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'American Idol': Past contestant Alyssa Raghu hijacks best friend's audition to snag a golden ticket

After a lackluster show two weeks ago, "American Idol" returned Sunday night with an arrow pointed straight into viewers' hearts nationwide.

It's as if producers saved every heartwarming, tearjerker audition that could've aired in Episode 3 and frontloaded Episode 4 with them. If "Idol" was trying to keep us glued to our screens, consider it a mission accomplished.

All in all, the episode delivered one sucker punch after another, beginning with 16-year-old Florida high school student Deida Jeudy, who grew up helping out her visually impaired younger siblings. Luke Bryan showed Katy Perry his goosebumps after she showcased a talent beyond her years with a rendition of Leon Bridges' "River."

Deida auditions on Season 22, Episode 4, of "American Idol," airing March 17, 2024.
Deida auditions on Season 22, Episode 4, of "American Idol," airing March 17, 2024.

Her voice was "timeless" and revealed "thousands of years of soul and pain and heaviness. You're just born with it," Perry said.

Then came along 20-year-old Elleigh Marie, a cosmetologist from American Fork, Utah, who also grew up taking on a lot of responsibilities due to her dad's frequent deployments and her mom's illnesses. To the judges' clear delight, Elleigh poured her heart into Bonnie Raitt's "I Can’t Make You Love Me," wiping away a tear at the end.

Bryan surmised she'd make it to the top 10 this season. Lionel Richie declared, "We couldn’t keep our eyes off of you." After her family – including father Matt, who serves in the Air Force and will be deployed again this spring – filed into the room, the judges got to share their unanimous "yes" vote with the whole family.

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Contestant's 'biggest fan' — her 12-year-old sister — wins over the judges

Angelina Jett gives Katy Perry a hand-crocheted purse for Pery's daughter during older sister Athena's audition as judges Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan look on in Season 22, Episode 4, of "American Idol," airing March 17, 2024.
Angelina Jett gives Katy Perry a hand-crocheted purse for Pery's daughter during older sister Athena's audition as judges Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan look on in Season 22, Episode 4, of "American Idol," airing March 17, 2024.

The most tearful segment award went to 20-year-old college student Athena Jett's audition, during which younger sister Angelina emerged as the star of the episode.

It started with 12-year-old Angelina presenting Perry with a hand-crocheted purse (decorated with daisies, naturally) for Perry's 3-year-old daughter, Daisy Dove Bloom. Charmed, Perry wanted any reason to give Athena a yes.

Unfortunately, Athena, who suffers from stage fright, didn't give them much to work with. Her voice sounded like it belonged on a jazz album as she performed "Somebody New" by Sophia James and it was pretty — but, well, it wasn't quite enough.

Though Athena moved her sister (whom she called her "biggest fan") to tears, with the judges falling all over themselves finding her a tissue, they were more moved by the sisters' relationship than the performance.

As Perry mused about how Athena's "nerves made it maybe not as fluid as it could be," and worried about putting her "in the ring" on "Idol," Angelina interrupted: "I'm so sorry. I don't want to barge in or anything." The pre-teen suggested "Never Enough" from "The Greatest Showman" as a tune that would more aptly show off her older sister's skills. The judges were game.

With every high note in the song, Athena seemed unsure of herself. Viewers were left on the edge of their seats hoping she hit each "never enough!" and waited for a voice crack that thankfully didn't come. Perry even egged her on: "Come on!"

Athena Jett (right) is accompanied by younger sister Angelina Jett on Season 22, Episode 4, of "American Idol," airing March 17, 2024.
Athena Jett (right) is accompanied by younger sister Angelina Jett on Season 22, Episode 4, of "American Idol," airing March 17, 2024.

With a slightly more successful second performance, Athena announced, "I couldn’t do this without (Angelina)," causing Perry to break into theatrical sobs.

"Athena, you were a hard no. But whatever just happened showed me something that I think even surprised yourself. What the hell was that? That was phenomenal," Perry said.

With Angelina looking at the judges with those puppy-dog eyes, there was no other answer they could give. Athena received a unanimous vote to go to Hollywood.

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College student Anna Grace's performance of Nica & Joe's "The Prayer" left the judges torn — though if you ask me, it was entirely too earnest. Where was the 18-year-old's emotion? What was her story? If she was forthcoming about this, it was cut out of the show in favor of creating a potential viral moment.

After Richie said "no," Perry gave her a "yes." Bryan voted "no," but he was open to changing his mind.

It was time for a tiebreaker. Perry cleared off the judges' desk with big, swooping motions to make room for a "moo-off," something Perry learned at camp to break up a disagreement. Whoever was first to laugh was the loser.

They got down on all fours facing each other and belted out their best cow impressions in each other's faces. With her delivery of two long and guttural moos, Perry made Bryan break character.

"You are moo-ving on," the victorious Perry announced to Anna Grace. It's a shame Bryan didn't win the competition.

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Past contestant Alyssa Raghu side-swipes her best friend to win a golden ticket

Alyssa Ragu gives the judges a surprise audition on Season 22, Episode 4, of "American Idol," airing March 17, 2024.
Alyssa Ragu gives the judges a surprise audition on Season 22, Episode 4, of "American Idol," airing March 17, 2024.

Julia Davo, a 20-year-old waitress from Brooklyn, had just moved to Los Angeles with her best friend and auditioned for "Idol" hoping to become "America's next female rock star."

After a vibrato-filled performance of David Bowie's "Life on Mars?" Julia, unfortunately, received two "no" votes from Perry and Bryan. But Richie was on her side, declaring, "I had the same feeling when I first saw Gaga."

Still, Richie could not convince his colleagues to see his side.

Richie's advocacy for Julia was not the most shocking part of this episode, though. Her aforementioned "best friend" was actually 21-year-old Alyssa Raghu, who previously competed in 2018 and 2019 and made it as far as the top eight.

After she reunited with the judges, Alyssa vied for some screen time for herself: "I know you said my voice was going to grow until I was 21, and you said that when I was, like, 15. But just for giggles I'd love to sing you something."

She sang "My All" by Mariah Carey, a performance that, while beautiful, wasn't necessarily mind-blowing. Still, the judges were complimentary, with Perry telling Alyssa, "You have grown!"

"I've never competed on the show as an adult, so I don't know if that's out of the question," she said.

Julia Davo auditions on Season 22, Episode 4, of "American Idol," airing March 17, 2024.
Julia Davo auditions on Season 22, Episode 4, of "American Idol," airing March 17, 2024.

"I think you could go in. Do I think you could win it? No, personally," Perry said. It was a "no" for the "Firework" singer, but Richie said they had nothing to lose. Bryan likes "having her around" and was willing to give her a shot. Not exactly enthusiastic yeses, but a win is a win, I suppose?

Giving Alyssa the golden ticket right in front of Julia was exceptionally cruel. Like upstaging a bride on her wedding day. To her credit, Julia was more supportive than her best friend might have deserved, "You worked so hard for this."

Even Ryan Seacrest chimed in and told the two: "Good luck with the friendship; good luck with the journey." Now that's an awkward roommate situation.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'American Idol' recap: Alyssa Raghu hijacks best friend's audition