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'American Idol': Austin's contestants prove to be more country strong than Nashville's

February 3, 2011 |  8:20 am

JudgingTX_101008_0435 Contestants who flocked the Austin, Texas, auditions for "American Idol" brought something that the Nashville round of tryouts lacked: country.

Though the judges made it abundantly clear during last week’s Nashville episode that they were on the hunt to find someone to fill Carrie Underwood’s multiplatinum heels, surprisingly there weren’t a lot of country singers highlighted in Music City who got the judges' pass. 

Austin, however, churned out more than its fair  share of contestants ready to belt out a little bit of country.

The show cashed in on Austin's reputation as the Live Music Capital of the World -- the city has more music venues per capita than any other U.S. city -- by advancing 50 contestants through to Hollywood.

The majority of the hopefuls awarded camera time were those singing with a country twang.

There was Corey Levoy, who made it through after singing Bonnie Raitt's ballad "I Can't Make You Love Me." The 21-year-old had a bit of encouragement at the judges' panel: The singer's long-lost sister, whom he didn't meet until he was 14. The judges, who already provided him with an emphatic "yes," allowed her to weigh in.

A few contestants fell back on country after the judges requested more from them.

After the young Hollie Cavanagh stumbled through Etta James’ signature song, “At Last,” Jennifer Lopez granted her another chance (Steven Tyler told the teen she was “all over the place with the melody”). Though the 17-year-old had to stop in the middle of Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb” to compose herself and wipe her tears, she delivered a good-enough performance to get a “yes” out of Lopez and Tyler -- and for Randy Jackson to reverse his previous decline.

Janelle Arthur also switched over to country on her second song for the judges in the hopes of making it through. After taking on Duffy’s “Syrup and Honey,” the judges wanted to see something a bit more up-tempo. She then launched into Shania Twain's “No One Needs to Know” to secure her golden ticket.

Adding to the stable of already country strong contestants was cowboy John Wayne Schulz (that’s really his name), who took on Brooks & Dunn's "Believe It." Decked out in a cowboy hat, boots, thick belt buckle and stonewashed jeans, the 23-year-old charmed the judges and almost brought a tear to Lopez’s eye with his thick drawl and love for his mama. There was also Ryan Seacrest's self-proclaimed biggest crush, 17-year-old Courtney Penry, who made it through to Hollywood with Sugarland's "Stay."

With the genre often featured prominently on "Austin City Limits," the longest-running concert music program on American television, country music isn’t an anomaly to Austin at all. But it is still quite fascinating, nonetheless, to see the city that explodes with so much indie rock cred and singer/songwriter acts churn out so much country when “Idol” pulls into town.

-- Gerrick D. Kennedy


Photos: John Wayne Schulz at the Austin audition. Credit: Michael Becker / Fox