“American Idol” returns on February 14 for its fourth season on ABC and 19th 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 the judges will have culled these would-be winners down to just 40. Those lucky few made it to the showcase round. Only half of them made the cut. The 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 19 premiere episode of “American Idol.”
8:00 p.m. — “American Idol” kicks things off by doing what the show does best, showing hopeful winners from all walks of life scattered throughout the country and determined to change their own lives. The judges talk about what a crazy year it’s been and how grateful they are that viewers at home can sit back and have some form of “normalcy” and entertainment as we kick back and watch the 19th season of this iconic TV show. Let’s get started!
8:08 p.m. — Benson Boone has the honor of being the first audition we see for Season 19. The Washington native is a self-proclaimed goofball and trouble maker. He started singing a little over a year ago and started a band right after high school. Ever since then all he does is sing. He walks out to meet the judges and Katy seems instantly skeptical about the length of time Benson has been singing. But the 18-year old sits down at the piano and sings “Punchline,” with a quiet confidence and perhaps a manufactured accent. When he gets to the chorus he’s got a solid belting range and he’s a charming pop vocalist with a good personality. Off he goes with his golden ticket! Katy says she can seen Benson winning “American Idol” if he wants to.
8:19 p.m. — Up next is another teenager, but on a completely different spectrum. Alex Miller is a good ol’ Kentucky country boy who has been singing since he was 7 years old. He’s singing an original song for the judges that he penned for his ex-girlfriend, titled, “I’m Over You, So Get Over Me.” Alex is a good guitar player and has a nice voice, but I feel like he’s singing a bit too low for his natural register. Lionel calls his personality “infectious” and Luke thinks he could sing at the Grand Ole Opry. The country judge even gets up and performs a duet with the youngster. Alex got his golden ticket!
8:30 p.m. — Up next is a man by the name of Jason Warrior, a 25-year old from Chicago. He mentions how many times he’s been rejected, but he won’t quit. I know this to be true, because I very quickly remember seeing him on two previous singing competitions: “The Voice” on NBC and “The Four” on Fox. Perhaps “Idol” will be the right fit, but I already know this man can sing. He says he was humbled by his previous experience because he was arrogant and inexperienced at the time and now he feels prepared for success. I’m glad he mentioned this because I remember him for being sort of a jerk on “The Four,” and he admits doors closed for him when he was seen in that light. Jason stands in front of the judges, already in tears, prepared to sing “What’s Going On.” Partly through the performance the judges are on their feet as he belts out the Marvin Gaye classic. Lionel called it “phenomenal” and told him to forget the past. Jason is going to Hollywood.
8:40 p.m. — Up next are a few contestants who aren’t lucky enough to get their own segment. Rocker Miranda Kitchpanich brought her own floor fan to properly blow her hair in the wind as she jammed out on her guitar. It was a little too “out there” for Luke, so it’s a no for her. Kiko and Stelle Amor were both a little too theatrical (or offkey) for Katy’s taste and Jessica Smalley appeared to be a complete disaster as she gave a sinful version of Lionel’s own classic, “Hello.” Finally Katy begs for someone to save them, and in walks Ryan Romano, a 16-year old wearing a dazzling sportscoat who says he discovered his calling at a third-grade talent show. He sings “Rocket Man” by his idol, Elton John, for the judges. Unfortunately he’s not very good at playing the keyboard or singing. Luke calls him a showman with vocals that aren’t ready. He’s putting it very nicely. Katy compliments his outfit, but not his musical talent. She pays him $400 for his jacket and sends him home. The journey for all of these contestants ends now.
8:50 p.m. — Up next is a L.A. native, Anilee List, who has grown up performing. She was always an outgoing child who wanted to be on stage. At age seven she was diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome and she was inspired by Season 10 contestant James Durbin. She’s singing a song called “Blue” and she has a really beautiful head voice. Even though she oversings at times, I like her voice and it reminds me of a 70’s singer/songwriter. Lionel thinks she is “amazing” and Luke had six waves of chill bumps. The judges absolutely loved this audition and quickly send her to Hollywood.
