It was American Idol's ninth visit to Texas, the same state where Kelly Clarkson was discovered a decade ago. And judging by Thursday's episode, taped in Houston, the judges may have found a competitor to match the original Idol's talent.
Kristine Osorio was the night's clear highlight and her stunning version of Adele's "One and Only" immediately caused Jennifer Lopez to remark, "Thank you, God!" Osorio, a 28-year-old student, also has one of the season's more compelling back-stories. A mother of three whose music career was sidelined when she got pregnant, Osorio is struggling to pay bills and embattled in a divorce from her husband. But instead of paying off her legal fees, Osorio chose to pay for a ticket to audition instead. Wise move: Steven Tyler praised her "beautiful tenor" and all three judges unanimously agreed to send her to Hollywood.
Ramiro Garcia also had one of the more heartbreaking stories of the night. The 28-year-old was born without ears and doctors had initially said he would be mute. But at age 4, he underwent reconstructive surgeries and eventually became able to hear. Garcia wowed the judges with his soulful version of "Amazing Grace." (Watch a clip below.) "I like what I'm hearing," said Tyler. "I like your insides as well. You're a power of example, to say the least."
Critics have pointed out that, after ten seasons of Idol, the nation is suffering from a shrinking talent pool and that argument certainly held water with this episode. Bailye Brown, 21, returned for her second audition, after initially passing on to Hollywood during season 6, yet failing to advance far in the competition. She may fare better this season: her country-fied rendition of Bon Jovi's "Bed of Roses" bowled over the judges, while Lopez hinted that Bailye Brown has even bigger potential: "That's a movie star name," she said.
There was plenty of in-fighting among the judges throughout the auditions. Tyler and Jackson disliked contestant Cheyenne James, while Lopez said her audition was "soulful" and "rich." "Anyone else in here think they're crazy right now?" Lopez asked. Linda Williams, 24, meanwhile, failed to connect with Lopez, while Jackson and Tyler thought she passed muster, therefore making her eligible to go to Hollywood. "That was awful," said Lopez after she left the room.
But it was the William Hung-style contestants that brought the night's best moments. Phong Vu, 25, nearly cracked glass with his tone-deaf version of Toni Braxton's "Unbreak My Heart." "I feel the pain that's coming through me," Vu said. "I want to bring it back to you." Alejandro Cazares, a 26-year-old cell phone repairman, was equally puzzling. The Houston native talked about bringing a "revolution" to Idol, but his bizarre version of Paramore's "Looking Up" failed to sway the panel. "I want to be your age one day, Steven," he pleaded. "You may never get there," Tyler quipped.