After endearing himself to the judges last season, a fan-favorite contestant is heading back to Hollywood for another shot at stardom – and that was just one of several surprises from last night’s American Idol.
The third night of auditions this season also included what Lionel Richie called "the attack of the 15- and 16-year-olds," an onslaught of insanely talented teens: One of the most talented of the teens was Madison Vandenberg, 16, whose performance of Dan + Shay’s "Speechless" left the judges speechless. Both Katy and Luke Bryant compared her to Kelly Clarkson.
Meanwhile, the first audition of the night included a twist. Laine Hardy made a name for himself last season on Idol and he came back last night to help his best friend’s sister get her shot at stardom too. Ashton Gill was the first up and managed to impress the judges with her version of "Broken Halos" by Chris Stapleton. All three judges loved what Ashton brought and while it was pointed out that she was a little bit pitchy, her voice is beautiful and raw, earning her a trip to Hollywood.
While Laine said he was only there to help out his friend, the judges remembered him and even pointed out that Laine had new teeth and his own line of merch. After Gill’s audition, they asked Laine to sing a little bit too – and offered him a Golden Ticket as well, with the judges practically begging him to join this season.
Other standout auditions included:
Austin Michael: Identified as the "Justin Bieber of the country world," 15-year-old Austin got mixed reactions from the judging panel. While Perry thought the young performer needed more time to "age like a fine whiskey," judges Richie and Bryan voted "yes," putting Michael through to Hollywood.
Jake Puliti: A 20-year-old Pennsylvania-native Jake traveled to New York City to audition with his rendition of "This Is How We Do It" and made judges dance with through his amazing vocals. "I made Katy Perry do the worm, that's insane," the singer said to the camera.
Shawn Robinson: Currently a garden associate at a local hardware store, 21-year-old Shawn is hoping to chase his musical dreams. "Your voice is butter," Richie said. "I'm in love with your personality." "When you're in your lane, you're perfection," Bryan added. "I want to hear you dig in next time," Perry concluded. Robinson won three "yes" votes from the judges and was accompanied by his family as he received his golden ticket.
Nate Walker: Coming from a musical background, while also being associated with last season's contestant Gabby Barrett, Nate had a lot to prove. The Pittsburg-native performed his rendition of "Say Something," and blew the judges away. In unison from all three judges, Walker got three "yes" votes and is headed to Hollywood. "You are anointed, my friend," Richie said. "You are a legend," Walker said to Richie as he walked up to receive his golden ticket. "You will be a legend," Richie responded.
Wade Cota: After sharing a heartbreaking story of abuse and neglect by his biological father, Wade, a 27-year-old Phoenix native, stunned the judges with his deep, gravelly voice and soulful rendition of George Ezra’s "Blame It on Me." "I was not excepting that person to jump out of your body," Richie said. "You have the most unique voices I've ever heard in my life," Perry added.
Riley Thompson: Performing her original song "Oh, Daddy," Riley presented vocals far beyond her years. "You remind me of a country Lana Del Rey," Perry concluded.
Drake McCain Taylor: At just 17, Drake hopes to be a role model for his 10 siblings. Taylor showed his strong vocals and riffs through a classic Gospel song, which made Perry join in on the worship. The young grocery store worker got three "yes" votes from the judges and won a golden ticket to Hollywood.
Clay Page: Dubbed the "gentle ginger" by Katy, Georgia native Clay shared a sad story about losing the uncle who inspired him to pick up his first guitar, then treated the judges to a Thomas Rhett jam. Luke said that Clay might not be the best country singer in the world, but he still hung onto his every word.
Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon: Jeremiah is a preacher’s kid who currently works as a janitor at his father’s church. He came prepared with an original piece called "Almost Heaven," a soulful ballad about reconciling his sexuality with his faith. Aside from the obvious emotional connection the judges formed with Jeremiah, they were also impressed with his musicianship.AUDIO: AMERICAN IDOL JEREMIAH LLOYD HARMON PERFORMS AN ORIGINAL SONG
AUDIO: AMERICAN IDOL KATY ON MADISON VANDENBURGS PERFORMANCE OF SPEECHLESS
AUDIO: AMERICAN IDOL KATY PERFORMS WITH DRAKE MCCAIN
AUDIO: AMERICAN IDOL LAINE HARDY IS OFFERED A TICKET TO HOLLYWOOD
AUDIO: AMERICAN IDOL MADISON VANDENBURG PERFORMS SPEECHLESS
AUDIO: AMERICAN IDOL PETER LEMONGELLO JR PERFORMS I CANT HELP MYSELF