Judge Randy Jackson had grown up near New Orleans and had high hopes: "They can't disappoint the Dog, can they?" The show hadn't been to this city since season four.
First up was piano and vocal teacher Jordan Dorsey, 21. We saw video of him teaching. Jordan looks like a young Eddie Murphy, with a pencil-thin mustache, wearing a simple white T-shirt. He sang "Over the Rainbow," which started out kind of meh but then got better once he grew more comfortable. He "changed it up" to up tempo, snapping along with the tune like a lounge performer. Judge Jennifer Lopez got goosebumps. All the judges shouted, "Yes!" [Jordan's audition]
Next up, we had a montage of bad auditions inflicted upon us, along with a montage of alligators. I'd rather hear them sing.
Then came music blogger Sarah Sellers, doing the Bob Dylan tune, "Make You Feel My Love," wearing a red mini dress and horn-rimmed glasses. Before she sang, judge Steven Tyler commented about her big lips, with Randy implying she's Steven's love child. Steven loved her style, attitude and her voice. J. Lo called it "one of the best we've heard." She got her golden ticket. [Sarah's audition]
Jovany Barreto, 23, wore a purple button-down shift, with a gray pinstriped vest and striped tie. His rendition of a Spanish song started out strong but ended with some flat notes as he tried to power through. He's a big J. Lo fan: "You're a goddess in my eyes." J. Lo liked that when he whispers it's as strong as when he's louder. Big three yeses. Then, for some odd reason, Jovanny took off his shirt for her, and Randy and Steven joined him! [Jovany's audition]
The next contestant, Jacquelyn Dupree, brought along pictures of Randy from high school, as well as Randy's old football coach, who dropped in to say hello. Steven asked if he'd ever paddled Randy's ass, and the coach said that Randy was too big to paddle. She did a twangy version of "I'll Stand By You" wearing a black one-shoulder shirt, dangling silver earrings, skinny jeans, and black boots. It was just OK for me, but J. Lo found it beautiful. Steven noted ups and downs in volume but liked it. She got three yeses. [Jacquelyn's audition]
Brett Loewenstern, 16, who was picked on in school, had curly long hair and a striped shirt. He wanted to give a message to kids to just be themselves. Steven admired his hair and traded hair tips with him. He performed "Bohemian Rhapsody," giving it a little jazz flavor. It was pretty good. J. Lo observed that his speaking voice is different from his singing voice, probably meaning higher. He got three yeses. After he left, J. Lo observed that his hair is very well conditioned. [Brett's audition]
The next contestant, Gabriel Franks, was very confident, saying he has a very strong voice and a wonderful personality. Hmm. Randy immediately asked him if anyone ever told him he looks like a rock star. He said that he'd won a contest a radio station had for looking like Steven Tyler. Steven said, instead, that he has Mick Jagger's mouth. Gabriel went with "Bad Romance" by Lady Gaga, an odd choice. Randy asked if it was just a bad choice of song, but J. Lo said, 'No, it's a no." Randy told him, "It's a no, dude, but I enjoyed you." [Gabriel's audition]
Next was a montage of bad auditions and crazy costumes, including a really bad rapper.
Then was Alex Attardo, 18, who had once attended an Idol camp, where he claimed to have learned a lot. This wasn't evident from his off-key version of "Proud Mary." Ouch. Steven told him that it was "far off the melody, even if you're doing your own rendition." Randy didn't mince words: "It was terrible." [Alex's audition]
Fifteen-year-old Jacee Badeaux looked even younger, a chubby boy in a blue T-shirt with a black button-down. But when he launched into the Otis Redding tune "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay," Jacee removed all doubt. He had a pure, higher voice. Hopefully, it will stay that sweet when his voice changes. J. Lo's maternal instincts came out: "You are so sweet and so cute." Steven liked "the sparkle in your eyes" and found his singing "a thing of beauty." Three yeses for Jacee. [Jacee's audition]
To close out the night, a major sob story: that of Paris Tassin, 23, who got pregnant at 18. When she went to the doctor to find out if the baby was a girl or boy, she learned the baby had hydrocephalus. Doctors suggested terminating, but she went forward with the pregnancy. Her daughter, Kyra (sp?) has hearing loss and wears hearing aids, but is otherwise healthy. Paris said she's very proud of her and enjoys singing for her. A beautiful young woman with a tan, long straight dark hair, and wearing a dark scoop neck with jeans, Paris introduced herself as a mom of a special-needs child. She sang Carrie Underwood's "Temporary Home." She has a good country voice but needs to work on her phrasing, and her higher range is rough. J. Lo liked it: "This is what music is about." She got three yeses and promised to do better in Hollywood. [Paris's audition]
Afterward, all three judges were moved. Steven called it "One of the best days we've had." The three judges took each other's hands in a unified moment. Now, that's something you never would have seen Simon do. But with this panel, it seems natural.
In all, 37 hopefuls are headed to Hollywood. We got to see one last montage of all the golden ticket winners, including a shot of them on an escalator, chanting, "Hollywood!"
Jennifer had time for one last good-bye, going up to Paris and saying hi to her daughter. She told her, "Your mommy, she sang really good for you today." Then she hugged Paris and wished her good luck.
Ryan gave the close from a riverboat as a Dixieland band performed.
Next week, the show takes its first trip to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
New Orleans did not disappoint Randy Jackson.