American Idol is back for season 14! Judges Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick, Jr. have returned (with Ryan Seacrest as host, of course) to find another batch of talented singers.

We all know the rating aren’t what they used to be. But Idol is still the best singing competition around, especially since the focus is on the contestants and the judges give constructive advice to help them, whereas The Voice at this point is pretty much just a game show where the coaches, who tell everyone they’re good (that’s basically how season 7 went last fall), are the true winners.

One of the things that people liked about last year’s audition episodes was that they kept the bad singers to a minimum and focused heavily on the talented contestants. If last night’s season 14 premiere is any indication, that’s here to stay. But there’s still plenty of time for the judges to be goofy and have fun with each other (and with the singers) without having it be all about them.

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As far as the talent goes, we saw some good ones in Nashville. There were two in particular that stood out to me. But first, I want to comment on some others.

First, Amber Kelechi, age 15. She sang an Elvis tune, with Michael Orland backing her on piano, which is new for the auditions. (I guess it’s a good change of pace after the millions of guitars that come in and out of that room.) While she made it to the next round, Harry didn’t think she was ready yet. And I’m a bit on the fence. She has an interesting voice, and she really dug for some of those notes, but I agree that she still does have some work to do.

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Second, Kory Wheeler, who sang “I Can’t Make You Love Me” with his guitar. The judges loved him, and I believe Jennifer said she got goosies. While I think he’s got something there, I’m not quite sure what to make of him just yet. Also, there were a couple odd breaks in his voice he added to the song that gave it a new spin but also sounded strange. Going into the next rounds, let’s see if I can get on board like the judges already are or if my wariness has merit.

Now, on to my two favorites of the night, including the one singer to watch, and some honorable mentions:

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Honorable Mentions

Honorable mentions go to Cameron Bedell and Riley Bria. Cameron, who at age 25 is old compared to the others we saw, sang “You Are the Best Thing.” I really liked the way he sang the words “you are,” and he’s got a really good falsetto.

For 17-year-old Riley, who had played guitar with Keith Urban during some awards show before, sang “Georgia Woods,” which the Australian judge appreciated, since it’s his song. Riley has a beautiful tone and I bet the girls will love him.

The Runner-Up

My runner-up from the premiere is Michael Simeon, who performed Sam Smith’s “Stay with Me.” If you’re going to sing this ballad, of course I’m going to pay attention. Now, maybe it’s because I absolutely love the song, but I loved his audition as well. The whole way through, I detected a hint of a rasp, and he delivered a nice falsetto.

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By the end of the episode, maybe viewers will remember him more for his slow dance with J-Lo. That whole situation was hilarious. Harry played the piano, Keith was on guitar and Michael and Jen were slow dancing while the former sang “Stay with Me” again. He took a leap by asking her to dance, but it turned into a very sweet moment. Having said that, let’s not discount how good his voice is.

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The One Singer to Watch: Emily Brooke

Fifteen-year-old Emily Brooke was the final auditioner of the night, and for good reason. She was definitely the best singer from the premiere. Her performance hit close to home for American Idol, as she sang Carrie Underwood‘s “Blown Away.”

You could tell from the start of the song that Emily is a country singer through and through; she’s got a great twang in her singing voice. And “Blown Away” was the perfect song choice for her. I found no faults in the performance, and to be honest, I was smiling the entire time.

I know it was a Carrie song and all, but while she was singing, I was getting flashbacks to the season 4 winner’s time on Idol. And afterwards, I thought, do we have another Carrie Underwood on our hands? Only time will tell, of course, but she’s off to a fantastic start at least.

After she left the room, Harry said to the other judges that Emily has the most potential out of everybody they saw that day. Based on who we saw in this episode, I’d have to agree.

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What did you think of the season 14 premiere? Who are your favorites? Were you blown away (pardon the pun) by Emily Brooke as well? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

American Idol airs Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8pm on FOX.

(Image and videos courtesy of FOX)