American Idol's auditions may have faltered a bit in Philadelphia, with more mediocre singers than memorable ones, but Denver must have been a treasure trove of talent, because (along with Little Rock), the show returned to the Mile-High City on Thursday night (Jan. 14).
And the talent did show up en masse (making narrowing this list down to the top five best performances a difficult task). Of course, you had your signature Idol oddities - the basketball announcer who played hoops with Jennifer Lopez, the Hawaiian girl who had been "around the sun 20 times" despite her infinite soul and the "singing nomad" who wrote a cheesy song for the judges on the spot. But, at the heart of Idol are the performers themselves and their stories. And here are the five most compelling auditions from night four of season 15's auditions.
05. Tywan "Tank" Jackson, "Superstar": Tywan "Tank" Jackson is a dance instructor from Ashtabula, Ohio, and he came to Denver not only to sing but to entertain and show off his fitness moves. This guy radiates positivity and joy. Before his take on Luther Vandross' "Superstar," Tank showed off his dance routine to Jennifer Lopez's "Get Right," so his performance was out-of-breath but still filled with a rich, old school soulfulness that is reminiscent of someone like Ruben Studdard. Keep an eye on this guy - he's a delight.
04. Terrian, "Happy": There's something about a girl who can take a terrible situation and make it into something positive - and that's what Terrian did. Living in a dangerous part of her city, where people seem to be shot on the regular, Terrian took all of that inward and focused on her music. She took on Pharrell's "Happy" and gave it her own unique twist with a few improvisations and a surprise high note that she made on accident but most singers would kill for. There's a little sense of roughness in her performing skills and she needs a good polish before she can move on, but there's a glimmer of a Janelle Monae in there and a future artist that can shine. She's one to look for.
03. Amber Lynn, "Unaware": Idol kicked off its fourth round of auditions strongly - with the duo of Amber Lynn and James VIII, a couple of hipsters from California. While James accompanied her on guitar, she was totally captured by the music, blending together a sensibility of soul, R&B and just the right amount of indie rock. (So, it's obviously fitting she went for Allen Stone for her audition.) She was really engaging and I think we'll be seeing a good bit of Amber Lynn in the future.
02. Jordyn Simone, "Who's Loving You?": Jordyn Simone may be the most mature 15-year-old in existence. Not only does she easily look older than me, but she has a voice filled with personality, soul and wisdom far beyond her 2000 birthdate. She took the Jackson 5 classic "Who's Loving You?" with runs, her own little inflections and a tone that is so pure and pretty that she's irresistible. Her enthusiasm aided in her audition, making her an easy pass for Hollywood.
01. John Wayne Schulz, "The Dance": During season 10 of Idol, it was between John Wayne Schulz and Scotty McCreery for the Top 24. As we know, Scotty won the spot and went on to win the show. But, in Idol's final season, John Wayne is back with a sob story that will tug at anyone's heartstrings - his beloved mother died of cancer just months after the 10th season of Idol wrapped, making his failure to get on the show back then a blessing in disguise. Cue the tears. And, the tears didn't stop when he pulled out Garth Brooks' "The Dance," a song that can melt even the coldest heart. With a song this well known, John Wayne gave his own touches, setting him apart from just another Garth wannabe. He was an easy yes to Hollywood and may be a solid bet for the Top 24.