On Thursday, "American Idol" headed to Omaha, where the judges doled out the last 21 golden tickets of Season 13. Did those tickets go to the right contestants? And did any of the Omaha auditioners have what it takes to compete in Hollywood with the many incredibly talented singers that Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban, and Harry Connick Jr. had already scouted in Boston, Austin, San Francisco, Detroit, Atlanta, and Salt Lake City?
Let's find out…
Quaid Edwards, 21 – Quaid's musical mom, Jolie Edwards, used to gig with Keith Urban back in the day with her country band, Jolie & The Wanted. But would Keith and his fellow judges want Jolie's son for "Idol"? Maybe not. While it was clear that Quaid had inherited some of his mother's talent, as well as her good looks, his cover of Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come" was beyond bland, completely lacking in pathos, grit, and soul. Jennifer overly nicely critiqued the performance as "inconsistent," although I thought it was consistently dull. Harry told Quaid, "You're cute, and the girls are going to scream, but if you want to be a great singer who changes the game, you're headed in the wrong direction." Even Mama Edwards's old crony Keith was critical. Quaid looked positively stunned, and a little stung, by the panel's comments, although he did seem to take their advice to heart, claiming he has an "amazing work ethic" and insisting that, despite his showbiz pedigree, he's "as green as they come." Then, bizarrely, Hatchet Harry said, "I happen to like that shade of green!" — and all three judges put Quaid through. Would they have done that if Quaid wasn't Jolie's son? I don't know. There have been plenty of other auditioners this season who were turned away because they didn't seem ready yet, and I really think the judges should have told Quaid to come back in Season 14.
Madisen Walker, 15 – This was another not-quite-ready-for-prime-time singer who somehow managed to convince the judges that she deserved a shot. While Madisen carried herself wonderfully for someone so young, and her pitch was pretty much perfect, she did herself no favors covering the biggest hit by the biggest Idol of all time, Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats." She just wasn't at an Underwood level…at least not yet. Keith called her performance a "perfect karaoke rendition of a Carrie Underwood song." But J.Lo and Keith saw potential anyway. I certainly see a future for Madisen, but maybe not on "Idol" Season 13. I wouldn't be surprised if she's one of those contestants who gets cut on day one of Hollywood Week ("The heartbreak she's going to get is going to outweigh that one moment of joy she has right now," Harry sadly predicted), but then pulls a Janelle Arthur and comes back two seasons later, blows everyone away, and makes the top 10. I simply think Madisen needs a little more time to ripen.
Alyssa Siebkin, 20 – This spunky girl thought she was being all cutesy and original with her folk-guitar remake of Waka Flocka Flame's "No Hands," but the judges seemed unimpressed. (Side note: I dug it.) But J.Lo was charmed with Alyssa's breath control on the lightning-speed song and therefore gave her a grudging yes, as did Keith. Harry shrugged; there'd be no show of hands, so to speak, from him today. That didn't matter; Alyssa grabbed her golden ticket, ran out of the room, and promptly took a selfie with Ryan Seacrest. So she won the Internet, even if it's unlikely she'll win "Idol" unless she evolves beyond novelty covers.
Tyler Gurwicz, 25 – Tyler sort of reminded me of "The Voice's" James Wolpert and "The X Factor's" James Kenney, with a little bit of Arcade Fire's Win Butler thrown in. That's a long-winded, roundabout way of saying I liked him. His angsty, slightly emo cover of Adele's "Set Fire To the Rain" was interesting and intense. But Tyler wasn't exactly setting Harry's world on fire. "I don't know where I would place you in 'American Idol.' It's hard to see you in the competition," Harry said. Keith was put off by Tyler's snarly facial expressions and also said no, but J.Lo wanted to give the guy a chance. The panel decided to let Tyler try a second song, and he froze. He couldn't think of one. Huh? What contestant comes to "Idol" and doesn't have a backup song? Hasn't he ever watched this show? "Your life is on the line right now. You've got to come up with something! Sing 'Happy Birthday' or something," Jennifer ordered. More deer-in-headlit silence ensued. Finally [INSERT SUSPENSEFUL COMMERCIAL BREAK HERE], Tyler came up with an awesome song choice, Jeff Buckley's "Grace," and he killed it. "That may have been my first slip in judgment. Everything else has been very clear to me. That was the first time when I second-guessed myself," Harry admitted, after changing his mind and agreeing to give Tyler a golden ticket. This is why Harry is a great judge: He's brutally honest, even when it comes to his own foibles.
