From left: Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez, Steven Tyler and Ryan Seacrest
By Aaron Parsley
01/19/2012 at 08:00 AM EST
Ryan Seacrest called it a "hot streak," and "one of the best starts we've ever had," on Wednesday's season 11 premiere of American Idol. The host joined returning judges Jennifer Lopez, Steven Tyler and Randy Jackson in Savannah, Ga., where 42 singers received golden tickets to Hollywood.
There were talented singers like Lauren Mink, who gave Jennifer "goosies" when she sang "Country Strong." And there were horrible singers, like Jessica Whitely, who botched "In This Song" by Charice and promised to return to audition in Texas, despite being told she was "awful" by the judges.
There were typical Idol antics: Shaun Kraisman, a contestant whose voice was mediocre, looked and sounded exactly like Seacrest. West African country singer Mawuena Kodjo had no hope of pleasing the judges with his heavily accented performance of "I Won't Let Go" by Rascal Flatts, but after Jackson rejected him, Seacrest took him out onto the streets of Savannah to seek approval of strangers. They returned to the judges' chambers with an old man and four little girls, who nodded when the host asked if he should be given a ticket to Hollywood. Maybe he'll be the next William Hung?
And there were touching backstories from talented contestants – ones to watch in the coming rounds of competition:
Amy Brumfield, who is unemployed, told the judges about having to live in a tent outside Gatlinburg, Tenn. "I'd rather be outdoors and happy than indoors and miserable," she said, dressed in clothes given to her by her boyfriend's mother. She sang "Superwoman" by Alicia Keys and blew the judges away.
W.T. Thompson, whose wife was 6½ months' pregnant, quit his job in a federal prison in Appomattox, Va., to audition. He sang "Boondocks" by Little Big Town, and though the judges weren't particularly impressed with his voice, Lopez saw a "twinkle in his eye," and he convinced her and Randy to let him move on to Hollywood.
Ashlee Altise, a sales associate from Kinston, N.C., "joy-hopped" into the studio promising "funk, energy, confidence." And she delivered personality, smiles on the judges' faces, a soulful version of "Come Together" by The Beatles.
Phillip Phillips Jr., who works in his father's pawnshop, sang a bluesy, growling version of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition." "It's like you have electricity going through your body," Lopez told him. Then, invited by Randy, he picked up his guitar to perform an almost unrecognizable version of "Thriller." The judges applauded, calling him "amazing" and "a true artist."
Don't be surprised if you hear him sing it live in the final rounds of American Idol's season 11.