‘American Idol’ Recap: Laughs, Tears and a Birthday Wish From Dolly Parton

From Katy Perry's birthday to St. Patrick's Day to a slew of new hopefuls headed to Hollywood.

Written by Tammy Ragusa
‘American Idol’ Recap: Laughs, Tears and a Birthday Wish From Dolly Parton
AMERICAN IDOL - "204 (Auditions)" - "American Idol" heads to Los Angeles, California; Louisville, Kentucky; New York, New York; and Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, as the search for America's next superstar continues on The ABC Television Network, SUNDAY, MARCH 17 (8:00 - 10:01 p.m. EDT), streaming and on demand. (ABC/David Williamson) LIONEL RICHIE, KATY PERRY, LUKE BRYAN, KATIE BELLE

What do you get when you mix St. Patrick’s Day, Katy Perry’s birthday, and night four of auditions for “American Idol?” You get one heckuva party coast-to-coast with green beer, cotton candy, and some pretty impressive stars-on-the-rise, Heck, Katy alone got a personalized “Happy birthday to you,” from the Queen of Country Music, Dolly Parton, so the night was destined to be magic.

After Katy, Luke Bryan, Lionel Richie, and host Ryan Seacrest got a good sugar buzz, they took their positions behind the table with a shrinking stack of golden tickets, and auditions began.

We’ve seen so much incredible talent so far that we forget there have been some singers that just aren’t ready yet, even after their second try. “Idol” reminded us of that right off that bat when a former hopeful, Jessica Whitley, returned for a second try. Watching her audition from seven years prior first, Luke told the singer, “Let me preface this audition by saying you better have come a long way.” And while all of the judges agreed that Jessica had made a marked improvement, it still wasn’t quite enough to put her through to Hollywood.

It would have been hard not to fall in love with the next contestant, 24-year-old Jacob Moran of Dansville, Michigan before he sang a single note. The young man pursued a career in nursing where he singing to his residents is really his only performing experience. However, his cover of Ariana Grande’s “Into You” was so good that the judges were overwhelmed. “I am faint right now,” Luke told him. “You’ve obviously heard of Gary LeVox of Rascal Flatts. You are there with him.” Katy told him, “I just want to say, you have the best voice we’ve heard in all of Kentucky.” She went on to say, “Of course, you could always fall back on nursing and you can always take care of people but if you say yes, we can help you transform into an idol. If you are willing.” Hollywood, here he comes.

The judges also pointed out that several contestants that Jessica wasn’t the only contestant to audition previously, but some had different results.

Alyssa Raghu of Orlando actually made it to the Top 24 of the previous season, but knowing she could do better, she dedicated the time since to improve her voice and stage presence. Singing VV Brown’s “Shark In the Water,” the 16-year-old was confident and capable. “It’s really great to see the bird come back to the nest and you’re really shining,” a teary-eyed Lionel said. “It’s so comfortable,” Luke said. “Your delivery of it is so natural and comfortable.” While Katy encouraged the young singer to utilize someone else to accompany her, Alyssa’s voice still earned her a spot in Hollywood.

Colby Swift from Midfield, Texas seemed to have as much comedic timing as he had vocal ability in spite of a difficult childhood that saw his mother abandon him and his siblings. Singing the poignant “Cast No Stones” by Cody Jinks, the 19-year-old admitted to being nervous. Although Katy felt he wasn’t quite there yet, both Lionel and Luke saw a diamond in the rough. Making him promise to put in the work, the golden ticket belonged to Colby.

If Evelyn Cormier looked familiar to reality show viewers, it’s because she was previously featured on 90 Day Fiancé as she and her husband David worked toward gaining his American citizenship. Performing Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Games,” Katy told the 19-year-old singer, “Literally, one of my favorite voices I’ve ever heard in my life.”

“You have a sound that’s yours,” Lionel said. “I don’t know what you’re doing, but it’s absolutely an amazing identity and I’m thrilled we have you.” It was no surprise that Evelyn was sent to Hollywood.

We had already seen a nurse with amazing talent, so when 27-year-old dental hygienist Ashley Hess hit the stage, it didn’t seem unreasonable that she could possess the same talent. And boy, did she. Singing Norah Jones’ “Don’t Know Why,” the judges were so enamored they moved their chairs closer to the piano to enjoy more of Ashley’s performance. Admitting that she got a late start to music because she didn’t think she could do it, Katy assured her, “You could win this whole thing.” A unanimous vote sent her to Hollywood.

Most of the singers bring family and friends to support them through the emotional audition process, but 19-year-old Gaba brought both her mother and the egg donor that helped provide her life. And it turns out that her mom and her egg donor, Amy, look alike, but Gaba and Amy sound alike. In fact, after she auditioned with Adele’s “All I Ask,” Mom and Amy joined Gaba on the soundstage and the young woman and her egg donor performed a duet that brought Katy and Lionel to tears. It will also be bringing Gaba to Hollywood.

Singer, songwriter, film composer, straight-A student and varsity cheerleader Peach Martine, gave an unexpectedly impressive performance of The Cranberries’ “Zombie,” but Katy reminded her that rock-and-roll is dirty and asked for another song. Accompanying herself on piano, she performed an original tune and Katy told her, “It doesn’t feel like you’re having fun. It feels like you’re trying to ace the test. And this is rock-and-roll. This is pop music. This is about feeling, it’s about heart, it’s about connection.” While Katy still wasn’t convinced, she gave the singer an “encouraging no.” Fortunately, Luke and Lionel’s affirmative votes earned her a golden ticket.

Handsome and talented Dalton Elliot gave up his music career to help raise his three-year-old son, but during night four of season 17’s auditions, he got another chance to grab that star. Singing Lee Brice’s “Boy,” he earned a unanimous “yes” and a golden ticket to Hollywood.

Gorgeous actor, model and singer, Katie Belle from Atlanta may need some more work on her voice, but the judges were so enchanted with her that she may not have needed to sing at all. But she did and her performance of Jennifer Hudson’s “Golden Slumbers” drove them to push her through to Hollywood.

Perhaps it’s a testimonial to the healing power of music that so many of the aspiring stars have stories of heartbreak or loss that they are overcoming. When Katy asked Lauren Engle for her story, we learned that the 27-year-old became a widow the year before when the she and her husband were involved in a car accident. With her brother-in-law playing guitar, Lauren sang an original song that she had written to honor her late husband. Tears in her eyes and her voice cracking with emotion, the judges all commended the young lady for her strength. “I don’t know how you did it,” Lionel told her. He went on to say, “He was a very lucky man. Forget about the competition for a moment. You have a mission for the rest of your life to be you. Enjoy the ride.”

There’s just one more night of auditions before the competition gets even more fierce on season 17 of “American Idol” and it promises to be as entertaining as previous nights. Then it’s off to Hollywood for the first round of eliminations on March 24.