“American Idol” returned Sunday for its third season on ABC as plenty of hopefuls had big dreams on the line and a few endured eyebrow-raising moments.
Douglas Kiker, a garbage man from Mobile, Alabama, knew very little about music, but came to “Idol” auditions, he said, to impress his 3-year-old daughter. His only singing experience was on the back of a garbage truck.
Judge Lionel Richie sent Kiker out of the audition room to warm up his voice and ease his nerves by singing in front of the crowd waiting to audition. When he returned, Kiker got a little help from Luke Bryan on the keyboard, belting out “Bless the Broken Road” by Rascal Flatts, which warmed the judges’ hearts and made Katy Perry cry.
“You just stay who you are, and you’re going to go so far, and you’re going to take your daughter with you,” Perry said.
College student Francisco Martin also needed a little help from Bryan and Ritchie to shake off jitters. Bryan checked the young singer’s pulse to make sure he wasn’t going to have a heart attack on stage.
All those nerves paid off when Martin sung a cover of “Alaska” by Maggie Rogers that wowed the judges. Perry even demanded an encore performance of an original song, although Martin cut the performance short with laughter when Perry questioned whether the song was about a friend or romantic partner.
London transplant Louis Knight,19, also sang an original song with more feeling, as it dealt with the suicide of his friend, Russell. The combination of Knight’s vocals and piano work led Bryan to declare him one of the best he’s ever seen on the show.
“I think he might be the biggest star we ever had on ‘American Idol,’” Bryan said. “I had chill bumps telling you that you’re a star.”
Several singers found their golden ticket to Hollywood, including 21-year-old Arthur Gunn, born in Nepal and a Bob Dylan in the making; 23-year-old Nick Merico, who returned after dropping out last year and progressed despite Richie’s complaint that “I don’t like you … I don’t like your attitude”; and “The Bachelor”-obsessed fitness trainer Meghan Fitton, who received her ticket from that show’s host Chris Harrison.
Also going to Hollywood was 16-year-old worship leader Camryn Leigh Smith, whom Bryan believed had more than a passing resemblance to a younger Perry.
“When I was young?” Perry said before groaning and trying to flip the table. “Next time you see me I will be even younger.”
It wasn’t the only time Perry tried to destroy the “Idol” set: Perry really loved the performance of former child singer Saveria, but when Perry couldn’t convince her fellow judges to put her through to Hollywood, she tore down the “Idol” sign and stormed off set.
Also not making the cut was Hunter “The Comeback” Gibson, who was full of energy but not quite right for “Idol”; and Alisa Ermolaev, an extra in the 2019 film “Hustlers.” Ermolaev knew how to scream, but her off-kilter performance didn’t win her any love from the judges.
The final singer of the night proved the most emotional: Sam, a Harlem native who sang on the subway to make money, broke down in tears in front of the judges. The moment was too surreal for the young singer, but with a hug of encouragement from the judges, she earned her ticket to Hollywood.
“I want you to feel safe. Uncle Luke, Auntie Katy, and Uncle Richie,” Richie said, hugging her. “We got you. And I want you to rely on us to coach you through this. Forget about winning, you already won.”