American Idol looks much different from what I remember. Full disclosure, I ditched the show after its midway point in season seven when David Cook earned the title. The judges - Jennifer Lopez, Harry Connick Jr. and Keith Urban - are prettier than the original three, way less failed auditions air, and Coca Cola bailed on the competition. What remains (and this is what keeps the series on the air) is the allure that in a matter of months a nobody can become a household name and be propelled into the limelight. Oh yeah, and Ryan Seacrest is still here too.
The show opened up Season 14 with its Nashville auditions, so the country lovers were out in full force. Urban was at the center of the episode, being a country icon and all.
Priscella Barker's audition summed up the new Idol format, at least for me. JLo talked during it, Connick was laughing and joking after it. There was a ton of fun going on while her family of 14 waited outside, but Lopez was the only one to realize how weak the singer was. Barker got the green light for Hollywood, but the bigger moment came when her mom was able to give Urban a hug.
Kyle Blaine Corman from Staten Island was deceiving. He was out in the waiting area showing off a hearty yell before entering the room. Connick palmed some of Corman's red locks, but that was the most affection he received from the judges. He tried to play another song during the criticism, but Urban scolded him and he left completely bummed before the crying montage began.
But, amidst all of the format changes, new-ish judges and creepy mothers, who were the real standouts? Check out the top five auditions below:
5. We already met the first audition, Riley Bria, in a recent trailer. But there's more to his story. Urban and Bria actually played together at a benefit show set up by the Grammy Foundation. The 17-year-old worked out "Georgia Woods" from Urban's 2010 Get Closer. He was Urban-esque with more pop sensibilities, performing with 60 percent heart and 40 percent technique.
4. Amber Walker from Memphis - "the hard part," as she put it - was another contestant who relied primarily on heart. She took on Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel." It was a little rough, and Connick probably had it right when he denied her an invitation to Hollywood. There's room for improvement. Surprisingly, she asked for Connick's autograph, which was priceless.
3. Cameron Bedell was completely overlooked. He laid down a spot on cover of Ray LaMontangne's "You Are the Best Thing" with a little more soul (which is an impressive feat). "I was trying to get into your world," Connick said. "I love that guy." Three quick yes votes followed.
2. Kory Wheeler reworked Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me" and immediately established himself as the folk-rock favorite. The judges apparently haven't heard of The Lumineers, whose vocalist Wesley Schultz is an obvious influence for Wheeler. Seacrest went over to see the singer's boss at the coffee shop across the street and give him the news of Wheeler's success.
1. The Ole Miss student/farm worker Michael Simeon took the gold for tonight's episode. He took a risk with Sam Smith's "Stay With Me," but somehow he made it more devastating than the original. An easy yes. He even scored a slow dance with JLo while Urban played guitar and Connick took the piano. A ticket to Hollywood and a dance with Miss Lopez...not bad for a day's work.
The Nashville episodes will continue tomorrow (Jan. 8) on FOX before the judges make their way to Kansas City.
What did you think of tonight's episode? Let us know in the comments section below.