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American Idol auditions in Oklahoma shock and awe

American Idol auditions Thursday in Oklahoma brought inspiration and bizarre choices – and a cameo by a former American Idol judge. Next week, American Idol embarks on the infamous Hollywood week.

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Keith Urban and Randy Jackson arrive at the Winter TCA Fox All-Star Party in California. On Thursday, American Idol aired their final local auditions for Season 11. Next, Hollywood Week.

Matt Sayles/Invision/AP

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The first step in the quest for the next American Idol came to a close on Thursday night when the judges picked the last contestants to move on to Hollywood week. But there was something about this audition season that seemed less substantial than previous years; it all happened so quickly.

It could have been that the new judges drove viewers to distraction and the contestants themselves became less memorable. But in Season 10, Lauren Alaina's audition was so remarkable that viewers knew she was one to watch going into the competition. In Season 11, Phil Phillips's performance of "Thriller" was ingrained in the Idol viewers' collective memory.

This season, there were a couple of really good singers during the first rounds of auditions but the fact that none of their names come easily to mind means something.

Some of the names that are easily remembered, at least for now, are the handful who came out of the Idol auditions with a golden ticket in Oklahoma. To start the show off, American Idol introduced viewers to Karl Skinner. Karl, like so many of the contestants who auditioned in Wednesday's episode, was one of those people whose appearance and demeanor doesn't really suggest superstar. But as soon as he walked into the room with the judges, there was a certain quirky and engaging kind of appeal. Who can't love a contestant who claims he's going to prove that "gingers" have soul? After performing both a James Brown song and an original, and then giving a really strong impression of what an Idol host should sound like, Karl was invited to Hollywood.

Another of Thursday's American Idol contestants who made an impression was Nate Tao. Nate's backstory - being a child of two deaf parents - was especially inspiring when he performed,"For Once in My Life," and proved that despite his parent's handicaps he had a remarkable vocal talent. Add his affable nature and cute appearance (he looks just like an Asian Gilbert Godfried) to the mix and Nate may be someone to watch out for in Hollywood.

Someone else to watch out for, not so much in Hollywood as in a dark alley maybe, was Zoanette Johnson. Zoanette is a 19-year-old who the judges awarded a golden ticket to. We can pause here while you try to decide which of the two facts in that sentence is more implausible. Well, Zoanette certainly didn't look like a 19-year-old girl, even (or perhaps especially) in her pink and yellow plumage. But after her bizarre and over-the-top performance of the National Anthem, the thought that the judges were going to extend her an invite to Hollywood seemed as crazy as Zoanette's rantings after her performance. But they did indeed send Zoanette through to Hollywood; the only logical explanation being that Nigel Lythgoe forced them to throw someone a touch on their Looney Tunes side into the mix for dramatic effect.

Did someone say Looney Tunes?

Enter Steven Tyler dressed in drag (something that seems remarkably natural for Tyler) and you can understand why Nigel may be a feeling as though this season is a touch anemic in the instability department. 

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Before the Oklahoma auditions wrapped, producers had one more installment of #Idolinspire for us and its placement at not just the end of the show but at the end of all the auditions, signified that this one was going to be a doozy. So, for the final heart-string tug of the auditions, Idol introduced us to 16-year-old Kayden Stephenson who was diagnosed at the age of eighteen-months with cystic fibrosis and based on his prognosis, is not expected to live past the age of 35. But Kayden, with the good-natured charm and boy-next-door looks of a younger Justin Bieber, has opted for action instead of self-pity. With a desire to make every moment count, Kayden signed up for auditions and performed, "I Wish," by Stevie Wonder. His voice was so similar to a young Michael Jackson that all four judges invited Kayden to Hollywood week.

So there you have it. Local auditions have wrapped and your next American Idol has already been discovered by our new panel of judges. Who do you think has the potential to go all the way? And what about your new judges: Is Nicki Minaj becoming more tolerable as episodes pass? Share your thoughts in the comments section and be sure to join us next week when the true drama unfolds.

Hollywood Week.

Follow me on Twitter @JodiBWrites


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