Drum roll, please! Season 11 of "American Idol" is underway. And as Steven Tyler put it, "Hold on...it's gonna be quite a ride!"
This was our very first year auditioning in Savannah, Georgia. Thousands of hopefuls lined up for their chance at a Golden Ticket, some even quitting their jobs for a once-in-a-lifetime chance at stardom. On Wednesday night, 42 of those hopefuls earned a ticket to Hollywood and the next stage of the competition.
First up was David Leathers, Jr., of Fayetteville, N.C., a baby-faced contestant who once competed against last year's winner, Scotty McCreery. Jennifer Lopez insisted that David "looks like he's 12." He's actually 17, and quite the ladies' man (his friends call him "Mr. Steal Your Girl"). David sang a "beautiful" version of 21st Century's "Remember the Rain," and the judges were mesmerized. In fact, Randy Jackson made it really easy: on the count of three, all the judges shouted, "Yes!" David is going to Hollywood.
Next up was 16-year-old Gabi Carrubba of North Haven, Conn. This champion tap dancer was very excited to meet Ryan Seacrest, and she hugged Nigel Lythgoe. She also wanted Steven to make "that face" he makes when he's really digging a song. Success! Her "wonderful" version of Maroon 5's "Sunday Morning" was a hit with the judges. "That was so beautiful," Jennifer raved. "I love the choices you made." Steven added, "You nailed it O this may be your magic moment."
A few more yeses from the judges as Brianna Faulk, Neco Starr, Molly Hunt, and Elise Testone all made it through, making this one of the best starts to a season, ever!
But the winning streak ended with 19-year-old Jessica Whitely of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. "I don't even know if I would call that singing," Randy Jackson griped. Much to the judges' horror, she vowed to try out again in Texas.
The next contestant was very unusual in that he seemed more interested in stealing Ryan's job than going to Hollywood. Shaun Kraisman insisted that people tell him that he looks like Ryan, and he does a pretty dead-on impression of Ryan's "THIS is 'American Idol!'" Plus, he says he'll work for free. But as a singer, he's a "no."
The next young lady is as talented as she is tall. Shannon Magrane of Tampa, Fla., is the 15-year-old daughter of a former World Series athlete (Joe Magrane pitched for the Cardinals in 1987). She's also a volleyball player, and she's six feet tall! The judges loved her rendition of Etta James' "Something's Got a Hold on Me."
After a bunch of "no" votes (including some botched covers of Jessica Simpson and Adele), we met 24-year-old Amy Brumfield of Gatlinburg, Tenn., an unemployed woman who lives in a tent in the woods with her boyfriend in order to make ends meet. The judges loved her performance of Alicia Keys' "Superwoman" o Randy liked the "hoarseness" and "roughness" of her tone, and Jennifer decided that she's a "hipsy" (a cross between a hippie and a gypsy). Three "yeses" - she's out of the tent and going to Hollywood.
Joshua Chavis wasn't quite as impressive. The 23-year-old thinks that he sounds like Chris Daughtry and Brad Paisley, but the judges disagreed. Unfortunately, he doesn't take the rejection very well, crying and flashing the bird at the "Idol" cameras. Yikes!
Stephanie Renae, a 15-year-old from Orange Park, Fla., chose to sing a song by her "Idol," Carrie Underwood. Randy gave her a "no," but Jennifer and Steven thought her take was "beautiful." She's going to Hollywood!
Schyler Dixon auditioned last year with her brother, Colton Dixon, but this year she planned on trying out solo o until the judges persuaded Colton to give it another go. It was their lucky day, as both teenagers made it through.
The judges were also impressed by 25-year-old Lauren Mink of Winchester, Ky. The director of a program for adults with disabilities, she sang a "beautiful" version of "Country Strong" that gave Jennifer the "goosies" (remember those from last season?).
Mawuena Kodjo, originally from West Africa, wasn't quite as lucky. He thinks that he's ready to be the next Rascal Flatts, but he "ain't got the song," as Steven puts it. Randy thought it was terrible, but invited Mawuena to prove him wrong. Ryan helped Mawuena round up some adorable kids who think he's a star, but it wasn't happening.
Next up was one of the most "joyous" contestants the show has ever seen. Ashlee Altise, 28, of Kinston, N.C., showed off her signature dance, which she calls the "Joy Hop." She also nailed "Come Together," and Steven says she has "spunk." She's going through!
W.T. Thompson, 25, of small-town Appomattox, Va., worked for a federal prison, but he quit his job to try out for "Idol," even though his wife is six months pregnant. The judges were on the fence, but he made it through anyway.
Ladies of all ages love Steven Tyler, but none apparently more than Erica Nowak, who referred to the rock star as "my future ex-husband." She didn't get a golden ticket, but she was happy enough to grab Steven's tush. And in case you were wondering, "he has an amazing butt."
It was the guys' turn to ogle as leggy 24-year-old dancer Brittany Kerr of Charlotte, N.C., gave her audition. Jennifer said no, but Randy and Steven (not surprisingly) loved her, and Brittany made it to the next stage.
Finally, it was time for 20-year-old Phillip Phillips (yes, that's his real name). The pawnshop employee from Leesburg, Ga., performed a killer version of Stevie Wonder's "Superstitious," leading Jennifer to marvel: "It's like you have electricity going through your body!" He then showed off his guitar skills while singing an almost unrecognizable version of Michael Jackson's "Thriller." Randy called him a true artist, and Steven liked what he heard, predicting that "Everyone else will too." Three yeses!
Thursday night, it's on to auditions in Pittsburgh. Looking at this year's talent, Steven says he's "beside himself." Randy was right: Season 11 is a new beginning!