Season 13 of “American Idol” got off to a promising start with a two-night premiere. At auditions in Boston and Austin, the new judges’ panel demonstrated professionalism and camaraderie, a refreshing change over the senseless drama-rama of last year. In particular, Harry Connick Jr. relied on his musical knowledge to make tough decisions, while both Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban, while they were more likely to give questionable auditioners a chance, provided some useful criticism.
- In a cold open, Marialle Sellars, 17, who auditioned in Detroit, performed a soulful version of the Bruno Mars hit “Grenade” while accompanying herself on guitar. Harry predicted she’d be a “nightmare” for the other contestants.
- Troy Durden, 29, who said he likes twerking, delivered a mellow version of “Over the Rainbow.” Jennifer said, “I kind of loved that.” They asked him to twerk while singing it, and he gamely played along. “It’s a long shot, but it just might twerk,” Harry joked, after Troy received three yeses and a Golden Ticket.
- Sam Woolf, 17, was raised by his grandparents after being abandoned by his mom. Played guitar along with his rendition of “Lego House” by Ed Sheeran, which was rushed in parts but demonstrated good tone. He was very young looking. Keith said he’d never heard that song done so fast, “like an auction song” but liked his tone. Harry hated the fact that Sam has a tattoo and it looks great, while he’s been denying his daughter a tattoo. Jennifer thought the song, though timid at first, opened up like a flower. Three yeses.
- A montage featured snippets of auditions by three singers, along with voice-overs about them. Ethan Thompson, 23, had blue eyes and dark hair, played guitar and wore a plaid shirt. Lindsey Pedicone, 18, wore a tank top with a kitten on it, along with wedges, and had a sort of folksy delivery. Jillian Jenson, 20, is a fan of the TV series “Will & Grace,” which featured Harry. She wore a tan and black dress that was longer in the back, had long, brunette hair, and played guitar and sang. She had been a contestants on Season 2 of “The X Factor,” cut at the judges’ houses round. All three went through to the next round.
- Taylor Hildack, 19, a jazz singer studying at community college, performed “Before He Cheats” by Carrie Underwood. It started out sort of passionless, as if she was just talking it. Keith thought her voice needed a lot of work and that her range was limited. Harry found her “good but not great.” Jennifer said yes but the two men said no, and despite Jennifer begging, they stood firm on their votes.
- A montage featured the judges being “harsh,” but the most shocking thing anyone said was, to one contestant, “you could use pitch-correcting software.” Turning down people more often sounded like, “You’re adorable, sweetie, but it’s a no.” They’re not really that mean compared to previous judges’ panels.
- Stephanie Hanvey, 16, a big J. Lo fan, was wearing an animal-print fedora with a yellow tunic as she sang “Price Tag” by Jesse J. Keith felt her singing needed some work, but said she has a great way of performing. Harry observed there was “a composure about you that was very powerful. Your voice needs some time to develop.” Jennifer said, “I like you. You do need some work. There was something emotionally lacking. Maybe it was your nerves.” Still, she actually got three yeses!
- Morgan Deplitch, 15, was also a J. Lo fan who told Harry, “My mother loves you.” She also wore a yellow fedora, paired with a short patterned white dress. She was too tan with severe blonde streaks, and she was losing her breath throughout her rendition of “Paris” by Grace Potter. Still, Jennifer said, “You have something.” Harry thought the lyrics were inappropriate for her age, but it didn’t stop him from voting yes. Three yeses.
- James Earl was 22 going on about 45. He wore an Asian-style black satin jacket with golden disk pattern. As he walked in, Harry told him, “You are perhaps the coolest guy I’ve met in a long time.” He sang his own song in a very hushed voice, partly in falsetto. They liked his personality but not his voice. They didn’t dig what he called his “razzle dazzle.” After the audition fell flat, they asked if he did anything else, and he told them a halfway decent joke. “That’s your calling,” they told him.
- Jacqueline Verna was sort of a diva, inserting runs all over her audition. Harry was not as taken with the “smoke and mirrors of pentatonics.” Jennifer said she liked her tone, not just the gymnastics. “You have something special. Come back next year.” Three nos.
- Austin Percario, 17, soon to be 18 said he has a “stage mom.” The judges told him to bring her in, and she was visibly nervous as he sang Sia’s “Titanium.” His tone was a little harsh at times, and he was sort of shouting it. He looked a little like old-school Justin Bieber, before the hijinks of 2013. He also took lots of audible breaths. Still, the judges loved him and gave him three yeses. His mom, naturally, was very excited, and he was just as excited to be going to Hollywood without her. Interesting factoid: Austin competed on “The X Factor,” Season 2, as a member of the group InTENsity.
- Kaitlyn Jackson, 15, performed an original, “Another Angel.” She wrote it for him after he had a heart attack while she was performing at a concert. While he survived that incident, he died before she could perform the song she wrote for him. The simple country song was heartfelt and showed good basic songwriting skills. She’ll have to watch her tendency to get harsh/shouty at the ends of phrases. But the judges loved her, and she got three yeses.
