The final night of "American Idol" auditions -- of Season 15 and ever -- offered up an assortment of singers cherry-picked from a variety of audition cities: Philadelphia, Atlanta, San Francisco ... the show bounced around so much between locales on Thursday night, it didn't seem worth keeping track.
It also doesn't seem worth complaining about the producers' decision to air two full auditions in which the contestants sang the same song, Jackson 5's "Who's Loving You," on the same night. (Or maybe just a little: Was that really necessary, especially when we were shown only abbreviated versions of many other solid-sounding auditions?)
And it's probably not worth griping about the judges' recycling of the same bland praise -- "beautiful voice," "I liked it" -- in responding to this season's batch of auditions. (Maybe try to be a little more descriptive, guys?)
Nah. In the immortal words of one of Wednesday night's memorably rejected singers, Mario Bonds, "It's over." There will be no more Kelly Clarksons, Carrie Underwoods or Phillip Phillipses -- or William Hungs or Larry Platts, for that matter – stepping before the "Idol" judges (and cameras) to take a deep breath and let their voices be heard by the American TV-watching public for the first time.
Whether you are bereft or relieved about this beginning of the end, or a little bit of both, the "Idol" audition train has pulled into the station for the last time, a point the show brought home with a lights-out moment that was stagey, sure, but effective.
No more "Idol" auditions. Ever. And soon enough, no more "Idol" at all. (Sniff? Sigh? Shrug?)
On Thursday night, the best of the last included …
Jessica Cabral, a 21-year-old from Worcester, Mass., whose parents moved to the U.S. from Brazil shortly before she was born and who said her audition was her shot at realizing the American dream. After Cabral sang a deep, rich, vibrant rendition of Alicia Keys' "Brand New Me," the three judges called her voice "beautiful." Jennifer Lopez added that it was the kind of "thick" and "low-toned" vocal they didn't get to hear all the time. Keith Urban complimented Cabral on her control. And Connick told Cabral she had "one of the best voices" he had heard. "Tremendous talent with a capital T," he said, predicting that she would go "very far" in the competition. Three yeses, obviously.
Brian Dale Brown, a beefy 27-year-old cellphone salesman from Bakersfield with a girlfriend 15 years his senior, whom he described as "definitely a cougar." Given that and the fact that Brown let us know he had auditioned for "Idol" 10 times and had never gotten through, he had all the advance markings of a joke contestant. "I think you're very entertaining and I think the judges will find you very entertaining," Season 9 "Idol" winner Lee DeWyze, who was helping to screen talent, told him. That could have meant anything -- as could Brown's questionable impressions of Keith Urban and Scooby-Doo. But no, as it turned out, Brown's take on the Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody" -- while oddly growly -- displayed enough real talent to earn him a ticket to Hollywood. Urban even gave him a standing ovation (possibly ironic), calling his performance "powerful." The coaches urged Brown to ditch his "novelty"-act approach to performing. Just "pare it down and be sincere," Lopez advised. All three gave him a yes.
Melanie Huber, a 17-year-old cancer survivor from Livonia, Mich. Huber had beaten Stage 3 non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and was celebrating her return to health by reaching for her dream. "If it's something I want to do, I'm going to go for it," before impressing the judges with her take on Bruno Mars' "Talking to the Moon." "Some people, when they sing, they don't have to try to emote, they just do," Lopez told Huber. Urban admired the "storytelling" quality to her voice and her "easy presence." And Connick got a little weird and told the teen he liked "everything I'm seeing in front of me right now, from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet." Three yes votes.
A trio of successful-yet-montaged contestants: Rachel Karryn, 20, from Columbus, Ohio; Caroline Byrne, 25, from Waldwick, N.J.; Bianca Eslinal, 22, from Harlem in New York.
Chynna Sherrod, 16, of Bridgeport, Conn., whose rendition of "One Last Time" by Ariana Grande, was termed "very nice … very beautiful" by Lopez. "You sang like you are: laid back, chill, don't take yourself too seriously, but really feel life," Urban said. Three yeses.
