New judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan showed a lot of heart and chemistry as they gave hopefuls the good or bad news. And a number of possible new stars got golden tickets to Hollywood.
Rather than focus on one city per episode, the show jumped around from city to city. It focused on a relatively small number of aspiring singers, telling their stories and showing their interactions with the judges.
In what had to be a first for Idol judges, Lionel had second thoughts about rejecting a hopeful. An hour after they'd sent him packing, the judges asked Ron Bultongez back to give him a ticket. Ron came to the U.S. from Congo when he was 10, and escaped an abusive father when he got older. He performed James Bay's "Let It Go."
In Nashville, Harper Grace had a story. At age 11, she performed the what may have been the worst-ever national anthem before a soccer game. But she redeemed herself. Now 16, she accompanied herself on guitar on an original song and Khalid's "Young, Dumb and Broke."
Layla Spring from Kentucky came in with her little sister Dixie, who got her own golden ticket -- valid in the year 2026, when she's old enough to compete. The judges were unsure if Layla -- who did The Jackson 5's "Who's Loving You" -- has the chops, but they gave her a chance to move on to Hollywood.
Benjamin Glaze -- an awkward 19-year-old cashier -- didn't get a golden ticket. But he may have gotten something even better -- a kiss from Katy Perry, and he liked it.
Noah Davis, an adorable, overweight college kid from Arkansas, got the judges to fall in love with him -- particularly Katy. Oddly, he said his dream if he were to win would be to own alpacas. He earned his golden ticket with a soulful version of Rihanna's "Stay" on piano.
Nerdy, bespectacled teenager Zachary D'onofrio spoke with a high-pitched voice that sounds like it still needs to change. A sock collector, he brought a pair each for Ryan Seacrest and all three judges. But the big surprise was when he pulled out a faithful take of Frank Sinatra's version of "The Way You Look Tonight." It was so good that Katy ran up to dance with him halfway through, and he didn't miss a note.
Alyssa Raghu came with her dad, who's been her biggest supporter ever since her mother left. The 15-year-old set herself up as a favorite to win with an amazing rendition of Ariana Grande and Nathan Sykes's "Almost Is Never Enough."
The last contestant of the night, 26-year-old Dennis Lorenzo escaped a bad Philadelphia neighborhood as a teen and moved to L.A., where he met his girlfriend and had a daughter. Armed with an old guitar with a hole in it, he wowed the judges with a soulful take on Allen Stone's "Unaware."
Despite rumors that the new Idol wouldn't showcase bad contestants for cheap laughs, a few oddballs made it on camera.
- Theater performer Koby got a unanimous no for her odd, loud, pitchy original song, then complained bitterly in a clip after she'd left.
- Punk rocker Nico Bones did an electric-guitar version of the kids' song "Worms" -- fun, but not very good.
- Russian immigrant Sardor Milano had the look, but his high notes made the judges cringe.
American Idol returns to ABC tomorrow night for part two of its premiere.