American Idol returned this week with a two-night, three-hour premiere for season 14, and the talent has been out in full force. On Wednesday, we were treated to my favorite singer so far, Emily Brooke, along with other great voices from the likes of Michael Simeon, Cameron Bedell and Riley Bria.

Thursday night’s episode continued with the Nashville auditions, and the judges also traveled to Kansas City to hear contestants from the Idol Bus Tour auditions. Has anyone noticed that there are a lot of big personalities this year, especially from the advancing singers? Maybe after Sam Woolf and Alex Preston last year, the producers didn’t want singers as timid as them.

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Before we get to the best of the best, let’s take a look at some honorable mentions and the runner-up:

Honorable Mentions

While certain singers that I’ll mention later on really stood out, I don’t want to discredit or ignore someone like Clark Beckham or Gina Venier. Clark sang “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.” We’ve heard this song a million times before, on all the singing competition shows, on Glee and elsewhere. I thought he was fantastic. There was a bit of grit and depth to his voice, and I was really getting into it.

When Idol first started allowing singers to be accompanied by instruments in the audition room, I was hesitant about this new rule. Both last year and this season so far, we’ve seen pretty much everyone play a guitar during their audition. Last year, it bugged me more; this time, though, I’ve gotten used to it. But now there’s even more instruments being brought in, aside from having Michael Orland on piano.

Gina Venier came in with her toys (instruments). All of that just by itself is intriguing, but the song, “Put the Gun Down,” really fit her. The whole thing was cool, to put it simply.

Even better than these two were Sarina-Joi Crowe and Lovey James. Sarina has auditioned multiple times before; this was her fourth. She’s got a great voice and can pull off both the mid-range and bigger, more powerful notes with ease. Not everyone can do that.

The judges had a fun time with Lovey James’ name (which is a stage name). She’s 16 and sang a song very appropriate for her age, Ariana Grande’s “Break Free.” Lovey has the personality to match her name, and she has an intriguing voice that I was drawn to.

Then there’s Garrett Miles. This blind country singer sounds just as good as many of the talented contestants featured in this episode. When he sang “Proud Mary,” I found myself liking this version, but I’m waiting to see if he can prove he’s better than last year’s country singers, and to see if he’s going to sound exactly the same with each performance a la Scotty McCreery. What made me take notice, though, was when he performed “Coma la Flor” from Selena — to have a country dude sing that is expected. If he can surprise us like that again in future rounds, then maybe he’s better than I think he is.

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The Runner-Up

I briefly went back and forth on who my one singer to watch should be versus the runner-up, but I finally settled on Jess Lamb for the latter. “Ain’t No Sunshine” is also one of those songs covered every so often on all the singing and talent shows. For Idol, season 8’s Kris Allen comes to mind.

I love Jess’ rendition; she put her own spin on the Bill Withers tune. Instead of Michael Orland on piano, Jess herself played on the piano that was set up in the middle of the room. She’s very different and nothing like the others we’ve seen this week. The word ‘unique’ gets thrown around a lot to describe certain singers, but she really is, and quirky. She obviously has had a lot of experience playing gigs over the years, and it shows — she gets how to make it work, whereas an inexperienced singer might sing the same song but not be able to deliver it as successfully.

I mentioned in my One Singer to Watch article for the premiere that Cameron Bedell was old at age 25 compared to everyone else, many of whom are in their teens. But Jess is 28, which means this is her last shot at auditioning for Idol (of course, there’s always The Voice and America’s Got Talent if she still wants to keep at it), so I hope she’s able to make the most of her time on the show and that she’s able to live up to how great of an audition this was.

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The One Singer to Watch: Savion Wright

Like I said, I almost chose Jess Lamb for this spot, but I ultimate went against her when looking at these two singers’ long-term potential. And while Jess is one of the most unique contestants so far this season, that style may work against her in terms of her ability to win.

So that means Savion Wright is my one singer to watch from Thursday night’s Nashville/Kansas City audition episode. Savion received a golden ticket last year, but never made it to the live shows, which was really unfortunate, and many fans were hoping he would come back for season 14 — and he did!

I almost didn’t recognize him at first, and his voice sounds even better this time around. His performance of “Change the World” was unbelievable; whether it was singing the softer notes or going bigger, he did it all effortlessly, and the riff at the end was nice touch.

Sometimes when a singer is rejected, he or she might ask the judges what they can do to improve. Savion did the same thing; the only difference, though, is that he had already received a ticket to Hollywood — which shows that, despite his immense talent, he still wants to grow and it prove to us he has the determination, motivation and passion needed to go far in this competition.

What did you think of Thursday’s auditions? Any favorites? Do you think any of the returning contestants like Savion Wright or Sarina-Joi Crowe will make it a lot further this time around? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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.