The third episode of "American Idol's" 13th season ended the same way that the season's first episode began: with a generous amount of screentime dedicated to Detroit contestant Marrialle Sellars. Showing her audition twice in the course of just a week may have been the producers' way of trying to make her an early favorite, but it was a transparent tactic that may have backfired.
You see, last week, Marrialle was featured in the premiere's cold open, performing a guitar-strummy rendition of Bruno Mars's "Grenade" and (upon judge Harry Connick Jr.'s orders) declaring herself The Next American Idol. And this week, viewers saw her do it all over again. The EXACT same audition. Why?
Sure, there was a little more backstory this time (her father, who encouraged her to pursue music, recently died), and we got to see a bit more of Marrialle's goofy personality. But this repeat was still overkill, especially so early in the season, and it could generate a backlash before she even makes it to Hollywood.
Of course, my other theory is this was all a setup for a "shocking" Green Mile elimination, a la Josiah Leming of "Idol" Season 7 or Jillian Jensen of "The X Factor" Season 2, when a supposed shoo-in gets the boot. Or maybe Fox fired the show's editor midway through the audition process, and this was just some odd editing fail. We shall soon see. All I know right now is, I would have preferred it if Marrialle's chunk of prime time this Wednesday had gone to a contestant I hadn't already seen. Fox could have at least aired this other audition that Marrialle did in Detroit.
OK, rant over. There was, thankfully, quite a good amount of previously unseen talent on Wednesday's show. These were the other standouts of the night:
Keri Lynn Roche, 24 - Keri's last-minute decision to sing Imagine Dragons' "Radioactive" could have been her undoing; I thought her voice sounded very affected, almost very "Smelly Cat," a parody of a coffeehouse singer. I wasn't feeling it. But when the judges asked her to do a different song, without her guitar, and she belted a bit of Etta James's "I'd Rather Go Blind," she was much improved. She brought a lot of heart and what Harry called "grit and street" to the Etta tune. Jennifer Lopez liked how she was "not typical." Harry liked how she got lost in the performance. I think song choice, more than anything, will determine this girl's future on "Idol."
Julian Miller, 18 – This kid had cool style (whether it's last season's Burnell Taylor, "The Voice's" Pip, or frequent "Idol" commentator Jim Cantiello, a bowtie is almost always a smart fashion choice), and his old-school Motor City soul vibe on John Legend's "Who Did That to You?" was equally cool. I liked him straight away, and so did the judges. "You look and sound and feel like an artist," said Keith Urban. Let's see if Julian has this competition all tied up.
Malaya Watson, 15 – This tuba-tooting marching band girl had a huge personality and a voice to match, tons of raw talent and off-the-charts likability. After she sang Aretha Franklin's "Ain't No Way," there was no way she wasn't getting through. "I don't need to hear anything else…You're blessed. God gave you something so pure," gushed Jennifer. Keith called her voice "absolutely beautiful." I don't think the tuba is Malaya's true calling. She was born to sing.
Bryan Watt, 29 – As wholesome and all-American as apple pie (actually, so wholesome and all-American, he made apple pie look like a big old bowl of dirt), Bryan did "So Small" by the most wholesome and all-American of "Idol" winners, Carrie Underwood. While I thought he sounded like a bland CCM singer, it was easy to see how this handsome man with the pure, angelic voice could become a fan favorite. Harry loved his "confident, patient, easy performance" and called him "Superman." J.Lo, representing many over-40 women in America, was practically swooning for him. If Bryan advances to the live voting rounds, his opponents ought to be very worried.
Khristian D'avis, 22 – This girl was all drama, drama, drama, right down to the unnecessary apostrophe in her surname. After the Sicilian beauty's cover of Whitney Houston's "Saving All My Love for You" failed to impress the judges (she actually failed to nail the big money notes), she started begging the panel to give her a chance. And as she begged, her Italian accent mysteriously disappeared. It was odd. It was like a reverse Melanie Amaro. I have no idea why the judges eventually decided to put her through, unless it was because they suspected that she might be the most histrionic hopeful since Season 8's Tatiana Del Toro and make for some good TV. (Yeah. That must have been why. No other explanation.)
Jena Asciutto, 17 – I groaned loudly when I found out that this girl was planning to audition with "Rolling in the Deep" (seriously? another Adele song?), but man, she really pulled it off. Her phrasing was a little weird, and Harry noted that her tendency to "close things off with her tongue" was off-putting, but she really did hit all those big notes. Such a massive voice for such a young girl! Keith was especially impressed, saying, "I really, really loved it…I could hear your personality…It's you, it's your own thing!" There's a lot of potential with this one.
