'American Idol' recap, audition night #4: Little Rock, Denver. 'Are you happy?'

By RODNEY HO/ rho@ajc.com, originally filed Thursday, January 14, 2016

After last night's stinker of an episode, this was a delightful palette cleanser.

On the spoiler top 24, we heard three of them tonight out of Little Rock and Denver auditions. So far, we've heard 16 after the first seven hours of auditions. Three more to go next week!

I liked several of the singers but was especially taken by Memphis musician C.J. Johnson, "Happy" Terrian Bass and my favorite Thomas Stringfellow, an Arkansas kid who made an Ed Sheeran song his own.

The first few minutes is a look down memory lane, including Atlanta's General Larry Platt, famous for his tune "Pants on the Ground" from season 9. Yes, that was THE highlight from that awful season - more or less. I bet you can still sing the basic melody of that song!

First up are friends James Dawson VIII, 23, Provo, Utah, musician (James Legend "Sun Comes Up"and Amber Lynn, 28, Provo, Utah, social worker (Allen Stone "Unaware"). Amber is a decent streetwise singer songwriter even if the big note fell flat. HCJ liked her but said James the guitarist was rushing her. JLo: "You have a lot of soul." James is pretty entertaining but like Amber, a solid street performer.I'm not sure how he'll do on a big stage. HCJ: "It's refreshing to see people born to do this. A lot of interesting about you and a nice energy about you. You sound good in guitar. You have a voice that's affected but everybody is different." Both go through with three yesses.

Emily Wears, 25, Solon, Iowa, professional auctioneer (Jo Dee Messina "Bring On the Rain") - She has a pretty tone but goes flat at points in the chorus. HCJ: "You're a charming young lady. Your singing needs a little bit of work. There's a lot of talent but the overall vocal wasn't strong enough." JLo said it lacked emotion or power to make it complete. Keith said he likes her looks and personality but her pitch wandered all over the place. Three no's.

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

C.J. Johnson, 28, Memphis, professional musician ("You Make Me Dreams' Hall & Oates) - He brings some cool soul to this 80s nugget that hits the Gen X judge's cast just right. Keith: "Nice voice CJ! There's something about someone who gigs on a regular basis. I connect with road warriors." JLo: "You brought it life to me." HJC: "It felt almost like a halftime thing. It was a nice version." Three yesses.

Ethan Kuntz, 15, Nashville, Ark. student ("Call it Stormy Monday" T-Bone Walker) Requisite small town story. A dog farm! His voice sounds very young but he definitely has studied the blues. That's unusual for such a young'un. Keith: "I did not expect that voice. I have mixed reaction." JLo: "Such a natural. It's in my blood." HCJ: "I have no doubt you are supposed to do this. Don't do anything else with your life. That said, you're really really young. You sound really young. American Idol has such a broad spectrum that is required of you. It will be difficult for you to get beyond that." HCJ said he's not ready. JLo says yes because he is "born ready." Keith is in the middle and gives him the benefit of the doubt and says yes.

Mary Williams, 23, Belfast, Tenn., horse trainer (Tammy Wynette "I Can Make It On My Own") - She has a classic country voice. Very pretty. JLo: "I got goosies on my leg." Keith: "I have a different reaction. Doing Tammy is a tall order. I was missing the feeling personally. It felt slightly more performed than confessed as a story." HCJ: "I thought the performance was a little clinical but I like your voice." Two yesses and a no from Keith. (Clinical. Not a good word in "Idol." Don't expect to see her make it to the top 24.)

Xavier Soller, 26, Newtown, Ks., host for Denver Nuggets (Garth Brooks "Friends in No Places") He has the judges shoot hoops in Denver. He's high energy and JLo goes swish! But can Xavier sing? Unfortunately, he is too breathy and ordinary vocally. He only made it on screen due to his basketball bit.

Terrian Bass, 18,Memphis, student (Pharrell Williams "Happy") She lives in a gang-infested neighborhood. I am so sick of this song but she gives it just enough of a twist to make it interesting again. She's very charming. HCJ thought he missed a note but got lucky in a good way. JLo: "I like your style. You have a really good voice." Three yesses.

Quirky ukelele alert!

