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American Idol season 13 recap: 5 best performances from Salt Lake City's soulful center

by Carolyn Menyes   Jan 29, 2014 23:03 PM EST

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It's the final weeks of auditions for American Idol, and day five found Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick, Jr., in Salt Lake City as they search for the 13th American Idol.

As the show is apt to do this season, the two-hour SLC episode started and ended with some of the strongest auditions, but there was plenty of meaty material in between. Let's move away from the pretense of things and just did right into the top five performances from the Salt Lake City auditions.

5. Samantha Calmes - This chick is far and away one of the more quirky singers to audition this season of American Idol. Let's just say she walked into the audition room with a fully stocked fanny pack, complete with a makeup brush, notebook and some of that eggy chapstick all the girls are into these days. So, she's that kind of gal. We can dig that.

But an outfit is just one part of the equation, so while Calmes' style was funky and throwbacky, how was her voice? Well, it matched the look. Calmes started things off with an original song, "From Birth," which was a half-spoken word, half sang song and full of soul. The judges wanted to hear a little more from her, so she rocked out to The Jeffersons theme song. Yeah, this girl is cool.

4. Briston Maroney - Briston comes from a musical legacy, with his great-grandfather, grandfather and father all being singer who strummed on the same vintage Gibson guitar, which is kind of cool.

He sang a rendition of "You Can't Always Get What You Want" by The Rolling Stones, and this kid killed it. He sang the crap out of the song with a tone so wholly unique, it has to be heard to be fully understood. He's got a real rasp to his tone, with hints of years of rock and blues training, but get this: he's 15 years old.

3. Austin Wolfe - This Hayley Williams sound-alike started off the Salt Lake City episode with a rendition of increasingly-popular tryout song "Radioactive." She's a 16-year-old white girl but packs a smokey, soulful voice of someone twice her age. She doesn't have quite as much pure power as some of the other singers, but something about her was totally captivating.

2. Casey Thrasher - Casey Thrasher was this week's big Idol hero story, being featured with a huge profile at the top of the show. He's a 22-year-old singer, constantly on the road in order to support his family and two children (ages 2-and-- half, 6 months). So, when it's time for him to sing, let's just say the audience is led to expect big things.

And his audition is one of the most solid of the night, of course. Was he the best straight country singer? Nah. That would've been Dexter Roberts. But! Thrasher has the soul. He sang a truly inspired, soft rendition of Brooks & Dunn's "Believe," which was inspired by a chance meeting he had with Keith Urban backstage at the 2012 CMAs, wherein the judge told him to keep believing in his dreams. And he did, and he succeeded, and Thrasher is one to look out for.

1. Alex Preston - Though Idol focused largely on Thrasher, his audition was not quite the strongest of the night. That honor would have to go to Alex Preston. A self described 20-year-old band geek who may or may not play every instrument under the sin, Preston took a year off from college in order to pursue a music career, which is usually terrible advice, but here it was a wish choice.

He has a real smoothness to him, with high notes that perfectly decorate his emotional voice. There's something similar to "Too Close" singer Alex Clare with Preston here, though he can control his voice a little better than that and can maintain captivation with some smaller moments. This guy isn't just destined for the next round of Hollywood, he's a shoe-in for the Top 30.

In total, 30 people moved on from Salt Lake City. Tomorrow night will round out the auditions with a show from Omaha, Neb.

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