American Idol Recap: Season Three Begins With Deep and Diverse Talent

Who will be the next American Idol?

Written by Tammy Ragusa
American Idol Recap: Season Three Begins With Deep and Diverse Talent
AMERICAN IDOL - 301 (Auditions) American Idol returns to ABC for season three on SUNDAY, FEB. 16 (8:00-10:00 p.m. EST). (ABC/Eric Liebowitz) JUST SAM

It’s been about nine months since we last saw Luke Bryan, Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, Ryan Seacrest and Bobby Bones welcome a community of aspiring young musical performers to the coveted stage of ABC’s American Idol. But on February 16, America watched as the team of judges, coaches and nurturing spirits rolled out the welcome mat to a new season of wannabes from, as Katy said, the “nooks and crannies of America.”

Crediting last year’s runner-up, Alejandra Aranda, as a “game-changer” to American Idol, Luke explained that the young singer opened the door to a new level of talent. But it also sounds like it opened up the judges to a new philosophy of receiving that talent.

The line-up for the first night of televised auditions looked like this:

DOUG KIKER (27) – Mobile, Alabama / garbage man
(The judges sent him out to “warm-up” before he auditioned because he had never performed.)

After his a cappella number, Luke got up and played piano for him.

LIONEL: “For a man who does not know what his voice can do, for a man who does not have an idea what key he’s singing in, for a man who does not know who the heck he can be, he’s here to do one thing — he’s trying to show his daughter he’s somebody. Now, I don’t know about you guys, but I want us all to let you know, you’re a helluva man.”

  • YES to Hollywood

CAMRYN LEIGH SMITH (16) – Ackworth, Georgia / high school student

  • Auditioned with “Big White Room” by Jessie J

KATY: “When you dug into that note towards the end, it gave me hope for the third season of American Idol.”

  • YES to Hollywood

FRANCISCO MARTIN (18) – San Francisco, California / college student, pre-law

  • Auditioned with “Alaska” by Maggie Rogers

He was so visibly nervous, Luke checked his heart rate.

LUKE: I just checked the pulse of a future superstar.”

Katy asked him to perform an original song.

LIONEL: “Law is your fallback.”

  • YES to Hollywood

HUNTER GIBSON a/k/a “The Comeback” (23) – Arcadia, California / rideshare driver, background actor

  • Auditioned with “Swing, Swing” by The All-American Rejects

KATY: “That woke me up, I liked it. You really definitely did it. Since we vibe, I appreciate what you’re doing and you are correct, this movement is coming back. I don’t know if it’s back enough yet for American Idol, but I think you could be ahead of this next curve. I’ll see you at the show.”

LUKE: “The singing and the vocals aren’t all the way there yet, bud.”

  • NO to Hollywood – they all agreed his style was too specific for Idol

NICK MERICO (23) – Woodland Hills, California / server

  • Auditioned with “You Say” by Lauren Daigle

KATY: “I enjoyed the chorus, I enjoyed the cry in the chorus. I just have this feeling that you think that you’re too good for us…All I’m saying is that if you do go to Hollywood, just like be open to being molded and shaped because you do have a good chance, but there’s one thing that’s going to get in your way and don’t let it, it’s your ego.”

LIONEL: “We’ve got a big problem. Because I don’t like you. I gotta be honest with you, I don’t like you and for some weird reason, it’s not sitting well with me. I don’t like your voice, I’m being very honest. I don’t like your attitude and I don’t really think you’re going to make it in Hollywood. Now, how do you feel right now…I want you to understand what it feels like when people don’t adore you.”

  • YES to Hollywood

ARTHUR GUNN (21) – Wichita, Kansas (Born in Nepal, Katmandu) / musician

  • Auditioned with “Girl From the North Country” by Bob Dylan

Katy asked him to sing a second song with his eyes open – “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” by Creedence Clearwater Revival.

LUKE: “You want to open for me in Detroit, Michigan in two weeks?”

LIONEL: “I am loving this discovery.”

KATY: “I am really excited for you.”

  • YES to Hollywood

ALISA ERMOLAEV (28) – Queens, New York (Born in Moscow, Russia) / actress (Hustlers)

  • Auditioned with “Say Goodbye” – Original

KATY: “We don’t want to have to rain on your parade, but we’re definitely going to have to do a little sprinkling.”

LUKE: “You guys are loads of fun. I can’t say I was blown away by the singing. You have big pipes, but as far as what we need on American Idol, the vocals aren’t quite there.”

  • NO to Hollywood

LOUIS KNIGHT (19) – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Born in London, England) / pizza delivery

  • Auditioned with “Change” – Original inspired by a friend who committed suicide.

LUKE: “I think you might be the biggest star we’ve ever had on American Idol.”

KATY: “That’s a bold statement and yes, I kind of agree…”

LIONEL: “From a songwriter, you’re onto something big.”

  • YES to Hollywood

SAVERIA (22) – London, Ontario, Canada / guitar teacher

  • Auditioned with “Tell Me This is Real” – Original

LIONEL: “You had moments of great vocal stuff, and then all of a sudden, I drifted off and drifted back again. I wasn’t quite paying attention. Your job is to keep me engaged.”

LUKE: “You just stood up there and worked your butt off, but it’s not making me levitate out of my chair.”

KATY: “You’re a great singer. You are a gymnast singer. You can do cartwheels and backflips and do it all. You have so much potential.”

  • NO to Hollywood

MEGHAN FITTON (23) – Brooklyn, New York / fitness instructor

  • Auditioned with “Love Where You’re At” by Allen Stone

LUKE: “That’s like rock star soul, grit, angst. That was incredible.”

LIONEL: “I had to close my eyes for a minute, open my eyes and see where the heck that voice is coming from because it’s raw and wonderful.”

  • YES to Hollywood

JUST SAM (20) – Harlem, New York / subway singer

  • Auditioned with “You Say” by Lauren Daigle and “Rise Up” by Andra Day

LUKE: “This is really, really important, what you have, in my opinion. A lot of people come in here and they haven’t lived the struggles you have. You have those qualities in your voice to tell stories and you can sing really beautifully, too.”

KATY: “I love your sweet personality. You do have a really good voice. Remember where you came from and sing to where you want to go.”

LIONEL: “In your whole life, have you ever felt safe…we got you. I want you to rely on us to coach you through this. And forget about winning. You’ve already won.”

  • Asked to pray with the coaches.
  • YES to Hollywood

It’s just the first episode and the talent pool is already proving to be insanely deep and diverse. Congratulations to all of the golden ticket holders and we’ll be back next week with more contestants on season 18 of American Idol.