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

'American Idol' season 16 third audition episode recap

Posted Sunday, March 18, 2018 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Tonight, Lionel Richie sat on a whoopie cushion (twice), Ryan Seacrest attempted to yodel, a Down's syndrome boy provided harmony to "Firework" and twins channeled Bruno Mars.

Oh, there was some talent as well. The one who stood out for me was Effie Passero and our Georgia boy Caleb Lee Hutchinson could go far as well. Amelia Hammer Harris and Maddie Zahmes have potential, too.

CRYSTAL ALICEA (WINTER HAVEN, FL)

We open with a former overweight girl Crystal Alicea (20, Winter Haven, FL, retail associate) who sings Sam Smith's "Lay Me Down." She is raw and she is sometimes off key but there is potential there for someone who has never performed before in front of more than 20 people. She is all emotion and finishes crying. She notes her boyfriend, who has dated him since she was 13. "You have a fantastic personality. You have the 'it' factor," said a teary Katy Perry. "I'd totally follow you on Instagram." Lionel dubs her "refreshing... You're likable." Three YESSES.

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Lionel Richie than falls off a chair. Then Luke Bryan sticks a whoopie cushion on his seat. Katy and Luke crack up.

KRISTYN HARRIS (MCKINNEY, TX), LUKE BRYAN, KATY PERRY, LIONEL RICHIE

Kristyn Harris (23, McKinney, Tex., cattle farmer) milks cows, trick rides horses and yodels. She is your classic "Idol" small-town yokel. She is super country. The judges square dance while she yodels. Katy likes her delivery but isn't sure she is "Idol" material. Luke says yes, too. Lionel is on the fence. "Where will that voice fit?" he wonders. He gives her a shot. She is a total question mark. She could excel in Hollywood. Who knows? Two yesses, one no.

Jonny Brenns (18, St. Augustine, Fla., college student) is tall (6' 5'') and has not told his family about trying out, which he did on a whim.  He sings an original song called "Blue Jeans." The song isn't all that great and fails to showcase his vocals but he has a unique tone in his voice. "You have a face like Chet Baker, very good looking," Katy said. Luke wants him to dig in and wonders if he can copy Michael Buble and he does a decent job. "You have a great beautiful voice," Luke said. Lionel thinks there's potential but he's not there yet. Katy is all for Jonny. (They call her surprised mom and she has to be convinced it's actually Lionel Richie, who sings "Hello" to her.) Two yesses, one no. *

Ricky Manning (22, West Hollywood, Calif, day care employee) - He sings an original song about how tough it is to break in Hollywood. He has a strong voice, but he closes his eyes the entire audition. He needs to open up a bit more. "That is so pretty," Katy said, noting he is an "exceptional songwriter. I hear my own story in that song." Both Lionel and Luke are fans, too. Three YESSES.

Some others perform original songs, too, and we hear a few of the less successful ones, including one guy who curses. Another one involves way too many snapping fingers.

Effie Passero (26, Modesto, Calif., assistant property manager) is one of the more successful ones. She has a super powerful voice and a little of that Lady Gaga vibe. Katy: "I can't wait to spend more time with you." Three easy YESSES. *

Tiger "Cougar" Gordon (25, Athens, Ill., furniture salesman) - He said he has a high voice and claims six octaves. "I want to bring back heavy metal, a new era of rockers," he said. Uh oh. He is beyond horrid and Lionel is so concerned, he mock-checks Tiger's throat. Katy: "You are a cool guy, Coug. I can just tell with your presentation. You go with the flow." But they all say no.

Johnny White (18, Hickory, N.C., server) - He has a back story. He was adopted at age seven and felt alone. "My mom was on drugs. My dad was in jail for nine years," he said. "Music was my therapy."' A vocal coach Ms. Finley helped him blossom. He opts for  the well-worn "It's a Man's Man's Man's World." (Sung four times before on "Idol," most notably Joshua Ledet.) It's not very subtle and a bit grating. Lionel tells him to dial it back and tries to calm him back by holding his shoulders as he sings "All of Me." "Every time you want to explode, wait," Lionel advises. "Don't throw it away in the first verse. You need a little foreplay." Katy is a fan and says he's potential top 10. I don't think so. Three YESSES.

