‘American Idol’ Hopeful Pays Tribute to Dad Nolan Neal, ‘The Voice’ & ‘AGT’ Star Who Died Last Year (RECAP)

ABC/Eric McCandless

[Warning: The below contains spoilers for American Idol’s premiere.]

After all the coveted statues were presented at the 95th Oscars, the night was not over! American Idol judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan gave more golden tickets to Hollywood during a special Academy Awards night episode.

This week’s field of auditions saw talented college students including “Top 10” material and a hopeful that certainly could pass for a relative of a certain “All Night Long” legend. The night also saw an audition with a virtual reality component and a contestant honoring her late dad, who was a past contestant on The Voice and America’s Got Talent.

See who impressed (and who frightened) the judges below.


ABC/Eric McCandless

Danny Epp


ABC/Eric McCandless

The 23-year-old hadn’t seen her mother in a year until she came out to the audition. Katy, Lionel, and Luke brought mom to sit in as the “fourth judge” at the table. The gymnastics coach performed “The One That Got Away” by Katy, who even joined in at the end. Mom said she has the emotion but needs to connect more with the eyes. Someone is coming for that judge’s chair! Lionel agreed. Katy and Luke thought it sounded good. Danny got the first four for four yeses and was sent to Hollywood.

Amara Valerio

The 20-year-old recounted a time when she was singing the National Anthem at a high school graduation only to have another student pull the mic from her like a sort of Taylor Swift-Kanye West moment. Amara couldn’t sing the National Anthem at her own graduation the next year because of COVID. Katy encouraged her to take from that anger. The budding singer certainly did that as she sang “Bust Your Windows” by Jazmine Sullivan. Success is the best revenge for Amara who was sent through to the next round.

Savanna Christian


ABC/Eric McCandless

Savanna said her friend created  “Metaverse Idol” on the VR headset, which of course the judges wanted to experience. She performed “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor while wearing the simulator goggles. Despite the unique technological component, Lionel was a no, but he had fun. Katy and Luke also felt the same, unfortunately. “This reminds me of 1976,” Lionel said as he looked at the virtual world through the Oculus.

Hannah Nicolaisen

The Houston volleyball player had big dreams of becoming an Idol…maybe two months into making a really make a play for music. You would never know the limited preparation after hearing her sing “Make You Feel My Love” by Bob Dylan. “Well you just spiked the ball in our face,” Katy said as a compliment. Lionel thought she did everything right to tell the song’s story, which he said can’t be taught. Luke followed up that some people are born to sing and be a star, and she is definitely born to sing. The verdict is out on the latter, but the 23-year-old is well on her way.

Reette Thorns


ABC/Eric McCandless

The college student was motivated to show her mother, who has struggled with addiction, that there is something to believe in. The 20-year-old decided on  “I Believe” by Idol winner Fantasia for the audition. Reette broke down into tears after, which called for a Lionel Richie hanky. He said the first note was spot on, but the rest of it nerves took over. Lionel was touched and gave her a big yes. Katy added that perfection doesn’t exist anyway, and she just needs a little TLC. With the Madison resident already locked in the golden ticket, Luke gave her a no just so she knew there is work to be done.

Tripp Taylor


ABC/Eric McCandless

The 18-year-old from Florence, South Carolina was especially excited to meet Lionel as an old soul. This was evident in his song choice of “I Believe to My Soul” by Ray Charles, which he also performed on the piano. “Are you sure he is not your son?” Katy asked Lionel. Luke felt he had his own sound with just the right amount of gravel and grit. Katy said he had the “It” factor. Lionel appreciated his stage presence. Tripp’s taking a trip to Hollywood.

Rach Karma


ABC/Eric McCandless

I personally appreciated the rocker’s song choice of “Holy Diver” by Dio. While it was no way on the level of when Killswitch Engage covered it, the 28-year-old brought something different. The judges were somewhat terrified by it. “Shall we pray,” Luke said. Katy gave her a no but encouraged her to rock on. Lionel liked the idea of hearing that song again. The “Hello” singer does have rock and metal street cred. “Rob Zombie happens to be one of my dearest friends.”

Colt Glover


ABC/Eric McCandless

The 21-year-old Texan was a freshman in college when one of his buddies encouraged him to take music seriously. He went on to purchase an old guitar at a pawn shop, and here is the result. He performed “Rock, Salt and Nails” by Flatt and Scrubbs. Katy said he was the best country music singer she has seen so far and Top 10 material. Lionel said they just need to teach him what to do with his hands. Luke was happy Colt is there. A glowing yes from the three.

Cay Aliese

The 24-year-old mom of two spoke about her dad dying a few months prior from a drug overdose. He happened to be Nolan Neal, a former contestant on The Voice and America’s Got Talent. The father and daughter. connected through a mutual love of music. She saw the audition as a way of honoring her dad, closing his chapter, and starting her own. She chose to sing an original “City of Nashville,” dedicated to him. Katy was on the fence and didn’t feel the emotional contact. Lionel agreed that she has a voice but needs to dig deeper. Luke encouraged her to not be afraid to soar. Katy rolled the dice with a yes. Lionel listened to his inner voice that said yes. Luke was a yes with room to grow. Cay’s dream is kept alive.

American Idol, Sundays, 8/7c, ABC