9:00 p.m. — Up next is a 17-year old named Danica Steakley, a Mississippi native who has arrived with her retired Navy lieutenant father. He seems like a drill sergeant and Danica looks absolutely terrified while he continues to pour on the pressure about her winning it all. He sits down to play guitar for his daughter as she meekly starts to sing, clearly a bundle of nerves. Once she gets going, her voice is actually quite beautiful and classic sounding. I like her because her voice has its own unique tone. Katy can hear her lack of experience and shyness, and is worried about how she will fit in with singers with more range. Lionel doesn’t think its the right time for her either, and Luke gives her a “no,” flat out. Seemingly picking up on Danica’s discomfort with her helicopter parent, Katy gives Danica a “Yes,” hoping she can learn through the process. But then Lionel crushes her dream, giving her a “no,” much to the disgust of her father who is enraged and storms out. This is so awkward, I feel bad for this girl!
9:10 p.m. — The second hour kicks off with DJ Johnson, a Texas native with nine siblings whose father is a worship leader and whose mother abandoned their family. DJ’s mother used to criticize her singing and call the youngster worthless, so her leaving was more of a relief than a burden. DJ is singing an original song called “Scars,” accompanying herself on piano. Katy is moved to tears by the emotional lyrics about a mother leaving her own children. Then DJ completely breaks down and can’t finish her performance. Lionel gives her a pep talk and calls her dad in to give her a hug. DJ begins again and now the father and Katy are both sobbing as she sings about her mother leaving her father heartbroken. This is way too intense for me. Now Lionel is crying. This rollercoaster finally comes to a stop and Lionel calls her delivery of that song a hit record. Katy says some of the greatest artists have the most pain and DJ will give people hope. They send her to Hollywood.
9:20 p.m. — Next up is a 17-year old from Arkansas, Nia Renee, who spares us another segment of drama and just gets right into singing. And what a breath of fresh air she is! She has a deep, rich tone and is belting out “Chain of Fools” by Aretha Franklin with little effort. I love her old-school vibe and although she’s singing an Aretha song, she’s got a vocal tone more similar to Gladys Knight and I’m here for all of it. Nia says she’s been singing since she was just 18 months old and Katy says there is a power inside her. It’s a quick and easy YES from the judges.
9:40 p.m. — Another quick roundup of some awful singers is featured, much different from the early years when these types of vocalists would take up half the show. Christian Terry, Bella Lucareli and Keith Trump were all spared a full 10 minutes of humiliation for the subpar performances. But now it’s time for Claudia Conway, the 16-year old daughter of notorious Trump staffer Kellyanne Conway and outspoken Trump hater, George Conway. She says it’s tough being their daughter, but she only wants to spread love. Claudia’s dream is to be a singer and hopes she doesn’t get sucked into the heated political climate her parents helped to create. Singing “Love on the Brain,” Claudia gets a bit nervous and loses her place. Katy stops it and asks for another song, which prompts Claudia to sing “When We Were Young.” She doesn’t have a remarkable voice, but she knows how to pour her emotion into it. Luke says her range is limited, Lionel likes certain qualities of her voice and Katy says Claudia needs to calm the storm around her. Luke gives her a no, but Katy and Lionel give her a chance and send her to Hollywood.
9:50 p.m. — Next up is Mario Adrion, who says he doesn’t want the judges to focus on his body, yet he showed up in a Speedo anyways. He sings an original song that is as atrocious as his voice. This is purely for TV and he has no legitimate shot at being a music star, so hopefully viewers are having fun watching. Take a nice look at those pecs bouncing as he tells Katy he could destroy her in a runway walk-off after she challenges him. Luke and Lionel can’t stop themselves from joining in, and quite honestly, this is more entertaining than some of the singers tonight. After having her fun with the young model, Katy tosses him out like a pile of trash, stating “I don’t care if you look like Harry Styles, you don’t sound like Harry Styles.” But have no fear, Mario will still be in Hollywood. He lives there!
9:59 p.m. — We’re up to the last singer of the night, so she has to be a good one, right? Grace Kinstler is a 20-year performing in honor of her father, who passed away unexpectedly last February. She’s singing “Midnight Train to Georgia” with effortless power and a crystal clear voice that leaves the judges’ jaws on the floor. For an encore, Grace is asked to sing her second song, “Natural Woman.” This performance is even better than the first. She can SAAANG! Lionel is blown away by Grace’s control. Luke says this is the first time in four years that someone’s singing made him cry. Katy doesn’t have much to critique because she got a full wave of body chills. Luke calls it up there with the auditions from Kelly Clarkson and Jennifer Hudson. Grace is off to Hollywood with a huge target on her back as the early one to beat. That’s a wrap for the Season 19 premiere!