Melanie Porras, 19 – This songstress's earthy cover of the sexy standard "Fever" was giving me some real Haley Reinhart realness. I was vibing on Melanie, and I was surprised/annoyed when J.Lo criticized the song choice as "safe." But when J.Lo requested that Melanie try another song, and Melanie did a bluesy version of Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive," I was glad that Jennifer had asked. This was even better! J.Lo had a total turnaround, of course, saying, "I can hear you recording records, and I haven't said that to anyone this season." Actually…Jennifer has said that to tons of people this season. But hey, she was right this time.
Jade Lathan, 20 – Rocking a Coachella flower crown and covering Amy Winehouse, Jade oozed cuteness and coolness. She also oozed talent. "You are absolutely adorable…You look fresh and sweet and nice, and you did some things I didn't expect," said Harry. Jennifer liked her "whistle-y thing." I was whistling and applauding when Jade made it through!
Sydney Arterbridge, 15 – Speaking of whistling, I wasn't sure if a girl as young and button-cute as Sydney would be able to hit that dog-whistle note in Minnie Riperton's "Lovin' You." What an ambitious song choice! I mean, this is the song that caused a middle-school mascot to explode on "South Park" once. But Sydney nailed it. My heart was exploding with joy. I adored this girl.
Maurice Townsend, 26 – A young father of four (yes, FOUR) and a music minister, this stylish guy did a beautiful version of John Legend's "So High." His voice was like-buttah smooth and pure, and his classy performance was old-school but with a modern edge. Of course he got three yesses, and then his adorable kids swooped in, one of them yelling, "Daddy, you're going to Hollywood!" Aw.
David Oliver Willis, 22 – Hurray! I remember D.O.W. from last season, WHEN HE WAS TOTALLY ROBBED. Hopefully with two new judges in place, he'll get a fairer shot this season. Or…maybe not, because none of the judges seemed 100 percent won over by David's soulful cover of Alex Clare's "Too Close" this Wednesday. Keith said David needed to push himself more. Harry thought David depended too much on his guitar and said, "He's born to sing, but I don't know if he's gonna win." However, J.Lo countered with, "You never know!" That's right. You never do know. David might make it this time.
Brandy Neelley, 18 – Another returning contestant from Season 12, looking very different with a sleek and sophisticated platinum bob, Brandy charmed this season's panel with a strong, pretty much CMT-ready performance of Hunter Hayes's "Wanted." Said resident country expert Keith, "It played to all your strengths. I really loved it." Then Harry and J.Lo debated the pros and cons of Brandy's "nasal, guttural quality." Harry said it was distinctive and advised Brandy: "I wouldn't try to correct that." Said Jennifer: "I would [change it]." Which advice will Brandy heed? If I were her, I'd listen to Harry, the actual musician.
Ethan Harris, 20 – Looking like a "lost Osmond" ("Ronnie Osmond" is what Harry christened him), this Keith Urban fanboy and all-around cutie patootie was adorakbly odd, in a Charlie Askew/Jon Peter Lewis sort of way. And while his cover of Keith's "You'll Think of Me" didn't showcase the best voice of the episode, he was unique and instantly memorable. J.Lo called his tone "really, really pleasant." Little girls out there are just going to call his voting line in droves, if they get the chance. Ethan is total tween-bait.
Ayla Stackhouse, 17 – This Detroit-born, L.A.-based powerhouse took "X Factor U.K." girl group's "Little Wings" to soaring new heights. Sass! Swag! Star power! This dynamite girl had it all. She had it going on. All three judges were grunting appreciatively during her performance, and Harry later said that even Motown's Berry Gordy would dig her. Jennifer called her "the whole package." Keith called her a "natural singer." I predict big things for Ayla.
Eric Gordon, 27 – Looking like an '80s James Dean with his thick pompadour and a Members Only windbreaker that Harry practically wanted to rip off his back (seriously, Harry was strangely obsessed with that jacket), Eric gave me shades of Luke Edgemon/James Kenney/Blake Lewis, but was definitely doing his own quietly blue-eyed-soulful thing. His rendition of John Mayer's "Perfectly Lonely" was just about perfect.
Ryan Nisbett, 24 – Ryan had an even better pompadour and an even better vibe. I think I might be officially smitten here. The art-school "hipster" made a surprising song choice with Sarah McLachlan's schmaltzy animal-shelter anthem "Angel," somehow making the song sound cool with his roughened-up singing style. Jennifer called him "one of a kind." Harry said he hopes America will give Ryan a chance. Oh, I think America will.
So there you have it. Another great night (despite the annoying Marrialle rerun), with 40 golden tickets dispensed in the Motor City. My favorites were Sydney Arterbridge, Ethan Harris, Ayla Stackhouse, Eric Gordon, and Ryan Nisbett, but I was impressed overall by the level of talent.
Which contestants did you like best? Let me know in the comments section below! I will leave you now with "Watching and Waiting" by Season 9 finalist Didi Benami, which you may have heard during this episode and can preview/purchase HERE. Nice placement, Didi!