Fox and American Idol producers have known for some time that viewer interest in the auditions tends to wane by the time we’ve gotten to the second hour of premiere night. So the powers that be have done something about it: this season, we have only three weeks of audition shows instead of the usual four! As of Thursday, it will all be over, and we’re on to Hollywood! No more watching tone-deaf improv wannabes in bad costumes, or earnest teenage girls massacring “If I Ain’t Got You,” at least until we do it all again in January 2014.
Wednesday’s two-hour show took us to San Antonio and to Long Beach, where the focus was once again on talent rather than on the delusional. Or perhaps I should say: talent with a side order of human interest. I’m not sure we’ve ever had an audition show packed with so many “heartwarming stories,” to the point where they started to run together.
Wednesday gave us a couple of “no” auditions with comedy appeal (cluelessly argumentative brothers Derek and David, and screamo Adele coverer Stephanie Sanson), a brief small fire that shut down the proceedings for a wee bit, and snippets of 15 people who made it to Hollywood. Let’s go to the videotape, in the order we heard from them:
Vincent Powell: A holdover from Hollywood week last season (I don’t believe he was featured at all) who looks like he could be Randy Jackson’s love child, he won’t be eligible any more after this year due to age. Fortunately, he showed some signs of making the most of this last chance. Nice gospel pipes, with just enough connection to pop (he’s a Mariah Carey fan) to make him a bit intriguing.
Savannah Votion: Wouldn’t it be appropriate if her middle initial was D? The San Antonio single mom was dressed like an off-duty stripper, or someone who likes to haunt thrift shops with Macklemore. But while I wouldn’t say she was necessarily the best I saw Wednesday, I think she’s the one who can benefit the most from Idol coaching and styling. She managed to put something of a fresh spin on “At Last” (no small feat on a singing competition show), performing as if this really was her one and only chance.
Cristabel Clack: Like Vincent, she’s reached her Idol age eligibility limit; and like Vincent, she’s a church worship leader. I’d suggest getting these two crazy kids together, except she’s already married and has three children. She was good, but with her choice of “If I Ain’t Got You” complete with the usual runs, she’s pretty much the generic Idol contestant, making her tough to really evaluate.
Ann Difani: The University of Arkansas grad student was nominated by her husband, so Randy went to the stadium in Fayetteville to give her the good news. Since that first night, all the other nominees we’ve seen have gotten through, and Ann would be no different – her take on Faith Hill’s “Stronger” was, um, strong. She expressed a preference for country with pop leanings, but she might have to wait in line this season. In fact, she wasn’t even the best female country singer from Arkansas we heard on this night.
Victoria Acosta: She sings with a mariachi band on San Antonio’s River Walk, a lovely way to make a living if you don’t mind tourists asking you where the Alamo is every three minutes. The judges didn’t seem too enthusiastic about her cover of “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” and it did indeed seem emotionally flat. Asked to sing something in Spanish, she perked up noticeably, which would be promising if Idol was planning a Conjunto Night.
Papa Peachez: The latest of several fakeouts this season – someone who was initially presented as a joke who ended up being pretty decent. Actually, strike that – he was put through to Hollywood, but wasn’t decent at all. This poseur from Mississippi announced he was a black woman trapped in a white man’s body, which had my eyes rolling before he ever sang a note. When he got going with an original number – almost always very bad news on Idol – his affectations came across as borderline offensive. But through all the nonsense, he did display some power in his voice, which prompted Mariah and especially Nicki Minaj to speak up for him. San Antone’s tiebreaker vote, Randy, eventually changed his mind and put him through, despite the transparent gimmickry. Nicki, consider this one your first misstep.
Sanni M’Mairura: The son of two African immigrants, he’s one of those kids you run across who is trying to decide between his many talents, all while playing a role in his church. The holy grail for Idol is finding a young male to package as a new Bieber, but I don’t know that Sanni is going to be the one. He was almost a little too slick, and Idol voters don’t like that. But there will be at least one teen male who makes the finals, and he has as good a chance as any we’ve seen, I suppose.
