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Rodney Ho covers TV and radio, from Atlanta’s stations to the hottest “American Idol" news.

'American Idol' season 16 debut recap: same as it ever was

Posted Sunday, March 11, 2018 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Nearly two years after I wrote what I thought would be my final recap of "American Idol" for a long time, we're back!

I've been following the show since the beginning, blogging about it since season four. So this is the 13th season of blog recaps for me. Welcome to any of the regulars who have ventured back and greetings to any newbies.

Unfortunately, I am on an airplane flight while the show actually airs. Fortunately, I got to see the first two hours in advance. I am posting this particular entry after it airs as not to spoil anything.

Overall, the show felt comfortable, like an old shoe. There was not a single surprising aspect about it for any devout "Idol" fan. That's not a bad thing. There were a few good singers in the bunch (listen for Maddie Poppe hour one and Alyssa Raghu and Dennis Lorenzo in the second hour) and a couple of amusing bad ones for flavor.

The opening speech about hopes and dreams and the power of music is narrated by none other than Carrie Underwood. "They could be stars in the making. I should know,"' she said, 'Because it happened to me." (Guess they couldn't use Kelly Clarkson, ahem.)

Then it's a five-minute intro before the New York auditions.

"American Idol is the original and the best," Lionel Richie gushes.

The judges "are peas in a pod," Luke Bryan says.

"Luke is all American and country," Katy Perry says. "Definitely warm-hearted, but he's hilarious.

"It's not about what me, Lionel and Katy are doing," Bryan said. "It's about a star being born."

Although we see the judges interact and talk about each other, "Idol" does not highlight who they are or provide their career bonafides beyond the fact Lionel has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. If you don't know Luke Bryan going into the show, you still won't know much about him beyond the fact he's a country singer after two hours.

First up: Catie Turner, an awkward, exuberant gal from Longhorn, Penn. who has "Idol obsessed forever."  "I'm not popular," she said. "Look at me!"  She is hyperactive without any need for caffeine, she explained to the judges. She sings an original "21st Century Machine" about her bitterness toward media. She has a pretty voice and an intriguing persona. "You're a spectacular songwriter," Katy said. Lionel compares her to a Martian landing - or something. Three YESSES. *

RELATED: (SPOILER) If you want to know who the top 24 are already, their names are here. This way, you can track the folks we see in auditions and know who you'll be seeing during the live shows. 

Next up after the break: Ron Bultongez from Plano, Texas. The earnest 20 year old was raised half his life in Congo but escaped as a refugee. He talks about being abused by his father. He sang "Let It Go"by James Bay. He's very emotive though his voice is just okay. "Something about you is pretty doggone inspiring," said Luke, his biggest fan. Katy said she isn't sure who he is yet based on his performance, calling it an "imitation." She says no. Lionel says no for the same reason as Katy. Then in a situation I never saw during the first 15 years on the show, Lionel changed his mind and brought him back to send him to Hollywood. "I couldn't get you off my mind," Lionel said. What? *

MADDIE POPPE (CLARKSVILLE, IA)

Maddie Poppe, 20, Clarksville, IA ("The Rainbow Connection"). I love this song from the Muppets and she does it justice. Her voice has a warm texture but just the right melancholy tinge. Lionel calls it the "story-teller voice." Katy: "You have your own distinctive quality in your voice." Three YESSES. *

Koby, 26, (Denver, Col.) She is a Broadway musical theater actress who worked on "The Producers." She practices two hours a day and is super prepared. She is SOOO musical theater. Her original song "Never Stops" never seems to stop. Ugh. Make it stop. Katy: "The truth is this isn't how you listen to music... You are not a pop star." "Gimme a golden ticket, please," she begs. Lionel: "That voice is not going to work for records. We are looking for an idol for popular music." Three vehement NOs. "In the music business, she would die a thousand deaths," Lionel said. Koby: "I'm pretty sure this is a singing competition. I'm pretty sure I nailed it."

They move from New York to Nashville at the one-third point.

"Idol" shows a video of a poor 11-year-old Harper Grace torturing the National Anthem at a soccer game. She is now 16 and has now taken it all in good, well, grace, five years later. She is from McKinney, Tex. She sang an original called "Yard Sale," which impressed the judges. "Very clever," Lionel said. Then she did a countri-fied Khalid's "Young, Dumb & Broke." Katy says she hasn't reached her vocal potential but is worth a trip to Hollywood. She wrote on Harper's 11-year-old dream board, which featured a wish of hers to try out for "Idol." She is a bit raw but certainly good enough to move on. Three YESSES.