Lillian Glanton, a peppy 15-year-old singer-songwriter who lives on a poultry farm in Athens, Ala. Her riveting original song "Country Boyfriend" failed to impress Connick. "You look like the type of person that would be really fun to hang out with, but your voice isn't quite on the level of what I'm looking for today," he told her. Urban and members of the crew joined in a chorus of "awww" -- something Lopez said she had never heard before. "They must really like you," JLo told Glanton. "I really like you too and I really like your song." Urban gave Glanton her first yes. Connick said no. And Lopez? After a dramatic pause, she gave Glanton the deciding vote in her favor and a ticket to Hollywood. "We'll get you out of the henhouse," Urban assured the teen.
Kacye Haynes, a 23-year-old from Talladega, Ala., who credits music with helping him emerge from a teenage substance-abuse problem. One year sober, he said, he was looking at "Idol" as an "opportunity to be reborn." His rendition of "Brother" by Needtobreathe didn't connect with Urban, who longed for more vocal power. But Lopez felt as if Haynes was singing from personal experience and Connick compared his voice to Jon Bon Jovi and Bono; their support was enough to put Haynes through to Hollywood, which clearly came as a relief to Haynes' worried mom.
Zach Person, an 18-year-old guitarist and singer-songwriter from Houston, whose "Next-Door Neighbor Blues" showed off an individual style that wowed the judges. There's "nobody in the world that sounds like you," Lopez told him, later adding that it felt as if Person were "from another time." Three yeses.
Colette Lush, a 19-year-old, lushly redheaded and bright-eyed nanny and vocal coach from Orange County who so surprised and excited the judges with her take on the Jackson 5's "Who's Loving You" that Lopez was moved to exclaim, "I feel like Carrie Underwood just walked in here." Urban dubbed Lush's sound "timeless." Connick said she had given all the redheads of the world hope. Did she think, he asked, that she could make it "all the way to the finish line?" She said she thought she could. "I think so too," he said.
Avalon Young, a 21-year-old "server" from San Diego who seemed to deliberately dress down (oversized T-shirt, ripped jeans) in order to surprise people with her voice. She earned all the judges' votes with Beyonce's "XO." Connick predicted that the competition would force her "to look inward" and raise her game.
Usen Isong, a Queens, New York, 23-year-old who has been working as a "background" actor (is that the same as an "extra" or a step up?) -- and did a whole funny bit about it -- but is looking, he said, to make a move "to the forefront" via "Idol." His take on Sam Smith's "Not the Only One," prompted Urban to declare, "Man, you can sing." Connick said he'd prove to be "trouble" to whoever had to sing after him. And Isong collected three yeses and stepped forward (into the forefront?) to collect his golden ticket.
Jaci Butler, a green-haired 19-year-old who lives with her band in her (patient) parents' house in Rowlett, Texas. The judges thought her rendition of Bruno Mars' "It'll Rain" got better as it went along. "Clearly, you can sing," Connick said. Lopez and Urban concurred, and Butler vowed to retain her emerald-toned tresses for Hollywood.
Stephany Negrete, a 21-year-old singer from San Diego whose family hails from Mexico. She treated us to the second rendition of Jackson 5's "Who's Loving You" we'd heard that night. Lopez said she could see Negrete "thinking about every single note" instead of just singing it from the heart, but Negrete's voice was strong enough to carry her through anyway. After earning three yes votes, she jumped for joy -- in very high heels -- alarming Lopez. "Don't twist an ankle!" she chided.
Manny Torres, a 20-year-old singer from Flushing, Mich., by way of Chicago, who set out to impress Lopez in particular with his performance of Maroon 5's "This Love" and succeeded. "Digging you," she said, complimenting him on his presence and energy. Urban added that he liked the way Torres had kept that energy "focused." Torres earned the final golden ticket ever to be dispensed by "American Idol" in a unanimous decision.