‘American Idol’ review: Lazaro Arbos, Kez Ban, Gabe Brown, Johnny Keyser shine

American Idol LogoReady for more from “American Idol”? Well, the great news about Thursday night’s new episode is that it was far and away an improvement from the show’s first episode. The judges were more polished, the vocalists were better, and overall it just felt like a little bit more of an entertaining product than the oft-uncomfortable premiere.

Of course, the icing on the cake here is that we had an audition at the end of the episode that we have a feeling people will be legitimately talking about for some time. Let’s get to some of the highlights; and with there being so much talent in Chicago, we’re not going to focus on the negatives here really at all.

Mackenzie Wasner – Vocally, she’s got a nice tone … but maybe we have just become so desensitized to listening to female country singers at this point that few of them impress us anymore. What’s different here from Lauren Alaina, Skylar Laine, or Carrie Underwood?

Kiara Lanier – She sang  for the President and was full-on in Mariah Carey hero worship mode here. But was she really as good as advertised? We actually felt that there were a whole chorus of bum notes during her take on “The Prayer,” and it admittedly did not make us anywhere near as excited as it did the judges.

Stephanie Schimel – A personal favorite during this episode, mostly because she genuinely brought so much to this audition that was both completely new and very exciting. Her airy tone was different than most of the other contestants this season, and she’s got a look that could make her just distinctive enough to do very well when the live rounds kick off a little later in the year.

Gabe Brown – Think of him as the love child of Chris Sligh, David Cook, and James Durbin. In very few words, Gabe was awesome in every way that you would want a rock contestant on this show would be. Granted, we don’t need to hear him scream like a banshee every few seconds … and if he tones that down, there could be something here.

Isabelle Parell – If nothing else, this is a smart move if you want t ton of airtime on the show: audition with a duet, and then you get to say that you performed with one of the judges! Her voice was great; Mariah subtly plugging her Christmas music? Not so much.

Griffin Peterson – If this guy makes it to the live shows, you may as well chalk him up as a likely finalist. He’s good-looking, soft-spoken guy, and there could be something there beyond a token guy-who-will-get-a-mountain of votes.

Curtis Finch, Jr. – The dude can SING. He is not into Joshua Ledet “oh snap!” territory yet, but the gospel singer is the closest thing that the show has to something of that caliber right now. We just have to hope that he’ll keep it up in future rounds.

Mariah Pulice – She has the first name of our most-popular judge, and she also looks a little like Selena Gomez. In closing the first hour, though, what we really had above all else was an emotional story about a woman struggling with anorexia, and a voice that was strong enough to justify the screen time.

Johnny Keyser – He’s back … and he’s even stronger than he was last year. Now, he needs to figure out how to stay consistent during the later rounds.

Brandy Neelly – Another country singer that was great at what she does, but yet there was nothing there that was fulling original there.

Josh Holiday – Did we really see enough of this guy to justify the comment that he is one of the most original contestants we’ve seen? We were fond of Josh, but maybe not as much as the judges.

Clifton Duffin – It’s a little hard to believe that this guy’s parents have never heard him sing before. Wouldn’t you have heard him practicing at some point … especially when the voice is this big and this great?

Kez Ban – She reminds us a little bit of a super-hipster, very dangerous version of Zooey Deschanel. During this audition it felt almost 85% assured that this was going to be a joke in between her love for fire and the balloon animals; instead, the quirky Kez Ban may be our favorite audition of the night.

Lazaro Arbos – Lazaro was super-hyped on the night courtesy of his stutter, and what was a pretty remarkable story of overcoming obstacles. After seeing so many sad stories on this show over the years, it’s hard to get emotional; but we were here. He was actually a genuinely great singer, and not just because the story moved us. We would have loved his voice just as much if there was no stutter there at all.

Who was your favorite singer from this audition episode? Be sure to share your thoughts below, and you can read our full review from Wednesday’s premiere over here.

Photo: Fox

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