LAYLA SPRING (LEBANON, KY)

Layla Spring (16, Lebanon, TX) She brings her adoring younger sister Dyxie to the audition, who sings a little and gets a ticket to Hollywood valid in 2026. Cute. Layla does a Jackson Five's "Who's Lovin' You" cover. She's feels very young so it has more of a pageant feel and lacks any real soul. But Katy sees potential. Lionel calls singing a mental game and wonders if she could handle Hollywood. "Understand, you are going into the fire of this," he said. But he says yes because he believes in her strength and Katy and Luke join him. Three YESSES. *

Hour two!

BENJAMIN GLAZE (ENID, OK)

Benjamin Glaze ( 19, Enid, Oka., cashier) He loves girls but is awkward. He has a crush on Katy Perry. He has never been in a relationship so she offers her cheek. When he comes in, she gives him a kiss on the lips. He falls back on the ground. "Might've been the kiss of death!" she joked. He needs, um, water. As for his singing, he's not terrible but he clearly needs work. "You need to hone your craft," Luke said. Katy said he felt rushed. Lionel said he needs practice. "Kiss a couple more girls," he said before returning. "But you already scored major." He's out.

They move to Los Angeles.

NICO BONES (LONG BEACH, CA)

Nico Bones (22, Long Beach, Calif., skate shop employee) - If there's a stereotype of brooding rocker, he is it. But he really is a stereotype cos sings "Everybody Hate Me, Nobody Loves Me" in a monotone punk way with an electric guitar and does not smile. So emo and so not "American Idol." "I'm so happy you stopped that song when you did," Lionel said. He doesn't appear to care about three no's. "Cheers," he said departing the room.

NOAH DAVIS (ROYAL, AR)

Noah Davis (18, Davis, Ariz., nursing student) - I really like this kid. Sweet persona and an emotive singer. His piano-led "Stay" by Rihanna is super good. "Let's go hug this gentleman!" Luke said. Lionel and Katy loved him, too. He wants an alpaca. He might just get one. Three easy YESSES.

ALYSSA RAGHU (ORLANDO, FL)

Alyssa Raghu (15, Saint Cloud, Fla., High School student) - Her "ride and die" is her dad, who has raised her as a single dad since two and she is a huge Disney fan. (ABC synergy alert!) She sings an Ariana Grande song with grace and maturity beyond her years. Luke is so excited he does a high-five with Lionel. Katy is too rapt to deal with the dude shenanigans. "Take a bow," Lionel said. "You know you're voice is still going to grow," Katy said. "I full body felt what you were singing... You're top 10." Luke: "You're so easy on the ears." She has obvious top 10 potential, as Katy said. Three of the easiest YESSES today. *

SARDOR MILANO (MOSCOW, RU)

Sardor Milano (26, Orlando, supermarket employee) He was the "X Factor Russia" winner in 2015. Ryan notes he has "superstar hair" and he's wearing what looks like blue suede shoes. He quickly hits piercing high notes and oversings and overacts the entire audition. Yeesh. Nobody wants to comment. They defer to Lionel, who struggles to come up with something to say. We don't hear their comments but instead he says maybe he should be on Broadway. Well, yah. Three No's.

ZACH D'ONOFRIO (WESLEY CHAPEL, FL)

Zach D'Onofrio (17, Wesley Chapel, FL, high school student) He has a sock collection for every day of the year. Eccentricity is great for the producers! He rewards socks to the judges - skulls for Lionel cos he's "killing it," cats with lasers for Katy because she's Katy and roosters for country boy Luke. He opts for some old-school Frank Sinatra and he's not bad. He has a squeaky teen speaking voice but a lovely deep timber in his singing voice. Katy dances with him. "You had me at kitten socks," she said. He clearly is inexperienced and could use a voice coach but he's charming enough to get a ticket to Hollywood. "Harry Potter slays it," Luke joked. Three YESSES.

DENNIS LORENZO (PHILADELPHIA, PA)

Dennis Lorenzo (26, Philadelphia, singer) His dad was murdered when he was five. When his grandparents bought him a guitar when he was 16, it changed his life. He sings "Unaware" by Allen Stone and has a lovely R&B voice. He doesn't overdo it. I love his self assuredness. "I love your delivery and you're bringing your attitude," Lionel said. Katy: "We don't have to convince ourselves it sounds good. It just does." Luke noted that his guitar has a hole in it and gave it soul. The fact the producers placed him last makes me think he is almost guaranteed a top 24 spot. Three duh! YESSES. *

If you like spoilers, a top 14 has been leaked out here. 

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About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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