American Idol 2021 Auditions Recap – Ones to watch going into Hollywood Week

American Idol 2021 contestants Willie Spence, Grace Kinstler, Casey Bishop, and Chayce Beckham
American Idol 2021 standouts include from left to right: Willie Spence, Grace Kinstler, Casey Bishop, and Chayce Beckham. Pic credit: ABC

Hi Idol-Addicts! As we enter Hollywood Week (when things really start to pick up), I thought I’d share my “ones to watch” list — a SELECT list whittled down from the last FIVE episodes of auditions. Here you will find videos of some of the best auditions, all in one package!

These are the folks who passed my “Alexa Test” – a great little tool where you close your eyes while listening to the contestants and ask, “do I want to hear this voice coming out of my Alexa?” If the answer is “Hey Alexa, play it again,” you then peek at the contestant and ask “do they have that IT factor?” Something totally fresh. Totally unique. A style and delivery all their own…AND they own it? Well on the list they go.

Oh, and, in case you’re wondering who I am, allow me to introduce myself. The name’s Liz. I first started writing about reality TV when Season 8’s Adam Lambert inspired me. I’m also a music lover, with tastes ranging from Otis Redding to Bon Iver with almost everything in between. And, yes, music snobs may criticize me for enjoying American Idol, but I don’t mind.

I love seeing talented kids go from “nothing” to “something” as they realize their dreams on national TV. There’s just something magical about it. (Of course, it’s even better when winners are saved from the “Great Idol Abyss,” but let’s not discuss that. I’ve been recapping too much Bachelor and MAFS to recognize that American Idol feels like a total breath of fresh air.)

So, let’s just get into it and recap, shall we?

Ronda Felton – Ep. 3

While I’ve always been a Simon Cowell lover, I truly appreciate this crop of judges with Papa Richie leading the charge! I mean, they really seem to genuinely care about these kids, right? Let us start with Ronda Felton’s audition for a PRIME example of this. Lionel tells her, “Every once in a while, life happens and you figure, ‘How do I get out of this situation?’ God provides a crack in the wall, just a crack. That crack is just enough for you to get through…and my dear, you just found that crack.” 

Once you stop thinking about the word “crack,” enjoy her audition and Papa Richie’s reaction. It brought me to tears. And when I start to worry whether Ronda’s voice is almost too mature for Idol, I remind myself of Jennifer Hudson.

Mary Jo Young (Ep. 3)

This girl has that carefree vibe with a powerhouse voice. Surprisingly, she has only sung on TikTok. Something tells me, though, she will have complete confidence on the Idol stage. As I was asking who she is as an artist, the answer became clear. She has an edge (with her pink hairstreaks), and she takes me back to my beloved Allison Iraheta days. I could see Mary Jo being a Paramore type of rocker chick. Luke dropped that “Top 10” bomb, which I usually loathe at this phase in the game, but I have to agree. Check her out for yourself.

Chayce Beckham – Ep. 2

Chayce is that unassuming rugged hot guy, and he doesn’t even know it. Driving forklifts for a living, I’m glad he listened to his family and decided to pursue his true calling in life. His voice is seductive, and ABC will likely give him that hot guy edit that he really doesn’t need. Just be you, Chayce, and keep with that “I don’t think I’ll miss” mentality. Enjoy Chayce’s rendition of Kolton Moore & The Clever Few’s “What Brings Life Also Kills.” Come on now.

Erika Perry (Ep. 3)

Katy Perry needs to be this girl’s big sister (and not just because they share the same last name). Katy nailed it when she told Erika, “Well you are likable. And I think you may not think you are and that’s why you’re putting all this on…I know all about it.” Erika might be a little polarizing to some, but at least she’s interesting! And if she can get past that thing where she’s not fully enunciating, she has star quality. I dig that she chose Katy Perry’s “ET” and then Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie.” It makes sense! Don’t let the haters dim your sparkle, girl. Because you’ve got IT.

Grace Kinstler (Ep. 1)

Grace has a Kelly Clarkson-esque voice (a major compliment). She has a pureness to her and she came at me with that first note (even though I was still mesmerized by the intro package song – Freya Ridings’ “Lost Without You.”) But damn did Grace do “Natural Woman” proud. She blew the roof off that audition house and gave me goosies throughout my torso.

Willie Spense (Ep. 2)

Willie Spense had me at the first “Shine bright like a diamond.” Now that voice is silky. I just picture Willie singing in the mountains because his voice soars. And I’m here for it.

Casey Bishop (Ep. 2)

Oh, little Casey. She’s like my little modern-day Fiona Apple. Her musical tastes scream cool (Nirvana, Sublime), and her voice is ten times her size. I dig that she chose a Motley Crue song (though I’m not a Motley Crue fan – I appreciate that Casey is showing us who she is!), but I especially loved her follow-up of “My Funny Valentine.” (One of my all-time favorites, telling me Casey is an old soul – cool beyond her 15 years.) (Seriously. She’s only 15.)

Wyatt Pike (Ep. 5)

Wyatt has a gorgeous tone to his voice – that smooth sound I love so much. Plus, he’s got real artistry. He wrote a song for his sister about mental health, and that alone shows real talent to me…plus that smooooothness. Yep, this boy has earned himself a spot in my Ones to Watch.