Caleb Lee Hutchinson (18, Dallas, GA) makes it through, the second Georgia person who has appeared and made it into Hollywood. He is classic country and does an amusing imitation of Luke Bryan doing a promotional liner for 94.9/The Bull. (IHeartMedia, which is a promotional partner, owns the station so that's perfect cross promotion!). He then sings the SteelDrivers "If It Hadn't Been for Love." He has a studio-friendly deep voice. "Your voice is well above your age," Lionel said. "I smile when you sing." Katy: "You have a really lovely voice, a very fast vibrato which is unusual in a male voice. You seem really comfortable and centered, which is hard to find." Luke: "Just don't let that fast vibrato, don't overdo it. My producer taught me how to use it when necessary." Three YESSES. *

Shannon O'Hara (17, Mooresville, N.C., nanny) - Her father lost her job. They need this! She opts for Adele on the piano. She does an able imitation of Adele but she hasn't quite defined herself yet. Still, there's something to work with here. Lionel: "You can be a major threat. I needed conviction." Katy: "You have an exceptional voice and you made me feel it." Luke: "She's a songbird." "Three YESSES. *

There's an amusing interlude about Lionel Richie name dropping Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, the Rolling Stones and Prince, to name a few. Because ... wait for it.. he's a legend!

Amelia Hammer Harris (26, Lexington, musician) Her father Jack Hammer wrote songs from the 1960s and 1970s including "Yakety Yak" and "Great Balls of Fire." But she barely knew him and he passed at age 90 in 2016. (He was 65 when he had her!) Her "Gimme Shelter" is confident and soulful. Lionel: "Sultry." Katy: "I'm surprised you're still here and not a major artist already. You have a presence and style and unique sound." She opts for her favorite line "top 10 material" again. She seems very mature. She should be able to handle Hollywood. Three YESSES. *

First impressions collage: folks bring flowers, drawings and chocolates.

Ryan Zamo (28, Pasadena, skin care business owner) - He brings cosmetics and tries "Gravity" by Sara Bareilles. He stumbles and then starts again. He is completely out of tune but has no idea. The producers did end up bringing in a few joke listeners.

Occasionally, "Idol" brings in twins. None have ever made it to the finals. My favorites were the Brittenum twins from season five.

"Idol" brings on Julia & Milo Sposato (17, Malibu, Calif.). They start by playing instruments. Trumpet and sax. They are decent but not quite ready in my mind. I think Milo is more animated and a better vocalist. Katy: "I'm totally in. Are there two No. 1 spots available?" Lionel: "I'd like to bring you in and mess with the equation." Luke said they were interesting. Three YESSES.

Les Greene (27, Baltimore) - He wears a cool pair of red/white shoes and red suspenders. He goes for Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come." (It's been sung five times before on "Idol," including Adam Lambert.) He is totally old school and does an admirable job but how does this fit into 2018? "You are a Ferrari," Luke said. "You're raw, you're rugged, just full speed ahead." Lionel: "It's so strong, if I could put a perm on it, we could do something." Katy worries he might lose his voice. There is no way he could make it to the live shows.Three YESSES.

"Idol" loves to end any audition episode with some inspirational. So we get...

Maddie Zahmes (19, Boise, Idaho, works with special ed kids) - She gained a huge amount of weight due to some hormonal imbalance when she was younger. She lost her friends, her confidence and her music. She met a special needs student Marcus (who has Down's) and they became buds. "I am auditioning for both of us," she said and he joins her. Her "New Rules" is rock solid. She brings feeling and just the right amount of nuance to make it work. She brings Marcus up and they sing "Firework" together. It's so sweet. Three YESSES.

About the Author

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

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