updated 01/30/2014 AT 3:00 AM ET
•originally published 01/30/2014 AT 7:00 AM ET
Casey Thrasher, 22, a father of two young children from Tuscaloosa, Ala., recalled his unexpected yet inspirational meeting with Urban after the CMAs in 2012.
“You were humble enough to come over and speak to me. You said, ‘I believe in you, brother,’” Thrasher said, before launching, appropriately enough, into an emotional performance of “Believe” by Brooks & Dunn.
“You’re a mix of hunger and desire and desperation and want you just want to get a dang break,” said Urban, before handing the teary-eyed singer a golden ticket. “From the chain link fence at the CMAs to Hollywood.”
The night was filled with singers who had touching stories and talent, including country singer Paisley Van Patten, 25, who landed her first Nashville recording contract at 15, but “within a year, everything was gone.”
“I had to come to grips with the fact I was an alcoholic I blew it with my addiction,” she said.
Now sober for 2½ years and “still chasing my dream,” Van Patten sang “When the Lights Go Down” by Faith Hill.
“What spoke to me is you seem like a gentle person who’s found happiness,” said Connick, while Lopez loved her voice.
Again it was Urban, who has battled his own addiction problems, who was genuinely touched by her story and recovery, first telling her, “I can relate,” before asking, “Do you have support now?” and finally saying, “Raw is a good place to be as an artist it’s where the truth comes out.”
Samantha Calmes, 25, was probably the only person who ever auditioned for Idol rocking a fanny pack and singing “The Jeffersons” theme song, “Movin’ on Up.”
Connick said her quirky choices were “very smart,” while Lopez said her style was “surprising and spontaneous.”
Lopez called 17-year-old Emily Rottler “the real thing” after her cool version of Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie”, and Dexter Roberts, 22 – a farm hand, tractor driver and duck-hunting dog trainer who can call a turkey with his mouth – impressed singing “Drive” by Season Nine heartthrob Casey James.
“You seem like the kind of guy who sings to get through the day,” said Connick. “Very authentic.”
And Carmen Delgina, 24, was a delight – a “Rapper’s Delight,” that is.
Delgina, daughter of the Sugarhill Gang’s Wonder Mike, sang “Tainted Love,” a performance that received mix reviews for being inconsistent and disconnected, but whose “naturally gifted” vocals were too good to be ignored.
“Can I meet your dad?” an excited Lopez asked, saying the first time she heard “Rapper’s Delight,” “that song changed my life.”
Idol heads to the Heartland on Thursday, with auditions in Omaha, Neb.