Laila Mach (Ep. 4)

I dug this little New Yorker, makeup-free, ripped-jean laid-back, confident cool little chick. She completes the lineage of Underwood-Barrett-Mach…or at least she hopes so, as she sings an angrier version of Gabby Barrett’s “I Hope.” How can you not love the lyric, “I hope you drive your car over a cliff” from a young budding songwriter? Mach has that total package thing going on.

Liv Grace Blue (Ep. 5)

Liv’s got an interesting look, voice, cool-looking guitar, and (channeling my inner J-Lo), she passed the “goosies test.” Her rendition of Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” was staying a little too level for me at first, and I was hoping she’d kick it up a notch. But she did just that when she hit the “it felt so wrong” part, and the goosies went soaring. Oh, and her name is cool.

Murphy (Ep. 4)

Murphy has had a hard life. He was born unlucky, and both of his parents have passed. Yet the way he has seemingly handled it all – the way he carries himself now – well, I kinda want to be like Murphy. I was rooting for him before he even sang that first note. And I’ll be honest, I was conflicted with his version of “Just the Two of Us.” I asked myself, was it too rushed? Or was I just not appreciating some cool factor going on? But that is moot because Murphy hit it out of the park with his original song, “Painted Man.” What a cool title for an all-around cool dude. And usually, I agree with Katie, but I didn’t like her telling him it’s too novelty and needed to be more mainstream. Noooooo Katie. We don’t want cookie cutters. What about your love for Alejandro? As Lionel says, we’ve never had someone like Murphy. And may I remind you – that’s a good thing (*coughs, Adam Lambert*).

Cassandra Coleman (Ep. 2)

Cassandra, in her long dress, surprises us with a song from The Killers, and there’s no denying it – her voice is KILLER. It’s interesting and strong with these amazing inflections that I totally love. I kind of want her to do some Florence and The Machine because that’s who she reminds me of, but she’s in a lane all her own. She definitely passes the Alexa test. Seriously. Listen to her with your eyes closed. It’s just gorgeous. Plus, I loved her reaction to the judges and when she asked “was that okay?” There is a pure sweetness to her, and this world could sure use more of that.

Nia Renee (Ep. 1)

Nia has a powerhouse voice that is almost like butter but stronger if that makes sense? What I’m most excited about with her is that I feel like she will bring the performance aspect. She’s got the confidence, the sass, and a set of pipes way more mature than her 17-year-old lungs should allow.

Honorable Mentions

Alanis Sophia (Ep. 3) – She will obviously go far – she’s got that Idol Package look going on, and the girl has raw talent. But what I’m stuck on is that she chose Demi Lovato’s “Anyone,” which is a song about struggling with addiction. Now I’m assuming this young sweet girl doesn’t struggle with that, so, as I channel my inner-Simon, I’ll simply say, there was just that small disconnect in song choice for me. Other than that, she’s fabulous.

American Idol 2021 hopefuls from top left to right: Benson Boone, Alanis Sophia, and Graham Defranco. Pic credit: ABC

Benson Boone (Ep. 1) – How cool is it to just discover that you could sing just a year ago and actually sound like Lewis Capaldi? This guy will likely be in the Top 10 because he’s got that boy-next-door quality, plays piano, and, again has a voice made for the radio. The reason he is an Honorable Mention is because I still need to know, who is Benson? Maybe he’s just destined for that Kris Allen “heartthrob” slot. Katy did say Benson Boone will make them swoon.

Graham Defranco (Ep. 4) – I’m including this guy just because I want to be friends with him. He might not have the best voice or the hunger for the win, but I just love this dude as a person. He doesn’t take himself seriously, he is slyly surprised at the judge’s humor and wit (“OMG Lionel Richie”), he’s easy-going and in case I couldn’t love him more, he chose a Band of Horses song…love him.

Idol standouts from left to right: Amanda Mena, Beane, and Hunter Meets. Pic credit: ABC

Beane (Ep. 4) – Borderline cheesy, borderline is he auditioning for Broadway…but no denying, he’s got a set of chops. What I liked best was he had his own “voice” – not just that sound coming out of him – I mean, his style and his presentation were unique. Lionel hit it on the head, he’s a modern-day Mr. Rogers.

Hunter Metts (Ep. 3) – They all gave him the Top 10 nod so I feel like I have to include him in my honorable mentions. Trust me, the boy is extremely likable and can sing and even chose one of my favorites Kaleo’s “All the Pretty Girls.” He did hit this sweet spot note that made me say yes! But overall, I was waiting for something I haven’t seen before – and he just didn’t give me that…yet. I’m hoping he proves me wrong because he’s got that singer/songwriter vibe I dig.

Amanda Mena (Ep. 2) – Amanda is no stranger to talent competitions. She made it to the semi-finals of America’s Got Talent. Amanda auditioned for Idol with a rendition of The Beatles’ “Golden Slumbers,” which she delivered with a poise yet just enough grit to make her earn a place in my standout list.

So what say you, Idol-Addicts? Did I include your favorite? Who are you rooting for in Hollywood Week?

Til’ next time, my Idol-Addicts!

American Idol airs Sundays on ABC at 8/7c.

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Bill F
Bill F
3 years ago

I can’t believe they let Murphy go tonight! His song had us in tears ?