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'American Idol' Recap: Puppets, Patriotism, and Steven Tyler in Drag

The season 12 auditions ended with a surprise in Oklahoma City.

Steven Tyler American Idol season 12 audition drag P
Michael Becker / Fox
'American Idol'

After several weeks of auditions, American Idol brought it all to a close in Oklahoma City with a lofty goal — will the show find its new Carrie Underwood, the "greatest American Idol to date," according to Randy Jackson?

The show had never visited Oklahoma City before, but as Keith Urban pointed out, there is a deep talent pool in the state, including country stars Vince Gill and Ronnie Dunn. Not to mention that Huey Lewis name-checked it in his epic ode to music, “The Heart of Rock and Roll.”

So, aside from the obvious nods to the musical of the same name and some horrendous interpretations of Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass” and Jessie J’s “Price Tag,” what talent was discovered that may make it to Hollywood, and possibly the finals?

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Among the many hopefuls: a puppet named Oscar, a girl who said she was told by God that she should audition (we admit, the creative dramatization was amusing), the female version of season eight’s Norman Gentle and … former judge Steven Tyler in drag! Seriously, that was the best moment in Idol auditioning history. Tyler looks amazing in a dress. Simply beautiful. Why didn’t he do more of that during the last two seasons?

But I digress. Here are the top moments from Thursday night’s episode:

Karl Skinner, 26 and from Joplin, Mo., auditioned for the American Idol bus tour. He is a happily married newlywed, and has visions in his red head that he is James Brown. “Ginger’s got soul,” he said, before he showed off a few moves and auditioned with a rendition of “I Feel Good.” Although entertaining, his actual calling card is an original song on guitar that made him sound more like a country artist than a soul singer. This was not lost on Minaj, who said, “When you put the guitar up, I felt like it was restricting that monster inside.” However, Jackson declared, “I love this guy! You can be an Idol mascot,” and he was awarded a trip to Hollywood.

Nate Tao, 24, is a sign-language teacher from West Virginia. Both his parents are deaf, so they can’t tell him if he is a good singer or not. His story mirrored a similar tale told by season one competitor Jim Verraros, but his version of “For Once in My Life” by  Stevie Wonder brought back some memories of another Virginia-based Idol -- season five’s Elliott Yamin. Tao’s sweet tone matched his kind personality, and he earned a Golden Ticket to Hollywood, despite Jackson’s critique that his audition outfit of a shirt and tie made him look like he was ready to prepare taxes.

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Halie Hilburn, 27, is a horse trainer from Texas with a unique talent. She’s a ventriloquist, and part of her act is a hand-puppet named Oscar. At first, the yodeling audition came across like a joke better suited for America’s Got Talent than American Idol. At the judge’s urging, Hilburn ditched Oscar and pulled off a stronger selection of “More Than Anyone” by Gavin DeGraw. “I think Oscar’s been holding you back,” deadpanned Urban. In a sad turn of events, Oscar was reduced to yodeling for change in the street, and wound up dejected, lonely, and tossed into a dumpster. Oh, the humanity. Oscar was robbed, but Hilburn was off to Hollywood.

Zoanette Johnson’s audition pre-dated Beyonce’s lip-syncing controversy, but in a stroke of genius and luck for the show’s producers, the flamboyant 19-year-old Oklahoma native promised her family that if Barrack Obama won the presidential election, she would audition with the National Anthem. And boy, did she ever! At least she sang live, and although she needed Carey to help with the lyrics, Johnson provided the liveliest audition of season 12. She then looked at the camera and demanded to be invited to the White House. The girl is brazen, but is she the new Norman Gentle/Nick Mitchell? The judges were amused, and if she doesn’t make it through Hollywood, you can bet she’ll be back for the finale (but will she duet with Beyonce? Ha!)

Kayden Stephenson, 16 and from Oklahoma, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at 18-months. His condition makes him look much younger, but his soul seemed older as he delivered a sweet version of “I Wish” by Stevie Wonder. Minaj was inspired by his story, and Carey said she was ready to make an album with him right away. It simply would have been heartless not to award Stephenson a ticket, especially since he isn’t expected to live past 35. "Knowing that my illness is terminal is definitely scary, but also, it gives me an opportunity to do everything now, while I'm young."

According to Ryan Seacrest, 45 singers were put through to Hollywood from Oklahoma. What do you think, Worshippers? Who are you excited to see in Hollywood next week? Was Oscar robbed? Should Tyler have earned a ticket? He tried so hard.