Adam Sanders: It was hilarious that Mariah thought he was implying that she and Etta James were from the same generation, which almost brought us to Total Diva Meltdown. He has impressive pipes, and is pretty clearly a follower of this show’s most famous Adam, down to his haircut. But he doesn’t have the experience and the precision control of Mr. Lambert, who has never once sounded as unhinged as this Adam got on “I’d Rather Go Blind.” If he dials it back numerous notches, he might have a chance at a run.
Shubha Vedula: The first of the Long Beach auditioners, this teenager from Michigan cited “Something’s Got a Hold on Me” (aka the “good feeling” song) as being by Christina Aguilera instead of Etta James, and boy, could you ever tell she’s internalized Xtina’s performing style. It was highly promising, but I’ll want to see more to insure she’s not just an awesome mimic.
Adam Farmer: While serving in Iraq, he suffered a brain injury when his vehicle was hit by an IED, and was told he would be rendered sterile by the meds he was given. His doctors got that one wrong, and he has a 3-year-old daughter as proof. The girl joined him in the audition room, so that right there meant he was going through. Did he have enough going for him without The Story? It was borderline – his version of “A Change is Gonna Come” had strength behind it, but with such an overdone song choice, his potential is hard to gauge. If he could be persuaded to go country, his background might give him a gigantic edge.
Jesaiah Baer: The teenage girl showed up for the audition aboard the Queen Mary in a sailor’s cap, which ordinarily would scream “gimmick.” But once she got to perform (she was the one singing when the fire alarm went off), she gave us something different – a jazz-inflected version of Kimbra’s “Settle Down” that seemed way out of place amidst all the would-be Mariahs and Carrie Underwoods this season. She could develop a serious following if she gets into the later stages, because she’s going to stand out.
Micah Johnson: As sob stories go, this one was really pretty amazing. The Navy man was undergoing a tonsillectomy when he suffered nerve damage that left him with a severe speech impediment (Mariah told him she could relate because she’s had nerve damage in her arm – you know, because she’s a weightlifter). It hasn’t affected his singing voice at all, though. What’s better, he really sounded great on his version of the Zac Brown Band’s cheesy “Chicken Fried,” hitting that sweet spot where soul and country intersect. If he’s not a one-trick pony, he could do some massive damage in the competition (and maybe even if he is – remember Scotty “Baby lock them doors” McCreery).
Rachel Hale: The pride of Prescott, Arkansas. I’m not sure why they didn’t give her a hard time for covering “People Get Ready” rather than a country song, but we’ll give thanks for small favors. She has a mature, soulful tone that belies her youthful looks, and bodes well for her being able to handle the Idol grind. Throw in an appealing personality – similar to Kellie Pickler, but without her having to pretend she’s an idiot – and this could be a winning package.
Briana Oakley: A few years ago, she appeared on Maury as one of America’s most talented kids (who doesn’t know who her father is! – OK, I’m kidding about that last part). Jealous classmates at her school immediately started giving her a hard time, because kids suck. She channeled a lot of that pain into her performance of “Up on the Mountain,” and her non-pageant girl looks ought to shield her from a lot of the “robot” criticism that past teens such as Jordin Sparks and Jessica Sanchez have faced on the show.
Matheus Fernandes: He has significant and very recent reality show experience, appearing on the first season of The Glee Project less than two years ago. Idol chose not to mention this, though, preferring we regard Matheus as a sub-five foot tall prodigy who has only been given the courage to perform thanks to the beneficence of our favorite show. For someone with the profile of an underdog, he was a bit of a polarizing figure on The Glee Project, because he comes across as emotionally needy even by the standards of musical theatre. Changing the heartfelt lyrics of “A Change is Gonna Come” to make a direct pitch to the judges is a case in point. I predict he makes the voting rounds, and quickly becomes the talk of the show, for both better and worse.
Who did you like the most on Wednesday? And really, doesn’t the world need more screamo Adele?
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