American Idol 5th Judge Heartbreak: Single Mother's Daughter Tries to Make Idol Wish Come True

It was a tough night of auditions and the judges were even tougher as “American Idol” continued to show great coaching in real time. It’s clear they want to make sure they’ve seen the best someone has to offer before rendering a decision.

The auditions hit such a rough patch in New Orleans that Katy started calling it “No” Orleans, Luckily, one incredible audition came strolling in that quite literally took the panel to church by the end of it. There were moments of genuine greatness, including Chris Stapleton’s “brother” and a Walmart associate who reluctantly sang a Lionel song in front of Lionel.

One contestant, after some pulling and wrangling from the judges, earned a pretty impressive and daunting gig opening for last season’s winner and runner-up, Noah Thompson and HunterGirl. It was a nice way to check in on the cream of 2022’s lineup, as well as a possible hint of who might rise to the top this season.

There was also one heartbreaking audition that left us on a gut-wrenching cliffhanger moment. Luckily, there’s only one more week of auditions left, so we won’t have to wait too much longer to see the payoff of the unexpected deal Katy made with this single mother desperate to change her situation. And yes, we’re still crying over that moment with her daughter and the ticket.

Fair warning, since I’m safe at home, I’m probably going to be a little harsher than my colleagues Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan. But I might be nicer, too. Maybe.

And just for fun, I’m going to rank the performances from worst to first to see who my favorites are each week. That way I can see who’s the best and then see if you get it right with your votes — i.e., agree with me.

(“Cry Pretty,” Carrie Underwood – 20, Corona, CA) Yes, Carrie sings with a big, full voice, but this was a little shouty from the snippet we got. It was full volume, but didn’t have any of the heartbreak and ache that Carrie can infuse into her music. Luke found it stiff, but the rest of the panel wanted to give her a chance to marinate. She’s going to need to be a lot more, though, to make it through this competition.

Results: Y, Y, N

(“Give Me a Kiss,” Crash Adams – 26, Huntsville, AL) Johnny came in with a loaf homemade sourdough bread that went over very well with the panel. Vocally, he has some interesting things going on, but this was a little too over the top and kitschy in delivery. The vocal affectations were performative rather than heartfelt, which pulled us right out of the story and his performance. If he can rein in all those excesses and start from a place of heart before building back out, he can find his artistic voice — even if it does include still some excess.

Results: [Yes]

(“Talking to the Moon,” Bruno Mars – 22, Lawton, OK) With her four-year-old daughter in tow, Fire was hoping this would be the moment to turn her life in the direction she sees for herself rather than the rough journey she’s had to this point. She has a sweet tone to her voice, and she did hit the vibrato, but there just wasn’t much to this audition. Vocally, it just kind of sat there and left us feeling blah. Katy pushed her to do the falsetto in full voice, which after a false start she was able to get there. It was what she needed to inject another layer (though she did miss another note along the way) to what she was doing. It made things definitely better, but there’s still some way to go.

In one of the most heartbreaking moments, after Lionel and Luke had both told her no, Katy was trying to tell her that there is always light in the darkness and that she will still find what she’s looking for when Fire’s daughter came over with a golden ticket and said, “I think you found this, Mommy.” Alas, at that moment, that was exactly what she hadn’t found. Though Katy had not yet officially voted, it was already two against.

Katy couldn’t change what had already happened, so instead she gave her the next best possibility. She gave Fire a chance to come back for a second audition in a month’s time when the show set up in Nashville. Could she use that time to find that, ahem, fire in her belly and bring what was lurking beneath this hesitant and tepid audition?

Results: N, Y, N

(“The Dance,” Garth Brooks – 17, Sumrall, MS) There’s a nice tone in there, but no real connection to the heart of the song. It was a little pageant, but we can’t deny there’s genuine singing ability in there. It’s a song packed with meaning, and it’s possible Kayleigh is just too young and sheltered yet to be able to tap into enough to find that meaning.

(“I Surrender,” Hillsong Worship) Katy pushed her into this song that has a little more depth and length and width to it. Still, it was surprisingly quiet, until Katy pushed her to pull the vocal from her gut. She’s imminently coachable because the talent is there. It’s possible she’s done little more than sing to her chickens, so she never thought about projecting and digging deep, but she’s young with a good attitude, great pitch and a sweet sound to her voice. That can be worked with.

Results: Y, N, Y

(“Take on Me,” a-ha – 21, Beckley, WV) What an interesting song choice, but in those few moments, Kamron showed a beautifully subtle texture in his voice that felt authentic and then an incredible falsetto range up to those highest notes — even tickling another octave just for fun. He’s definitely showcased something interesting with the moment he was given and it’s something that will be easy to remember (or is that hard to forget?).

(“Truly,” Lionel Richie) Kamron told the panel he had actually prepared this Lionel classic, but opted out of it. When they pushed him to try, he faltered at the start by not starting, admitting that he choked. You could see the fear radiating off of him, but they pushed him to take one more chance to shake it off and seize the moment!

Boy, it took a lot to pull the fullness of this song out of him, but once he hit the “truly” part of the chorus, you could really get a sense of just how much raw talent this kid has. The range, the texture, the pitch control. If he could just gain some confidence and dig into his diaphragm more when he sings, he could be a true force.