“Blue" Leann McIsaac, 23, singing nomad (Iceland, Turkey, London et al) is so ethereal she could just start flying around the studio. She freestyles with each judge throwing a word out for her to use for her song. The words: "family," "love" and "music." She is not as annoying as you'd expect. She is borderline charming.  But singer? Not so much. HCJ: "It's like a Jewish prayer song. I'm just glad there are people like you around. I don't think singing is for you. I don't want to put the wind out of your sails. Your spirit is a lot bigger than you." JLo: "American Idol is not the right lane for you." Three no's

Thomas Stringfellow, 17, Bentonville, Ark. ("Give Me Love" Ed Sheeran) -  His is likable with cool hair and a lovely smile. And I find his voice enticing. He draws you in. Keith: "You fell into your way of doing things. Others would copy him complete him completely. I like your vibe." JLo: "Very pleasing to my ear. Very individual. A lot of it said artist." Three yesses.

Tywan "Tank" Jackson, 29, Ashtabula, Ohio, dance teacher ("Superstar" Luther Vandross version) - Ruben Studdard alert! He is a passable dancer and a decent R&B singer, too. He's no Ruben (and has a higher tone) but good enough for Hollywood. They noted that he's out of breath but still liked it. He is sweating up a storm! HCJ said he reminds him of Rev. James Moore. Three yesses.

John Wayne Schultz, 27, Salt Lake City, flight instructor (Garth Brooks "The Dance") - In season 10, he almost made the cut but Scotty McCreery got his slot. Instead, his mom died of cancer so he was happy to come home. Awww... "This is a great way to honor my mother's memory," he said. He has a clean voice and puts in good emotion but I'm not sure he is distinctive enough vocally to stand out in Hollywood. Keith said he sounded natural and didn't copy Garth. JLo: "Some super pretty things when your natural voice came out." HCJ: "A perfect succinct performance. Really nice job." Three yesses.

Leah Harbert, 24, Moriarty, N.M., pharmacy tech. (Aretha Franklin "Chain of Fools") She learned from listening to Britney Spears and it shows - badly. Really badly. This is the most annoying audition of the episode. Stop her now! Keith sarcastically says she really hides her Britney influence well. She doesn't even get the fact he was joking. HCJ said he needs a vocal coach. Three no's.

They note that Denver has drawn talent in the past with Daughtry and current chart topper Tori Kelly but was cut at age 16 season 9.

Jordyn Simone, 15, Los Angeles, student ("Who's Lovin' You" Jackson 5) - A little too stylized for my taste but she has talent. She doesn't look or sing like a 15 year old, JLo notes. She even has her come closer to "feel her 15 year-ness." HCJ: "You showed such a complete variety of skills. You covered all the bases." Keith: "Very unique." Three yesses.

Kassy Levels, 19, Dallas, musican and Rhea Raj, 15, Princeton, student both get yesses in a montage. Are we ever going to see them again?

Jake Dillon, 22, Sand Springs, Okl., plumber's apprentice (Kenny Loggins "Danny's Song"). A very pleasant audition. He's a pro. But is there a star here? HCJ: "It was good. I like your voice. I like your vibe. Good isn't going to cut it for you much less us. I didn't see it in that performance." Keith: "I like you as a guy. I'm so worried musically you will get killed out in Hollywood. I can see the fire in you." HCJ says no. JLo says yes. Keith is clearly on the fence. He makes it. Barely. Doesn't necessarily bode well in Hollywood.

Ashley Lilinoe, 20, Kane'Ohe, Hawaii (Alannah Myles "Black Velvet") - She's very laid back and picks a song that captures that style perfectly. She makes some interesting vocal choices. JLo: "I just felt like I wanted a tiny bit more." HCJ: "You don't really fit in anywhere. I noticed that quality. I like that mystery." Keith: "I love the way you played the guitar." Two yesses from HCJ and Keith. JLo says no.

Andrew Nazarbekian, 20, Moscow, student (Adele "To Make You Feel My Love") - A good audition but I feel his voice is a bit too thin. HCJ looked charmed. "You sang and you sang beautifully." JLo: "You are a really great singer." Three yesses.

Elvie Shane, 27, Caneyville, Ky (The Animals "House of the Rising Sun") - He looks a bit like Kid Rock but has a very traditional bluesy country sound. He brings the proper spirit and the judges are vibing with him. HCJ: "You have this quality about you that seems to be music first, worry about the details later." JLo: "You have a spectacular voice." Keith: "I love that you love to do this. It's contagious." Three yesses.

Ratings fell last night over premiere week, which isn't surprising. Overnight numbers last night: 9.7 million and a 2.5-18-49 rating, down from 10.9 million last week and a 2.9 18-49 rating. When three days of DVR usage was included for last week's premiere, "Idol" drew about 13 million viewers and a 3.5 18-49 rating.

In "Idol" news, Adam Lambert (coming to the Tabernacle in March!) will play Eddie in the Fox version of "Rocky Horror" which will tape this winter and air in the fall.

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