American Idol Judges Find the Next Willie Spence ('He's Top 10, For Sure') in Week 3 of Auditions — Watch

If American Idol keeps this up, we’re going to have a serious tissue shortage in this country.

The third week of Season 21 auditions wrapped by introducing viewers to 21-year-old golden child Elijah McCormick, whose mom already submitted him to audition in 2019 before a near-fatal car accident required him to relearn how to walk and talk. And, of course, sing.

But McCormick stood confidently on Sunday, belting out every incredible note of Rascal Flatts’ “Bless the Broken Road,” an appropriate song choice for the journey that led him here.

“The last person that I saw approach singing like you was Willie Spence,” Luke Bryan told him, to which Lionel Richie added, “That’s what got me! You hit one of those notes and I thought of Willie. From then on, I couldn’t recover. I was trying to look dignified and then you beat me up some more.”

Spence, the runner-up of Season 19, died in 2022 due to injuries sustained in a car accident. Spence’s duet partner returned in this season premiere to honor his memory and continue her own Idol journey.

Watch McCormick’s audition above, then read on for a breakdown of the other Idol hopefuls sent through to Hollywood this week:

Sarah Beth, 25 | With her “aw, shucks” attitude and bouncy red curls, this California mother of three initially presented herself as a grown-up Catie Turner. But when she busted out Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets” at the judges’ request, she revealed an inner Haley Reinhart that I frankly was not expecting. The growling was there, and she definitely took Katy Perry’s notes to heart, but she needs to put more of herself into her performances or she’ll be eaten alive in this competition. Click here to watch.

Tanner Charles, 20 | This unassuming valet from Oklahoma was a no-brainer, impressing both the judges and his girlfriend with “Golden Eyes,” a radio-ready original song he wrote about James Bond her. Yes, it was all very romantic… until Richie told Charles, “You have the sausage.” As Perry and Bryan fell to the floor laughing, Charles shrugged and gave the best response he possibly could: “I hope I do!” Click here to watch.

Adin Boyer, 22 | As someone whose autism once served as a barrier from his love of rock ’n’ roll, Boyer’s goal is to inspire members of the neurodivergent community, but I’m thinking his audition did a whole lot more than that. Besides being honest and beautiful, his original song “Predicament” is just a great piece of music. Did it give me Dear Evan Hansen/“Waving Through a Window” vibes? It sure did. And those unexpected high notes at the end suggest that Boyer might have some fun surprises hidden up those purple sleeves. Watch Boyer’s audition below:

Wé Ani, 23 | Nary a jaw was left unslacked when this Harlem-based singer was done belting Demi Lovato’s “Anyone.” To be fair, her deep, soulful singing voice came as quite a shock to the judges, who spent most of Wé’s audition marveling at her unique speaking voice — a glorious combination of Macy Gray and Minnie Mouse. Watch Ani’s audition below:

Marybeth Byrd, 21 | A literal ray of sunshine, this Arkansas radio DJ served The Steeldrivers’ “If It Hadn’t Been For Love” with a unique pop twist, instantly engaging the judges with her bluesy vocals and stage presence. “For sure Top 10,” Perry declared, and I hope that prophecy comes true. Click here to watch.

Bre, 27 | Viewers didn’t get to spend too much time with this dueling pianist, but considering she held her own against Richie in a round of “All Night Long,” I’m sure she’s exactly where she belongs. Click here to watch.

Olivia Soli, 20 | This Los Angeles college student took Richie’s “Hello” and ran with it. And by that, I mean she added every conceivable run in the book, crushing all of them. Sultry then strong in all the right places, this masterful cover earned a standing ovation from Richie before it was even over. “I want to be the first in your long career to rush the artist,” he told Soli as he went in for a hug. And that last high note on “I love you”? I simply can’t. Watch Soli’s audition below:

Preston Duffee, 21 | You could feel the pain in this South Carolina boy’s performance of “Something to Write About,” an original song inspired by the loss of his mother to suicide. It was beautiful, it was emotional and it was real. I’m pretty sure the judges would have put him through even if his song didn’t include a line about “the Luke Bryan songs we sang,” but it definitely didn’t hurt. Click here to watch.

Emma Busse, 20 | Musical theater and American Idol rarely mix, as emphasized by this week’s montage of contestants being told they were too Broadway for the competition. Then came this Canadian songstress, who injected just the right amount of drama into her haunting rendition of Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” Still, she had some theatrics to shake out of her, which she did with a toned-down take on “Happy Birthday.” Click here to watch.

Keelin, 24 | Perry had the perfect description for this ball of Irish energy: “I think I see something there. It’s a little weird, but so am I. It’s definitely fun.” The judges were all in on her original song “Don’t Call Me,” but I didn’t expect them to see the artist beyond the gimmick. Richie was Keelin’s other yes, calling her “memorable.” (And to clarify, Bryan is “not mad” that Keelin is going to Hollywood. We can all sleep a little easier tonight knowing that.)

Which of these auditions were your favorite? Weigh in via our poll below, then drop a comment with more of your thoughts.

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