After sitting through four nights of American Idol over the past two weeks, I think it’s safe to say there’s still some great talent being found all across America. Season 14 has gotten off to a great start so far, and we’re only halfway through the auditions.

Thursday night saw season 8 runner-up Adam Lambert return to the show that made him a star, only this time he sat behind the judges’ table, filling in for Keith Urban, who was away to be with his wife Nicole Kidman after her father passed away.

Even though it’s been nice having only three judges, I wouldn’t mind expanding the panel to four if it means Adam is a permanent judge (or else have him be a replacement if one of them decides to leave). His name was in the mix to join the show before they settled on the current trio, after all. And he’s been a guest mentor before — and a fantastic one at that. He’s blunt and honest when he has to be, which I loved. Some of these contestants need to hear the truth.

But what about the singers who were great? The talent continues to be strong overall, despite a couple questionable choices by the judges on who they sent through to Hollywood.

Here are my honorable mentions, along with the runner-up and one singer to watch from New York.

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Honorable Mentions

My first honorable mention goes to Najah Lewis, a subwa  performer who sang “Payphone” for her audition. She’s got a really good voice, despite there being a couple notes she needs to work on improving. I don’t think I’ve ever heard this Maroon 5 song arranged this way.

We also saw Qaasim Middleton, whose dad is in Stomp, and his mom embarrassed him on national television — not cool, mom, not cool. But Qaasim was still able to go into the audition room and entertain the judges and viewers. That’s the key word with him — ‘entertaining’. For at least half of the performance, if not the majority of the time, he was off-key. Then again, I can’t remember the last time I heard Stevie Wonder sing on-key, so I guess they’re in the same boat. The focus of his audition was on dancing and beatboxing rather than the vocals. We know he can entertain us, and if he can spend as much time working on improving his voice, then he might be one to watch out for.

It was unfortunate that Katherine Winston’s performance was played over a montage of other auditions. That was distracting; I wanted to really focus on her voice because what I did hear was amazing. Hopefully we can hear more from her (without all the distractions) during Hollywood Week.

The final audition of the night went to “Hollywood” Anderson, who sang an original song called “My Best Friend.” The judges were gushing all over him; Harry even went as far as to say he’s the best they’ve seen so far this season. Now, come on, Harry — you know that’s not even remotely true. Having said that, “Hollywood” did sound really good, and he has a fun personality. Out of all the singers featured in this article, I’m more on the fence with him than any of the others because I don’t see that star quality yet that we’ve seen with other singers. When “Hollywood” goes to Hollywood, can he change my mind? We’ll see.

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The Runner-Up

There were only two contestants from the New York auditions that drew me in when they performed — one of them was Travis Finlay. I sat there absorbed in the whole thing. I love Rihanna‘s “Stay,” and Travis definitely did it justice (I only noticed one bad note). He’s got a beautiful tone, and his mid to lower range sounded quite good.

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The One Singer to Watch: Jax

The best of the night goes to Adam Lambert and his re-audition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” but I guess we have to disqualify him since he made the finals in a previous season. Technicalities. (On a related note, he’s having such a full circle moment in his career right now — he auditioned for Idol with this Queen song, and now he’s touring with them all over the world.)

All kidding aside, I said a moment ago that only two singers drew me in. Aside from Travis, the other was Jax. Like many auditioners, she has a compelling story about her dad. But putting that aside for a moment, her rendition of The Beatles’ classic song “I Want to Hold your Hand” was unbelievable. She’s got a very beautiful and different voice. And the performance as a whole was very intimate and vulnerable. She’s by far the best from the New York auditions. While Harry said that “Hollywood” Anderson had the best audition up to that point, there’s no denying Jax is so much better than him.

What did you think of the New York auditions? Who are your favorites? Is Jax your one singer to watch as well? Who else stood out? And do you agree that there were a few people the judges sent through even though they shouldn’t have? Take our poll below and share your thoughts in the comments section.

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

(Image and videos courtesy of FOX)

Jeff Dodge

Staff Writer, BuddyTV

Jeff Dodge, a graduate of Western Washington University, has been a TV news editor for many years and has had the chance to interview multiple reality show stars, including Randy Jackson, Nick Cannon, Heidi Klum, Mel B and John Cena.