Results: Y, Y, Y

(“Good Kisser,” Lake Street Dive – 25, Kailua, HI) When she’s not singing, Carina is best known for her balls! She and her mom own a meatball company in Hawaii, so of course they had to bring some for everyone to sample. She certainly had a lot of chutzpah in her performance, but we wondered if it was a bit too over the top. We actually liked the grit and texture of her voice, and we know the original belts out that chorus, too, but we found ourselves thinking she focused a bit too much on that part of the delivery and missed the more earnest sincerity of the verses.

Results: [Yes]

(“Whenever You Come Around,” Vince Gill – 21, Conway, SC) She had a lot of soul in this piece, giving us Joss Stone vibes, but Katy was right in that it wasn’t really going anywhere. It was just a tease of what she’s capable of. It’s a testament to her talent that it was clear there was more in there, but we just weren’t seeing it.

(“I Can’t Make You Love Me,” Bonnie Raitt) Mariah had prepared the Jompson Brothers’ “Barely Alive” for her second song, but Katy wanted to push her even more so suggested this more heartfelt and emotional track. Mariah had just opened up about losing her stepfather and best friend who was her biggest supporter in music, so there’s emotion to tap into. She pulled it so far back the piano had to slow down to stay with her. Katy then pulled some ad libs out of her and the pieces are all there, but she’s going to need some experience and coaching and to relax a bit to really own her full potential. But that potential is really compelling to hear.

We love the bonus pressure they put on her — clearly indicating how much they see in her — by having her open for last season’s winner, Noah Thompson, and runner-up Platinum Ticket recipient, HunterGirl in Nashville. Her scared, “okay,” said it all. But if ever there was a chance to prove herself in the biggest way, this is that opportunity. Talk about throwing someone right into the fire! The footage from her set gave us even more excitement for what’s to come.

Results: Y, Y, Y

(“What About Us,” P!nk – 16, Idaho Falls, ID) With a full vibrato and her own interpretation of this classic track, Paige sounded like she was performing on a Broadway musical based around P!nk’s music. We don’t mean this as an insult, it’s just the kind of sound she was bringing to it. It was incredibly well delivered with some beautiful tones and interesting tweaks to the melody. To display this much artistry and fullness of sound — and confidence of vision — at only 16 years old is a testament to her gifts. We actually got a kick out of David Archuleta video chatting her and helping to build her confidence, because it clearly worked; she was oozing confidence and command.

Results: Y, N, Y

(“Something in the Orange,” Zach Bryan – 19, Broken Arrow, OK) That little break, that little cry, those subtle moments were everything throughout this performance. Owen may still be a teenager, but he sings with the texture of someone who’s lived twice as many years and suffered twice as many heartbreaks as he could have ever squeezed into his young life so far. It was utterly believable from the first note with just enough twang to be authentic, a little bit of scratch and a whole lot of heart. It’s an interesting voice with so many different flavors, it was actually exciting to listen to it line by line to hear what might happen next.

Results: Y, Y, Y

(“To the Table,” Zach Williams – 23, Bamberg, SC) We wish he’d hold out his notes a little more because boy does he have the voice to make the most of each moment. There’s a bit of grit in his full belt and a lot of emotional heart everywhere else. It’s clear how much passion he has for music and the message he can present through his artistry. Katy joked he looked like Chris Stapleton’s brother — well, he sounds related, too, in the best possible ways. It was so effortless for him, too. We believed every syllable and are genuinely excited for the next time we’ll get to hear him sing.

Results: Y, Y, Y

(“My Man,” Barbra Streisand – 22, Charlotte, NC) Even if we hadn’t heard from her that she loves jazz, that first sustained note would have told us immediately. She has that playfulness in her delivery, that freeform scat that’s built on a foundation of structure and understanding of the song and message. It had elements of Barbra’s big ol’ Broadway sound injected in there as well, creating a fascinating hybrid sound that was wholly unique. That was an artist who is forging her own identity on the backs of the greats. Lionel pointed out a little Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald in her approach, and yet it sounded completely fresh.

Results: Y, Y, Y

(“Mirror,” Madison Ryann Ward – 23, Lawton, OK) Oftentimes, we find ourselves waiting for the belt, but Pjae had us with that first breathy basement note. There’s a lot of intense passion in his lower register, we were hanging on every note he uttered. By the time he went big, we already knew it was going to be great because it already was great. This is someone born to sing. He pours every bit of his soul and his heart into each moment. Honestly, we had a feeling he’d show some talent, but this was one of the biggest surprises of the season so far, just how invested we were from the first sound.

Results: Y, Y, Y

(“Baby, I Love You,” Aretha Franklin – 20, Clio, SC) One of the most refreshing and joyful auditions of the entire season so far, Ophrah got us out of our seats and bopping right along with her infectious energy and incredible vocal prowess. All of her little inflections, shouts, yelps, every little thing she did throughout this number was just perfection. It was a magical performance that screamed professionalism. If we didn’t know better, we’d swear she was a ringer because it was just that polished and shining already. Ophrah comes in all unassuming in her ripped jeans and red shirt and then just drops a diva performance like that! She’s one to watch for sure!

Results: Y, Y, Y

“American Idol” wraps up the audition round next Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

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