American Idol

Katrina survivor moves 'American Idol' judges to tears, standing ovation

Jan. 25, 2013 at 8:01 AM ET

There aren’t many events in recent years that touched Americans more than Hurricane Katrina, and there aren’t many reality competitions that understand the art of building an audience like “American Idol.” It should be no surprise that the two met in the Baton Rouge auditions, to produce one of the best performances thus far in season 12.

Burnell Taylor, an unemployed 19-year-old from New Orleans, lost everything during the storm and moved with his family to Baton Rouge in the aftermath. Photos helpfully provided to the audience showed the devastation of his household, but Taylor noted one positive that came from the experience.

“I realized I knew how to sing after Hurricane Katrina,” Taylor said.

Taylor proved it with a stirring performance of “I’m Here” that closed the show with perhaps the best performance of the season. It got a standing ovation from three of the four judges (Nicki Minaj stayed seated) and made Mariah Carey cry.

“All I can say is somewhere there’s a spotlight right now just waiting for you to walk into it,” Keith Urban said.

“That is what we came for,” Minaj said. “I feel like we’ve been flying all around this country for that. That thing that can’t even be put into words. That thing that gives everybody chills and goosebumps. I’m so happy you did that because that wasn’t even an audition, that was just entertainment for us.”

Which begs the question -- what would cause Minaj to stand? And how dare she bring up “goosebumps,” which we all hoped had been retired along with Jennifer Lopez.

Apart from that, Baton Rouge was filled with folks who were more quirky than inspiring.

I mean, it’s great that Ms. Greater Baton Rouge (Megan Miller) went against her doctor’s advice, risked infection, and hobbled in on crutches and sporting a wicked knee brace. But “Idol” has dealt with a lot more serious health concerns in recent seasons. Just ask Phillip Phillips, Crystal Bowersox and Casey Abrams.

Charlie Askew was unexpected because he was so socially awkward, but “Idol” takes guys like him every year and they always seem to do surprisingly well. After all, doesn’t everyone feel socially awkward at times? Especially teenagers?

Maddie Assel became the latest singer nominated by a family member and dragged out of their hometown by Randy Jackson to get four yes votes and a trip to Hollywood. It’ll be interesting to see how she and the rest of the shy types who needed that extra push to try out do in the more intense atmosphere of the next round.

We had firefighter Dustin Watts, but there are firefighters, policemen and the like every year. And Dr. Calvin Peters sang well, but it’s not like there was a lot at stake for him. If he washes out on the first day in Hollywood, he’s still a doctor, plus he has the advantage that any pressures the “Idol” producers put on him can’t match what he needed to get through medical school.

No, it was Taylor who stole the show, and who will be Baton Rouge auditioner everyone remembers.

Were you moved by Burnell Taylor and his amazing story? Let us know what you thought of the Baton Rouge auditions on Facebook!

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