Jennifer Lopez was right about Lauren Gray, 22, who sang Adele's "One And Only": Gray was the strongest female contestant in all of the audition round. And not just St. Louis, either. With a musical background coming from singing in a southern rock band with her dad, Gray's voice, though it broke at high points, was beautiful and naturally raw. JLO went so far as to suggest that Idol wouldn't be the biggest thing to happen to Gray -- big words for a woman Lopez had just met.
Equally talented was Ethan Jones, also 22. Jones dropped out of high school to be a full-time musician. Like Gray, he was in a band with his dad. Unlike Gray, however, his dad was forced to quit the band and enter into a drug rehabilitation program. It was all a tad heartbreaking in a real, I'm-not-just-saying-this-to-be-pushed-through-to-Hollywood sort of way. Steven Tyler ate it up. Singing "I'll Be" by Edwin McCain, Jones let his soul shine through, and the judges sent him on.
The final stand out of the night, and one of many strong male contenders thus far in the season, was Reis Koeckner, 20. Basically a walking, talking, Glee character, Koeckner was a bullied misfit in high school. When he found choir senior year, his life changed for the better and he finally had found friends. So he was a little bit Rachel, a little bit Kurt, a lotta bit talent. Performing "Lean On Me," the guy, who didn't look a day over seventeen, has some singing chops. Even Steven Tyler shed a tear during Koeckner's performance. Needless to say, we'll be seeing him again in Hollywood.
The other contestants just fell flat. So flat, in fact, that Tyler had to vacate his seat on the panel to inspire the contestants to perform better -- which was understandable after seeing the Idol equivalent of a gag reel of contestants, like, you know, how they used to do in the good ol' days when the Idol producers played up the shitty-singer shtick and not the emotional backstory. Kudos to Randy Jackson for the night's one and only zinger: When Oliver McCrary, 27, told the judges that music was his wife, Jackson responded, "then your wife is going to look for a divorce." Dawg!
This Wednesday Idol takes us to the Hollywood round which will separate the Kelly Clarksons from the William Hungs.
Follow Backbeat on Twitter: @westword_music