Michael Becker/FOX
Tom Gliatto
February 03, 2011 08:30 AM

American Idol‘s hour-long Austin auditions on Wednesday started with an awful lot of throat-clearing nonsense – a dumb gag about an apology for Steven Tyler’s outrageousness, a cameo from Jennifer Lopez‘s husband, Marc Anthony, and Ryan Seacrest signing off on a phone call. Why? I wondered whether the producers didn’t have enough musical material, but plenty of good singers eventually did turn up.

John Wayne Schulz – who works on his family cattle ranch and was as photogenic a cowboy as the show could dream of – said he’d promised his mother he’d try out for the show while she was being treated for breast cancer. He charmed the judges and had a decent country voice – in Hollywood, he can compete with the even twangier Scotty McCreery from the Milwaukee auditions.

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Another highlight was the joint audition of boyfriend and girlfriend Nick Fink and Jacqueline Dunford. The show set them up in a montage as the ickiest young lovers ever, frolicking and smirking and kissing (Nick said they wanted to be Idol‘s “first power couple”). Then Nick stood in the background while Jacqueline sang: He nodded his head, smiled and laughed with a strange and horrible insipidness. But they turned out to be two of the night’s better voices. They’ll be fun to watch once the Hollywood rounds begin. They certainly deserve to be a power couple somewhere.

Among the other 50 contestants from Austin who earned golden tickets to Hollywood:

• Corey Levoy, who showed up accompanied by the sister he’d only met a few years ago. The judges asked her to sit on the panel with them while he sang Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” She said he’d given her “chill bumps,” and the judges in effect agreed.

• Janelle Arthur, who did a smoothly countrified version of Duffy’s “Syrup and Honey.”

• Courtney Penry, told by Steven she had “star quality,” although I didn’t find her musical performance as interesting as her confident impression of a chicken. She was also showcased in a campy segment about her devotion to Ryan. So for her humor and her chicken alone, she’s worthy.

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