American Idol's final audition episode of the season aired Monday night, and it was a crazy combination of unexpected guest appearances, the usual sob stories and one very funny prank, courtesy of reigning Idol champ Maddie Poppe.
Attack of last season's finalists
About 90 minutes into the show, we were introduced to a goth chick who called herself Lady Mapo and sported pierced lips, a pierced nose, purple lipstick and a bad attitude. She said she wanted to audition because last year's show was "too American." The judges were put off by her -- until the music started, and that was the clue: It was "Rainbow Connection." Lady Mapo then pulled off her wig and revealed herself to be none other than Maddie Poppe. The judges screamed and seemed genuinely surprised to see her.
Another surprise appearance came courtesy of Maddie's boyfriend and last season's runner-up, Caleb Lee Hutchinson. He showed up to support Jared Sanders, his friend since age 10, who was auditioning after being inspired by Caleb's success. Caleb and Jared's bromance was super-strong, but it wasn't enough to earn Jared a ticket to Hollywood.
We also saw a montage of other contestants from last year showing up to say hi to the judges on the audition trail, including Catie Turner, Noah Davis and Dennis Lorenzo.
A 90s country star resurfaces
Sixteen-year-old Chloe Channell's "backup guitarist" just happened to be Billy Dean, an award-winning '90s country star with a string of hits. Apparently, legendary country star Kenny Rogers discovered Chloe, and then Billy became her musical mentor. Of course, Luke Bryan knew Billy and ran down his career achievements, which Billy shrugged off, saying, "I'm all good and washed-up now!"
Chloe impressed the judges with her version of Keith Urban's "Stupid Boy," and Lionel Richie and Billy bonded over having met before -- and also over Kenny Rogers, for whom Lionel wrote the 1980 smash hit, "Lady." Chloe got a golden ticket, and Luke and Billy harmonized on a chorus of Billy's 1991 hit song, "Only Here for a Little While."
The sob stories
Twenty-five-year-old Ryan Hammond is a pastor's son, and Katy Perry was pretty sure her parents, who are also ministers, had worked with Ryan's dad at some point. Ryan used to weigh 330 pounds but underwent weight-loss surgery and dropped 170 pounds. Complications from the surgery nearly killed him, but now he's svelte and healthy. His version of "Lay Me Down" by Sam Smith earned him a golden ticket.
Twenty-three-year-old Jorgie was born in Israel to very conservative parents who don't know he's gay. When he was 18, he moved to L.A. and started his music career. He told Katy her song "I Kissed a Girl" proved to him that being gay was mainstream and nothing to be ashamed of. He said he'd never told his family that he was gay, so he was doing it right now, on national television. His original song, "Heaven," about unrequited love for a guy named Jeffrey, was his ticket to Hollywood.
Twenty-one-year-old Emma Kleinberg and her brother, Alex, her hero, tried out for American Idol together years ago but neither of them made it. Alex developed bipolar disorder after college and tried to take his own life. He survived, but is now severely brain-damaged. Emma sang "American Privilege" by Allen Stone and earned a trip to Hollywood.
Nineteen-year-old Jackson Gillies lives in Katy's hometown of Santa Barbara, CA, and met her a while back at a benefit concert for first responders. He's been diabetic since age three but several years ago, he also developed an autoimmune disorder called H.S., which attacks the skin. There's no cure, but Jackson maintains a positive attitude. His version of "Make It Rain" by Foy Vance -- which Ed Sheeran recorded in 2014 for the TV show Sons of Anarchy -- blew the judges away.
And the rest
Others going to Hollywood include 22-year-old Nick Merico, the former star of the Nickelodeon series Every Witch Way; champion clogger Zebulon Spencer; and 19-year-old Long Island crooner Christiaan Padovan.
The American Idol "Hollywood Week" episodes begin this Sunday night on ABC.
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