick is headed to Hollywood.
9:10 p.m. — Lionel’s brief rant was refreshing and makes me miss when the judges actually gave honest feedback. Some of these contestants need a nice dose of reality. Oh well, I guess they’ll continue to play it nice. Up next is a truly humble artist who is an immigrant from Nepal who goes by the stage name Arthur Gunn. After moving to America he was inspired by bluegrass and country music and he’s auditioning with the song “The Girl from the North Country.” As soon as he opens his mouth it’s complete magic. He’s got a raspy voice that has natural power and soul to it and he’s instantly my favorite singer of the night. Katy asks him to sing again while engaging with the judges. He plays “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” while staring straight ahead with a big smile. Lionel and Luke high five each other while Katy grins from ear to ear. The judges are blown away that this man was found in the middle of Kansas and they can’t wait to get him to Hollywood.
9:20 p.m. — The auditions continue in Washington D.C. with Alisa Ermolaev who played Russian Stripper #2 in the film “Hustlers.” She has an interesting look that’s a bit goth and a bit rock and roll. She’s singing an original song called “You Say” in which she screams and yodels her through the chorus. The judges look a bit stunned and Katy asks for another song. Alisa goes into a skit which is equally bizarre yet I’m strangely entertained. Her voice just isn’t right for “American Idol.” Alisa didn’t go home without a fight, saying Katy was as salty as the fried grease on her mouth. Up next is a 19-year old pizza delivery guy from London (who now lives in Philadelphia) named Louis Knight. He’s singing an original song about his friend Russell who recently committed suicide. Louis is a talented piano player and the judges look impressed by his voice. Luke says he might be the biggest star that they’ve ever had on “American Idol,” but that’s a bit of a stretch. Louis gets a bit “YES” to Hollywood.
9:30 p.m. — Up next is a Canadian singer named Saveria who signed a record deal at age nine, but she was eventually dropped at age 13. She feels prepared to show her artistry now that she’s 22 years old and she’s singing an original called “Tell Me This is Real.” While playing guitar, Saveria keeps things soft before belting out the chorus and I’m not a big fan of the song but she’s got a decent voice. Lionel found himself drifting off during her performance but Katy thinks Saveria is a fantastic singer with huge potential. Lionel and Luke both give her a “no” and Saveria is sent packing filled with disappointment. Katy is furious and sprints down the hallway in her glittering pants.
9:45 p.m. — Fitness instructor and “The Bachelor” super fan Meghan Fitton is up next singing “Love Where You’re At.” She’s basically wearing a sports bra and baggy jeans so image is of no concern to her, but Meghan’s got a decent voice. Luke thought it was incredible but Katy seems less enthused. Despite being on the fence, Katy delivers good news to Meghan via Facetime with Chris Harrison. Meghan is heading to Hollywood.
9:59 p.m. — Last up tonight is a subway singer from New York who goes by the name Just Sam. She’s auditioning with “You Say” and has a bit of a hiccup at the beginning and begins to cry when she squanders her audition. The judges give her a pep talk and encourage her to start again. She switches things up and sings “Rise Up” with no problem. Sam sings the most soulful audition of the night and brings big smiles to the faces of the judges. Luke says she has the voice of a storyteller and Katy loves her sweet personality. Lionel wants Sam to feel safe through this process and he wants again brings Sam to tears. Next Sam asks to pray with the judges and this sob fest has just gone a little too far for me at this point. Sam is heading to Hollywood, which is well deserved – but enough with the dramatics! That’s a wrap for tonight! It looks like there’s still untapped talent to find for “American Idol.”