'American Idol' finds “the next Kelly Clarkson” and welcomes former contestant, as Katy does the worm

Madison VanDenburg auditions on “American Idol”; ABC/Nicole RivelliNearly every audition episode of American Idol features the judges declaring that some contestant “could really win this thing,” but Sunday night’s episode found Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie declaring that one contestant could very well be “the next Kelly Clarkson.”

Sixteen-year-old Madison VanDenburg blew the judges away with her performance of Dan + Shay‘s hit “Speechless”  “Do you know what you just did?  You rendered us ‘Speechless’ — to the point where Katy’s showing me goosebumps on her arms!” gushed Lionel.

“It’s my first goosebumps,” Katy confirmed.  “I thought there was a winner earlier today. There might be a winner now.”  She then said Madison was “as good as Kelly Clarkson,” and predicted she could be “the next Kelly Clarkson,” adding that she was a “massive star.”  Madison’s going to Hollywood.

Here are some of the other highlights:

Former contestants pave the way
The first contestant of the night, 20-year-old Ashton Gill, was upstaged by the guy she brought along to play guitar for her: her childhood pal, Laine Hardy, who just missed making it to the top 24 last year.  He said he was there only to support her, not to audition again — but after he sang “The Weight” by The Band, the judges browbeat him into accepting yet another golden ticket.  He’s going to Hollywood — and so is Ashton, avoiding any possible awkwardness.

Eighteen-year-old Nate Walker is a childhood friend of last season’s Gabby Barrett, who came in third. In fact, his grandfather is the one who taught Gabby how to sing and perform.  After some FaceTime encouragement from Gabby, whom he said inspired him to audition, Nate sang A Great Big World‘s “Say Something,” and impressed the judges enough to give him a golden ticket.

The sob stories
Twenty-seven-year old Wade Cota‘s biological father was “the devil”: He beat Wade, his mom and Wade’s siblings, leaving Wade with a scar and a cracked skull.  Finally, his mother was able to escape with the kids and they never looked back.  Wade sang “Blame It on Me” by George Ezra, and though his performance was straight-up imitation of Ezra’s, the judges, obviously unfamiliar with Ezra, raved over Wade’s “unique” voice and gave him a golden ticket.

Seventeen-year-old redhead Drake McCain, who sported a super-high fade like Kid from Kid ‘n Play, lives with his mom and his 10 brothers and sisters, and “no dads in the picture.”  He sang “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” prompting Katy, who started out in gospel music, to join in.  The two then segued into “Oh Happy Day” by the Edwin Hawkins Singers.  Drake made it to Hollywood.

Twenty-five-year-old Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon is a pastor’s kid who works at a janitor at his dad’s church.  He said after he came out to his parents three years ago, they disapproved, and it’s been a struggle since. He sang an original song called “Almost Heaven,” about whether there’s a place in heaven “for people like me.”  “We are blessed to have you on American Idol,” said Lionel.  Jeremiah’s going to Hollywood.

The funny stuff
Twenty-year-old Jake Puliti sang an acoustic guitar version of Montell Jordan‘s ’90s classic “This Is How We Do It,” and Katy was so inspired that she joined Jake and started dancing ’90s style, even doing an amazing version of the worm — in sky-high heels no less.  Jake got a golden ticket.

Fifteen-year-old Austin Michael Robinson sported long golden locks and a cowboy hat, prompting Luke Bryan to describe him as the love child of Alan Jackson and Justin Bieber; Katy Perry said he was the “gosh-darn Leonardo DiCaprio of country music.”

Austin sang Josh Turner’s “Your Man” — the same song season 10 winner Scotty McCreery auditioned with — and earned a golden ticket. He then showed off his cowboy cred by sitting on Luke’s shoulders and lassoing Katy Perry with his rope, which he just happened to bring to the audition.

Nineteen-year-old Peter Lemongello Jr. is the son of singer Peter Lemongello, who back in 1976 became the first person to ever — allegedly — sell a million albums solely through TV advertising. The kid rocked a throwback ’50-style hairdo and sang “I Can’t Help Myself” by “his friends,” the Four Tops, complete with dance moves.  Even so, he couldn’t persuade the judges to send him through.

And the rest
Other contestants who made the cut: 21-year old Shawn Robinson, 16-year-old Riley Thompson, and 24-year-old Clay Page.

The auditions continue on American Idol Wednesday night on ABC.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.