Tyler Marshall, 23 – Tyler Gurwicz was great, but he's got some stiff competition from this soul singer of the same first name, who totally stole the show with his vivacious cover of "Proud Mary." This guy was so animated, he made the Energizer Bunny seem like Leonard Cohen on a Tylenol PM bender. And his attitude was infectious. "You look like happy guy. You look like even if the world is crashing around you, you've got that happy face. I like that," said a smiling Harry. No one made this Tyler sing a second song; the judges happily handed him his golden ticket without debate.
C.J. Jones, 20 - When C.J. said he was going to sing "Stand By Me" and Harry joked, "No, I need to sit," C.J. didn't miss a beat, pointed to the staging area, and sassed back, "No, get over here!" Harry admired C.J.'s feisty spirit, so he got out of his chair and ended up standing by C.J. for his audition, sort of serving as a backup dancer/percussionist. Even so, C.J. was not upstaged. Not at all thrown off by the unusual circumstances, he gave a theatrical, commanding performance and impressed with his booming, rich voice. I hope the judges stand by C.J., figuratively, during Hollywood Week, because this crazy kid is all sorts of awesome.
Dajontae Lenear, 16 – This J.Lo fanboy was totally awed by his idol's presence, but amusingly, the crush seemed mutual. "You are the cutest thing I have ever seen," Jennifer told him. "Oh my God, J.Lo! You can't say that when I'm about to do this," he gushed. But Dajontae, young and star-struck as he was, pulled it together and delivered a dynamite performance that wooed not only Jennifer but her co-judges as well. This kid is the real deal, and he really is adorable.
Dylan Becker, 17 – A sort of generic WGWG, it's unlikely that Dylan will manage to stand out amid all the other likable, handsome, guitar-strumming young men of Season 13. I was underwhelmed by his audition. But since only part of his audition was shown on-air, maybe the judges literally saw something in him that I didn't see. So I'll reserve judgment regarding Dylan until Hollywood Week.
Paula Hunt, 20 – This Air Force Heartland of America Band singer sang Etta James's "All I Could Do Was Cry" in a big, churchy voice. It was an old-fashioned performance (how is this girl only 20? she seems 40), but she certainly had the goods. It was obvious that the judges liked what they heard, so I don't think it was even necessary for Paula to share her sad story about her mother, a former pro singer whose voice was robbed by multiple sclerosis. Even without knowing that Paula had come to "Idol" to continue her mother's unfulfilled dream, the judges definitely would've put Paula through. Still, it sure was a nice TV moment when Paula headed out to the waiting room, golden ticket in hand, and there was her mom, sitting in a wheelchair and beaming proudly. "I can't sing anymore; my children sing for me," Paula's mama said. I think Paula is going to do her mother (and the Air Force) proud on "Idol," but if she really wants to go the distance, she'll probably have to modernize her sound and look a bit.
Andrina Brigden, 18 – Andrina had a certain quiet elegance that drew me in, but I don't think she attacked Beyoncé's "Halo" with gusto that the emotional ballad required. Her performance was timid and faltering. "I feel like you're singing with a little bit of fear…you shy away from those bigger moments, [though] I feel like you can do them," said Jennifer. Harry didn't have as much faith in Andrina's potential, saying, "You're way better than average, but you're not strong enough for 'American Idol.'" Keith cast the tie-breaking vote and gave Andrina a chance. This is another contestant that I feel could have benefited from another year of practice, as I believe she'll get eaten alive in Hollywood. But I wish Andrina luck, because there is something intriguing about her.
Casey McQuillen, 21 – Casey's cover of Demi Lovato's "Skyscraper" reached dazzling heights. She possessed the perfect balance of control and power, and J.Lo called her audition "angelic. " Keith said she had "all the right things to blossom." Harry seemed smitten and called her "one to watch." I'll certainly be looking for Casey in Hollywood.
Tessa Kate, 25 – With one last golden ticket to Hollywood remaining (at least according to this episode's edit), there was a lot on the line for Tessa. Luckily, I do think "Idol" may have saved the best for last. This quirky Branson performer with the retro country style gave a delightful performance of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" that reminded me of Dolly Parton, and reminded Harry, even more awesomely, of the Mandrell Sisters' Sid & Marty Krofft 1970s variety show. Not as awesomely, J.Lo compared Tessa to a chipmunk, though she claimed she meant this as a compliment. (Well, Alvin & the Chipmunks have sold a ton of records and have won five Grammys, so there's that.) Keith, clearly a more credible expert when it comes to country music, was charmed, so Tessa received the 212th ticket of Season 13.
And thus, this season's "Idol" auditions came to a close. Really, there's been so much talent this year, the past three weeks just flew by. But the fun is just about to begin — if what Ryan Seacrest said at the end of Thursday's episode was true — because next week, the show will unveil a "shocking new twist" called the "Hollywood or Home" round. Will your favorites survive? And, more importantly, will mine? Come back next Wednesday, when we'll all find out.