The penultimate night of "American Idol" auditions brought some solid talent to the table. Wednesday evening's best contestants included several faces and voices from other TV talent shows and from "Idol" seasons past.
The episode also brought us a crushing moment, in which we saw the judges dash the dreams of a blind singer who, before his audition, had described his mood as "transcendent."
"I'm convinced that music has healing powers," Mario Bonds, a 27-year-old from Washington, D.C., who told judges Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr. that he had a degenerative eye condition that robbed him of his sight by age 10, although he had been a typical kid, "riding bikes and getting in fights" beforehand.
"After I went blind, I was pissed," Bonds (a "Glee Project" alumnus) said, crediting his grandmother with getting him back in line and giving him the positive attitude he has today -- at least before the judges responded to his uneven take (shaky pitch, showy style) on Natalie Cole's "Inseparable."
To be fair, the judges were as kind as they could be. Lopez said that, though part of Bonds' rendition of the song had drawn her in, other elements had taken her "out of the performance."
Connick told Bonds he had a "powerful presence" and "talent as a singer," complimenting specifically his tone and vibrato but saying Bonds didn't have "specifically" what he was "looking for." Urban said the performance "didn't connect" with him in the way he had hoped it would.
Three apologetic nos.
Bonds' response -- "I blew it!" he sobbed, as he was led away, without a golden ticket -- was hard to take.
As Lopez pointed out, in this final season, the judges can't offer aspiring singers another shot at Hollywood next season. It's now or never.
The singers who made it through "now," which is to say on Wednesday's show, included …
Miranda "Poh" Scott, a 17-year-old from Baltimore whose sister, Shi, made the top 24 on "Idol" last season. Scott, who got her nickname from her "favorite Teletubby," initially warned the judges not to expect too much from her and then impressed them with her raspy rendition of Sara Bareilles' "Fairytale." Connick called Poh's lack of self-consciousness "refreshing." Lopez admired her "abandon" in the way she sang and moved. Urban said her "carefree" delivery made her one of his favorite singers of the day. Poh earned three yeses. Later, the judges said she was more "comfortable" and had more "spirit" and "swagger" than her sister. We'll see if she has more staying power too.
Amelia Eisenhauer, a fiddle-playing 15-year-old from Nashville whose rendition of "Many Rivers to Cross" by Annie Lennox, although not perfectly on pitch, pleased the judges with its strength. "I love a strong voice," Lopez said. Connick said he perceived a "mysterious quality" to Eisenhauer's singing but advised her to sharpen her approach to the notes. Urban called the redheaded teen's performance "soulful," her voice "extraordinary." Yeses all around.
Joy Dove, an ebullient 21-year-old singer from Natchitoches, La., who repeatedly requested of the judges, "Put me in the game, coach," and then gave them a big reason to with her rich, spirited performance of "Jambalaya." Connick called Dove's energy "absolutely awesome." Lopez said she envied the singer's vocal power. And Urban said she had a "great vibe." Yes, yes and yes.
Mackenzie Bourg, a 23-year-old from Lafayette, La., whom viewers of "The Voice" may recognize from a past season of that show. Bourg brilliantly maximized his screen time and flattered the judges by performing a medley of their songs. "You're a smart son of a gun," Connick told him, adding that he found him "charming," "sweet" and "very interesting to watch." Lopez described the sound of Bourg's voice as "pleasant." Urban admired his song choice. Bourg sailed through.
Jenna Renae, a 23-year-old singer from Williamson, N.Y., who was formerly a contestant on "America's Got Talent." She played piano and sang Eric Paslay's "She Don't Love You" sweetly. Connick called her "very soulful." Lopez said she felt like the "whole package." Urban liked her range.
Adam Lasher, a 28-year-old returning contestant from Danville, Calif., hoping to finish the job he started last season. His samba version of "Knocking on Heaven's Door" earned him a return ticket to Hollywood. "I thought that was a terrific rendition of that. You look great and you sounded good," Connick said. "I can see why you went to Hollywood last time."
Emily Brooke, a sunny 16-year-old from Wellington, Fla., who is also a Season 14 returnee. The judges couldn't seem to praise Brooke's take on RaeLynn's "Careless" enough -- or themselves for giving her the additional time to grow by cutting her last time around. "You got so much better.… We were waiting for this to happen," Lopez said. Connick said he felt proud to have helped Brooke learn and grow. Urban said she'd proved that "there is no substitute for the work." Emphatic yeses all around.
The judges were left feeling optimistic. "We've seen enough contestants to have a competition," Connick said. "It's going to be a fierce battle -- lots of different genres, lots of different performance styles. We're going to be in good shape this year."