- Keith London, 21, does odd jobs for a living. He wore a plain T-shirt and played guitar while doing a stripped-down version of “Roar” by Katy Perry. He initially messed up and started over. He sounded a little like he had an Irish accent while singing, though he’d made no mention of being anything other than American. He took a few too many liberties with the melody, frankly, but Jennifer said, “I like that song but you just made me like it more.” Keith said that, based on the audition, “I know who you are.” Harry, though, held fast: “It didn’t move me.” Yeses from Keith and Jennifer; no from Harry, who said, “I don’t think you’re a good enough singer.”
- Sam Atherton, 23, loves writing and performing music. Keith jokingly asked if he was a drummer, and in a full Boston accent, Sam replied, “Figure that out yourself, Einstein?” Then, realizing that might have sounded too harsh, he backed off the joke. He did an original song, “Love Doesn’t Last Forever.” It was a horrible, tuneless song with mediocre singing. Three nos. As he left, Jennifer remarked, “He’s pissed at you two.” I an interview afterward, Sam said he thinks he’s a better musician than all the judges combined.
- A montage showed contestants going gaga over Jennifer. Then viewers were encouraged to participated in a Twitter poll to guess whether a contestant was going through. She was.
- Shanon Wilson, 24, is a big guy and a football player. He fooled around with Ryan in the waiting room, chasing him around in a mock football play. Based on the vibrato at the end of his phrases, his surprising controlled falsetto, and his delicate hand gestures, I’d guess he’s had some choral training. Before even voting, Jennifer started waving the golden ticket, repeating the title of his audition piece: “I Want You.” Keith joked, “What, no key change?” Three yeses.
- Stephanie Petronelli, 22, is a cheerleader and showed up in short-shorts and white knee-high boots. She gave a bluesy delivery of Grace Potter’s “Paris.” Harry said he was worried about her voice, because “It’s all coming from your throat up.” He continued: “It has to be the entire package. Vocally, I wasn’t feeling it.” Jennifer disagreed, saying, “She had more soul than I expected.” Keith agreed with her but said he’d wanted her to sing longer and to “see the nerves go.” Jennifer said she’d go out on a limb and voted yes. Harry voted no. Keith was on the fence but finally went with yes. She was through to Hollywood.
Austin auditions (part one)
- Duran Cree, 17, gave a sort of country rendition of “Cupid’s Got a Shotgun” by Carrie Underwood, wearing a black jogging bra and red plaid skirt. Harry guessed she’s the person in school about whom they write, “Most Likely to be a Singer.” He said, “You’re a big fish in a little pond right now” but that she’s not ready for the big pond, basically. Jennifer voted yes, “but you have a lot of work to do.” Harry and Keith voted no.
- A montage of nos showed snippets of Michael Gonzales, 18; Lyden McCown, 28; Nikki Pool, 19, followed by some yeses, including Isabell Gallegos, 17.
- Savion Wright, 21, has ADHD. He said he’d waited eight years to audition because he didn’t feel he was ready. He said he’s been listening to Harry since he was 10. Savion performed an original song, accompanying himself on guitar. The song had a great hook. Harry joked that he’ll have to work on “how to be nice to people,” since “the other competitors are going to be very intimidated by you.” Keith and Harry jokingly voted no initially, but really, he got three yeses. His Mom came in and hugged him, in tears.
- A montage of yeses featured Terrica Curry, 20; Justin Fira, 24; Shelby Comey, 15.
- Madelyn Patterson, 22, sang “Up to the Mountain,” with lots of flourishes. A brunette in a black scoop-neck shirt and black short-shorts, she had an impressive tone. Harry asked if she wanted to sing something else, but Keith wondered why that was necessary. He voted yes. Jennifer also voted yes. Harry remarked, “Some people on this panel are very easily impressed by licks” but didn’t get to finish his advice, since the other judges cut him off.
- Another montage of yeses included Viviana Villalon; Savannah Young, 17; and Ben Boone, 22.
- Malcolm Allen, 21, seeing all the people showing up with guitars, played an air guitar at the beginning of his version of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstitious.” With geeky horn-rimmed glasses and a guitar tattoo on his arm, he clearly embodied his statement, “I’m literally in love with music.” Jennifer told him, “Your voice is special.” She gave him “a triple yes,” and the other judges allowed that to stand in for their own votes, sending him to Hollywood.
- Rolando Guerroro, 21, was a J. Lo fan. He teared up and got a hug from her before auditioning with one of her songs, “Hold It Don’t Drop It.” He sort of talked it in the middle, and it was nasally. Jennifer called him adorable and refrained from voting, which wasn’t really necessary, since he got a no from Harry and Keith.
- Finally, a Harry fan auditioned. Harry was so excited he rushed over and picked the slender young man up. Munfarid Zaidi, 19, lives in Texas and was born in Pakistan. He sang “Crazy for You” by Adele, accompanying himself with clapping. He demonstrated good control, including on the high notes and gave a jazzy rendition of the song. Harry had told him that “if you blow us away on the first song, I’ll hold you in my arms like a baby in the second.” He did, and he gamely went along with the arrangement, singing a second song while Harry picked him up like a baby. Three yeses.
- All told, 21 Golden Tickets were award in Austin and 25 in Boston, making 46.
- Tonight, it’s day two in Austin. Then the auditions head to San Francisco.
“American Idol” airs Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on FOX.