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'American Idol' Recap: Keith Urban Finds Younger Version of Himself in Utah

Hopeful Casey Thrasher found inspiration from footage of a 16-year-old Urban getting schooled on an Australian competition show in 1983.

Casey Thrasher American Idol audition P
Michael Becker / FOX
Casey Thrasher

If there is ever a judge in the history of reality television that understands the pain of going in front of a critical panel, it’s Keith Urban.

On Wednesday night’s American Idol, America got to see a 1983 video of Urban as a 16-year old hopeful giving his all in with “All Out of Love” by Air Supply before being cut down in front of a live audience on the Australian TV show New Faces.

“What is showing up in your voice is immaturity…you have to do exercises and talk to a teacher,” he was told.

His early experience obviously shaped his judging style, as he explained that “I try and be as honest as I can without completely humiliating someone.”

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Urban served as an inspirational figure to frontrunner Casey Thrasher, who captured hearts in the cold open of the show, which showed him feeding his baby with a bottle and then telling the country superstar that meeting him at a show inspired him to audition with a sincere version of “Believe” by Brooks and Dunn.

Urban, who bonded immediately with Thrasher over the push-pull of fatherhood versus career, felt his desire to get a “break,” and awarded it to him, sending him from a “chain link fence to Hollywood.”

It’s all about dreams, and last night’s show awarded 30 hopefuls Golden Tickets to achieve them.

It’s been six years since American Idol last mined its talent from Utah -- the home of season seven runner-up David Archuleta and of course, an Osmond or two.

So did Urban and his fellow judges Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr.  find the show’s next superstar?

The short answer to that is: Salt Lake City was jam packed with talent, lots of guitars,  beautiful people and some of the brightest smiles this side of Donny and Marie, so it was very possible.

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“There are a lot of talented people in the world,” said an impressed Connick. “And they all come to American Idol.”

There were also, in the words of Ryan Seacrest, some strange fish. Case in point: Samantha Townsend, a 22-year-old nursing assistant with bright red hair and clenched teeth. There was also a blue-haired girl -- who used Cyclops as a nickname -- bludgeoning “Ordinary People” by John Legend.  Male model Chase Thornton flashed us his blue steel look before he sang an off-key version of Bruno Mars’ “When I Was Your Man," prompting Urban to echo the advice his 16-year-old self heard all those years ago. “Take lessons,” Urban advised. “I don’t know what pitch you were in.”

That said: Utah turned out some potentially great recording artists. Right from the top, 16-year-old Austin Wolfe dominated with a confident version of “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons, causing Lopez to declare she “has the whole package.” Lumberjack Kylee Adamson had a solid audition and earned three quick yeses. Alex Preston, a self-described band nerd, entertained with an acoustic guitar, extremely unique phrasing, a percussive technique, and a soft tone which Lopez said was the “sign of a comfortable performer.”

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Louisianan Samantha Calmes bravely delivered an original, “From Birth" and then killed it with the theme song from The Jeffersons that Urban said “showed a great range” to her voice. Julie Awful had an unfortunate name, but was good enough to get through to Hollywood. Fifteen-year old Kenzie Hall’s take on John Mayer’s “I’m Going to find Another You,” caught the ear of Connick, who was impressed she used a diminished chord. Recovering alcoholic Paisley Van Patten, who had a record deal when she was 15 and is looking for a second chance, defied her ex-fiance’s ultimatum that if she auditioned for Idol, he was through with her. His loss. Her “When the Lights Go Down” by Faith Hill was gorgeous and sung from her gut.

“Raw is a good place to be for an artist,” said Urban. “It’s when the truth comes out.” As a bonus: she busted out a righteous imitation of Cher! CJ Harris  got bonus points from me for singing an Allman Brothers song. He has an easy likability that won over Lopez, who says there are things he is doing wrong but can be fixed.

The second hour introduced us to North Carolina funeral employee Tiquila Wilson, who proudly stated “I sing for the dead,” prompting Urban to deadpan, “Harry does too.” Her strong vocals on “Someone Like You” by Adele gave Lopez “goosies,” while Connick asked how the church felt about her singing secular music. “I don’t care what they think,” she said. I love her sass already. She’s going to be fun in Hollywood.

Dexter Roberts sailed through with a cover of season nine heartthrob Casey James’ “Drive.” 15-year old Briston Maroney captivated with “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by The Rolling Stones and mysteriously said his guitar was a gift from his great grandfather, a recording artist in Nashville. Apple cheeked Johnny Newcomb was sent through despite displaying a lack of style on “Last Kiss” by Pearl Jam, and Carmen Delgina, who rapped with her Dad, Wonder Mike from the Sugarhill Gang, earned three yeses from the panel, including a star struck Lopez who said “Rapper’s Delight” changed her life. Speaking of star struck, why did Kassandra Castaneda slip her uncle’s phone number to Lopez? Not a good way to start, but she got through to Hollywood anyway.

One question: why did the judges let Jessica Basset go? They used her audition as background music for an insightful segment about the harshness of showbiz life with interesting comments from the judges about doing 16 interviews at 4 in the morning and vocal fatigue, but then cut her loose -- a misstep, to be sure. What do you think, Idol Worshippers? 

Twitter: @MicheleAmabile