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Image: Emma on "Idol"
Michael Becker  /  Fox
Emma Henry, 15,  had some nice pipes that'd be great in a few years, but thanks to her crying, the judges gave her a golden ticket.
TODAY contributor
updated 1/26/2011 11:14:33 PM ET 2011-01-27T04:14:33

In case you didn’t know, “American Idol” has a full-blown case of Bieber Fever.

The folks at Fox and 19 Entertainment can read a sales chart and a trending topic as well as anyone, and Justin Bieber is blowing up so hot that he makes Jennifer Lopez seem like some frumpy second banana from a 1950s sitcom.

But they have a plan to capitalize on that and to possibly give the show the shot in the arm it needs: The powers that be lowered the age limit to 15, the first step to what will presumably result in fifth-graders trying out by 2015.

Did it work in Milwaukee? Judging by Wednesday’s episode, the answer is a very definite ... maybe.

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Turning on the tears
As a father of a young daughter, I can barely resist her pleas now when she starts to cry. I can only imagine that this doesn’t go away as children grow up, as hopeful Emma Henry demonstrated.

Henry, a 15-year-old Colorado native, gave a very nice audition that showed she’d be a great candidate for Hollywood in a couple of years but not right now. That’s what J.Lo thought, but when Steven Tyler gave the teen a yes vote, it was all up to Randy Jackson.

His first thought was to say no. “I honestly believe you would be swallowed up by this whole thing,” he said. But Henry cried and Randy melted. Perhaps the fact that he’s the father of two daughters himself made the difference.

“Your first instinct was right. She’s gonna get eaten up in this competition,” J.Lo said later. She’s probably right.

On the other hand, fellow 15-year-old Thia Megia stepped up to the plate, sang with confidence and was a no-brainer selection to move on. She was the launching pad for a montage depicting all the first-year eligibles (several of whom sported Bieber-like 'dos) who were selected in Wisconsin, seemingly a state that produces teen singers with the frequency of cheeseheads. The fact that all the 15-year-olds who auditioned that day advanced made it abundantly clearly “Idol” is going after a younger crowd. That, or they’re auditioning for the next “High School Musical” flick.

Story: 10 fearless 'Idol' predictions: Tyler in trouble?

Let’s see a birth certificate
Scottie McCreery claims he’s just 16 years old. "Idol" showed clips of him playing baseball and looking very much like a teenager, so perhaps his age is correct.

But the voice ... well, let’s just say that he sounds 16 as much as Taylor Hicks looked 28 back when he won in season five. It’s as deep as Tyler’s love for analogies about carnal relations with waterfowl, a rhyme the judge broke out again in wonder after hearing McCreery sing.

Then there was Molly DeWolf Swensen. She might have had the best voice of the night, and her fun and take-charge personality also worked in her favor. After starting the day off by getting whacked in the face by an attempted Randy high-five, she sang her way to Hollywood.

But look at her resume and not the birth certificate, because this young lady doesn't need to prove her age, what with her impressive accomplishments. Swensen is a Harvard grad and a current White House intern. Does she really need this gig too? And what is the unabashed Obama fan prepared to do to win votes from red states?

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Tough interview
You have to feel a little bad for Joe Repka. A DJ with a desire to sing, he clearly wasn’t good enough to advance ... but he also appeared to be thrown off his game when Tyler opened the dialogue by saying, “Are those Tevas?” Who among us haven’t been throw off-kilter in a job interview by a question like that?

Steven Tyler's daughter: He's saving 'Idol'

And speaking of inappropriate, self-described bar mitzvah singer Jerome Dell probably won himself a lot of gigs with the vocals he showed in Milwaukee, but didn’t do himself any favors in that regard with his song selection. Though “Let’s Get It On” was a great choice for the audition, it would probably not be appropriate for a gathering of hormonally charged 13-year-olds.

But back to the bad, Milwaukee also brought the return of the wacky auditioners, such as Nathaniel Jones. Jones, a Civil War re-enactor who showed up in his period uniform, decided to audition with “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Note to future hopefuls: Neither was a good idea.

Craig Berman is a writer in Washington. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/craigberman, where he live tweets each "Idol" show.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

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