‘American Idol’ Returns With An Emotional Season Premiere

Jill O'Rourke
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Nick Townsend American Idol premiereABC

American Idol returned for its second (or 17th, depending on how you’re counting) season premiere Sunday night on ABC. Judges Luke Bryan, Katy Perry, and Lionel Richie were back for an emotional first round of auditions.

The show really played up the “American Dream” angle in the episode’s opening, with contestants writing their wishes on lanterns and letting them go in a Tangled-esque scene (appropriate for Disney-owned ABC). The hopeful talents also shared some pretty heartrending stories to go along with their auditions.

Walker Burroughs

The show started on a feel-good note with this 20-year-old from Alabama. Walker first sang “Love Like This” by Ben Rector on the piano, and earned a comparison to Billy Joel from Katy. She also told him she thought he was “top 10 material.” Things got cute when Walker sang a few bars of Lionel Richie’s “Hello,” and his die-hard fan of a mom got to meet the man himself. Walker left with a golden ticket to Hollywood.

Johanna Jones

This 23-year-old Las Vegas native bonded with Katy over In-N-Out (Johanna works there, Katy met Orlando Bloom there) and their habit of eating potato chips before performing. She impressed the judges with her take on Sam Smith’s “I’m Not the Only One,” accompanied by a guitar player. Lionel called her “the package,” adding that she has “the touch.” They voted to send her to Hollywood.

Kai the Singer

This 19-year-old from South Carolina shared details of her difficult background, with her family living in homeless shelters and out of their car. She expressed a desire to go to college. Kai started off singing Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud,” but Katy thought she sounded nervous. When she moved on to the piano to sing The Temptations’ “I Got Sunshine,” the judges were moved to tears and chose to send her to Hollywood.

Tyler Mitchell

This 26-year-old from Louisiana visited New York City for the first time to audition for the show. He said his family told him he has a “God-given talent.” Tyler chose to sing Vince Gill’s “Whenever You Come Around,” admitting that he hasn’t performed much because he’s worried about messing up. Katy told him he has nothing to worry about, while Lionel said Tyler “struck oil.” The judges put him through to Hollywood.


This singer made an impression in the show’s recent Oscars promo. The 24-year-old, from Buffalo, NY, calls himself a “mystic death creature.” He entered the audition in a skull mask and performed an original song called “American Creature.” Lionel understandably wondered how the singer would fare in the duets stage of the competition. Alas, we won’t be seeing Vokillz in Hollywood, as both Lionel and Luke voted no.

Margie Mays

This 25-year-old from Delaware is a bundle of energy (and bird sounds). Katy questioned whether Margie Mays is her real name, and advised her not to drink coffee. Once she finally started singing, the judges were impressed, making Margie cry (and burp out of nervousness). Katy and Luke both voted to send her to Hollywood, but Lionel gave her a no just to “scare” her and make her understand the “seriousness” of the competition.

Myra Tran

Myra is a 19-year-old aspiring singer from Vietnam, who has been living in the United States for just one year. She told the judges that it’s been her dream to perform on American Idol since she was a kid. She proceeded to blow them away by singing “One Night Only,” performed by Idol alum Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls. Luke said she was “up there with the Kelly Clarksons of the world.” All three judges sent her to Hollywood.


Uche, who grew up in the church, said he hopes to inspire LGBTQ youth. The 24-year-old started off with Christina Aguilera’s “Ain’t No Other Man,” complete with dance moves. Katy challenged him to sing standing still, and he gave a measured performance of “God Is Able.” Although Lionel initially voted no, he changed his vote when Uche said he was inspired by artists like Prince and Bootsy Collins. He’s going to Hollywood.

Laci Kaye Booth

This 23-year-old Texan has a musician dad who wasn’t around much when she was younger. They bonded over their love of music on a road trip to record when she was 15 years old. Laci strummed her guitar and sang “Mama Tried” by Merle Haggard in her audition. Katy praised her unique voice as a “diamond in the rough.” The judges voted her through to Hollywood, making her father tear up with pride.

Nick Rogers

This 17-year-old from Colorado flirted with Katy by performing “Mine” by Bazzi, including a rap interlude. He said he was inspired by artists like Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, and Lionel Richie. Of course, when asked to name one of Lionel’s songs, he drew a blank. In spite of this, Nick still managed to get a golden ticket to Hollywood.

Tiffanne LeMay

This 20-year-old from Las Vegas definitely can name a Lionel Richie song. She even brought one of his albums with her to audition. Lionel signed it for her, and was very flattered that she was such a fan. She went on to sing “The Best Part” by Daniel Caesar and H.E.R. Lionel said he was “optimistic” about her talent, and she made it through to Hollywood. Her mom also got a kiss on the cheek from Lionel.

Nick Townsend

Nick, who is originally from Nebraska, told the judges he was auditioning for his brothers, both of whom died by suicide. The 25-year-old sang James Bay’s “Let It Go” on guitar. His story and audition brought Luke to tears, as the country singer shared that he lost both of his siblings. He said Nick’s voice was “easy to listen to.” All three judges voted yes, sending Nick to Hollywood. He said his brothers were holding his golden ticket with him.

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