Mariah Carey cried last night on American Idol, but it wasn't because of Nicki Minaj rolling her eyes extra hard at her. No, Mariah was crying because Burnell Taylor's rendition of "I'm Here," from The Color Purple, drove her to tears. The timbre and tenor of his voice also made Keith Urban momentarily forget he was on camera, close his eyes and start swaying. When the last note drifted lazily from Burnell's mouth, Randy Jackson, Keith and even diva Mariah were on their feet clapping. (There's a slight possibility that Nicki may have been glued to her chair.) Mariah declared, "Burnell made me cry!" while Keith sighed, "Somewhere there's a spotlight just waiting for you to walk into it." Burnell was quickly handed a golden ticket. Outside, Ryan Seacrest tells him, "You've changed that panel forever, my friend. " Burnell's dad looks skeptical and asks him, "You that good?"
Burnell was the last of 35 contestants to make it to Hollywood from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a.k.a. the birthplace of Randy Jackson. While much of the snooze-y Baton Rouge auditions were filled with notably terrible singers who have never been told by a trusted adult that they are tone deaf and awful, there were a few stand-outs:
Megan Miller a.k.a. Miss Greater Baton Rouge showed up at the Idol auditions in heels and on crutches like the pageant queen she is. She has to go have surgery on her leg immediately after she auditions. Being a trooper is one thing, but come on: PRIORITIES. She delivers a punchy version of "Something's Got a Hold on Me" that is good enough for the judges to vote her through to Hollywood as quickly as possible so she can go get her damn surgery already. Nicki likes that she's not using her broken leg as a crutch (sorry!), but is just doing her job, like a professional.
Charlie Askew is a socially awkward 17-year-old who has only been able to connect to people through his music. He delivers a powerful few bars of Queen's "Breakthrough." The judges are "pleasantly surprised" with his voice. Keith thinks it's "not of a gender," but in a good way "like Bowie." Mariah claims she can identify with the scrawny puberty-addled redhead, which earns a well-deserved eyeroll from Nicki.
Maddie Assel was nominated for Idol by her grandma. She was singing on a New Orleans street when Randy found her using a Liam Neeson-like set of tracking skills. He handed her a ticket and told her to show up the next day to perform for the judges. Maddie's voice has a sweetly feminine bluesy rasp, which she compares to Beyoncé, Adele and Hailey Reinhardt. Keith laughs that she "doesn't sound like any of them." Then we meet the most interesting person on the show thus far: Maddie's grandma. When Maddie walks out, golden ticket in hand, she instantly announces, "Grandma, you're so embarrassing!" And her grandmother just adjusts her mask, throws her Mardi Gras beads, twirls her umbrella and mutters something about "magic dust" and "zombies" as the True Blood theme song starts up.
Paul Jolley sings Rascall Flatts "I Won't Let Go" to honor his grandfather, who recently died. Nicki has a few things to say about the performance: "You have a nice texture to your tone, a nice quality to your voice, a sparkle in your eye, and a partridge in a pear tree." When he earned his trip to Hollywood, he made his grandma cry.
Doogie Howser is trying out for Idol! Dr. Calvin Peters is a fresh-faced third-year resident who loves to sing. Not one to shy away from a challenge, he is singing a Maxwell song, a feat that Keith compares to a triple black diamond ski slope. Randy visibly gulps a few times during the tremendous performance. Dr. Peters earns himself four yeses and then changes his name to Doc Hollywood.
Dustin Watts is a singing fireman who does a Garth Brooks song in such a pitch-perfect country twang that Keith looks a little jealous.
Best Nicki-ism: Nicki (wrapped in a blanket like she's watching Netflix on the dorm room couch) offers to run her hands through Chris "Mushroom" Barthel's hair to bless him for all his days.
Most Mariah Moment: Keith called Nicki "Mariah," quickly realized his mistake, "I think I'll have to go and say some Hail Marys for that!" "A thousand Hail Marys," Nicki responded. "And then some," Mariah clarified.
Most Alarming Contestant: A girl who looks like Chloe Sevigny has a major freak out, which is especially funny if you pretend it really is Chloe Sevigny auditioning to get in character for a part.
Previously: Nicki Minaj Storms Off the Set